As you may recall, I posted a review last week of Jason Boyett’s new book, O Me of Little Faith. Well, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jason and ask him a few questions. And by “sit down with,” I mean, I sat down and emailed him, and I think he probably sat down to email me back. That counts, right? (Best BFFs FOREVER!!) Here’s what we said to each other. (My questions are all big and important, and his answers are written in a smaller font and confined in smaller boxes.)
You spent a lot of time with O Me of Little Faith. If you and the book were high school seniors, what would you write in its yearbook?
Dear O Me of Little Faith: I told you some things I’ve never told anyone else, ever. You helped me deal with some issues and clarify my thinking on a lot of stuff, so I appreciate that. But you should really put a shirt on.
Really? No “Stay cool,” “RHASL” or “Roses are red, coffee is black, and I’m the first one to sign in your crack”?? Ok then, next question…
Doubt is something that you’ve struggled with for a long, long time. What made you want to write the book now?
Because I’m tired of burying that internal struggle and disguising it behind the mask of a Christian who has it all figured out. I don’t, and I don’t see any use in pretending otherwise. In the process of being honest about these doubts, I’ve discovered that lots of other believers have them, too. So I wanted to write the book as a way to share how I’m learning to deal with it — in hopes that others can walk alongside me in this journey. I hope it’s an encouraging book that reaches out across the loneliness that always seems to be attached to doubt. I hope it provides a safe place for us to start talking about this kind of thing, rather than hiding it.
Right on. I’m a big fan of honesty.
There are lots and lots of (awesome) footnotes in the book. Why didn’t you just include those thoughts in the text? Were you one of those kids in college who gave all your serious psychology papers a title and then a second, snarky, alternate title? I was.
I have never written a serious psychology paper, so no luck there. But I have always loved footnotes. Sometimes, as I’m writing, I think of a joke or an aside that’s only marginally related to whatever I’m writing about. And I really want to use it, but it just doesn’t seem to fit in the text. It might disrupt my precious narrative flow or get in the way of whatever point I’m making. Or it just might not be necessary at all. So what do I do with this frivolous stuff? Either I edit the joke away…or I turn it into a footnote. Footnotes are the clear choice, right? Right.
Oh I concur.
I read the book almost entirely while at my job as a Census 2010 employee. Where did you write it? And what’s the most boring job you’ve ever had?
I wrote it at my desk in my office in my home in Amarillo, Texas. Late at night, mostly. Honestly, I haven’t had too many boring jobs or jobs that allowed me much reading time. My first real job involved delivering prescription medications. It required a lot of driving, which was kind of boring. But reading while driving doesn’t exactly cause the time to speed by. (It does, however, shorten your lifespan.)
Unless you get yourself one of them high falutin’ books on tape. You know, one read by somebody real sexy…like Conway Twitty.
Are you concerned at all that the book will cause doubt where it did not exist before?
Possibly. But, you know, we make it pretty clear on the back cover that it’s a book about doubt. If you are surprised to encounter doubt and hard questions when reading it, then you weren’t paying attention. You can’t say you weren’t warned. But here’s the thing: as believers in Christ, we are supposed to be following and pursuing the truth. Or, the Truth. Capital T. If it’s the truth, shouldn’t it be able to stand up to honest questioning? What do we have to fear? I think the questions I ask in the book are honest ones, born of my desire to understand. So I can ask my questions and express my doubts in pursuit of the truth, or I can hide them in the name of spiritual safety or comfort or peace of mind. Which action is the more truthful one?
Good one. Let’s open that up for discussion, shall we? Hey readers, please discuss.
Chapter 8: “The Paralysis of Weddings and Births” starts out, “I was fearless until I became a father.” But just two chapters earlier, you told us that until 8th grade, you were “soil-your-britches-scared” of roller coasters. Why you gotta be such a liar?
Ahh! Contradictions! My entire thesis has now been ruined! You’ve caught me. I wasn’t actually fearless until I became a father. I was using hyperbole in order to start that chapter off with a bang. Also, you’re mean.
I’m kidding. That’s really picky. But that’s the kind of scrutiny with which (I assume) the majority of intelligent God-doubters read the Bible. The “the-Bible-contradicts-itself-too-much-for-me-to-believe-it” argument keeps them from getting over or pushing through their doubt. What do you have to say to them?
