Archive for October, 2009

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years- Review

Posted in Randomness on October 19, 2009 by jaymallow

There is a conflict that I must admit when it comes to reviewing “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller. On one hand I determined to approach this book critically, but as I read I yet again found myself empathizing with Miller and affected by his writing ability. Whereas with “Searching for God Knows What” Miller had thought through and espoused many of the questions I found myself struggling with at the time five years ago, with AMM I feel for Millar having walked through many of the same growing pains, yet now I have the experience of being both years removed from those initial pains but still feel the tension and after affects. It’s with this perspective that I want to offer both a critical and not so critical observance of the book and perhaps address some criticisms that I’ve read.

Part of the struggle in looking at a book such as AMM and Blue like Jazz is that they don’t fall into the “theological” framework of a “Christian Book”. They are more like personal memoirs that Miller at times makes broader applications to the Christian life. In AMM Miller begins this particular journey while attempting to assist with writing a script for a movie based on Blue like Jazz. The initial crisis comes as Millar realizes that the movie is about his life and his life is… boring. Then looking into elements of what makes a good story Miller begins a process of as he puts it, “editing his life into a better story”. This motivation brings up perhaps a real criticism of the book in that God seems ancillary to Millar’s desire for his life to be interesting. What is lacking is a sense of desire to follow God and glorify Him. Now I’m not saying that Miller doesn’t have that desire, and in fact in one chapter Miller does talk about listening to God and letting Him direct the story, it’s just that the “meta-narrative”(i.e. the gospel) isn’t explicit. In that sense there is a caution I would offer in unreservedly recommending this book. This book is really more about the “what” of experiencing a life unfolding as a story and coming to the realizations of that implication rather than the “why” and “how” of seeing what life as a type of narration by the ultimate storyteller (God) entails.

While not wanting to be an apologist for the book let me offer perhaps a reason why this seems to be lacking. First this is a recent recollection for Miller. Even looking back at my own stories years later I’ve only begun to see the larger narrative in each. In one sense I think the genuineness of what Miller relates is that the “meta-narrative” isn’t “forced” on these stories. Rather I believe Miller is relating what God has shown him so far in the way He’s showed it. Miller’s over arching point of the book also is that God personally moves us in our personal stories. That seeing God work transforming our character with the end of transformation in mind is conveyed as somewhat radical and unsettling and that pain and suffering are critical to a good story seems novel should bring a real pause to knee jerk critics. Even in Miller’s somewhat dystopian conclusion that a part of our stories is that we won’t find fulfillment in this life can be viewed negatively or can be seen in light of Romans 8:23-25.

Over the years I’ve come to view Donald Miller’s writing as a generational phenomenon. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years confirms that view in that really this is a coming of age book. Miller relates the realities of really growing up, of taking responsibility before God with your life and deciding to live for more than your comfort. That being said, this is a book that like other Miller books I would be cautious to recommend. I would hesitate to recommend this book to a very new believer or to a very immature believer. This is a story about a maturing Christian in the process; also there is a lot of “background” theology that is presumed about God and Christian living. Even to a more “mature” believer I would recommend reading John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Life” or DeYoung’s book “Just Do Something” in concert with this one. Part of Miller’s great ability as a writer is to communicate experiences as they are experienced. It can be a danger to take a story and draw a life theology from it. You wouldn’t build your theology from what your friend thinks God is doing in his life, but you certainly would love to hear that story and try to learn what you can. So too Miller invites us to hear a part of his story, tells it beautifully, and I believe hopes that we learn something about God for ourselves in the process.

Single Issue Voter: When a good thing becomes a God thing it’s a bad thing

Posted in Devotions on October 8, 2009 by jaymallow

You’ve got a thing. Perhaps you’re the clown and your thing is making people laugh. Perhaps you’re shy and people know you as the “quiet girl”. Perhaps you are the rebel and you want everyone to know that your parents made you come here. All of us have a “thing”, all of us have an identity that we want others to perceive and approve of. But as you mature in finding your identity you discover that one of the easiest ways to define yourself is to associate yourself. Political party, religious preferences, even clothes and “attitude” begin to allow you to distinguish yourself as a person and find others that affirm you in your choices. But you are still one of many until one day you find it, your issue. Having an issue is really the height of defining yourself because people don’t have to like you they just have to like your issue. You can very easily dispense with all your faults and fears of rejection because if people do reject your issue they aren’t really rejecting you are they? Now you have to know that it might take some time to find your issue because you need to find a unique and obscure issue. The more unique and obscure the better because people will more readily affirm you and your issue if it’s something they themselves haven’t thought of. Then you get the double affirmation of not only having people approve of your issue, they’ll also think you’re smart, spiritual, conscientious, cool, etc. If your issue is really esoteric you also get the benefit of not really being challenged and perhaps you’ll get the most desirable personal identity of all- being the herald for your issue. Why is being the herald so important? It’s important because you get the added benefit of feeling righteous when you tell people about your issue. In the first place they either don’t know or think wrongly so you when you tell them about your issue you already are in a position of moral superiority. If they agree with you then they affirm that you were in the right all along. If they disagree then you can instantly label them as “uninformed”, “misguided”, or best ever “unspiritual” thereby solidifying your sense of being “right”. What’s also great about being the herald is that you have an excuse for bringing up your issue no matter the context. People must be informed about your issue and since you’ve attached your identity to your issue you get an excuse to essentially talk about yourself whenever you feel like it. Of course if you are challenged as to the relevance of what you are saying you can always say, “But people don’t know about this! It’s important!” And it is deadly important… to you, because you’re justified, you’re “right”, if people agree with you. You are affirmed and deemed valuable if people affirm your issue and think your issue has merit. At this point if they don’t know about your issue, who are you?

