I remember well when my friend Cathy introduced me to Blue Like Jazz and the work of Donald Miller. It was early in my time in Hawaii, and it felt like I was finally settling into some kind of routine. I had become a big reader of contemporary fiction (Eggers et al), but hadn’t expanded much in Christian-living stuff.
I read Blue Like Jazz and loved it, not so much because I needed a salve for contemporary Christian bitterness but because Miller was such a great writer. I tracked down a copy of Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance and loved it, too. Here was a guy, a writer, who had no preaching license or ordination certificate but still had vital things to say about Jesus and His church.
I eventually made my way to Portland, Miller’s “home base.” Twice. The first time was for an education conference. I got to visit Imago Dei (a bit too “emerging” for my tastes) and fell madly in love with Powell’s (where that new love of contemporary fiction made every aisle more exciting than the last). One of my co-worker’s family lived in the neighborhood that Miller wrote about in BLJ, and getting to walk through it and read in it and watch people throwing frisbee and enjoying the lake was a real moment for me.
My second time in Portland was to try and meet Miller himself. I had been a supporter of the Blue Like Jazz movie on KickStarter and had the opportunity to see the movie if I attended Miller’s Storyline conference. It was a great weekend: I caught up with some graduates, enjoyed a day on the coast of Oregon, and spent time watching Miller talk about story (along with guests like Bob Goff, who has become a presence in his own right).
All of this to say that Donald Miller’s writings and thinking have been a big part of my growth since moving to Hawaii. I share his ideas on “letting story guide you” each year with my juniors. His talk on story coupled with N. T. Wright’s idea of “the Bible as a five-act play” really helped get my upper-level Bible curriculum sorted. His A Million Miles in a Thousand Years has become a book I often give to graduates. For a number of years his blog gave me good things to share with co-workers and friends. So yes: five years has been a long time to wait for a new book from the guy.
For all that time, though, life has been crissing and crossing, Miller’s writing often a helpful stitch for some wound from daily living. I haven’t known quite what to make of him over the last few years, as he has become something of a “guru” for companies and lifeplans, so I started Scary Close with some uncertainty. And then I read it in just over 24 hours. It was a kind of comfort food and a great challenge for healing. But before I get to that, I want to share a couple of quotes from my other favorite Miller book. That’s for tomorrow.