Donald Miller, of course, is the author of Blue Like Jazz, one of my all-time favorite books. It’s an extraordinary book that I’ve taught in Bible class. Really good stuff.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life is another excellent book along similar lines, except (let’s be honest) not quite as good – but that’s hardly a criticism at all. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible for a book to be as good Blue Like Jazz. Just don’t hold A Million Miles up to that impossible standard, and you’ll find it’s an insightful, rewarding read. Buy and enjoy the book.
Miller builds the book around his need to learn the elements of story (as a literary concept) in order to write the screenplay based on Blue Like Jazz. If you’re familiar with the book, you know that it’s not really a conventional novel and much of the book is about what he learned in life. There’s lots of dialogue and not much in the way of a plot or action. There are definitely no car chases or explosions. It would make a lousy movie – unless Miller and the producers re-write the screenplay as a story.
As Miller learns the elements of story and what makes a good story, he concludes that his life is a pretty lousy story. No conflict. No resolution. Nothing for the hero – Miller – to work for and accomplish.
He discusses this idea with a married friend of his. The friend had a daughter going through teenage rebellion – dating a much older man who appeared to be using her. His friend decided that the solution was to get a better story – that the daughter was seeking to escape their family’s story in search of a better, more adventurous story. And so the friend decided to raise $25,000 and build an orphanage in a mission field.
Amazingly, his wife and daughter loved the idea, they worked hard together to raise the funds and then to build the orphanage, and the daughter broke up with her loser boyfriend. She concluded that he was just using her.
We each live a story, and when we die, we’ll get to tell our stories with God, and we’ll celebrate them together. Some will tell of building orphanages and others of being used. Some will tell of lives changed and others of lives wasted. But all will get to share their stories with God.
But this isn’t so much about judgment as it is about having no regrets. We get to pick the stories we live – within limits, of course. Most of us can’t choose to be playboy millionaires, but we can all choose to want something bigger than ourselves, to struggle for that goal, and live a story about the struggle. And we won’t all achieve our goals, but we can all live for something more important (and more interesting) than the humdrum Western lifestyle.
I mean, imagine standing before God and saying, “Well, I went to college, I was regular in my church attendance, I gave money every single Sunday, and I raised two kids. I retired, and I died. And while my wife missed me and my church loved me, the church wasn’t much different for my having been a member. And the Kingdom wasn’t much different for my being a citizen. Rather, I earned a pay check, saved for retirement, and left behind a nice rose garden and two kids just like me.”
That’s a boring story. I’m not saying it’s a damning story, just not a very good one. Would you buy the movie rights? I think not.
Now, what would make for a really good story – one that your grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about you and your family? What will you be remembered for? And what will you and God celebrate together?