I picked this up on a whim the other day in Chapters — the title and author sounded familiar; I thought it had been referenced in Shaine Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution. (I still haven’t checked to see if I’m right about that). When I came home I said to Jason, “You know how I like memoirs and collections of essays by women talking about their spiritual journeys? Well, this one is a departure….”
He guessed, “It’s by a man?”
Got it in one.
I tend to be kind of sexist in my reading in general (novels and memoirs should be written by women, though men can write other kinds of non-fiction, and certain fiction genres like fantasy) so it’s not surprising that this was a new area for me to explore: a man talking about his spiritual life. (Yeah, I know men pretty much invented the genre, St. Augustine and all — hey, as my co-worker Ann said of me once, “At least you own your prejudices!”)
Back cover blurbery describes Donald Miller as sort of like Anne Lamott with testosterone, which is not a bad comparison. He has the same self-deprecating humour and postmodern approach to both Christianity and essay-writing, which is to say that we’re wandering through his stream of consciousness picking up small gems of insight he’s discovered along the way. He’s not as funny as Anne Lamott, but then, who is? As for the testosterone, I think what stood out to me was not what a guy Donald Miller is, but what a young guy he is — or at least, was when he wrote this book. Barely 30, I gather. Looking back from the vast heights of 40+ I realize I am turning into that crotchety old woman who mutters, “What has some young whippersnapper got to teach me about Christian spirituality?” Got to watch that tendency!!!
It was interesting reading this book in tandem with Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (one of the things I love about my Lenten reading project is the strange bedfellows it produces). Everything Carl Sagan hates about “spirituality” — that vague sense of “I believe it because I believe it,” the willingness to brush off difficult questions rather than exploring them — is here in this memoir. While there were times I wanted Don to be more sharply focused and follow his ideas through to their logical conclusions, I also enjoyed being a fellow traveller on his journey for a couple of hundred pages. There are places where he seems naive and a few where he comes across as self-righteous, but I kept turning pages and nodding at things I agreed with. I’d read another Donald Miller book if it came across my path (and there are others) so I guess I need to drop my biases and admit that yes, men can write well about their own spiritual journeys, too.