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A Million Miles with Donald Miller

posted by Scot McKnight

DonaldMiller.jpgOne of my students told me he had read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
four or five times (I can’t remember the number now). I had not read it and he rolled his eyes when I said so. I didn’t tell him that I had not even heard of it, but I did decide it was time to read a book my college students were reading. So I read it. Not long after that, the student was back in my office, mentioned the book again, I told him I had read it, and he looked at me like I ought now to be converted and really get it. But I disappointed again by saying, “Yes, I liked it, but what’s all the fuss?” His response was another eye-rolling sigh that communicated something like, “You are an idiot but I won’t tell you that. You really don’t get it. In spite of reading the book.”

What did you like most about Donald Miller’s books you have read? What do you think of this new book? How does it fit with Blue Like Jazz?
I do like Blue Like Jazz. Miller can tell a story, and that is what his new book is about, and I like it much more than I liked Blue Like Jazz. The book is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
and in this book Miller moves from one how has honest doubts and wonders about what he believes to knowing he is in a story. In some ways, then, the book forms firmer ground than the previous work. 


I think Blue Like Jazz was a form of evangelism for many, an evangelism that said “Yes, we are Christians but we don’t have it all together.” If that book was a bit of proto-evangelism, A Million Miles ushers us into the world of the gospel as story.

In some ways, Blue Like Jazz expresses the inner reality for many postmodern young adults. A Million Miles will push that inner reality to a new dimension because, like the former book, this book also tells the story of postmodern young adults. The world of deconstructing doubt can be exhilarating, but only for so long. Some way, some day, deconstructions yearn for something stable and something solid, and A Million Miles may do that for many. Some, no doubt, will be disappointed that Miller has found firmer ground; others will walk with him. Each of us can learn that life is a story and the story will tell ourselves gives our lives meaning.
The best part of this book is that it talks about Story — how stories work and how they are defined: a character who wants something and must overcome obstacles to get it — as it tells stories, all enfolded in the story called Donald Miller, and it involves his mother and his father and his girlfriend and his bike riding and mountain climbing and the movie makers who are telling his story. 


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Diane

posted October 12, 2009 at 7:41 am


I too had an enthusiastic person tell me about Blue Like JAzz. I think people like it because while Miller is obviously a passionate Christian, he also comes across as “real” or “authentic” and doesn’t force his story into a preset saintly “conversion” script. He’s 21st century everyman, stumbling around. It’s a fresh book; you haven’t necessarily read it before and details do stick with you. I have a hunch that it’s more a “males'” book and a young person’s book, though the person who raved about it to me was older than I am (he’ s a male too).
As a hardcore Jane Austen fan, I was dismayed that Miller stated he doesn’t doesn’t like Austen–not the statement but by the way he implied it was a “guy thing”–“gosh, girls try to get me to read Austen and I resist those skirts but, gosh, I’m a real guy”–attitude and the cuteness … it was supposed to be funny and endearing (I think) that he doesn’t like Austen (which is allowed!!! I’m not a total nut …. yet :)) but it simply forever stamped him in my mind as kinda dumb and a male chauvinist to boot, but isn’t that cute??? Anyway, its the danger of the detail … in his defense, the fact that I REMEMBER these details, even if with irritation, is a mark of his talent as a writer. (I am taking after him in good humor: he’s a big star: he can take it and he’s a good writer in BLJ, my highest praise.)



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m

posted October 12, 2009 at 8:42 am


Scot — in a conservative Christian world that is perceived to have a pompous, have-it-all-together, systematic theology attitude, you hit it on the head as to why young adults liked Blue Like Jazz:
“I think Blue Like Jazz was a form of evangelism for many, an evangelism that said “Yes, we are Christians but we don’t have it all together.”



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Travis Greene

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:09 am


Blue Like Jazz is a great book, but as to why it blew up, I think it also had the benefit of timing. It came out right when a critical mass of us postmodern young folks were really struggling with the version of Christianity we had been handed. At least that’s how it was for me.



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Bill Crawford

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:33 am


I like Miller’s style and, since I’m from Portland, love the references to place. I’m 56, but still resonate with his take on the faith.
I bought “Million Miles” yesterday, am halfway through, and am enjoying it. But my favorite is his “Searching for God Knows What.” I’ve read “Blue” and “Searching” more than once. Will most likely re-read “Millions” more slowly after the first read.



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Carl Holmes

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:35 am


Maybe this is is shameful, but I skipped Blue Like Jazz… I am about 1/3 through A Million Miles though and really like what he is saying about story and narrative and realizing our story is also a story of value.
Are you going to blog through this book as well?



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John W Frye

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:37 am


Scot, I reviewed Donald’s latest book, too, over at *Jesus the Radical Pastor.* What do you think of the idea that Miller might be reviving a substantial meaning for the term “good news” as he defines and describes a good story and a good life?



