Tag Archives: Donald Miller

The church in the rearview mirror

I went on retreat last week because my class required it. I wanted to go, theoretically, but I had a lot of natural resistance born of the grief I bear over the loss of my community. I’m glad I went. No matter how many times I experience it, it is always a wonder to feel the ocean of grace in which we swim when life is feeling dry.

If you are grieving (and what Covid-experiencing person is not?) or depressed, or in some other state of mental illness (which is the broad plain on which we all stand right now), you probably feel some resistance to doing what is good for you, too. Like someone texts and asks, “You want to get a drink?” You look at your sweats and reply, “Don’t think so. Early day tomorrow.” Then you sit back down on the couch and wonder, “Why did I do that?” Maybe you call them back. Maybe you get another bowl of ice cream. It is resistance. I had some.

My retreat view

Nevertheless, there I was in Brigantine looking up the beach to Atlantic City from the 7th floor of that weird resort that sticks out like a sore thumb. I love to walk on the beach, so I did. I don’t usually walk with headphones in like everyone else, but I did. I don’t know why I retain the Dave Crowder Band in my iTunes worship playlist, but there he was:

He is jealous for me;
loves like a hurricane. I am a tree
bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.
And I realize just how beautiful You are
and how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so.
Oh, how He loves us,
how He loves us so!

I sang on the deserted beach, “You love me. Oh, how you love me.” And tears surprised me. I needed to remember. I needed to keep walking, with my afflictions eclipsed by glory.

Don’t hold on to the church that was

I’ve been having a tough time living outside of community for over a year, now. I don’t really move on. I retain a sense of belonging to all the places I have been before. I’ve always left them with a blessing and mutual care. Not this time.

As I read through my journal from the last three months, I came across a moment when I was quite low and felt drawn to sit in the chair before my icon wall and see if they said anything to me. There was Mary Magdalene kneeling before Jesus outside the tomb. He told her, and he told me, not to hold on to him.

This exchange between Mary and Jesus always says a lot. That’s why it became a well-known icon. This time I heard it revealing how Mary is holding on to this splendid moment. Jesus tells her, “There is more to come. Go tell people it is coming.” More specifically to me, I heard. “Don’t hang on to the Jesus that was – as wonderful as that experience was. There is more to come for you and them.” I have been waiting in the upper room, more like wandering in my wilderness. And the time has come.

I finally needed to see my old church in the rearview mirror. I don’t mean like the Meatloaf song, exactly. But I’m sure you’re missing him, too. I mean I had to finally admit the old church is gone (which is fine, things grow and change) and the new church does not want me there. Actually, the email the Leadership Team sent to me had a policy statement for former pastors attached which said something like, “Here’s how you do not exist here for another year and then we can negotiate your return.”

Time to move on

Miller with his workbook

Even though I have this big feeling that bothers me, when I look at the road ahead, as short as my road may be, I know there is an awful lot of beautiful scenery coming. Last week I had two experiences that made the way clearer. I got officially shipped out by my former leaders and I picked up Donald Miller’s book A Hero on a Journey.

I did not like Blue Like Jazz (Miller’s best seller). As it turns out, he also doesn’t like it that much anymore. I’m not super jazzed by his new book either. But he doesn’t think it needs to be perfect. He’s changing. I’m changing. And I am surprised he is helping me.  One of my clients is reading the book, so I thought I’d check it out. Among the many good things Miller does as he channels Victor Frankel, Jesus, and any number of entrepreneur gurus, is to remind me that meaningful lives happen when you are going somewhere you want to go and you name it.

That’s how my former church got going. It was all about being the church for the next generation. I wanted to go there. I hope that is where it is going now. I may not know much about that because I think people aren’t supposed to talk to me. But I’ve decided to keep going and I trust they will, too. We’ll all meet up again someday. Jesus is still walking beside me, but right now he’s like one of those companions whose step is always a bit ahead of yours. They are with you, but they know the way. As a result, new things happen. Here I am writing memoir style like Miller, assuming you’ll benefit. Here I am looking into what is next, knowing Jesus knows the way just as he has always demonstrated. Who knows what could happen?

This leg of my journey is starting out like the Gotye song that interested me so much in 2013 (and has interested 1.5 billion viewers on YouTube since). There has been a lot of cutting off since 2013 (and remember it’s counterpart “ghosting?”). I got a four-page policy statement detailing how they would “treat me like a stranger.” And yes, “That feels so rough.” It’s a loss. Telling a bit of the story right now feels like a good way to get moving.

As influential people pushed me toward the edge, I started noticing how many people out there are in the same boat — out to sea in an ocean of pandemic and institutional crises. I had wanted to prevent such disaster in my church with my elaborate transition strategy. But that didn’t completely work out. I can accept that fact. We are all moving on. Jesus is excellent at pioneering a new way for us.

Turn into the wind

I can’t imagine myself living outside the church in the future. I’ve never been outside of community like I am, for now. After I got the email it was final. I wrote them back and wished them well. And I definitely meant that – I love those people and I love their church. Jesus is walking beside them this very moment. Who knows what could happen? I suggested they call me up (or text, of course), now that they have me situated.

Whatever good things I am finding as I hit the road, it is still hard to see that church, the old one and the new one, in the rearview mirror.

And yet it is shockingly easy to turn into the sea breeze and find myself singing

You love like a hurricane. I am a tree
bending beneath the weight of your wind and mercy.
Oh, how you love me!

Pushback for Donald Miller wormthoughts


Donald Miller recently wrote a blog post on his Storyline blog which is connected to his Storybrand marketing firm (if you never heard of him, fine, skip this post). His post was about why he does not “go to church” very often (an act that Elaine told Nona was basically impossible the other day, since we are the church).

When he “went to church” (still impossible) the music team was great, but he loved the music more than the worship. He just doesn’t relate to God that way. He says: “As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.” Then he highlighted, “ I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.”

These are such “Miller comments” and such influential wormthoughts that I want to answer back. He keeps saying:

  • What I feel is paramount and defining.
  • I used to feel guilty.
  • My own estimation of my experience is how I decide what is healthy.

There is a lot to protest here, but you can do that as you please. I’ll just note that these thoughts are apparently supposed to be liberating. (They certainly are s&#! Americans say!). Miller has been “liberating” evangelicals all over the country for years as he wandered around finding himself and selling books. He made some good points in his youth, but then he became a philosopher and created a marketing firm to keep us listening to him. Somehow, his experience is supposed to be important to everyone he professionally tries to loop into his constituency.

He was really just dashing off some musings about how people learn different ways to feed his blog machine. But he couldn’t resist being a theologian when he told people to Tweet an incendiary phrase that would draw people to the blog; it was sort of a Christian version of Orlando Bloom getting naked so people will remember he’s an actor. He said:

“But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”

I doubt that more than 10% of Christians on the planet believe anything else. Why judge them all with your supposedly “personal” belief (shared by billions) that also sets up parameters for a special tribe who believe it like you (you more enlightened person that you are)?

He got what he wanted. A lot of people (like I am doing) responded to his post. So he wrote a follow up to defend himself. He began by apologizing for being “naïve” about how many people he might upset. He said,All I can offer is my perspective, which I do not offer as an answer, only a contribution to a discussion” — the same kind of argument your husband gives you when he doesn’t dare disagree with you to your face but is going to stonewall you. This is all in the name of openness, of course.

He then proceeded to go on a LONG theological rant about people who exhaustively teach “tribal” theologies, setting up all sorts of straw people to knock down. I honestly did not read it carefully, since I fall into a category (ironically) of a person who learns more by doing than by lecture — he wrote that he doesn’t listen to others because he’s not feeling it, but boy can he lecture!

I write mainly to protest the “gospel of me” that is the basis of Miller’s theology. His anti-consumerism consumerism. His anti-marketing marketing. His ex-evangelical but still principle-based teaching. His anti-pulpit pulpiteering. His brand-judging branding.

He’s just so judgmental in the name of being non-judgmental! The blog posts I reference drip with judgment, all in the name of being self-disclosing and so free from any accountability to the larger audience from which he profits. He is on a long list of people who have somehow managed to get a lot of people to care how they feel while providing almost no relationship of any merit that would warrant such a connection.

I long for true alternativity. Genuine faith. Real community. Actual caring. Devoted prayer and mission. I think we are going for that. Miller doesn’t help. I’m sure he has said something, somewhere that is great. But I am sure someone in your cell or your pastor voiced a similar, contextualized, unpackaged idea at some point that you could touch, and dispute, forgive and apply together. That’s better.