I Met Donald miller. Then Things Got Cooler.
ROAD TRIP! I jumped into the back seat of Greg Pirtle's Honda Accord yesterday and took off for Austin and the University of Texas. My friend Brad Voss was riding shotgun. We stopped at the Czech Stop Bakery in West (a must on any trip between DFW and Austin) for kolache's and coffee and enjoyed a nice morning drive. We talked about life and Blue Like Jazz and our shared addiction to the teachings of Rob Bell. We listened to U2 and the crazy musings of Peter Nevland (more about him later).
When we arrived on campus, we took the long way around to our final destination which was a gathering sponsored by all of the campus ministries at UT. It was a beautiful Spring day, sunny and in the 80's and I enjoyed our walking tour of the campus. The gathering place was just outside the old Gregory Gymnasium. It consisted of a small tent with some original art inside and a small stage with a few tables and barstools in front of it. The first thing we noticed however were these big panels that looked like they had graffiti on them out by the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, we discovered each panel had a question written on it and the "graffiti" was answers people had written to each question. The questions included: Why do you hate Christians? How has the church misrepresented Jesus? Jesus would be a Republican because... Jesus would be a Democrat because... How can we pray for you? The answers had been written by any passer by who felt like responding. They were interesting at least and many were quite insightful. Brad and I wondered what the response would be if we put panels like that up in our town square. Different, we guessed.
Up on stage, musicians and other performers were taking turns doing their thing. Someone who knew I was there to see Donald Miller pointed him out to me. I must say, I couldn't have picked him out of a line up in a million years. He is pudgy and extremely unassuming. He looked like he would be more comfortable on the outskirts of any gathering than in the middle of one. Preferably with a burrito in his hand.
A young woman was finishing up a dramatic interpretation of the crucifixion when I felt the energy around me change. Peter Nevland was introduced and rushed the stage. I will not try to explain what it is that Peter does because I would not do it justice. But believe me when I tell you that you want to see it. He is an artist, a writer, a poet, an actor, a storyteller. He is a goofy white guy with a masters degree in engineering who will make you laugh and cry and think and feel convicted. His act plays equally well at a club, a bar, a street corner, a school or a church. Again, I'm not sure what it is, but I know I like it. www.spokengroove.com
Peter drew quite a crowd and most stuck around to hear Donald Miller read from his book Blue Like Jazz. He read from my favorite chapter. The one I tell people about when I'm describing his writings. It was fun to hear the words spoken by the man himself. He seemed surprised that anyone laughed whenever he read a funny part. He seemed astonished that anyone even read his books at all. www.bluelikejazz.com
After the reading I spent a few minutes with him. I told him how Blue Like Jazz had taught me to stop defending my religion and start confessing my sin. How that one lesson had led to more meaningful conversations about Jesus in the last year than ever in my life. I told him about reading the opening chapter of Searching for God Knows What on an airplane and how I annoyed the other passengers because I was laughing hysterically and wanting to read parts out loud to my wife. He was humble and gracious. He listened to me and responded as if no one had ever said anything like that to him before even though I know he must hear it all the time. I wanted to go get a coffee and smoke pipes with him. I wanted to be more genuine.
Peter Nevland agreed to go get a sandwich with us. We had a lot of fun and I dreamed of ways to promote his art. Then we headed north on I-35. We discussed the events of the day. We asked each other interesting and sometimes difficult questions. I was sunburned and tired. I was happy and invigorated. I was inspired and frustrated.