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Mike Clawson

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:38 am


I was young twenty-something when I read Blue Like Jazz (though it wasn’t my first Miller book; I had read “Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance” – the original version of what he later republished as “Through Painted Deserts – a few years before), and while I liked the book, and thought it expressed the spiritual struggle and journey of us postmodern Gen Xer/Millenials fairly well, I too don’t quite get what the huge fuss is all about. Too me Miller is a bit of a lightweight – he can tell a good story but there’s usually not a whole lot of depth or meat to what he has to say. I’ve often described him as the Max Lucado of the emerging church – feel good and inspirational but not a lot of substance, IMHO.
Like Diane said, I’m also a little put off by his dumb “guy” tone that comes out fairly frequently. Personally I think this is partly explained by the circles Miller runs in – he’s friends with Mark Driscoll (the “Cussing Pastor”) and attends an Acts29 church. I’ve found through more than one encounter with pastors and others associated with Mark that Driscoll’s “dude-ish” personality and attitudes towards women and gender identities tend to rub off pretty often, and Miller is no exception, again IMHO.
Anyhow, that’s just my .02… for whatever it’s worth.



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Henry Zonio

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:42 am


I agree that A Million Miles is his best book so far. He as amped up his writing style and has become more universally relatable. It was great to read about being part of a larger story. My favourite was hsi talking about God as the Writer in our lives that we need to listen to because he is trying to write an amazing story for us.



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Dave Moore

posted October 12, 2009 at 10:00 am


I liked Blue Like Jazz more than I originally anticipated. It is well written, entertaining, and contains some decent insights. It is strong on addressing poverty, not confusing Christianity with Jesus, and living humbly before God and man.
It is crucial that the genre of personal memoir be kept in mind. It is not a systematic theology or manifesto for the church! One concern is that many immature Christians read this as a blueprint for Christian living rather than the personal memoir that it is.
The stream of conscious approach made for some rough transitions. The author?s repetitious use of ?cool? gets a bit annoying and the common use of ?I? is a bit ironic considering that the author is seeking to push back on individualism. The memoir genre is vulnerable to self-indulgence and the author may fall prey at times to that particular vulnerability.



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Matt Edwards

posted October 12, 2009 at 10:16 am


I rarely read a book twice, but I’ve read Blue Like Jazz three or four times. I think the thing I liked best about it the first time I read it was that it so different than every other Christian book. It wasn’t triumphalist; it was real.
Miller’s attitudes also reflect those of people in the Pacific Northwest, so Blue Like Jazz resonates with people here (in Washington State).



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Bill Crawford

posted October 12, 2009 at 10:27 am


Mike at 7 – I read in a CT interview that Miller attends a Luthera Church. I believe he used to attend Imago Dei.



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dan!

posted October 12, 2009 at 10:35 am


I have loved all of Don Miller’s work. Blue like Jazz was good, and searching for God Knows What was life changing.
I’m not sure where I’d put Million Miles, but I think it’d his best thus far. Much of my fondness of his writing has to do with the fact that I feel that his thoughts express the things that I’m wrestling with in ways that I haven’t been able to, and that his journey has given a lot of insight to my own.
that’s my 2 cents. I love the new book.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 12, 2009 at 10:50 am


I find that my reaction was somewhat similar to Mike Clawson’s. I thought Donald Miller was a good story-teller and I enjoy good story-tellers. (I can enjoy a Max Lucado book for much the same reason, really.) But Blue Like Jazz never struck me as the huge deal that it did others. Maybe that’s because the whirlwind of deconstruction is not something I put on or take off. It’s simply part of my formation and most that I encounter is at some point subjected to it. For good or ill, I can’t really remember being any other way. (I don’t know that I would call it ‘exhilirating’, though, Scot. At least that’s not a descriptive word that springs to mind for me.)
I have no immediate plans to add his latest book to my currently lengthy reading list, but probably will at least browse it at some point.



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Mike Clawson

posted October 12, 2009 at 11:16 am


Bill (#11) – Thanks for the update. I hadn’t heard that Miller had left Imago Dei. I’d be curious to know for sure if he has, and, if so, why?



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Doug Young

posted October 12, 2009 at 11:32 am


Scot,
I read it once and listened to it once on audio. Listening to Donald Miller read it opened me up more to the stories than simply me reading the text the first time.
What I liked most was the fact that he didn’t gloss over or sanitize the reality of his overall story. I think his approach caused it to resonate with people in way that it wouldn’t have had he sugar-coated it.



