Today’s post is a short interview with Ryan Miller, author of everything breathes, which just came out this month. Miller spent 10+ years creating video games, including the best sellers Myst and Riven, before taking his creativity to a different arena: the church world. He eventually started Branches in Spokane, WA in 2010. In addition to being the pastor there, he owns and operates an online stationery boutique with his wife, does some graphic design on the side, and attempts to parent three kids… all while trying to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Miller has timely ideas about the life of faith and a great style for getting them across to everyday pilgrims. Those looking for helpful paths forward will like this book a lot.
What’s this book about?
I didn’t realize as it was happening but I grew up with formulas. I am a pastor’s kid but not one of those who grew up to reject my faith or get angry at everything that had been done to me. At the same time, my faith has evolved immensely over the last 10 years into something very different than what I was raised with and much of it has had to do with the idea of formulas.
The formulas always seem to start with some kind of “if”: If I accept Jesus; If I read the Bible more; If I find God; If I confess; If I pray more.
The next word to come into play is “then”: Then I will be happy; Then I won’t get cancer; Then I will find joy.
This isn’t just a “Christian” thing – it’s everywhere we look. Advertisements are built on it as much as sermons. If I get new body wash, new clothes, or a new phone, then I will get a partner, a new job, more time…. And if I get a partner, a new job, and more time….then I’ll be happy. That “then” is hanging out, controlling us, but rarely satisfying us.
In early 2013 I spoke on Ecclesiastes for a series during Lent at our church. As I looked at the book with some fresh eyes and perspective, I was blown away. It was rejuvenating.
The book blasts formulas out of the water. It blasts formulas that we get from churches, from pastors, and from the Bible (or our views of it) into oblivion. It says there are no more formulas. There are no ways to get here or there but that there is that which exists right now, right here, and it’s time to start living it. With God.
It was beautiful for a lot of people, including myself. As the formulas vanished, their chains left as well and people found themselves free to lament, to rejoice and to live wherever they were on the spectrum. I was writing a fiction book at the time and my wife told me I needed to stop writing that fiction book (which probably means it’s not very good) and start writing a book related to the series we had done instead. She’s a smart woman so I listened.
So your formula is “If I get rid of the formulas, then…” what?
Right. I’m really trying not to replace one formula with another but it’s so hard given my Western frame of mind. How do I get what I want and not get what I don’t want? So much of our life, or my life, comes to that.
But, I’m actually starting to believe that the good news of Christianity is that I don’t have to live that way anymore. There are no more “if I just do this enough than this will happen.” Instead, it’s live now. It’s all already happening.
Even when we look at Jesus who says things like “Blessed are those who mourn” my first inclination is to read it like a formula and find a way to mourn so that I’ll be blessed. But I think what Jesus may have been saying—and I think he did in various ways—is more along the lines of if you’re mourning you’re blessed. Right now. And if you’re persecuted. And if you’re poor. There’s still life to live right now.
I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. And I don’t think the author of Ecclesiastes does or did either. And I know that there are many who disagree on what the author of Ecclesiastes is even saying.
But, I do think there are some ingredients that have impacted me. More mystery. More awe. More wonder. More awareness. More love. More faith in humanity. More faith that God is with us no matter where we’re at and more faith that God is pulling all of humanity to somewhere better.
What’s your hope for this book?
My daughter begged me to take her to Arby’s one night after a soccer practice so I did. It was late and the only people in the restaurant were the two of us (she’s 8) and another older couple.
I watched as this older man opened up his sandwich and looked at it with disgust. He then went up to the counter and berated the minimum wage “cook” and the girl behind the counter and the manger because the sandwich was not dripping cheddar like it showed in the picture. He called out corporate America for trying to save money, he called out the millennial generation for being lazy, all because his cheddar melt wasn’t dripping cheddar.
He got a new sandwich and sat down and ate it in silence with his wife.
Maybe the guy was just having a bad day or maybe he needs to be freed from stuff. I think the latter, because I think a lot of us are walking around in prisons.
I know there are people who are going through lots of pain and they have a list of reasons as to why that pain is there. Many of those reasons have to do with formulas and their failure to correctly live them. They need to be freed to live in their pain and not carry the shame they so often have.
I know there are people who are waiting to start life, after they graduate, or get that job, or see Italy. They have a different set of formulas they are already getting tired of trying to fulfill. They need to be inspired to start living today.
I know there are people who have found the message of Jesus and the message of Christianity to be more stale and cliché than fresh and rejuvenating. I think they need to find a message that makes them fall in love with this faith and gain a new perspective of the world and others again.
I hope people are able to throw away the formulas and boxes and even many of the answers… that only fail us most of the time and find something beautiful and optimistic and empower again. I hope people are able to read this and be directed, at least a little, toward the mystical, confusing, vibrant, inspiring God again.