In April, the team had the opportunity to visit the Portland, Oregon home base of Don Miller, the author behind such titles as A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Searching for God Knows What, and Blue Like Jazz. Without further ado, I’ll turn the blog over to Laura De Silva of Open Road:
Donald Miller grew up in Houston, Texas. After leaving home at the age of twenty-one, he traveled the country—until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, which has been his home ever since.
“I love living in Portland,” says Miller of his adopted hometown. “It’s an extremely laid-back town, but it doesn’t lack sophistication. It’s a free-thinking town, which is conducive when you’re trying to write books.”
As one of the most famous Christian writers in America today—Miller was asked to deliver the closing Monday night prayer at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver—Miller is utterly grounded.
“He lives in this beautiful neighborhood. I was charmed by the quaintness—there were kids playing stickball in the street,” says Open Road producer Greg T. Gordon, who interviewed Miller for the video below.
It’s the kind of place where doors are kept unlocked, and a literal lack of barriers illustrates a larger, figurative one: Miller’s door is always open. He’s not out to “sell God” in his work: “I just tell stories from my life as I interact with God, and when people find a place where they can jump on or find common ground, they do so,” Miller explains.
Miller makes you feel at ease—whether in person or in one of his books. It’s no surprise that he is a sought-after speaker who has delivered lectures to a wide range of audiences, including the Women of Faith Conference and the Veritas Forum at Harvard University.
Gordon, who has interviewed dozens of literary stars on camera for Open Road, found his time with Miller to be particularly special: “It felt like a conversation, since he’s such a listener. We had a really nice back-and-forth. And even though we went longer than a normal interview, it flew by. We talked about books, movies, politics. Everything. We discussed his spirituality growing up, and how his spirituality has evolved over time. He’s somebody who has his life totally figured out, and it’s as if his mission is to help everybody else figure theirs out.”
In 2002, after having audited classes at Reed College, Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz, which would slowly become a New York Times bestseller. In 2004, he released Searching for God Knows What, a book about how the Gospel of Jesus explains the human personality. In 2005, he released Through Painted Deserts, the story of his road trip across the country with a friend, Paul, in search of a deeper meaning of life.
His penchant for travel served us well: on location, Miller was the best tour guide one could hope to have: “He showed us the most gorgeous spots. He knew the best views of the city, the most picturesque parts of town—both natural and urban,” explained Gordon.
One destination Miller recommended visiting was Multnomah Falls, a natural wonder just outside of Portland. “It was the most beautiful, breathtaking thing,” says Gordon. “The land is so distinctive out there.”
Miller also took the team to Reed College and showed them special destinations around Portland—“the secret spots that only he and his dog, Lucy, knew about,” says Gordon.
What really struck our team is how seriously Miller takes his responsibility to help people. As a writer, Miller frequently asks, “What is your life story? And how can you tell a better life story?”
Miller was so inspirational, in fact, Gordon found himself undergoing a transformation of his own: “It was a great little retreat for me—a refreshing trip with such a nice, warm, kind, gracious person.”
“He sees faith as a relational thing—spirituality can be found in personal relationships between people. That’s where he finds a lot of beauty,” explains Gordon.
Miller likes to use this metaphor to help people assess their goals: if your life were a movie, when the credits roll, would people care?
For Don Miller, they would care a great deal.