I’ve now accomplished one of the things I’d hoped to do before I die: I’ve seen Donald Miller speak live.
If you’re not familiar with Donald Miller, well, he’s an author, and his books are very good. Blue Like Jazz, a feisty, memoirish book on “Christian spirituality” (which, in between nuggets of glittering wisdom wholly relevent to my feisty little generation, is complete with handdrawn cartoons and funny anecdotes about his friends, Tony the Beat Poet, Rick the Cussing Pastor, Andrew the Protestor and more) fell into my hands at precisely the right moment, and since then I’ve felt something like gratitude towards Miller.
He is not a traditional Christian author; he is not a traditional Christian. His liberal-mindedness, his lack of fear that prolonged contact with anything unChristian (or even dubiously Christian) will in any way diminish his faith, is refreshing after books like Left Behind and The Prayer of Jabez (both of which are available in the “…for Women”, “…for Teens”, and “…for Leaders” editions–I smell money. Does anyone else smell money?).
But most of Miller’s appeal lies in his confidence, which comes across an awful lot like humility–he can laugh at his own expense without sounding false, he can make a statement in his favor without sounding arrogant–and in the fact that he is easy to relate to. Like Anne Lamott, but less nuerotic.
After reading his second book, Searching for God Knows What, which is more theological than Jazz‘s Sedaris-style prose, I determined that I must go see Don Miller at all costs, if ever the opportunity arises.
Arise it did, and on Thursday, I found myself standing in the lobby of the PAC with Mitch, my mom and my stepdad, and many, very many, college kids. More and more students packed into the lobby, all of them chattering, all of them whipping out cell phones and laughing in a way that made me feel, well, old, as I checked my watch and thought, I hope we get done around ten, because I’m tired.
When the doors finally opened, we all proceeded in a dignified way (some elbows and knees were involved) to our seats, and the volume level continued to hover somewhere around “piercing” as the auditorium filled up. And filled up. And the ushers started to look a little harried, as all the seats appeared full but people were still coming…
Finally folding chairs were employed, and the room was packed elbow-to-elbow with students, youth pastors and my parents, who were by now a bit self-conscious at being, apparently, the oldest people there (“It’s okay,” I reassured them, “it’s because you’re so hip“).
And one of the pastors walked up front to the mic and said hello, and introduced…
Yup. A band took the stage, instead of Don Miller, though the pastor/MC assured us that Don would be up later. So the band played, and, while I might have enjoyed them more had they not been sprung on me as a surprise instead of Don Miller, I was a little annoyed–though they had one instrumental song that was amazing, involving an acoustic guitar being used both as a guitar and a percussion instrument.
Finally, the band finished and I sat up straight and the pastor took the stage again and introduced…
They played a video that–oh, most original of concepts–featured a camera man going around Western’s campus and asking random students what they thought of Christianity. I slumped back into my seat and groaned.
When the video finished, the pastor took the stage again and (dare I hope?) introduced…
That’s right. So Pastor 2 took the stage and proceeded to apologize to the audience for how he may have misrepresented Jesus in his life and blah blah blah, and how he hoped we could forgive him for standing in the way of Jesus. Jesus!, I was on the verge of crying in sheer exasperation, Right now you’re standing in the way of Don Miller!
About the time I began grinding my teeth, the pastor finished his bulk apology and introduced (Please, God, I prayed fervrently, Don’t let it be another pastor)…
Who made up for it all by laughing aloud and saying, by way of opening remarks, “Well, if there’s anyone here tonight who’s not a Christian, they’re probably creeped out by now. I’m sorry,” he smiled apologetically, “We’re goofy as hell.”
And then he added, “But I’m not going to talk about Jesus tonight, so don’t worry,” and proceeded to tell an anecdote about unwittingly taking a girl on a date to a reading of lesbian erotic poetry.
He’s in his thirties; he’s got curly brown hair, thinning a little, and eyes creased like he smiles a lot. He is a big man, with big hands, broad sloping shoulders, and a charming demeanor–not Gilderoy Lockhart charming, but charming like you’d like to hang out with him sometime and he’d probably let you.
And he more than made up for the pre-show hoo-ha. After reading a lengthy excerpt from his forthcoming To Own a Dragon (prefaced by the statement, “It’s about growing up without a dad, which is a subject a lot of people find sad–but I find it funny“), that had the whole audience in fits of laughter, the Q&A session began.
And a guy in our row wanted to know why Don Miller wasn’t talking about Jesus tonight, and a guy toward the front asked the inevitable “How did you get published?”, and a girl in the back asked for Miller’s take on “scripture as the 100% infallible word of God,” which ellicited a flustered laugh from Miller, who then proceeded to say that he couldn’t answer that: what did she mean by “infallible”? What did she mean by “Word of God”, or “100%”?
The next question came from a guy a few rows behind us, who was curious which religion Miller would choose next, if Christianity didn’t work out, and this got a delighted laugh from Miller. He scratched his chin thoughtfully and said, “Well, I’ve always had a soft spot for Buddhism…and agnostism’s really sexy right now…”
My own favorite quote came when someone asked for Miller’s opinion on Christian music. He listed some bands he liked, said a lot of it was really good, even if some of it wasn’t, and then said that great Christian music “is going to be revolutionary, it is going to be bloody, it is going to march up to the man and kick him in the nuts.”
Which is pretty much what I think Donald Miller’s writing is up to right now–kicking the man in the nuts–if by “the man” you mean “the American church” and if by “kicking” you mean “making some changes.”