Donald Miller is NOT Allowed to Get Engaged!

Stephen Swanson

Stephen Swanson grapples with the fundamental life changes of those he respects from the natural and most meaningful perspective…how they affect him.

Yes, the title of this post is hyperbole.  I enjoy marriage and recommend it to people who are prepared for the sacrifice, communication, and compromise that come with it.  However, I have to admit that I was surprised when Donald Miller announced last Saturday via Twitter that he was engaged.

I do not know Mr. Miller.  I’ve read a couple of his books, Blue Like Jazz and Father Fiction, follow him on Twitter, and have his blog on my Google Reader, but his announcement and some of the responses I saw made me think.

Donald Miller has 69,000+ followers on Twitter and 52,000+ “likers” on Facebook who all have some interest in his highly-personal writings about his relationship to his faith.  For good reason, Miller, in a time of increased tension between fundamentalism and progressiveness, holds the tensions with admirable and articulate strength.  However, the position from which he holds and views these tensions will change as he changes.

One commenter on his Facebook page posed the quandry best, “And so it happens…my boy, Donald Miller is engaged. heard it via twitter. I wonder if his books will not be as good anymore, cuz he will be preoccupied or if they will be better?”  In other words, will we lose “our” Donald Miller?

“I wonder if his books will not be as good anymore, cuz he will be preoccupied,” indicates that Miller spoke to and for the benefit of emergent/hipster/sojourner/thinker/seekers who grappled with singleness and faith in a very complex and shifting world.  He seemed to speak for a faith life for the individual in community.  While not “monastic”, Miller had a voice that spoke of possibilities of friendship and discourse outside of a romantic relationship. His writing is “good” because of his ability give voice to this.

The other half of the Facebook comment indicates that there is another potentiality, “or if they will be better?” The brevity of this thought in the comment makes one wonder how much the writer thought of it.

As I have been thinking about Miller and Travis’ reading through the Bible, I realize that this tension strikes deep into the heart of debates on faith and marriage.  The relationship between individuals, their families, and God seem to create tensions back to the beginning of Genesis. Does Adam choose to retain connection with his wife, who has disobeyed God, or does he retain his promise and relationship to God? Does Abraham kill his Isaac in sacrifice to God who promised him to you, or do you disobey God?

Lot and his wife, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah, Solomon and (insert woman here) all seem to add to this theme, but it is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that writes, “I wish that all of you were as I am,” that is single and also, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.”

Regardless of the debates about the passage’s context, Paul argues a tension between ability to serve God (his ideal) and some lesser state of marriage.

WTF, Paul!  What is marriage?  Is it a gift from God or just a sexual release valve for those who are too hot to trot?  Is Donald Miller giving up his calling for a warm snuggle with a different kind of Jazz groupie, or is he deepening the relationship of faith? Is it actually REALLY unfair of me to put pressure on a man that I don’t know to represent an entire aspect of faith for the rest of his life?  Is it REALLY any of my business? Would it EVER be possible that a single person who was good at thinking and writing could EVER think and write AND be married? Why must that be a question of right or wrong?

A third option, change, represents the more logical and useful of the choices than a “better/worse” dichotomy.  It makes sense that perspectives will shift when Miller moves to sharing his life in partnership with one other person in a commitment for life.  In fact, it seems that scripture is pretty consistent about relationships changing things.

Even Paul admits it in 1 Corinthians 7 when he gives some directions claiming to speak for God and some that just represents his perspective.  Change happens. People are different.  Situations change and are different.  These might mean that for different people that different things present better choices than for other people, but then that represents a VERY uncomfortable place of uncertainty…a real tension.

Now if we only knew a writer who was good at thinking and writing about tensions in faith and who had been thinking about such things both before AND after being married…hmmm…Anyone?

About Stephen Swanson

Stephen Swanson teaches as an assistant professor of English at McLennan Community College. Aside from guiding students through the pitfalls of college writing and literature, he spends most of his time trying to remain aware of popular culture, cooking, and enjoying time with his wife and son. He holds degrees in Communications (Calvin College), Film Studies (Central Michigan University), and Media and American Culture Studies (Bowling Green State University. In addition to editing a collection, Battleground States: Scholarship in Contemporary America, he has forthcoming projects on Johnny Cash and approaches to analyzing detective narratives in terms of ethical responsibility.

6 Comments / Add your own comment below

  1. Bennie Newsome

    I don’t know who Donald Miller is, but I still enjoyed this blog. As a writer, I understand how perspectives can change when you find yourself no longer single and in a relationship. I use to write poetry, but I lost my inspiration once I found my love. In the same breath, I found some great material for short stories. So in a way, I have elevated from where I was. What will become of Donald Miller? I don’t know. Personally, after spending over two years with the woman I love, I think Donald Miller might be able to find more reasons why a person should remain single. I know I’ve learned a few.

  2. Deanna Hershiser

    Well-presented post, Stephen. I love these thoughts on the tensions in faith, regarding relationships and in the realm of life changes. Having been married forever, I’m not the author your looking for, but maybe someone will take your challenge…

  3. Stephen Swanson

    Thank you so much for your kind comment. I had been trying to hint that Miller would be perfectly positions to fill that important niche. Thanks again!

  4. :) Great post, thank you for putting these questions out there. I’m a writer. I’m married. I don’t know the answers. But Paul confounds me too, dangit.

  5. C.S. Lewis was married late in life. He seems to have gained immense perspective on his theoretical knowledge through his relationship with Joy Greshem.

  6. Since the relationship between readers and writers is polygamist, whether or not Miller is married is largely trivial and irrelevant. I mean, I never investigate a writer’s marital status before I read his work. A significant question, however, is to whom is he married. Though “Blue” maintained a place on my wife’s bedside table, and though up until that point I hadn’t read a word of his, Miller left me in the cold when he hitched himself politically to Obama. As my Dad said to me once when I was dumped by a girlfriend, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

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