Well, as long as we’re being honest, let me admit that I am one of those kinds of doubters. Reading the Bible is frustrating for me. People tell me the best way to combat my doubt is to “get in the Word.” But I have gotten in the Word. I’ve even written a book about the Bible (Pocket Guide to the Bible, available at fine bookstores near you). But when I read the Bible, I tend to come away with more questions than answers. You’re saying it’s not fair for you to be overly picky about the contradictions and discrepancies that certainly do exist in my book. I agree that there are probably mistakes. That’s because I’m a human being and I mess up. A lot.
But there’s a difference — I’m not claiming my book to be divine. Many people DO claim the Bible to be divine, without mistakes and without error. That’s what I was taught as a child, that the Bible was the “very Word of God.” So when I read the Bible and see these apparent errors or contradictions that require exegetical gymnastics in order to explain away — well, it causes me to doubt. It generates questions and a lot of frustration, because God has given me a brain. Should I just turn it off and ignore the stuff that makes me uncomfortable? I don’t think so, because that’s not intellectually honest. My entire faith tradition is built on what the Bible teaches. If I am going to devote my life to what it teaches, then it needs to be able to bear some close scrutiny. Again — if the Bible is true, it should be able to withstand my honest questions.
So to answer your original question, what would I say to the folks who struggle with faith due to doubts about the Bible? I would say this: I get it. I totally understand. If I have trouble understanding and even trusting the Bible, then of course I’m going to be dealing with some doubt.
What I like so much about that chapter, though, is that it encourages action in spite of doubt. No. That’s not true. It doesn’t encourage – it takes away your best excuse for inaction. It kicks you in the face and says, “Stop being so freaking lame and selfish.” That is not a direct quote or even an insinuation, really. It’s just what I took from it. By the way, Chapter 8: “The Paralysis of Weddings and Births” seriously changed my life. This isn’t a question, just an opportunity to say thank you.
You’re welcome. It’s a fairly philosophical chapter, with all that Kirkegaard stuff, but I understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes you just have to make the leap into the fog of uncertainty, right?
Exactly. Ok. This might be a long shot, and it’s totally not related to the book, but I have to ask: Do you know Don Miller, and if so, could you set me up with him?
Don and I exchanged emails right after Blue Like Jazz was released, way before he became the super-famous DONALD MILLER. So he probably knows my name, and we have some mutual friends, and as writers we’d probably have a lot to talk about. But we’re not buddies or anything. So for me to attempt to set you up with him would be all kinds of awkward. For him. For me. For you.
Which is to say, of course! If we’ve learned anything from watching “The Office,” interpersonal awkwardness is hilarious. So let me get in touch with him right this minute.
Ok I know that’s a joke, and that you’re not going to get in touch with him about setting us up, but I have to admit, I might have just had a small aneurysm from the excitement. We should move on before I go into cardiac arrest as there is no one here to find me and take me to the hospital.
This is only quasi-related to the book, but do your kids have pet turtles? Do you ever stack them up on each other to teach them about faith? Have you chosen someone to take care of them after the rapture?
I have had several pet turtles in my life. Actually, they were tortoises — the kind we discovered crossing the street and felt sorry for so we took them home and put them in the backyard. And then they disappeared from October to May. And then we saw them again, maybe, twice more before they disappeared forever. Turtles are mysterious creatures.
I have never stacked a turtle, because I am haunted by what happened to Yertle. I couldn’t live with those consequences.
I haven’t taken steps to care for my pets after the rapture, but if I were to do so I would definitely go with my friend Bart, the guy behind Eternal Earthbound Pets, which is an actual business created to take care of Scruffy after you’ve gone to meet Jesus. Bart’s an atheist, so he pretty much figures he’ll be left behind. I interviewed him at my blog, by the way. Here and here.
Awesome. And finally, my roommate and I discussed the choreography of an interpretive dance during a roadtrip we took over the weekend. Do you have a song preference?
No preference, as long as it’s either Michael W. Smith or Kool Moe Dee. If you can find a way to do a mashup of those two, then I’ll be happy.
I’m on it. If your book tour brings you to western NC, let me know. I’ll make you a PB&J and have my dance troupe ready to perform our MWS/KMD/OMOLF liturgical dance.