Mixed Media

Hit the Road

Even if you can’t leave home, these books, CDs, and movies will take you somewhere new.

Dr. Johnson, one of England’s greatest literary figures, once wrote that everybody’s life is worthy of a book. Donald Miller has written several, all of them witty and often profound reflections on the author’s road trip to a mature faith.

I use the term “road trip” advisedly. Miller narrates Christian life as a process rather than a moment of overwhelming conversion, a pileup of revealing accidents and instructive detours. In Through Painted Deserts (Nelson Books, 2005) Miller tools through the Southwest in an old camper, on a Kerouackian search for “the earth God meant to speak before we finished His sentence.” The idea of finding yourself on the road wears thin—why is it more “authentic” to eat canned beans in a VW bug than to get up and go to work every day? Yet Deserts offers some fine moments.

Blue Like Jazz (Nelson Books, 2003) is an autobiographical collage in which Miller contrasts narcissism with agape. At one point Miller writes of a birch tree in his backyard that, in the rain, sounds “like an audience giving a standing ovation”—to God, presumably—but “when the tree is clapping I stand at the window and say thank you, thank you, as if I am Napoleon.” Don’t we all. The effect of passages like this is partly spoiled by Miller’s whimsicality, which detracts from what he is saying.

Miller’s latest book, To Own a Dragon (NavPress, 2006), is a reflection on growing up fatherless. It is both more moving and more troubling. Here Miller writes with less whimsy so that the humor is truly funny and the pathos truly moving. He also makes binary assertions of the men-are-like-this-while-gals-are-like-that kind, which are almost as annoying as they are dangerous. Dragon is a great book; had Miller stuck to talking about masculinity, without implying anything about what women should be (besides Christlike), it would have been a classic.

All three books are amply worth reading, despite these criticisms, and all three books verge on profundity more than once. Very often while reading Dragon and Blue Like Jazz, especially, I laughed aloud or stopped to ponder my own life, and once or twice I prayed. What more can a spiritual autobiography accomplish?

About the Author

Phil Christman teaches English at the University of Michigan and attends St. Clare's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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