Searching for God Knows What

I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with Donald Miller. I read Blue Like Jazz when everyone else was reading it, and both loved and hated it at the same time. I told one of my best friends (who will remain nameless), who loves Donald Miller, and he recommended "Searching for God Knows What." Honestly, I loved it and hated it for the same reasons.

Donald Miller has an incredibly relaxed writing style that reflects his teaching style. I've heard it described as "stream of consciousness," but it really isn't that. Stream of consciousness rarely has the destination in mind when the train leaves the station - Miller knows where he's headed, he just tends to take the scenic route.

With scenic routes on road trips, sometimes you visit new and interesting places you would never have seen before. Sometimes you get lost out in the middle of nowhere, and wonder how the heck you're going to get back home. Miller's book contains both of these things for me.

The majority of the book centers on Miller's musings on the Lifeboat theory. He talks about the moral dilemma question where a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman are floating in a lifeboat lost at sea. In order for them to survive, one of the members of the lifeboat has to be thrown overboard. The exercise is to debate which person should be thrown overboard.

Miller's thesis is that humanity functions as though the lifeboat story is reality, except we find ourselves on the lifeboat - constantly trying to prove to people that we deserve to exist. A great deal of what we do as humans - especially in the Western World - is compare ourselves to one another. In reality, as Miller rightly points out, the Gospel eliminates the need to prove we deserve to exist. Rather than cast someone over the side of the lifeboat, God sent His Son to die.
That's the destination. But remember, Miller takes the scenic route. And, as promised, he presents some interesting things you might not have seen before in an interesting way: Miller does a good job of showing how the desire for comparison has woven its way throughout our culture. Furthermore, that Jesus possessed virtually none of the characteristics that we exalt in our own lifeboat theories (looks, wealth, popularity). Instead of reverting to lifeboat theories with God's name attached (religion), Miller demonstrates that humanity was created to gain its significance, acceptance, and recognition through a relationship with God - not through comparison with others. And he rightly points out that much of Christianity has reduced the Gospel to a mere formula of a few spiritual laws, or the Roman Road, or some other tool, while forgetting altogether that a relationship with God is not a formula... no relationship is.

Yet, sometimes Miller's greatest writing strength is his greatest writing weakness. The scenic route involves quite a few rhetorical questions that Miller never gets around to answering. Often, that leads the reader to do a little more thinking on an issue. Sometimes it confuses the wrong issue. He raises some questions about end-time events as an illustration (pg 144), that ends up confusing both the discussion of end-time events and the point he was trying to illustrate. Similarly, earlier in the same chapter (pg 121), Miller uses some "scenic" language to describe both Christ and Heaven that at best confuses what he's trying to say in my mind.

The most frustrating thing for me about reading Donald Miller is also the thing that I like most about him. He has a way of weaving an obscure thought throughout a book, only to tie the loose ends up towards the end in an interesting and profound way. Who else could take a book about a lifeboat, Romeo and Juliet, and an alien, and make it all make sense in the end. On the other hand, I sometimes feel like I'm wading through an awful lot of deep kimchi before I get to something I can use. I'd rather someone put together a list a-la Tony Morgan of "Smart Things Donald Miller Said" and let me read those instead.

But then again, I never was much for the scenic route anyway.


chloeadele said...

There are times when I want the main points laid out in bulletin formation so that I can eliminate the non-essential fluff...

But I dream, think, and converse in a scenic route kind of way. It's my absolute favorite way to be. And it's what most people can't stand about me. At times, I just wish I could state my point without all the explanation and out-loud-processing. But I typically prefer a good scenic route.

So Big D is perfect for me. I adored this book. plus I read it on a road trip to the Rockies this summer making it even better.

Deb said...

I had to read BLJ through nearly twice before I started to appreciate his writing style. Two things smart things he said, but not necessarily original, that have stayed with me:
"The most difficult lie I have contended with is this: Life is a story about me."
"If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus."
The impact of those truths was greatly increased by the fact I was in the midst of a 10 day trip to Japan with 12 middle and high school students and a whole culture who has no concept of personal space.
But, God did use those words to adjust my attitude, then and now.
I'll have to check this DM book out.

elenburg said...

I just went on a Don Miller binge, reading all four of his books this month. I liked "Searching..." the best out of the four. I'm looking forward to whatever he does next. I'm not into scenic routes either, but his writing style is engaging enough to keep me moving along the path while challenging my formulaic assumptions about life.

Steve said...

I loved this book, though I had to read it twice before I could get my head around it. I think that one of the good-and-bad things about it is that Miller makes it clear that the Bible isn't a series of bullet points of "important things God said", however much we'd like to reduce it to that, so he tries really hard not to write a bullet point book, and in doing so writes a book that takes the very, very scenic route!