Donald Miller spoke at our church yesterday. At the eleven o’clock service I sat right next to him. I am not sure why but I thought Donald Miller would be kind of a jerk, perhaps because another author I met years ago came across to me as rude and abrasive once face to face. I figured he would be annoyed by star-struck fans like myself. I was delightfully surprised, which was especially nice since I was trying to get the courage to give him a note pleading that he read a few samples of my writing and toss some contacts my way if he liked any of it. Probably one of the cheesiest things I have ever done in my life and considering I spent a few summers as a camp counselor, that’s saying something. I hate cheesy. But he is Donald Miller and he was at my church. Some things are worth the risk.
He had one of his books available for purchase that I would have loved to pick up but I was pretty sure my checkbook was not in the black hole of my purse and I had kids to pick up from the children’s program and you know how it goes. But I was inspired and curious. I have read only one of this man’s books, but I loved it. And I did just make a fool of myself to him, so why not read more of his writing to see how thoroughly a fool I made?
So today being Monday – grocery shopping day – I made a detour between Trader Joe’s and Vons and hunted down the only Christian book store I even have a clue to where it might be. At the last light before the driveway, I was stopped behind a car whose license plate said, “CHOSEN”. If that weren’t enough, the license plate holder had some saying about Jesus and there was a small dove in the middle of some word stuck on the hatchback. We must be closer.
As I pulled in, a pit formed in my stomach. I have avoided Christian bookstores for a few years and today I would figure out why. My heart was dragging and screaming at me that it did not want to enter, but my desire to have this book in my hands over-rode. I walked in and the worshipful elevator music played at an appropriate volume in the background. Perfect. I asked the man at the register where I might find the two authors I was looking for. He led the way.
They had two of Miller’s books – one copy each. He has written about five. Neither were the one I was looking for. He had to check the other author on the computer. No luck. Are you kidding me? You don’t have any Anne Lamott in the entire store??? What kind of Christian book store was this?
Unfortunately, it was the normal kind. The kind that is filled with thousands of books that are one version or another of a Christian self-help. “How to Earn Your Way to Being A Better Christian” “10 Steps to a Better Christian You” “Here’s How to Really Be Right”
I am sure those kinds of books are helpful to a very many people. There’s a bookstore filled with them for goodness sake. I am pretty sure I used to love those books. But something has shifted in me and while I still love Jesus, I am not a huge fan of those books.
I left the store feeling like I had a mouthful of wedding cake frosting. And this would be, I figured out, why I have been avoiding Christian bookstores. There is nothing wrong with wedding cake frosting. Many people love wedding cake frosting. I just don’t happen to be a big fan. It is light and airy and sweet and fluffy and leaves me wanting something more. More grit. More sustenance. More honesty.
And this is the turn my faith has taken. Instead of my old sub-conscious compulsion to hide the reality of life…to say that all was peachy because Jesus loves us and praise the Lord! and sweep the dirt under the rug, my faith has been replaced by a more honest version. One that appreciates the meat and potatoes of life and cannot be sustained by wedding cake frosting alone. I find myself coming from the angle that God and reality can co-exist and that God never intended for me to behave like they didn’t. I value the freedom to question more than the appearance of having all the answers. I embrace the grit. I can no longer deny the rocks and sticks and dirt of life – the things not often topping a wedding cake.
So maybe it’s not so much the Christian bookstore that bugs me as it is my own history. Perhaps that’s why I love writers like Donald Miller and Anne Lamott (and Leeana Tankersley) who may be a bit controversial in popular American Christian culture but who leave me with a sense that I don’t have to deny reality in order to love God. They give me freedom to ask questions and have opinions that may seem scandalous to some of my friends but to me is simply life with more than just wedding cake frosting.
So I wonder…who is your favorite author…and why?