Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I could be easily convinced that the phrase "I just couldn't put it down" was coined with Donald Miller's "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" in mind. Whereas I typically require a month to read a book of this size (250 pages), I started this one on a Saturday and was done by Monday night. (My wife upstaged me: she read it in one day.) From the beginning, this book had its hooks in me and wasn't interested in letting go.

The premise is simple, but unique: some time ago, the author was approached about making a movie based on "Blue Like Jazz", his best-known work. "A Million Miles" is an account of the personal revelation that his own life could be more interesting, and that revelation's aftermath. The result was a number of valuable lessons learned by Miller as he explored the story-creation process, with the main lesson being the importance of making sure one's own life story is a meaningful one.

"A Million Miles" is filled with seemingly unrelated anecdotes, not only from Miller's life, but from the experiences of others, each determined to make sure that their life makes a difference. He weaves the varied stories together masterfully and seamlessly. The author's narrative style seems more focused this time, especially when compared to the free-for-all that was "Blue Like Jazz". Although the trademark Miller humor is there, the stories are more serious, and at least one is heartbreaking. All are instrumental in getting Miller's point across: make your life count.

While this book stands on its own, it continues a theme common to most of Donald Miller's work. In "To Own a Dragon", "Blue Like Jazz", and "Searching for God Knows What", Miller introduced us to several real-life characters who understand the importance of having an impact on our world; here, he adds to the list of stories of those remarkable people.

From the young woman who gets water wells built in poor African villages, to a man who restores his connection to his almost-lost daughter, to a family who starts a New Year's Day neighborhood parade, we see just how powerful the combination of gumption, a genuine love for people, and a good vision can be.

This is not only an enjoyable book; it's an important one. I highly recommend it.

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Aside: Although their writing styles are very dissimilar, the ideas of Donald Miller and John Eldredge echo similar themes. In this case, Miller seems to be inspired by Eldredge's exhortation to believers--contained in "Desire," "Waking the Dead", and especially "Epic"-- to make your life a great story. The result is an inspiring message, as well. Although their voices are very different, I would love to one day see a collaboration between the two.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Underappreciated voice

I love music. I love quality music; not fluff, not ear candy. Sadly, many music snobs who pride themselves on their musical taste fall into the trap of not liking most music which actually sells, and that's sad. There are a few vocalists who truly deserve to be described as "artists", whose music leans toward the commercial side, not by choice, but because that's who they are.

One such singer, who gets very little positive critical press, is Ronnie Milsap. Poll any group of pop or country music critics, and he doesn't make the top 20 for most of them. And that's sad, because he's actually quite incredible. I have spent some time this week reaching back into more obscure parts of my music collection, and have been reminded of how powerful this man's talent is.

I found his soul-era (before he became a country singer) rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" and am convinced it's as good as any version out there. I offer this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-MXj9o_RpI (start around the mid-point). I offer this as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbFLHtGAkWE

I could offer more examples, but this isn't aimed at selling anyone on Ronnie's importance. That's not the point. And I acknowledge he has, like many artists, had moments of selling out which have resulted in some embarrassing stuff (there's a 1984 duet called "Night by Night" which is beyond bad). But his talent cannot be denied.

It's amazing that the likes of Vince Gill, Roy Clark, and Mel Tillis have been inducted in the Country Music Hall of fame, but Ronnie Milsap has not. Maybe it's not that amazing. Maybe it's just more evidence of how underappreciated this man is. No matter. There are a few of us who know.

If you want to hear a criminally underrated singer perform a criminally unknown song, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNo5CHlecYc and close your eyes and listen as he tells the story. Listen to the whole thing, and you'll wonder, like I do: where's the love for Ronnie Milsap?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Book Review: Max Lucado's "Fearless"

Max Lucado's "Fearless" comes along at an appropriate time for our nation and, I suspect, for many individuals. In his latest work, Lucado lays out Scripture after Scripture which demonstrate that fear of circumstances is ungodly, unwise, and harmful to us. In other words, when God tells us "do not fear", He is doing so not just to pat us on the back reassuringly; His command, when followed, will keep us from doing damage to our souls.

Lucado identifies various areas of our lives in which we commonly let fear have its way, (usually one per chapter). Some, such as death and change, are fairly obvious. Others, such as the fear of disappointing God, were off my radar. In each case, though, the author provides modern and scriptural examples.

As with most Lucado works, the illustrations are the thing. He is a gifted parable composer, and the analogies that he employs are masterful, especially when he personifies Worry in Chapter 4: Woe Be Gone--The Fear of Running Out.

The topic that Christians are not to fear is nothing new. Where "Fearless" sets itself apart is perhaps the most valuable contribution that this books makes to the discussion of the subject of fear. He methodically illustrates that fear is the root of many of our sins. We fear that we won't matter, so we follow fads and try to keep up with the Joneses. Fear of alienating our kids makes us into permissive parents, doing the kids more harm than good.

Lucado's most solid point, though, is that fear of anything except God is rooted in a lack of trust in God. I like the way he put it in Chapter 4:


"Seek first the kingdom of wealth, and you’ll worry over every dollar.
Seek first the kingdom of health, and you’ll sweat every blemish and bump.
Seek first the kingdom of popularity, and you’ll relive every conflict.
Seek first the kingdom of safety, and you’ll jump at every crack of the twig.
But seek first his kingdom, and you will find it. On that, we can depend and never worry."