Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review of Million Miles, part 3

Part Three: "A Character Who Wants Something"
The goal is to live a good story with your life. Don became entangled in writing three different stories at the same time. It sounds great, but like anything else worthwhile, good stories are hard work. Even if we really want something better for our lives, we naturally seek comfort and order. Often times, for characters to move into the interesting story, they are forced. He brings up “the inciting incident.” Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, characters won’t enter into a story. (Perhaps this is why the commandment, “Do not fear” is repeated over 200 times in the Bible. We are going to be afraid. Fear may keep us safe, but it may also keep us boring).

Don found an inciting incident in his story while pursuing a girl. He was invited to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. He mentioned to his social circle that he was thinking about it (bluff) and the girl he was pursuing was interested. This incident forced him to get into shape.

It seems (as Steven Pressfield writes) there is a force resisting the beautiful things in the world, and too many of us are giving in. The world needs for us to have courage, Robert McKee writes. The world needs for us to write something better.
The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories. If we want meaningless material things, we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in (an interesting) life.

As he relates the story of his hike along the Inca Trail, he notes that there is an easy way to Machu Picchu (6 hours) and a hard way (four, grueling days). The saying was, the more painful the journey to Machu Picchu, the more the traveler would appreciate the city. Once Miller got to the city, he realized the truth of the statement. The pain of the journey made the city more beautiful. The story made the people different characters than the easy way would have. It made him think about people who have lived hard lives and had to sacrifices much, they will see heaven differently from us who have lived easier lives.
In this part of the book, he does meet his father, and along with the Inca Trail experience, these experiences make him want to live a story with meaning and intention.

Don learns that there are some elements to taking an interesting story to another level of being an epic story. One of the key elements is the ambition of the character. It must be difficult to attain. The more difficult, the better the story. The second element is that the ambition must be sacrificial. So far, Don’s two stories (meeting his father and hiking the Inca Trail) were interesting and difficult but nothing sacrificial or important. They do get him off the couch and attempt difficult things but he wanted more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Million Miles in a Thousand Years review, part 2

The second part of Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, is called "Characters". Don imagines God writing THE grand story and writing us into it as if to say, "Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you."
But characters in a good story have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage for the story to be interesting. Miller wonders if people who wonder if Life is meaningless, do they really mean that their lives are meaningless?

This whole idea of creating a meaningful story for the upcoming movie based on Blue Like Jazz plants in the writers of the storyline the idea of Don meeting his absentee father, whom he hasn't seen in over 30 years. This will make the character face conflict that he didn't want to face. A good story is when a good character faces his greatest fears. Don's search for his father is a better story than Don is currently living.

Don also realizes that in a good story, a character is transformed. He or she is transformed. He or she is changed from the beginning of the story. Don needs to decide what kind of character would he would be in this story. What kind of ambitions and actions would this character be known for. In a movie, a character is what he does, not what he thinks or daydreams.

Don was not living any kind of sacrifice. His entire life had been designed to make himself comfortable. This was leading him to consider the thought of actually trying to contact his father. In order to like a character, the character has to do something good or interesting.

Don lets us into the mind of his writing. He relates that one time he was working on a novel and had interesting plot lines for his lead character. The problem was that his characters (in his mind) kept writing their own stories, ruining his plot line. He imagines God writing out His story, but our plans to write our own story keep messing up the wonderful story God wants to include us in. Don tried to get in touch with the Grand Writer of the Great Story and allow God to write his life out for him. Don would go where the Writer would send him and do what the Writer would tell him. At first, it was relatively simple, holding his tongue, helping people, talk to his neighbor...at this point, God had not asked him to do anything difficult. Until...the writer asked him to look for his father.

The book here turns from Don trying to edit his past into an interesting story to living his future and making it an interesting story. Don decides to start living a good story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - Part One

I recently picked up Donald Miller's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I hesitated to read it. I enjoyed Blue Like Jazz, but I feared reading his book was going to make me feel like some kind of "hipster Christian." I finished some work I was doing, so I picked it up and finished it 24 hours later. I really enjoyed it and it made me think about my life and what I am doing with it. What kind of story am I writing with my life? Will it be worth retelling?

