Donald Miller and where we find meaning

By Jeff Smith


Many times people are not who they say they are.

There is a whole TV show dedicated to people having relationships with people online and then it turns out they aren’t who they say they are.

It’s kind of a sign of the times, I think, when people can’t be honest with themselves and others. There are also a lot of people who are pretty sincere and care about being honest.

Just from his books and other writings I can tell that Donald Miller is the real deal.

From his books I have learned not to compare myself to other people and how society puts so much value in what other people say about us.

In “Blue Like Jazz” Miller tells a fictionalized version of his story. A young conservative Baptist from Texas goes to Reed College, a liberal arts college in Oregon. The book was published in 2003 and a movie was made about the book which was released in 2012.

I have only read snippets of the book but I have read two of Miller’s other books. The gist of “Blue Like Jazz” is that a college student turns his back on God and tries to figure out what he believes. But it’s a lot more than that, and a lot more complicated.

The cornerstone of Miller’s beliefs is that Christianity is something to be experienced and it’s relational. It’s not just about following a list of commands.

In his books Miller deals with subjects like finding meaning, how to be transparent and the importance of our story. Miller and his team of people at StoryBrand have decided to come up with a life plan that gives people meaning.

It’s not about being rich. It’s not even about happiness as that is fleeting. He has said true meaning can be found by working on a project that is good for the world, sharing your life with someone or a community of people who loves you and redeeming the events of your past. 

I am single and although I am in a great town, I struggle with finding community. In order to have this great connection with people there is a vulnerability factor, too, that is tough.

Depending on the week, I think I am doing something that is good for the world and I think I can do better at redeeming the events of your past. I’m not sure I exactly understand this principle but I think it has to do with not letting your past  affect the present. If someone used to be an alcoholic they can use that time to reflect on what God has done for them.

An example in my life is using the value of hard work at an early age and how it didn’t consume my life in my twenties. I think there is a balance I have had a hard time with, but I have learned the importance of rest and also how we shouldn’t be too lazy.

Donald Miller has said that he donated everything to create the “Blue Like Jazz” film. It was a huge risk and something that not that many people would do. Miller is honest in that he says that he didn’t love the film. It’s pretty unordinary as a Christian movie and at the same time it kind of doesn’t leave a real lasting impression. Miller has also said the movie wasn’t reviewed terribly well. It’s still entertaining and holds up with any other movie that came out in 2012. Evangelicals might criticize the film for not leaving the viewer with the message as being something confident and positive about Christ. It doesn’t give a sort of “altar call” for people to come to Christ and I think that’s all right.

People might mistake this next part for blasphemy which is fine but I have agreed with Miller that God alone can give us a deep sense of meaning. This isn’t salvation but we need each other to connect and support each other to have meaning. Obviously, being saved is necessary and an important part of the Christian faith but we need people in our life in order to have meaning.

In one of his books Miller says that one of the most selfless things that God can do is to create other beings to enjoy himself. God was also so nice to give us other people that come into our lives to raise us up or adjust us. We might not even realize it is happening.

Probably my favorite Donald Miller line is “being a Christian is a lot more like falling in love than baking cookies.” Miller has argued against the formulaic steps people try to follow in order to become a Christian.

One of things he says in “Blue Like Jazz” might confuse some people but I understand it completely. He says “Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is very difficult to get on paper. ”

The closest thing to Christian spirituality is jazz music because both were born out of freedom.

So much of Christianity has become about people believing that they are the right side and so they have the authority to do what they want. But we shouldn’t forget the price that Christ paid and what we should be doing with our freedom.