Saturday, August 23, 2008

Donald Miller and the power of Story

I heard Donald Miller for the first time about three years ago at the Catalyst Conference. I was really impressed with his conversational style of speaking, and his ability to break subjects down to their core. After hearing him that first time, I read his book, Blue Like Jazz. That book really made me reconsider some of my core beliefs about what it means to be a Christ follower. It was a really good stretch for me. I still have a very different outlook than he does on a number of issues, but I appreciate the perspective that he brings.

Last week at the Echo conference, I had an opportunity to hear him speak again. He talked about how he has been studying writing for movies and television, and that his study of developing a story has changed his perspective on life. When he looked at his own life, he realized that his story wouldn't make a compelling movie. He talked about how the bible is full of compelling stories, and that all great stories have some common elements. The first element is a character; a character who wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it. He then talked about the fact that we are all characters in our own stories that are yet to be written.

There are some characteristics of a character that will cause us to cheer for him or boo him. One is that the character is not what he thinks or feels, but what he does. He gave an example from the latest Rocky movie, where Rocky starts off by befriending a single mom, rescuing a dog, and basically showing that he is a good human being. In a good story, the hero can't think more of himself than others, if he does he will cease to be the hero. In a good story, the hero always wants something. But it's not very satisfying unless what he or she wants is impressive. For instance, a movie about a guy who wants a new car wouldn't be that great. In fact, the best stories are the ones where the hero wants something, and if he doesn't get it, people will die. In our own life story, we should ask the question...what are we living for and what will happen if we don't get it?

Once the hero's motives are clear, and we know what he is going after, that's when the conflict usually begins. The moment when conflict gets so bad that the character thinks they're not going to make it, that's when the story is just starting to get good. As Christians, we have implied for a long time that if you are living for Christ, your life will be happy and carefree. But the truth is, that doesn't really line up with the stories of the bible. As I look back on my own life, I realize that the times that I have changed for the better have come through pain. When we go through periods where it seems like we're not going to make it, we need to remember that our story is just starting to get good. Maybe the pain or conflict in our own stories is just paving the way for us to achieve what we're striving for. In the bible, James 1:2-4 says, "
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." As we write the stories of our lives, we need to understand that pain and conflict will come. But if we keep in mind what we are trying to accomplish, and trust God to be the source of our strength, then God will use our lives to create a powerful story that will speak of His character.

2 comments:

Thomas Clay said...

Mark,

Please be careful in dealing with Miller's writings. His teachings are not scriptural. His understanding of who Christ is and what the gospel is is just re-worked liberalism.

I'm so sorry to hear about all of the challenging reports with your girls (including Bev). I can't think of anyone who has persevered like her thru cancer. Send her our love.

firstcomeslove said...

You said: "As Christians, we have implied for a long time that if you are living for Christ, your life will be happy and carefree. But the truth is, that doesn't really line up with the stories of the bible. As I look back on my own life, I realize that the times that I have changed for the better have come through pain."

I couldn't agree more Mark. Interesting post.

Amy