[NOTE: If you’d rather read something less squishy and more concrete, or less Lutheran and more Reformed, my total-BFF-who-I-just-met, Derek Rishmawy, has a great piece over at Christ and Pop Culture.]
Oh, Don Miller. You used to be cool.
I admit it. Like pretty much every Christian my age, I had a torrid love affair with Blue Like Jazz (the book, not the movie, but also kind of the movie). What can I say? Jazz is to us post-evangelicals what Atlas Shrugged is to libertarians, or what The Lord of the Rings is to hippies, or what Martha Stewart Living is to really terrible people.
But now I kind of want to take it all back.
I read the book in a single day, as I flew from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, devouring page after page and only pausing briefly to run between flights or to board a bus in Boston. The story of one man’s search for Jesus was salve to my aching soul, which was experiencing many of the same yearnings he described. I finally closed the book, tears in my eyes, as I stumbled off the bus into the golden winter leaves, praying to someday see Jesus as clearly as Don did.
But the thing is, when I stumbled into the sea breeze, I stumbled into a church.
I admit I’m collapsing time a bit, but I found myself on the steps of The Church of the Messiah, an Episcopal congregation in Woods Hole, staring at the imposing, red door, and being welcomed in by smiling parishioners. And inside I found a bit of what had been missing from my pseudo-evangelical Presbyterian upbringing: a tradition that had preserved the oldest practices of the Church, ones that were objectively traceable to within a generation or two of the Apostles. The sharing of the peace, the sign of the cross, confession and absolution, and a service that climaxed with the breaking of bread.
I had stumbled out of my doubt and directly into the arms of Christ.
Don Miller, then, was part of my path back toward the heart of the Church — so it broke my heart the other day to see him confess that he almost always skips church, and not even for a particularly good reason.
In brief: he doesn’t like singing. And he’s not an “auditory learner.”
Singing and a sermon are apparently all a church service is to him, and since he doesn’t like singing, and he doesn’t learn anything from sermons, he stays home Sunday mornings and connects with God “through his work” (because, y’know, he’s a “kinesthetic learner”). Not that he has anything against church — it’s, like, his alma mater, dude. He learned what it has to say, and he’s done with it.
I’d be lying if I said I were super-surprised, but this still feels about like meeting my childhood hero only to have him punch me in the gut and tell me my shoes are ugly. Is this really the same guy who wrote unblinkingly in Jazz about uncomfortably orthodox topics like sin, Satan, and the wrath of God? What happened to that dude? Is this sort of mushy-headed thinking where all postmodern Christians eventually end up?
(Is it where I’ll end up?)
(Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.)
I wrote about this a bit before, back when Rachel Held Evans said something similar, but I’ll say it again. I think the seeds of this sort of thinking are planted deep in the evangelical tradition, because all we ever want to talk about is how we can feel close to God, and never mind how we can actually know, objectively, that we are close to God. Forget where God promised to meet us — where do we feel like meeting him?
Miller says he feels closest to God when he’s working, and I don’t doubt that he does. Heck, it’s possible that he actually is close to God when he’s working. But that kind of thinking gets really thorny, really fast:
- “I feel closest to God when I’m working!”
- “I feel closest to God when I’m sleeping!”
- “I feel closest to God during transcendental meditation!”
- “I feel closest to God when I’m plunking my life savings into slot machines!”
- “I feel closest to God when I’m murdering children in cold blood!”
I know that I crossed a line somewhere in that sequence, but your guess is as good as mine as to exactly where.
And I think that’s why it’s important to meet God where we know he is — where he promises to be. Not just spiritually, but physically. In the bread and the wine. His body and blood, on the tip of your tongue, melting into your flesh and your bones, becoming one with you so that you can be made eternally holy.
You want kinesthetic learning? Come, taste and see that the Lord is good, broham.
Don Miller doesn’t like objective facts. Neither do I, if I’m honest about it. We’re both incurable postmodernists, which means we doubt facts and believe narratives, because stories are truer than facts. That’s why I began this post with a story, because that story is true for me. It is absolutely, 100% true that people who happen to have really bad theology — Don Miller and the American Episcopal Church — pointed me back towards Jesus in a really powerful way. And it’s absolutely true for Don that he feels closest to God when he’s working. I don’t doubt that, because I take Don’s narrative seriously; nor do I have any reason to doubt that Christ is still working through it, even if I don’t know how.
But the thing is, if you prize narratives, that means you have to take seriously what people say about themselves. And that includes what Jesus says about himself. So here’s what he says:
And if you’re reading this, Don, please think and pray about that last one.
[Follow-up post HERE.]
Yo dawg, I heard you like blog posts, so I linked to some blog posts at the end of this blog post, so now you can read some blog posts after you finish reading this blog post: