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.

 
About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to Donald Miller Knows Narrative

  1. Hey Jonathan

    Thanks coming to the show in New York. I’m so sorry to hear you were annoyed by my part of the night. I’m glad you enjoyed Don.

    As for my accent, I lived in England. I do the Wimbledon voice-overs for CNN.

    My portion was cut from a 90-minute solo show. I designed it for 35 minutes for this tour, but we had to cut it off at 25 minutes. It wasn’t designed to be manipulative. I tried to find the humor in leaving you hanging, that’s all.

    I’m sure I failed to describe the weight of those real events in 25 minutes. And I will certainly take your criticisms to mind when I go back to work on the show. I appreciate your honesty.

    Getting in front of a crowd of 350 people and exposing my failings: prejudices against the church, sense of entitlement, along with all the wacked and cracked things that did happen in church, not to mention admitting alcoholism and premarital sex in front of a group of people who actually knew me in New York when I was in that mess, wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. But to be reduced to an annoying commercial seems rather forced.

    I know you are trying to make a name for yourself and Patrol Magazine. It’s your job to have a critical eye. I applaud you for not being some kiss-ass webzine that thinks everything is amazing.

    I did notice, however, your front page this evening: What ‘The Dude Abides is missing, Was the Crowder Band Ever That Great?” Have a care that you don’t trash everything.

    I would also invite you to read my book to know the whole story. You don’t have to buy it. it’s in the New York Public Library stacks.

  2. Larry Wilson says:

    Whoa, did we go to the same show? Susan was professional, polished, funny, poignant, moving, and relevant to many of our spiritual journeys.

    And I’m not the only one who responded to her show with respect and appreciation – the auditorium was filled with laughter and the applause of those who resonated with her journey and message.

    This critique feels more like the arrogant conceit of a second-rate writer who needs to stir up controversy and conflict to gain readers. How sad.

  3. Christina Adams says:

    I do agree with Mr. Wilson. I was not there but did have the privilege to see it at another venue. Susan is refreshing and very down to earth. She is a wonderful person and a true believer in Christ. I also agree with Susan where you shouldn’t be a kiss ass however in my opinion this does not apply because her show is genuine and I feel very far from annoying, just like Susan herself. And by the way who made you the expert on British accents?

  4. Wendy says:

    I saw the tour in Baltimore and I’ve been to one of the Christian events Susan talks about that made her walk out. Susans talk certainly did not fall into the same category. Mr. Fitzgerald, I’ll assume you have not ever been to one of those “change your regular filling to a gold tooth” events or you would not have lumped Susans talk in with such events. And she is on tour to premote her book…and she did promote her book..I’m sorry, what was the problem?

  5. Amanda Fisher says:

    I saw this tour when it was in Greenville, SC and thought it absolutely fantastic.

    I had no idea what to expect when Susan took the stage but thought she was captivating. I even commented later that night that her accents (especially the British one) were spot on.

    I didn’t feel manipulated in the slightest when she left the audience hanging with “if you want to know more…buy the book.” Mind you, I already had the book, but I didn’t feel a cringe of infomercial when she said it. I thought it was cute and a good way to end the act.

    To think that she could cram her whole story into just 25 minutes is rather silly.

    But while we’re on the subject of commercials and such…aren’t most of us trying to get our words, voice, art or music out there? As writers, aren’t most of us trying to get people to read what we have to say? After all, that’s why we’re doing it, right? Sure, we do it because we feel it in our guts to do it but we want people to read it. And with that…comes a certain level of selling.

    If you didn’t think that was true, you wouldn’t have ads for magazines and ways we can all follow you on Facebook, Twitter and email. You’d just write a blog and keep it private so that no one else could read it.

    As Wendy put it…she was on a BOOK tour. Her and Donald Miller are promoting their BOOKS.

    For those that may read this and haven’t seen the tour or read their books, please take the time and read them. They are fantastic.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I thought Susan Isaacs and Donald Miller actually complemented each other really well.

    I don’t understand the critique of Isaac’s reading. It reads as rather dismissive and not at all informative. The whole point of a review is to critically analyze something, and so it’s fine to not like something, but then explain why, instead of lazily saying “Without getting too much into it….” Writing that a Christian author’s reading made the reviewer “nervous” and that it felt “disconcerting” is a pretty serious charge, and there’s no evidence as to what the reviewer didn’t like — other than Isaac’s British accent. Given the lack of detail and that the reading wasn’t even in the East Village, one can’t help but wonder if the reviewer was even really there….

    As to Isaacs’ cliffhanger: It was clear she was only giving a snippet of her story, and that in doing so she was highlighting her snarky style, a style that had the church filled with laughter when she sarcastically poked fun of Christian dating books. But it was clear that she didn’t want to leave the audience thinking she was bitter, that she wanted to give hope and encourage the readers to find out how someone who had become disillusioned and who had “cheated on God” could find Him again, and that’s why with the one minute she had left to wrap up her complex and relatable story, she said her relationship with God was mended and that her book explains that story.

    My review of Angry Conversation with God is here: http://files.thecathedral.goarch.org/cathedralvoice/02-02.pdf

  7. Jonathan says:

    Hi everybody,

    Thanks for reading Patrol and for taking the time to respond to my review. I’m happy to see that it caused so many of you to comment on the blog and I can assure you that I’m here only for clarification, not to try to defend myself or fire back at any of the above comments.

    Let me simply say, I was, in fact at the reading. Sorry for saying it was in the East Village when, technically, it was right on the other side of 14th Street in Gramercy. How embarrassing. I also just wanted to point out that this was a review, and as such, one person’s opinion. I am so happy to see that others enjoyed Susan’s talk in NYC as well as in other venues across the country.

    By way of clarification: my criticism is that I was not expecting to feel as though I was at a youth-rally-styled event. I very intentionally have not entered that world of Christian performance since high school and, to me, Susan’s talk felt like that kind of thing, whereas Don’s approach did not. That is my criticism.

    I emailed Susan immediately after her comment was posted to make clear that I had no intention of being anything more than a critic who reviewed a performance. And I apologized to her if she felt I conveyed anything beyond that.

    Please continue to disagree (or, agree, anybody?). Don’t let my attempt at clarification be an interruption. As for me, I have to get back to reading my newly arrived copy of “Angry Conversations.”

    Thank you all again for being such engaged readers.

  8. Jonathan, thanks for offering – and receiving! – criticism. We’re both better for it.

  9. Lucas says:

    I don’t understand the double-standard. Ms. Isaacs’ book is at times compelling. But considering how hard she is at times on others and much of Christendom, I don’t see why such a mildly negative response is a problem. It’s understandable that she felt hurt by what Mr.
    Fitzgerald wrote. But how do the people she writes about feel?
    Wonderful that many were touched by her show – as were many at the
    events she lambastes. Does everyone have to like her story about so
    many things she didn’t like herself? Surely Mr. Fitzgerald shouldn’t be derided as arrogant and second-rate for having a different opinion of something so opinionated, and for a snarky review of a snarky memoir.

    How sad indeed.

    Judge not, lest you also be judged – or – as you sow, so also shall you reap?

    Lucas

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