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Phil W.

posted October 12, 2009 at 12:09 pm


I think the work that Blue Like Jazz reminded me the most of was The Catcher in the Rye. And what I mean by that is that it had moments of almost literary drivel punctuated by the nuggets of incredible insight. On one hand, it seemed narcissistic; but on the other, it was also revealing. I think it was a reflection of the world we live in with Twitter and blogs and such.
I’m about a third of the way through A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and I’m finding it much better written than Blue Like Jazz and much more engaging.



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Jeanne

posted October 12, 2009 at 12:40 pm


As a tail end GenX’er, I enjoyed Blue Like Jazz but reading it once was good enough for me. Donald Miller’s writing style is engaging, thought provoking and laugh out loud (LOL) funny as I found out to my embarrassment around a pool in Las Vegas. I agree with dan, although I haven’t read Miller’s latest book, “Searching for God Knows What?” is my favorite and changed the way I think of community. Loving God and loving others came through loud and clear in Las Vegas of all places! Gotta love it.



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Scot McKnight

posted October 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm


John, I don’t think Donald Miller is reviving a substantial meaning so much as repeating what has been a regular refrain for about a decade or more — gospel as story.



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Rachel Oblon

posted October 12, 2009 at 2:01 pm


Scot- I agree. This is his best book to date. It is accompanied well by his speaking tour. He goes from doubting everything (Blue Like Jazz) to finally deciding to “do the thing” (Million Miles) and in doing so lives a better story and encourages us to do the same.
Why did Blue Like Jazz take off? At the time young adults were in a significant place of doubting and questioning the foundations of faith and felt as though their questions weren’t welcome in the church. This book created a much needed forum in making those conversations mainstream and acceptable. Do I think that Miller is a deep theologian? No. I don’t think he would consider himself one either. He is just a guy who has written about his life and invited us to read along. I, for one, am a fan.



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Stephen Mook

posted October 12, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Interesting remarks from Miller -taken from CT interview:
“When people read parts of the book where you are more self-aware or maybe “meta,” it might lead them to think it’s more postmodern. Would you describe it that way?
“I don’t know what postmodern means. I’ve never been to an emergent church. I’ve never read a book about postmodernity. I’m not just saying that to get off the hook. One of the things that is so frustrating is when readers will use the word emergent [to describe me]. I attend a 150-year-old Lutheran church. We do liturgy. My theology is Reformed theology. I just had a beer with Brian McLaren once and we didn’t talk about the church. I study literature and I read memoirs to figure out how to write a better one, although this will be my last memoir for a long time.”



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Aaron

posted October 12, 2009 at 5:17 pm


Is Donald Miller a Calvinist? Does anyone know?



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Kyle Nolan

posted October 12, 2009 at 11:05 pm


I felt the same way when I read Blue Like Jazz. I don’t think I was as crazy about it as some of my friends because I was at a different place in my life and had heard much of what Miller was saying already. Later, I read Searching for God Knows What and absolutely loved it, because I think that was the right time for me to read what he was saying in that book. When He came out with BLJ, I don’t think much of the Evangelical world had thought about what he was saying, or at least hadn’t heard it from such a relatable voice.
Miller’s writing style is enjoyable, and he’s thoughtful. That’s a good combination, and when it reaches a person at the right time, it can have a huge impact.



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RJS

posted October 13, 2009 at 1:32 am


I read Blue Like Jazz today while traveling (I expected to be reading it on the return trip as well, but travel delays – snow in MN – gave me (much) more reading time than anticipated). Blue Like Jazz was interesting – a pretty easy read, but interesting.
Diane, I, too, like Austen (except Sense and Sensibility) – but didn’t find his attitude overall, or his dismissal of Pride and Prejudice, troubling (esp. as many of the friends he talks to and about are female). It is a memoir – and told in his voice. He’s a good writer.



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Friar_Tuck

posted October 21, 2009 at 11:39 pm


I think BLJ is an attempt at humble apologetics. In it Miller attempts to share his faith through confession instead of through a
“big me little you” approach. It is subtly brilliant, and not nearly as disconnected as a cusory reading might let on.
I just finished



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Monique

posted December 11, 2009 at 4:14 pm


Hi there,
I wanted to invite you to a webinar hosted by Donald Miller next Thursday morning on the subject of his new ?Convergence? DVDs for small groups (mostly). Convergence is Miller at his best: doing honest talk about faith. On the first dvd set he talks to Dan Allender, Phyllis Tickle, Lauren Winner. He just recorded the next set with Randy Alcorn, Henry Cloud, John Townsend. You can listen in Thursday, Dec. 17 at (11 am PT, 12 pm MT, 1 pm CT, 2 pm ET). Go to https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/543081489 to RSVP for the webinar & we’ll be sure to send you a reminder.
You can learn more about Convergence at http://www.allthingsconverge.com. If you have any further questions please feel free to email Monique@Lovell- Fairchild.com.
Thanks,
Monique Sondag



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