Tag Archives: Donald Miller

Some Favourite Quotes from a Million Miles in a Thousand Years

0785213066I previously wrote a review of Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”  You can read that review here.

Miller is always really quotable, here are a few of my favourites:

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers.  You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen.  The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back.  Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.”

“But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful.  The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”  (xiii)

“Without story, experiences are just random.” (27)

“I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it.  We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given- it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.” (58)

“I don’t know why we need stories but we always have.”  (80)

“Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life.  It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it… People like to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen.  But joy costs pain.” (99-100)

“The mountains themselves call us into greater stories.” (159)

“There is an intrinsic feeling in nearly every person that your life could be perfect if you only had such-and-such a car or such-and-such a spouse or such-and-such a job.  We believe we will be made whole by our accomplishments, our possessions, or our social status.  It’s written in the fabric of our DNA that life used to be beautiful and now it isn’t, and if only this and if only that, it would be beautiful again.” (201-202)

“I don’t mean to insinuate that there are no minor climaxes to human stories.  There are.  A kid can try to make the football team and in a moment of climax see his name on the coach’s list.  A girl can want to get married and feel euphoric when the man of her dreams slides a ring on her finger.  But these aren’t the stories I’m talking about.  These are substories.  When that kid makes the football team, he is going to find out that playing football is hard, and he’s going to find himself fin the middle of yet another story.  And the girl is going to wake up three months into her marriage and realize she is, in fact, still lonely, and so many of her issues haven’t gone away… they thought the climax to their substory was actually a climax to the human story, and it wasn’t.  The human story goes on.” (202-203)

“There is a lot of money and power to be had convincing people we can create an Eden here on earth.” (205)

“Do I still think there will be a day when all the wrongs are made right, when our souls find the completion they are looking for?  I do.  But when all things are made right, it won’t be because of some preacher or snake-oil salesman or politician or writer making promises in his book.  I think, instead, this will be done by Jesus.  And it will be at a wedding.  And there will be a feast.”  (206)

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Why Story?

Storying is a well-established practice used by missionaries in the non-Western world.  In non-literary or oral cultures story-telling is the normative manner in which information is taught and cultural and religious values and beliefs are transmitted.  Stories are simple, repeatable and often told.  In the last 100 years (as far as I can work out) there has been a growing realisation that this is the best form of discipleship and evangelism in these cultures.

In the last 20 years or so there has been a growing realisation that story and story-telling is a methodology not just for the non-western world but one that is equally at home within a changing western world.  And we have seen the rise of storying within the post-modern, young, organic, emerging, cynical western church.  As with all movements storying is a mixed bag- some use it as an alternative to objective truth, Biblical inerrancy or authority of elders.  But I am an evangelical, comfortable with objective truth, subjective interpretation and hold to the Bible as the inerrant, sufficient, authoritative and inspired word of God.

Here are a couple of reasons why I think storying can work in our context:

1. The universal connection to story

There is something about story that has an almost universal connection.  Recently while discussing books and movies with the bartender at my local, I commented how he really knew his stuff.  His reply; “I just love narrative!”  Story rather than bare facts connects us to other human beings and opens us up to events and experiences bigger or other than ourselves.  Stories capture the imagination, fuel our dreams, break our hearts and help us to understand our world.  When old friends get together they normally tell the same old stories (with much embellishment), everyone knows what happened, how they end and who did what but everyone is caught up in the same old stories- laughing, correcting, denying details.  It is the stories that bind the group together and give them a collective memory and a collective identity.  Donald Miller notes; “I don’t know why we need stories but we always have.”[1]

2. The Bible is full of narrative

Approximately 70% of the Bible is narrative.  Furthermore although the Bible is undoubtedly a written work much of the teaching described in the Bible is non-literate in form.  When their children asked about the meaning of the Mosaic law the Israelites were told to tell them the story of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).  God built story-telling into the fabric of Israelite society (Joshua 4:4-7).  Jesus himself taught primarily it would seem through stories.  “If we are to allow the genres of Scripture to shape our teaching then stories will be a significant part of our communication.”[2]

3. The Bible is a story

Although the Bible contains different genres and many different human authors it all works together to tell one story.   The Bible clearly attempts to give us a meta-narrative (big story) through which we may understand our own place in the big story.  It has a clear beginning and moves throughout a drama set over thousands of years to a climax with the coming of God’s King towards an as yet unresolved but anticipated ending with the renewal of all things.  Interwoven into this big story are hundreds of little stories, laws, poems, songs, sermons and well thought out rational discourses, which all find their context, depth and significance when they are seen within the big story of the Bible.

