Upon recommendation from a friend, I read this book by a rather unorthodox Christian Spiritualist by the name of Donald Miller. I couldn’t help but inUpon recommendation from a friend, I read this book by a rather unorthodox Christian Spiritualist by the name of Donald Miller. I couldn’t help but instantly relate to him, sharing my last name and all, although in very few other ways. I was vaguely aware of Miller, but had never read anything of his, previous to this book. The subtitle of the book is ‘Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality’. It seemed to be a hybrid of memoir and theological pep-talk. In the very first chapter he expressed some dissatisfaction with some teachings of the church. Examples of this include objection to referring to God as ‘Father’, because so many fathers abandon their children, and criticism for Sunday schools teaching blind memorization of Scripture and commandments instead of helping children relate to God in a meaningful way. I can superficially support this criticism, but what I don’t understand is how children should be taught to relate to God. The outcome could prove very disappointing if left to the children for experimentation. It could put a damper on the Christian foundation as we understand it (not that I would be opposed, but the priests, pastors and teachers may feel differently). Furthermore, I can’t help but imagine that if each child’s relationship with this version of God, or whatever ambiguous concept some theologians might encourage is instructed, then it cannot truly be said that they discovered that relationship on their own terms, on their own time, in their own way, etc. I appreciated his advocacy of more open ideas and understanding of spirituality, even within Christendom, but I am not (yet?) convinced that the authoritative guise of Christianity could be done away with, while still maintaining the core beliefs.
In the middle of chapter 3 (pg. 31), he confessed that earlier in his life, he was not able to give himself over to Christianity because “it was a religion for the intellectually naïve.” He goes on to say that his belief was something that developed in his subconscious, rather than coming to a conclusion by any deliberate means. This did not satisfy me either. I am obliged to take him at his words, but such a path is not something that I can relate to. I have heard similar, indeed almost identical proclamations from numerous amounts of other former non-believers turned religious. The ‘I didn’t choose God (Jesus), He chose me’ explanation is how I could sum that up. I am not so bold as to accuse anyone who says this of dishonesty. If they really think that, I don’t presume to tell them they are mistaken, albeit I may suggest it in as subtle a way as I can (which may not be nearly subtle enough). The main problem I take with this is the idea that God is choosing people to accept Him, to the exclusion of others. Should I be made to feel like a reject or spiritual failure if I don’t feel it in my heart that this God has placed Himself in it? Surely, there are people who long for it, beg for it, but simply can’t gain that ‘satisfaction’ that so many people claim to have felt. This is an argument that has come up in regular conversation in my life, and I have yet to hear a satisfying answer as to why God would pick people, some much easier than others, to truly accept Him without intellectual inquiry and expect the ones who haven’t to feel inept in these deep matters. I can’t say that Miller feels this way, but he didn’t go into much more depth on this matter, and if he would have, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need to raise my objection here.
I hate to continue on with criticism now, but in my attempt to follow the book chronologically, I have to raise another point. On the first page of chapter 5 entitled ‘Faith: Penguin Sex’ (sounds promising) Miller was expressing how much he enjoyed sharing his faith with others, especially when one of his friends converts to Christianity. He described the experience of sharing faith as “euphoric… I see in their eyes the truth of the story.” What story that is, I am not precisely sure, but it compelled me to roll my eyes. I have to imagine it had something to do with the truth of God, Jesus, redemption, etc. Why Miller is content with giving this as legitimate testimony is beyond me. These sorts of quaint, mystical, (in my opinion half-assed) explanations are the primary things that bothered me in this book. They are recurring and offer no merit to someone reading the book (such as myself) that doesn’t already share a similar worldview. They became increasingly vexatious to read as the book went on.
There were occasional spots of satire that made his views on God seem much more hip and even playful. He mocked the practice of stoning people to death in the book of Exodus, placing himself as a character in the Bible, a former slave, freed by Moses. His character complained to Moses, or as he called him, ‘Mosey’ that he was better off as a slave back in Egypt. There was obviously a message that followed from it, about being spoiled and selfish and untrue to God (more vagueness) but it was relieving, I must say, that he presented this sense of humor that is all-too-commonly lacking among religionists.
I am going to graze over the part that suggested people that commit atrocities in the name of God, or who simply claim to be Christians were not ‘true’ followers of Jesus. I don’t even like wasting my time refuting this, because it deeply upsets me. Downplaying violent acts that were committed for explicitly religious reasons is something that I simply will not accept. Page 119 provides some support for why he feels this way, but I disagree, one-hundred-percent, unambiguously.
Luckily, I can now discuss a small section of convivial understanding that has nothing to do with the subject of the book. I include this merely to show I do not feel straight antipathy for the man, nor do I hope it would seem that way otherwise. He briefly talked about his selfishness again, but he didn’t evoke any supernatural remedy at this point. He stated that he wanted a girlfriend, but not every day. Perhaps a strange place to find common ground, but I feel the same way. I enjoy the thought of romantic companionship, but I don’t want her to impede my personal studies, my reading time, etc. I agree, there is selfishness, but it’s something that we owe ourselves; alone time, serene isolation that allows us to conjure some of the best ideas we may ever have. This isn’t to say selfishness is a virtue, I wouldn’t say that, nor was that what Miller implied. In fact, he goes on to talk about the necessity of human interaction. This isn’t directly related to that humorous example, of which Miller and I are of one mind, but he described Hell as a place where you are forever isolated. Being alone forever is what he would call Hell. I don’t disagree with him, granting a loose definition of 'Hell' (not even getting into the eternal aspect). This depressing concept of forced isolation for as long as you live (or beyond) doesn’t need anyone dictating it so. I agree that it is rather tragic to imagine. I get much joy from discussing with people, both that agree with me and disagree. Debate is something I thrive on (although I prefer smaller amounts of people at one time). I found this description of Hell to be adequate, if unnecessary to actually call ‘Hell’ as opposed to, say ‘an extremely undesirable way to live’.