At this point let me take my tongue out of my cheek and get deadly serious. Some in reading the above might think that I’m cynically referring to Jesus as an “Issue”. Jesus Christ isn’t an “issue” He’s a person, THE person, if you will He’s THE ISSUE. In Christ alone are we offered Justification, Identity, and redemption from our futile attempts to find these things else ware. What I’ve described above is our attempts to find these things apart from Him. The main difference is that when we look else ware for these things we find gods that can’t do what we hope they will do. They’re gods that can’t redeem, gods that can’t give us the identity we so long for. Sadly it’s the best things that make the best gods. We are more apt to try to find our “rightness” and “identity” in marriage, family, doctrine, and conviction. But when we put our justification and identity in these things we are building our lives on sandy shores that trial sweeps away like a torrent. There’s a reason Paul Determined to know “nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified”. There’s a reason Paul in responding to the Corinthians many “issues” brought them back to the questions, “Does this express love towards God? Does this love your brother?” When “issues” become preeminent, what is lost is the penultimate, namely the person and work of Christ. We have an enemy that would gladly have us mired in and find our glory in “issues” rather than exalting and glorying in Christ.

Zombieland: Nut up or Shut up

Posted in Randomness on October 4, 2009 by jaymallow

Ok there’s a movie about zombies that’s touted as a comedy and is said isn’t too disgusting, then word of mouth starts breathing “Shaun of the Dead” in relation and I’m there.

Well I’m not going to compare and contrast all throughout, but I will say that there are similarities. 1. The zombie plague is just a backdrop in both movies- you could have any number of “end of the world” scenarios play out in both movies and they’d work fine, which means both are about the characters. (Which quite frankly is the highest praise I could give Zombieland, that it’s about characters in the same way as Shaun is.) 2. Both make fun of zombie genre norms without parody. 3. Both buck the zombie trend in being more or less hopeful.

But the similarities end there. This is a fully American realized telling of a good zombie comedy. First off, let me join the chorus and say that perhaps the best thing about this movie is that it’s set entirely in a post apocalyptic world. Only in brief flashbacks are you given a glimpse of the transition, but this is a story about survivors, not surviving. Each character is revealed in how they’ve come to function in a hostile world. Columbus is the neurotic whos constant fear and adherence to “rules”, have kept him sane and improbably alive. Then there’s Tallahassee , who’s devil-may-care disregard for his own life and anger issues make him the perfect zombie killing machine. Add to these two, Wichita and Little Rock’s distrust and playing on others weakness in scheming manipulation. These four get thrown together and are confronted with the most human decision of all, to trust/care for someone else or look out for yourself. At differing points throughout each has to make that choice and regain a bit of their humanity.

The plot is simple. Columbus (Jessie Eisenburg) meets up with Tallahassee (Harrelson) who then meet/get conned into heading west with sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin). Wichita’s drive is to get Little Rock to a theme park they both visited when they were younger that she’s convinced Little Rock is zombie free. Wichita’s desire is to give her little sister a bit of her childhood back. (and perhaps regain a bit herself) Columbus and Tallahassee are simply along for the ride at first, but are drawn to interact and care for perhaps the only two other people left on the planet.

The pairing of Jessie Eisenburg and Woody Harrelson is literally nitro and glycerin. Very rarely do you see a chemistry that seems to transcend the screen. Harrelson and Eisenburg seem to actually like one another while tolerating each other’s eccentricities. Even better, each one plays the “straight man” perfectly while the other at times plays the comedic. Emma Stone is scintillating as the bad girl who’s both unattainable but retains just enough girl-next-door charm to be believable. Abigail Breslin actually shoots zombies- nuff said. Then there’s “the cameo”. Possibly one of the best, hilarious, and most unexpected cameo’s in movie history playing both himself and a parody. It’s just too good to give away…

In the midst of the zombie gore, language, and drug use there really is a pertinent story in how we interact with the world. In one sense all of us are “loners” coping with a hostile world that threatens us at every turn. Do we look out for ourselves, and if we do, do we lose our humanity in the process? Are we controlled by fears and “rules”, fatalistic, or manipulative? Or do we allow ourselves to care about others knowing full well that we will probably be hurt in the process and along the journey? Zombieland finally answers this question: “If you’re not with people, you might as well be a zombie.”