A Week Later: Reflections on My Letter to Donald Miller

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Last week, I posted a letter to Donald Miller. I had spent several weeks writing it, having others read it, and revising it. I wanted to get across how much his words had meant to me. I also wanted to communicate my frustration with the overly simplistic tone of his marketing campaigns (and sometimes content), a tone that seemed in direct contrast to his earlier writings about the complexity of life and our relationships with God and others.

I didn’t know if he’d ever read it. Honestly, I wasn’t really sure if many people would read it. I mostly hoped that my regular readers wouldn’t be bored by it. If they weren’t familiar with Donald Miller, I thought maybe they’d be able to draw out the general application of what I was trying to say about reading thoughtfully and communicating authentically.

I was excited–not to mention stunned and a bit overwhelmed–when I checked my blog stats and saw that the post had views in the thousands. It’s unusual for me to get views in the hundreds. By the end of the first day, the letter had over 10,000 views. I had no idea my letter–the one I’d hoped wouldn’t bore my regular readers–would interest so many people.

With attention comes a LOT of input. It’s those reactions that I want to summarize and reflect on here.

  • The first round of reactions–and the bulk of those the followed–can be summed up as, “Thank you for putting this into words for me–I feel the same way.” I really didn’t know whether there were others that felt similarly. It is incredibly encouraging to know that I am truly not alone in my disappointment or in my desire for thoughtful conversation. I was also surprised (and relieved) that the tone of most of the comments were both honest and reasonable (towards me and towards Don Miller).
  • A few people questioned the fact that I published my letter on my blog (where anyone could read it) rather than attempting to contact Donald Miller directly. It is true that I didn’t try to contact him privately. But it is also true that there was no obvious way for me to contact him personally, and I had no reason to believe my communication would get to him. All of the attention my post received could make it seem like I have “connections,” but I don’t. I can’t just look up his phone number, either. The Storyline blog does not exactly invite feedback (there is a “contact” option if you look hard enough, and it leads you to a generic comment submit form mostly in regards to products, with one option for feedback). One person who commented on my blog post shared that she attended four Storyline conferences. Noticing the shift away from meaning and towards selling products, she tried giving feedback through the website. She received a generic “thank you for sharing” from a staff member.

When I was about 8 years old, I mailed a handwritten letter to the author of one of my favorite Christian children’s chapter book series. All I got back was a generic packet of information about her fan club. Not even a note from a staff member apologizing that Ms. ______ could not respond personally. Sure, I was only 8 then. But why would I expect any different from a bestselling author who would have no reason to consider my thoughts, much less dialogue with me?

  • Donald Miller may have responded–indirectly. A few hours after my post went “live,” he (or whomever helps run his twitter account) tweeted a link to a post he wrote last year: I’m Glad I’m Not the Same Guy Who Wrote Blue Like Jazz. He wrote the post in response to some other comments he’d been getting. Essentially his point is that people grow and change, and that’s a good thing. He also says that when he wrote Blue Like Jazz, he was overweight, unhappy, and unmarried, and he’s glad he’s not that person anymore. I don’t know what comments he was originally responding to, much less who wrote/said them, but his post certainly didn’t address my concerns. Of course people change. It’s great he’s happier and healthier and enjoying his relationships. None of that explains or justifies compromising one’s commitment to authenticity.

Several people also mentioned that they enjoyed his most recent book, Scary Close, and some suggested reading it might change my opinion. I will read the book (it’s the only of his published works I haven’t read), but it can’t cancel out the messages he’s been broadcasting elsewhere. Interestingly, I did read a post the other day he wrote to advertise the book: Do You Only Matter Because of What You Do? (The post was published in January, but showed up in my facebook feed two days after my post was published. Hm.) It struck me how the post (and I assume the book) is about stripping yourself of the “things” you hold to as your identity (like your job) so that we can just be human together. It bewilders me that he cannot see the contradiction between that vulnerable ideal and the get-yourself-together persona he and his organization project.

I know that, to a bestselling author with 228,000+ twitter follows, it’s not a big deal that my post received 17,000+ views and a short-lived flurry of attention on social media. But I hope he noticed that much of the attention was generated not by me, but by more well-known and established authors and bloggers. These writers are noted not for their “attack” mentality, but for their thoughtfulness and authenticity. I also hope that his friends/contributors who read the post–some of whom did reach out to me–advise him to make an effort to be more nuanced in his approach.

What now? I’m not interested in launching a campaign here. There are much broader and more significant issues towards which I want to direct my time and attention. Probably, I’ll unsubscribe from the various ways I’m connected to Don Miller’s resources (twitter, facebook, the blog, etc.). I’ll read Scary Close, as I have said I will, and I’ll occasionally check on the Storyline blog to see how things are going. I did send Don my personal contact info (through the Storyline website and tweeting him how to contact me through my website). I’d love it if we were actually able to talk. Or maybe our paths will cross in the future. But I don’t expect to be writing to him or about him much.

Mostly, I’m really glad there are other people out there who care about being “real” with one another. I’m really glad there are people who didn’t know much about Donald Miller, but who said my post made them stop and think about how and what they communicate. I’m glad people heard me.

I’m glad you heard me.

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