Searching for Billy Graham, cows, Jesus, and Romeo and Juliet. (Those things qualify as “God Knows What,” right?)

For my birthday, Andrea gave me a copy of Don Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. It took a little longer than I thought to finish it – I thought I’d be done on Saturday, and then Sunday, but I finally finished it this morning.

I am not the hugest Don Miller fan on the planet. I didn’t care for Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance (I was working at a Christian bookstore when it came out, so I remember it being promoted . . . and then being on the $4.97 shelf). I enjoyed some parts of Blue Like Jazz, but it didn’t rock my world (I remember one guy asking why I hadn’t recommended it to him after I read it, since he read it and loved it, and I was like, “I . . . just didn’t think to”). Of all his books, I liked To Own a Dragon the best, mostly because it gave me some insight into what it might be like to be a man without a father figure. This book was somewhere in Blue Like Jazz range – it had some parts that I enjoyed, but overall the book was just things I already agreed with that didn’t really change anything for me.

The first part that stood out to me was when talking about the fall. The chapter closes this way:

I happened to see Larry King interview Billy Graham shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I had read an article the previous month about violent video games and their effects on the minds of children, desensitizing them to the act of killing. Larry King asked Billy Graham what was wrong with the world, and how such a thing as Columbine could happen. I knew, because Billy Graham was an educated man, he had read the same article I had read, and I began calculating his answer for him, that violence begets violence, that we live in a culture desensitized to the beauty of human life and the sanctity of creation. But Billy Graham did not blame video games. Billy Graham looked Larry King in the eye and said, “Thousands of years ago, a young couple in love lived in a garden called Eden, and God placed a tree in the Garden and told them not to eat from the tree . . .”

And I knew in my soul he was right.

How much do I love Billy Graham? So much.

The next part that stood out to me was in the chapter about the circus – Don Miller talked about how much he loves elephants. I’m not going to quote it here, but he talked about how being around elephants makes him relax, his heart slow down. They’re very calming.

I don’t have a deep spiritual reason for liking that passage, but it reminded me of how I feel about cows. I love cows. (As a girl, I should like horses. But I don’t. I like cows.) When I was a little girl, my grandparents still had cows. And my grandma would send me cards and letters telling me about her day and how much she loved me. My grandparents’ lives weren’t all that exciting, to be honest, because she would tell me things about their garden and how much rain they got. And she’d tell me about the calves, and how she’d given them their bottles. When I was staying with her, she’d let me go help give them bottles. They always had very “cow” names like Bessie and Bossie. (I’m not making this up.) So, to me, cows are these wonderful peaceful animals that I associate with my grandmother. When we go to the fair, I want to see cows. When we go visit my parents, I like to look at the cows that are in their yard (they don’t own the cows – they just let a man keep his cows on their land). I like their big brown eyes and the way they chew. I even like their smell, because . . . that’s how cows smell. For a while when I was growing up, there were horses in the field next to my parents’ house, and I took them sugar cubes and apples, but I never felt about the horses the way I do about cows.

And so I liked how Don Miller talked about the elephants, because it made me remember those days of helping Grandma give the calves their bottles. It’s so strange to me that my youngest cousins won’t have any memories of those things, because the cows were long gone before they were born.

In the chapter on the Gospel, Don Miller talked about how, once when he was teaching a class at a Bible college, he told them he was going to present a form of the gospel but leave out an important part of it. And so he talked about sin and depravity, and how the wages of sin are death, giving examples from our culture. He then talked about morality, about how choosing not to sin can bring such fruit into your life, about heaven and about how fulfillment on earth and afterward could be theirs if they’d just repent and turn from their ways.

None of the students in the class realized he had never mentioned Jesus. They couldn’t figure out what was missing.

On one hand, I can’t believe that. I just can’t. On the other hand, working at a Christian bookstore afforded me the opportunity to see a lot of that kind of thing – the idea that you have to work hard to be a good person and believe the Bible, but not always talking about Jesus. Brian and Sarah were over last night, and we talked about that part of the book, and how it was similar to Brian’s story from a few weeks ago where everybody was talking about hearing from God and nobody was talking about . . . the Bible. American Christianity can be so inwardly focused on how we feel, what we are doing, instead of being focused on Jesus. I would have to say that, if you look over the archives of what I’ve posted here, things for me spiritually have gotten better over the past few years in part because I have learned a lot more about Jesus and in part because I did stop focusing so much on myself and how I was doing, and I have been able to see Jesus more as a source of strength and guidance. In this chapter, Don Miller talks a lot about how the gospel is relational, not a list of ideas, and that has definitely proven to be true in my life.

The part where he lost me was, I confess, the last chapter, the one on Romeo and Juliet. I remember there being a big debate about this chapter at the time the book came out, and I wasn’t able to participate in it because I hadn’t read the book at all. Now I feel qualified to weigh in with my opinion. I am sure you were all waiting with bated breath, were you not? In this chapter, Don Miller uses Romeo and Juliet (specifically the balcony scene) as an allegory for the gospel. I think he makes some compelling points, and if he’d stopped there, I would have enjoyed it. But, in a few places, he seems to say that Shakespeare intended for it to be an allegory, and I honestly think that’s a bit of a stretch. I wish he hadn’t pushed it quite that far, because I think a discussion of how Romeo and Juliet could be seen as an allegory could be a valuable one, but, from what I remember, people didn’t really discuss that part since he claimed it was intentional.

Anyway, the book gave me some stuff to think about, which I appreciate. I always hate to express any kind of opinion on Don Miller, because, for whatever reason, he’s so controversial. But, for me, it was a nice in-between book – I had been reading some light light chick lit, and I’d been planning to start A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I needed something to bridge that gap. (How is it that I’ve never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I remember it always being around when I was growing up, but I’ve never even started it before.) It wasn’t the best book I’ve read all year, but it certainly wasn’t worthy of some of the contemptuous things that I’ve seen written about it, either. Many thanks to Andrea for getting me a copy.

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