Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Readin', Writin' and Relationships

Several years ago I received a galley for a book by a guy about my age. The book was called Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance. I thought the play on the Zen title was clever, but, to be honest, I was a little bored by the book. The author seemed to be coming at life from the opposite direction I did. (If memory serves), he was a Republican youth pastor from Texas. I had lived in Texas for a year as a new Christian and really struggled with the rejection I experienced in the churches there because I didn't know their secret handshake and specific dialect of Christianese. The gist of the book was this guy's road trip with a friend in search of deeper meaning in life. The book recorded conversations they had as they wrestled their way to a more authentic faith. I respected that, but didn't connect with them.

I admit, my bias against Texas and the church led me to dismiss much of what this guy wrote. I kept the book, though, because at the time it was sent to me, I was wrestling with a sense that I was supposed to write a book. What held me back was that I felt horribly underqualified--how could I offer anything useful when there was still so much I didn't understand? This Volkswagen book, by Don Miller, showed me that someone my age could still offer something valuable by simply asking the questions. His book was messy that way, and it read more like memoir than anything else. It encouraged me, and as a sentimental sort. I put it on my bookshelf to collect dust.

Last summer a friend asked me if I had read Blue Like Jazz. I had heard of the book, but hadn't read it. After about the bazillionth recommendation, I borrowed a copy from a friend. The tone of the book--the musings and observations, the discussions and dialogue--reminded me of the Volkswagen book. But this guy lived in Oregon, was more liberal and in his self-depreciating way, was much more approachable. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was the same guy!

It was with great interest that I learned that Don Miller was writing a book about growing up without a dad. Last week I was at Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of the book, To Own A Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. I figured with the new edition of Generation Ex on the market, it wouldn't hurt to see if I could work in Don's new book.

Right off, I learned that Don's dad had abandoned him when he was kid. With that one admission, I was humbled by my early assumptions about him. Don's writing has greatly improved since his first outing, as he seems to mastered the fine line of observing and revealing. Blue Like Jazz has enjoyed great success, and I'm curious to see how this new book fares. Blue Like Jazz is the story of everyman (or woman) in their 20s/30s. To Own a Dragon has more of a niche audience, but really, it doesn't. It's more about how God wants to be our Father in the best possible sense, and in the absence (either physical or emotional) of an earthly dad, we miss out on a few important things. Don's book is a collection of musings on the lessons missed, and how his mentor, John MacMurray, has filled some of the gaps. Beyond that though, the book is about what it means to be a man, and I'd recommend it to any guy wrestling to reconcile the mixed messages he hears about manhood.

Don admits that he is writing to guys, but as a woman, so much of what he wrote about God as Father was spiritual meat for me to chew on. Just recently, I had a bit of a tiff with my dad. I'm 34 years old and the part of me that's proud of my independence can't stand the fact that there's this other part of me that feels denied because I never experienced the security of knowing my daddy would always be around, would protect me, would provide for me, would comfort me. I don't have memories of sitting in my Daddy's lap, of being held, of feeling utterly secure in his love. I hate that I need but I need nonetheless.

I reached out to Dad a few weeks ago and it was painfully clear that we just don't have that kind of relationship. I love him. He's my dad. He's done the best he could. In fact, he's been an awesome dad to my sisters. God gave him a "do-over" and he's done well. In a lot of ways, though, I don't get that do-over. He's never going to be my daddy. And I'm missing something because of that. I love God. He is my Daddy, but there's something in my hard wiring that doesn't let me connect with Him the way I think He yearns me to. I want to, I hope to, but it's just harder, I guess, to accept from the unseen what I didn't experience with the seen.

And this lack of dad, has affected my dating relationships as well. I know I want a guy to pursue me, to risk for me, to fight for me, to protect me, to provide for me. But I don't now what that looks like. This kind of guy is like the dragon in Miller's title--more fairy tale than fact. In my home, Mom was the strong one. And now I'm the strong one. Not because I want to be, but because I had to be. I want to believe that there's a guy out there who's going to see that girl in me and pursue her for what she needs rather that being intimidated by the independent woman who is strong because there wasn't a guy being strong for her. Being independent isn't all that great, and it really isn't all that godly either. I've tasted love, and I hunger for interdependence. I've seen my friend's husbands love them well, even when they were unlovable, especially when they were unlovable, and it's the most beautiful thing I can think of. I want that. I want to love that way. I think God gives us special grace to accept the shortcomings of our spouse. I want to experience that. I want to know that the one I love loves me back. Forget the giddiness of googly-eyed infatuation. I want to experience the depth of knowing and being known, of loving and being loved, of risking for something worth the risk. I want to belong to someone thrilled that I belong to him. I want to love someone who won't go away.

I spent so much of my life trying to prove that I didn't need anyone. And now I realize I chased after the wrong goal. I've always wanted to love God. Now I want to love those God loves.


Shaun Groves said...

I would be SHOCKED is Donald Miller was EVER a "Republican youth minister from Texas" - the Republican part.

I'm not buying it. I don't know Donald personally but I know those who do and the man is anything but politically conservative.

Are you sure you got the right Donald??

Anyway, great thoughts in this book. I appreciate your honestly and writing ability as always.


Jen said...

Hey Shaun-

Thanks for stopping by. I don't know him either, but I know he's on the liberal Democratic side now, which of course,was why I was so surprised. But, thanks to your post, I got out the book and started looking for what gave me a Republican impression:

"We were vagabonds, drifters, Republican rebels setting out to see America..." -
p. 14, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance

"I think that Solomon would be pleased with Paul and me, having pulled up our worldly anchors and exchanged lives filled with possessions for an inexpensive journey to the center of meaning. And when we arrive at the gate surrounding significance, we will tell the guards we have come from afar, and I suppose we will have to spend a great deal of time explaining that we are not, in fact, hippies, but rather good Republicans just like they are..."
p. 31-32, P&tAoVM

I haven't read "Through Painted Deserts" but I know it's an edited/updated version. It'd be interesting to see if those parts are still in there.

That's the beauty of writing (books or lyrics, I suppose): they provide snapshots of our history.

Shaun Groves said...

Very interesting. Very interesting.

Quotes and everything.

Here's a quote for ya. A friend of mine worked with Donald recently. Mr.Miller was the editor on his book. At one point he witnessed Donald say to another person who was quoting James Dobson verbosely, "James Dobson doesn't care about Jesus." What ensued, according to my friend, was an enlightening conversation - at least for me - about how Focus on the Family, in Donald's opinion, doesn't focus at all on the issues that seemed of the greatest importance to Jesus: poverty, embracing sinners, rebuking the religious, non-vioence etc. Oh, how far he's come from the Republican boy he once was...IF that little story of mine is even true.


Jen said...

Hmmm...I wouldn't want to comment on anyone's motives, but I do think we're seeing a shift in Christianity, especially as it relates to politics. I think Don is pretty good example of it, from his all-American Republican, Christian upbringing to his more liberal leanings now. Shane Claiborne is another example of younger Christians leading the way to a more grassroots, less political way of living out Christ's love. And in your line of work, more and more musicians are using their platforms to encourage fans to make a difference with whatever they've been given. Have you heard of "The Myth of a Christian Nation" by Greg Boyd? You can read a bit about it here: