Grace Notes

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Living a better story

By Nancy Kennedy

I'm currently reading "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Don Miller.

He wrote "Blue Like Jazz," which continues to be the best Christian book I've ever read, although not for its literary merit. The book is random and messy, but Miller's thoughts are raw and profound.

His new book begins with a movie producer wanting to turn "Blue Like Jazz" into a movie, but he tells Miller that the book as is wouldn't make a compelling or interesting movie because his real life is boring.

So, Miller sets out to rewrite his story, first by learning what a story is. He goes to a story seminar and takes notes and walks away still unsure. His friend who diddled on his laptop during the seminar tells him, "Story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

In another place in the book, Miller talks to a friend who has a rebellious teenage daughter with a slacker boyfriend and pot in her closet. They talk about grounding her or forbidding her to see the boyfriend.

Miller tells his friend that his daughter wasn't living a very good story, that she was caught up in a bad one.

The dad goes home and thinks about his daughter's story and the role she was playing in it and how he hadn't provided a better role for her, which caused her to choose "the best story available to her in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used."

The dad decides to stop yelling at his daughter and instead create a better story and invite her into it. He decides he and his family will help build an orphanage in Mexico. This decision totally excites and ignites the daughter. Eventually, she breaks up with the boyfriend after he tells her she's too fat.

The dad tells Miller, "No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while."

The concept of living a better story intrigues me. It's what we all want, whether we know it or not. Story is just another word for our lives. We all want to live a better life, a good life. To some, that means wealth and health and maybe fame and most often ease and pleasure. More ice cream and hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a big-screen TV.

But a glimpse at the headlines or a spin around the TV dial reveals a constant succession of stories about people who some might say have good lives, but have, instead, bankrupt lives - Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods. Their lives, their stories, it turns out, are anything but good.

However, just as Miller's friend was able to change the course of his daughter's story, as long as we have breath, our stories can change, too. First step is realizing there's a better story to live and then desiring it - and be willing to overcome conflict to get it.

I like what Miller's friend did. He saw that it didn't help to shout.

There are a lot of people shouting, a lot of Christians shouting at non-Christians and at fellow Christians, trying to get people to change their stories and live better lives. However, it's not doing any good.

With all the shouting, people just put their fingers in their ears or turn up their iPod volumes. They take another drink, eat another Big Mac, smoke another joint, hit another shoe sale.

They tell themselves, "This is the best story available to me," even if it's one that hurts or is mediocre at best, choosing ease and comfort over risk and best. They tell the shouters, "Leave me alone!"

But instead of shouting, the father created a better story and invited his daughter into it. When she stepped into it and began living it, she discovered a better life, and the one she had been living lost its luster and its pull and power over her.

It's what Jesus does with us. He invites us into his story of redemption and into his better way, and our stories become good ones, better ones, best ones.

Then he calls us to invite others. Blessed are those who accept.