Monday, October 17, 2005

Meeting Donald Miller

Today is Sunday, October 9, 2005 and I’ve traveled to Decatur, Georgia, home of Veritas Church. Tonight’s worship service is featuring Donald Miller, author of, “Blue Like Jazz”, along with several other books. Veritas Church has a membership of many varied backgrounds and ages. Their sanctuary is located in Decatur’s old courthouse. As a visitor, I was warmly welcomed and felt very comfortable being there.

I found a place near the front of the nontraditional sanctuary next to a young woman by the name of Pam. She had been living in Atlanta a few months and is a Eugene, Oregon native. She had come tonight to hear Donald Miller since she had read, “Blue Like Jazz”, and he was from Portland.

In speaking with Pam, I told her that I had been to Portland once and fell instantly in love with the city. It is very clean, the people are very friendly (even to visitors), the public transportation was awesome, and the overall atmosphere was inviting. I even walked around Portland very late at night and felt secure. Pam and I spoke about our common like for Portland. I’ve often told my wife that if we ever get the opportunity to move there, we’re going.

The worship service at Veritas is spiritual-contemporary and not with the loudness of a big band. They’re humble; they’re worshipful. I really enjoyed listening to the music and letting it flow through me.

Pastor David Slagle stood and addressed the gathering. He is not your typical suit-wearing, high-brow pastor. Oh, no. David is dressed in a Veritas long-sleeve tee shirt and jeans. He speaks with modesty and emotion. I believe he too, was excited to see Donald Miller. He introduced Donald before he took the stage.

Sitting only three rows away from the stage, I got to see Donald walk from the left-side to the stage. The first thing I noticed was his gait. He seemed very pensive as if he were about to give a classroom lecture. He was holding papers and took the microphone from David.

Donald began with humor and then telling us that he was going to do a reading from his new book, “To Own a Dragon”, followed by a Q&A, then finish with a reading from, “Through These Painted Deserts”.

From the beginning words, Donald speaks like he writes. Where other authors use type-speak or make their printed words sound far more intelligent, Donald’s words are his spoken words and no more. This revelation makes his stories more real and inviting. I compare his style of writing to that of Philip Yancey or John Eldredge. Neither of them sugarcoat anything they say. They’re all brutally honest about Christianity today, the “Church”, and life.

Donald begins reading and telling the audience the sadness of growing up without a father. In so much, he relates to fatherhood from watching television sitcoms, i.e. The Cosby Show, and how great would it be to have Cliff Huxtable as a dad. He went on to tell us the different pseudo-dads he had: a gung-ho military-type man and a guy who was more known for his listening to Lynyrd-Skynyrd and smoking marijuana, then for his role-model skills.

At points during Donald’s testimony, we laughed and were somber at his upbringing. I had a better understanding of why Donald experienced different theology and political spectrums as he grew into adulthood. I, too, have experienced this same spectrum, but only because my father was more into his work-life than his duties as a husband and father. I’m not saying this would’ve changed things, cause I believe one must live different experiences. But a deep relationship with Jesus would’ve helped me make better choices.

After his initial reading, Donald answered questions, mostly regarding his new book and future writings. He expounded on writing memoirs and future biographies. He was asked a question on his choice for a presidential candidate. Not missing a beat, he replied he hopes a Christian with a clear social justice platform runs. After the Q&A, he read from, “Through These Painted Deserts”. Both readings were very emotional, one from the context of growing up without a father, while the other traveling through the heartland of America.

Pastor David wrapped up the worship service with a beautiful prayer and the acoustic band played a few closing songs. I proceeded outside the sanctuary and found Donald Miller autographing books and talking with people. I decided to get in line just to see if he would briefly talk to me about theology.

My first impression of personally meeting Donald was great. He is very friendly, warm, compassionate, and willing to listen. He has no “ego” or “hidden agenda”. I asked him how he handles the theology pendulum; standing on issues from a conservative and liberal viewpoint. He affirmed what I was asking and answered that Jesus responded to some issues in a conservative manner, while others he answered with a liberal bent. Donald does not compromise the Gospels, but reads them as a person wanting a deep relationship with Christ. As evident from reading, “Blue Like Jazz”, Donald knows Christ was about life, heart, and relationships. He didn’t condone sin, but showed people kindness and love so that they would believe.

The second question I asked Donald was in regards to knowing John Eldredge, the author of, “Wild At Heart”. I am a big fan of Eldredge’s and wanted to know if Donald could relate to his works on spiritual Christianity. Donald responded that he was a friend of Eldredge and attended his Wild At Heart retreat. He thoroughly enjoyed it. I finished my discussion with Donald and asked him to sign by Bible. We then parted ways.

Outside, the night skies, cool air, and dampness from the rain were reminiscent of Portland. I was in awe of it all. On the way home, I thanked God for his presence during this wonderful and thoughtful evening. God is steering me toward great things by showing me people who are intentional, provocative, and relational Christians. This is the person I strive to be everyday.


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