4. We are in Africa

Much has been written of the success of storying in non-literary (or non-literate) oral cultures.  The majority of people in our country are non-literate learners; they are oral rather than literary learners.  Oral learners learn best through stories and proverbs.  They enjoy learning in groups, reason intuitively, think holistically, are comfortable with repetition, value traditional knowledge sources (such as community elders) and integrate their learning relationally.[3]

For non-literate and oral learners even an interactive Bible study can be intimidating and feel like an English comprehension exercise.[4]  The majority of theological education in South Africa is conducted in a highly literary context in order to equip for ministry to an assumed literary (or even literate?) people.  If we wish to reach and disciple effectively in our country we have to reconsider the primary learning styles of our context.

5. We are in westernised Africa

Increasingly the western world is becoming functionally non-literate, particularly among younger people and non-university educated people.  The functionally non-literate are those who can read and write but who rely solely on non-literary sources for their information and everyday functioning.  The technology explosion, and in particular the internet and social media has created a new non-literate people group.  They get information from television, Youtube and social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.  When they do read it tends to be online through blogs, news sites or web pages.  Storying has the potential to connect with both the more traditional African culture as well as the new technologically driven functionally non-literate westernised culture.

6. Story disarms hostility and scepticism

Cape Town has a strong Christian culture and almost everybody has been exposed to some form of Christianity and heard something of the Christian message.   For many this has served either as an hostile inoculation or as a fluffy over-familiarity that has no grounding in real life.  Storying invites you in to participate, explore, meditate on and discuss the Bible stories in a way that gets behind your preconceptions.  “Stories convey truth in a way that transcends what can be said in simple prose.”[5]

Great stories disarm you, get behind your prejudices and carry you along to an ending that dumps you on a foreign shore re-evaluating all you once held dear.  We have lost the wonder of story because we are surrounded by too many non-stories.  We are to once again proclaim the great story and call others to come and join their story with the Great Story.  We have lost The Great Story and so have lost our own story.   We have grown used to asking “Where does God fit into the story of my life?” when the real question is where does my little life fit into His Great Story.[6]


[1] Donald Miller: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Thomas Nelson) p80

[2] Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p40.

[3] J.O. Terry: Basic Bible Storying (Revised Edition) (Churchstarting.net: Fort Worth: 2008), p16

[4]  Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p46

[5] Tim Chester: Lord of the Rings: A Splintered Fragment of the True Light (Part 1) http://timchester.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/lord-of-the-rings-pt-1-a-splintered-fragment-of-the-true-light/

[6] Christopher J. Wright: The Mission of God (IVP: Leicester: 2006) p534

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

0785213066Dare I say, “Blue Like Jazz” was a once in a lifetime book? It was the right book for the right time with the right tone. A writer probably only has one such book in him, if he is lucky.  Donald Miller is on a hiding to nothing trying to write a follow-up.  Readers now come armed with those most evil of emotions for writers and film-makers  high expectations.  They are looking forward to more of the same experience that Miller previously delivered in Blue like Jazz.  And “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” does not deliver and in fact it was cruel of me to expect it to.

It is exactly this blight of “quick success” that has put Don Miller in the slump we find him in at the beginning of the book.  The book cleverly follows three inter-related threads- the nature of life as a story, Miller’s own search for a better story and the writing of “Blue like Jazz”, the movie script.  The main idea of the book is that each of our lives are a story, some of us live great stories and some of us live terrible stories or non-stories.  Throughout the book Miller explores this nature of story through the writing of the screenplay which is mirrored in his own search for a better life story that the slump he is currently in.  Miller is a great story teller and he had me cheering him on, laughing out loud, furiously underlining, inspired, frustrated and even shedding a tear at one point.

Miller’s search for a story leads him to hike the Andes, kayak the Jervis inlet, cycle across America, found a mentoring organisation for fatherless kids, find love and lose love again.

Story has been a theme I have been thinking about quite a bit lately and I picked up this book eager to see what Miller’s unusual way of looking at the world brought to this theme.  I must confess that apart from the chapter entitled “The Reason God Hasn’t Fixed You Yet” which is quite brilliant, I found the book “Jesus-lite.”  I am not sure what Miller’s reasoning behind this was, as he speaks quite clearly and unambiguously when he does speak of Jesus.  I found it particularly unusual given that the great story he seeks and which he speaks about is so clearly fulfilled in Jesus.  He briefly touches on this but I was honestly surprised he did not explore this more.  It would have given the book a greater punch and a greater depth.  In the end what could have been a really great book ends up being a bit fluffy with some great scenes without really going anywhere.  Dare I say that Miller fails somewhat to do what he explores throughout the book- write a great story?