That is where Miller starts with "Part One: Exposition". He imagines us sitting down with God and trying to remember our lives. We'll sit down and tell God the favorite parts of the story he gave us. And that is what God wants from us, to live inside a body he made and enjoy the story and bond with us through the experience.
But not all of the scenes are pleasant, and we aren't sure what God means with the hard things. But we will see what role they play in the story as Miller progresses.

Miller tells the story of a filmmaker wanting to make a movie out of his memoir Blue Like Jazz. But the problem is, Blue Like Jazz is more like a memoir and a collection of thoughts and not really a story. It needs a plot. It needs a story line. Part of the book, A Million Miles is trying to find the right story line to make Blue Like Jazz into a good movie. A good movie goes somewhere. They needed to take the basic events of his life and shape them around a structure that makes sense. Stories have to obey certain principles to make sense. Sadly, most of our lives do not obey these principles and make little sense.

Miller realizes that he can create the kind of person he has always wanted to be. A person worth telling stories about. He goes to a seminar by Robert McKee (an expert on creating compelling stories). He learns that good stories don't happen by accident, they are planned. The highlight of Part One is that he discovers that "A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

Oftentimes, in order to create a more meaningful life, we need to live a better story.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thoughts from Doubt Day

Earlier this week, I was invited by a campus minister (@conover) to participate in a Doubt Day event. Basically, the cm had some pizzas and invited students to come, grab some food and ask questions and even express doubts about Christianity and its worldview. I always get nervous when doing these events. I feel like an outsider and I get nervous talking about serious spiritual matters, right out in the open in the student center as random people walk by. CC does a great job of setting the atmosphere and getting students to participate. It think the crowd was a mix of some of the students that attend his small group Bible study (both believers and seekers) and some random students who are genuinely curious about spiritual matters (along with a trouble maker or two, though nothing serious).

I got to admit, I was a little uneasy about seeing the guy with the "Bad Religion" t-shirt that had a cross with the red circle and slash through it. He asked a question about homosexuality that was not real thoughtful and had some serious historical inaccuracies (like the Catholic church had condoned gay marriage up until the 16th century. Didn't learn that in Church History). But we did have a portion of the time spent on Christianity and Homosexuality. I know I'm not telling anybody anything ground breaking, but we need to be able to lovingly express our views on homosexuality one, being true to the total gospel, and two, that doesn't sound like the Rev. Fred Phelps. CC and I tried to stress that it is a shame that a lot of evangelicals tend to stress the wickedness of homosexuality while ignoring some of the other sinful behavior that is also mentioned in the catalogue of vices in Paul's letters (like dissension, greed, jealousy, selfish ambition). We also tried to distinguish between orientation and behavior (which can be s sticky situation as well).

We also got into discussion about following the teaching of Jesus without buying into all of the Christian world view (exclusive nature of Christ). We pointed out, that if you buy into all of the great moral and ethical teaching of Jesus, you have to deal with his claim to be the only way to God. Therefore there is the dissonance of Jesus being both a great ethical teacher and potentially being the biggest egomaniac in history.

I would love to do something like this at Mizzou, but I'd would rather it be our Missio Dei students inviting seeking and skeptical friends to a more informal discussion than sitting out in the open. I fear I might be look at as one of Brother Jed's disciples in that situation. (Bro Jed's homepage)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting Boring?

Can we apply this to our church or our campus ministry? Great blog post by Seth Godin (link)

How much of time, staffing and money does your organization spend on creating incredible experiences (vs. avoiding bad outcomes)?

At the hospital, it's probably 5% on the upside (the doctor who puts in the stitches, say) and 95% on the downside (all the avoidance of infection or lawsuits, records to keep, forms to sign). Most of the people you interact with in a hospital aren't there to help you get what you came for (to get better) they're there to help you avoid getting worse. At an avant garde art show, on the other hand, perhaps 95% of the effort goes into creating and presenting shocking ideas, with just 5% devoted to keeping the place warm or avoiding falls and spills as you walk in.