He ended chapter 17 entitled ‘Worship: The Mystical Wonder’ with that very chapter title phrased into an actual sentence. “I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.” This chapter is only a few pages long, and it seems to be that it could only be that way because he was light on convincing explanations when it comes to the ‘wonder of God’. It brought up the expected idea of something greater than us had to create us, and that it is beyond our understanding. He doesn’t say that we should stop wondering, in fact he fully advocates wonder, but it’s only wonder for God that makes sense to him. Another thing that perplexes me about this take on things is that if you know you will never understand, why try to understand why you can never understand. There’s a paradox present here. What I take from this is something like this: Eternity can’t last forever. Does a statement like that even warrant the vainly spent mind-capacity to come up with it? If God is eternal, and eternity is something we can never comprehend, then why should we try to understand God? Can an eternal being really have personal relationships with temporal creatures such as us? I am not claiming that it is ridiculous to ponder, but if you are told to be satisfied with not understanding, then is wonder even the right word to describe your thought process thereafter? Another issue I have with this is that Miller almost seemed to be saying that if you don’t believe in God, you have no reason to find wonder in anything. He may be saying that if you have a sense of wonder, you’re worshiping God whether you like it or not, but I wouldn’t find that any more auspicious than the previous possibility.
In conclusion, I didn’t find any specific reason, or feel any specific feeling that changed my mind on theological or Christian matters (not to my surprise). While I enjoyed portions of the book and approved of some criticisms he had of religion, he still just ended up sounding like another person who claims to know what God truly wants, how His mind works and so forth while putting on a facade of humility that he can't understand God. All in all, Miller’s experiences and stories and explanations and conclusions all boil down to things he claims cannot truly be explained, they must be felt, yet he explained them as best he could, I suppose. He could have said that he wrote a book about how pointless it was to write a book about what he was writing about, namely Christian spirituality. His experiences and struggles in many aspects of his life are easy to relate to. They are things that we all deal with; vices, heartbreak, doubt, hopelessness, but there are many different ways to deal with them. I am not saying that Miller claims that his views on Christian Spirituality are the only way to go about things, but he certainly doesn’t provide the possibility of getting through ordeals, or strengthening relationships, or loving one another, or helping those less fortunate without the invocation of God. He wrote this book because these experiences helped him get closer to God and he thinks that perhaps it will help us get closer to God as well. He invites us to join in his euphoric view of the world (thanks for the offer). He honestly wishes for that to be the case, saying so at the end. I could talk at rather great length about this book, which says to me it was worth reading, and considering and there were some interesting perspectives that I always appreciate coming to understand better. However, I did not set it down feeling a desire to pray, or join a congregation of any sort, or seek out a spiritual identity that he seemed to hope some of his readers would realize they are lacking.
A Gothic Western? Really? Pretentious much? What were you Brautigan, one of those writers who said ‘I write so-and-so books, but with a so-and-so twistA Gothic Western? Really? Pretentious much? What were you Brautigan, one of those writers who said ‘I write so-and-so books, but with a so-and-so twist’? I mean, seriously, give us a bre — oh! Hey, so yeah, a gothic western. Spot on. Who knew one could be so apt in labeling their work. My apologies. Well done.
Having A Go at One of Those Superficially Clever, Show-offy-but-in-reality-rather-hokey-and-stilted-and-at-bottom-irrelevent Mash-up Comparative Descriptions That Critics Tend to Enjoy Implementing: Imagine if Cormac McCarthy and Kurt Vonnegut travelled back in time to assassinate Jesse James only to find that Mary Shelley had already travelled forward in time and was using his body for scientific experimentation, and Robert Louis Stevenson was… probably somewhere near… like in the basement, with his chemicals… hearing bits and pieces… eh, forget this. It does have in common some of the comic simplicity of Vonnegut, dreary dialogue involving cowboys, sort of like McCarthy, and indeed a science-gone-wild gothic aspect not entirely unlike Frankenstein, but those are just some things that came to my mind viz. it doesn’t smack of a rip-off at all. It’s easy to read, elegant in its lack of verbose adornment, and it is wonderfully entertaining.
Main Characters and About Them: Cameron counts. Greer fucks. Cameron fucks too though. Cameron and Greer also both kill people. Miss Hawkline fucks. Magic Child fucks. Miss Hawkline and Magic Child also both want to be rid of an evil (or at least highly inconsiderate) entity that dwells beneath their house. Cameron and Greer also both want to kill this entity because they will get paid. But sometimes both Cameron and Greer and both Miss Hawkline and Magic Child would rather fuck or eat than kill the entity. Cameron counts everything; shots fired, hoof clops clopped, silverware. If there are amounts of things, he’ll count them. When he is counting the amount of times someone does something, he always anticipates it to be done 1 more time. He expects to count to infinity, all the time. There is no expectation of a cut-off point for Cameron, and numbers are everything.
The House, What Surrounds it, and What is Contained Within it: (view spoiler)[Multiple chimneys of billowing smoke make the Hawkline house appear as a mini-factory of industrial dread. Frozen ground surrounds it on account of the ‘ice caves’ beneath it. Chemicals-cum-shadow/light-cum-monster inadvertently originated by professor-cum-elephant foot umbrella stand. Seemingly more inconvenient than dangerous, such a creation can cause reality not to fit its definition. In the end, we have confirmation of what we all know already; whiskey solves all problems. (hide spoiler)]
Writing this review is preventing me from getting fucked. I’m going to go get fucked. ...more