A couple of days ago Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years Tour” (in support of his new book of same name, reviewed here) rolled into St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan’s East Village for a night of reading, storytelling and fundraising, all done in his typical too soft to be quite edgy and overall pleasant style.
The “opening act” was writer/actor/comedian Susan E. Isaacs who is currently out with Miller promoting her new book Angry Conversations With God: A Snarky But Authentic Spiritual Memoir. Without going too much into it, somewhere in the middle of Isaacs’ talk I began to get nervous. See, the thing is, there are a lot of things going on any given Thursday night in New York City, so the feeling that I had somehow fallen into a youth rally-style event was a bit disconcerting.
Isaacs’ “performed” the idea of her book, which, as the title suggests is a series of (kind of) angry conversations with God, who, in Isaacs’ mind has a terribly annoying and not altogether convincing British accent. The story that unfolds in the midst of the conversation is essentially that due to too many insincere Christians and empty Christian events, Isaacs broke up with God. We know that she eventually found her way back, due to the fact that she was front and center at what was beginning to feel like one of the events she was so mad at God about, but on Thursday she ended her story with the cliffhanger/teaser/commercial “You’ll have to buy my book to find out what happens.”
Don Miller took to the stage after Isaacs and in his opening line began to chip away at the wall of cynicism I had just erected. He took a look around the church, with its high ceilings, exposed beams, Episcopal-church-y kind of look and said, “Welcome to Hogwarts.” He’s funny.
He then introduced a video, which he described as an infomercial for his non-profit “The Mentoring Project” which partnered with World Vision to raise support to provide mentors for young boys without fathers in the United States as well care to children in other countries.
After the video and a ten-minute intermission Miller began his talk in which he used the trope of screenwriting to illustrate the way that each person’s life is indeed an unfolding story. The occasion from which this example grew was, as he tells it, the writing of a screenplay based on his popular bookBlue Like Jazz. In the process of writing the film he thought a lot about what makes a great story, and even intended one of the infamous “Robert McKee Story Seminars.”
His point was that our lives follow the narrative structure of a well-written story, with the exception of the climax. That is, until the end of time we will not experience that moment, as in every film, when the protagonist reaches the highest point that effectually begins the end of the story.
As is the case with everything I’ve read by Miller and each time I hear him speak, I found myself agreeing, laughing and generally feeling encouraged that he has garnered so the attention of so many young evangelicals. But, as is also the case whenever I encounter Miller, there was something I took issue with, though arguably this time it was very trivial: using 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” as the main illustration for the art of story telling? Really?
At first I thought he was being ironic, because, you know, when aren’t we being ironic these days (see what I did there?). And maybe he was a little bit. He made a joke about Rocky, played, as if you didn’t know, by Sylvester Stallone, being 90 years old, and then continued to poke fun at some the more obvious and, some might say, obnoxious, plot indicators, but mostly it sounded like he was holding “Rocky Balboa” up as an example of great storytelling. Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of his talk, then, was that he managed to make is point despite his example.
After all, however, you can’t help but like Don Miller. He’s a good guy. Smart and funny, self-deprecating and sincere. What’s not to like? And now that he’s taking the experience of growing up without a father and turning it into a ministry for young men in the same position, I can truly say that I respect him as well.
It would seem we’re well on our way to starting a series here. The topic: Things We Already Know that Continue to Surprise Non-Evangelicals.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the notion that evangelicals don’t read books written by non-evangelicals, and last week I looked at yet another mega-church story put forth as representation of something new happening in evangelicalism. Yes. If by new they mean old.
This week I’m happy to announce a rather exciting event for New York City area evangelicals, a panel discussion put on by the literary magazine N+1 entitled “Evangelicalism and the Contemporary Intellectual.”
Ugh. I never know how to feel when I read an article that feels, to me as an “insider,” so behind the curve. Like the subject of my last blog, a review in the New York Times Book Review of The Case for God, an article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times takes a subject we’ve all discussed ad nauseum and makes it a feature story.
For many readers, simply knowing the subject means you could probably go ahead and, without reading it, write the same article Duke Helfand just wrote for the LA Times. Rock music in church. Suburbs. Upbeat Biblical message. Saddleback. Non-denominational.
Yah, we got it
Admittedly, this is a rant, though it’s not against mega-churches (plenty of that going on, no need for me to add to it here), nor is it against the media reporting on issues of interest to Evangelicals (more, please), if anything this is a lament that the same story keeps being told over and over.
If it’s not a mega-church story, it’s a rebel church story or a Driscoll/Bell/Baker, Jr. story. Though, I guess it must be said, I’ll take this reporting about “new” trends in evangelicalism over the latest headline-attracting and painfully embarrassing statement by our old friends from the old school hard right.
There has to be a point here, and there is. You, Patrol reader, know better. You know what is really going on. You know what mega-churches mean and how they mean. You know we’ve moved on, we’re moving on. You know what story to tell. You know it can’t ever be just one story (borrowing here from the TED talk by the always amazing Chimamanda Adichie).
Tell our story. Join us. Make the media know who we really are by being the media. And, if that’s not your gift, not where you’re at, then please, at the very least, don’t embarrass us.
Midweek imagination exercise: Ignore for a moment the fact that we all know that Lee Strobel already wrote a book called The Case for Christ. Pretend with me that, as the rest of the world seems to believe, we don't exist. And by we, of course, I mean the educated, young evangelicals who read both books by Lee Strobel and the New York Times Book Review.
But we are here, aren’t we? Cogito ergo sum, etc. Yes? Then did you see the article from this past Sunday’s Times' Book Review which featured Karen Armstrong’s new book A Case for God. I know, I know, we believe Christ is God so it kind of feels this title's been used already, but let us give the books author Ms. Armstrong, former nun turned popular historian, a chance.
The truth is, Armstrong speaks for us. She elucidates a kind of pre-modern belief in which science has not yet meddled, the Enlightenment has not happened and story and mystery reign in all matters faith. You’re familiar with his kind of belief if you’ve ever read Aquinas or Augustine. This is before we got all tangled up in trying to factually prove why God exists, before the incessant desire to compare the apples and oranges of Genesis and The Origin of Species; back when we just, you know, believed. The essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen…all of that.
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