Which is probably as it should be.

But what about you and your organization? As you get bigger and older, are you busy ensuring that a bad thing won't happen that might upset your day, or are you aggressively investing in having a remarkable thing happen that will delight or move a customer?

Here's a rule that's so inevitable that it's almost a law: As an organization grows and succeeds, it sows the seeds of its own demise by getting boring. With more to lose and more people to lose it, meetings and policies become more about avoiding risk than providing joy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Background Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 8

Last night at Missio Dei, we discussed 1 Corinthians 8. I wanted to post some of the background issues of the passages as we dealt with its impact on our lives today.

The topic: Food sacrificed to idols. In the worship of the pagans in Corinth, the people would bring their sacrifices to the priests at the temples of their chosen gods. (It might be a god that oversaw their craft, it may have been a fertility god, it may have been a healing god). The priest would use the animals in the sacrifice and would have plenty of meat left over. The left over meat would then be brought out to the tables of the temples and they would have meals in these temples. The leftovers there would then be sold in the marketplace. The Jews were absolutely forbidden to eat such food. For many of the gentiles, the availability of this meat was a rare occasion but a welcome one. Imagine this: the meat portion of your diet was fish. It was the only thing you could afford. But, when the pagan feast days came around, there was plenty of meat available. The catch was: it was probably offered to a pagan god in sacrifice. You may encounter this in perhaps three ways:

1) You are tired of eating salted and pickled fish, and now there was this buyer’s market of fresh meat.

2) You may be invited to a feast meal at a pagan sacrifice, invited perhaps by your boss or business associate or fellow craftsmen

3) You may be invited to eat at a friend or associate’s house where they may be serving meat that was once sacrificed to a pagan god.

Paul was dealing with two types of people: those who had no problem eating this meat and those who didn’t like it at all. Either they were Jews who had been forbidden since birth from eating this meat or it was new converts who felt very ill at ease doing something that put them into their old pagan context. Paul characterizes these two groups as “strong” and “weak”.

Imagine this: a “weak” believer is walking along the courtyard of a pagan temple. All of a sudden he hears a voice from one of the dining rooms: “Come and join us!” He turns to see a group, among who are one or two of the Strong, eating. His employer or someone he cannot afford to offend is dining also.

He is revolted by the idea of eating idol meat, but what can he offer as an excuse? The presence of the strong makes it impossible to decline on the grounds that his new faith would not permit it. Anything less would be an insult to powerful individuals. Paul saw that, in such circumstances, the weak person would give in and participate in the feast, even though he was being forced to act against his conscience. Internally, however, he was being torn apart...

Paul sees that this act would have had horrible internal impact on the weak believer. He calls it being “destroyed”. The word here “apollutai” is a very serious thing. Being destroyed means to be eternally lost. Same sense as John 3.16. Anything that could be deemed as “destructive” to a fellow believer could not be an act of love. Paul here, instead of calling this a person with a weak conscience instead calls this person a “brother/sister” for whom Christ died.” It was destructive of the Church, and thus a sin against Jesus himself. There was the fear of a former idolater falling back into the grips of idolatry. They may return to their former way of life and be lost all because of the influence of those who were led by their “head” (knowledge) and not by their “hearts” (love).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Catalyst - Louie Giglio

By later in the afternoon on Friday, my mind was mush, I couldn't really focus on another message so I didn't give all of my attention to Louie Giglio that I could have. Plus he was wearing these really unflattering clothes that distracted more than just me. I've got a few thoughts here, but I do think Louie took a lot longer to say what he was meaning to say. There were several nuggets in there, but it took him forever to get there.

He quoted Thomas Merton: Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the charge of what you desire.

He discussed the role of leadership: to seek the face of God and reflect his face. That was really the focus of his message. That is the problem, we don't have enough people walking around with the beauty of God on their face. Louie's point was to get us to think how we could seek the face of God and let it reflect on those who see us. This gets us to think, do I seek Him? Am I humble enough to admit I need to seek His face? This points to getting us to ask, "How can we reflect God's glory in all that we do?"