The sportswriter Red Smith once said that the writing process was easy: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Over the last dozen years, Donald Miller has shown through a series of memoirs just how far you can go by sitting down and bleeding for the benefit of your readers. The two of his previous books that I’d read, Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, were characterized by a blunt honesty that sometimes made me wish he’d kept his thoughts to himself, but was usually refreshing in the often too-sanitized world of Christian publishing.
In his latest book, Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy, Miller opens up his veins on the subject of connecting with other people. Like his other books, the chapters largely stand on their own, but the relationship at the center of the book is with his fiancée, Betsy, as the two of them navigate their journey toward marriage. He writes, “These are snapshots of the year I spent learning to perform less, be myself more, and overcome a complicated fear of being known.” Over the course of this year, he goes to a retreat center for therapy, learns three things about relationships while swimming in a pond, comes up with a five-category typology for manipulators, and is generally quite vulnerable in describing his rocky relational history as well as his past and present shortcomings as he journeys from anonymity to intimacy.
In all, this is an inspiring read for those of us who desire to be connected and known, whether in romantic relationships or friendships. The one element that I thought was missing from Scary Close was the church. This will come as no surprise to those who have followed Donald Miller’s writing; he even mentions in the book how he wrote a blog about not having attended church in five years. I know he has reasons related to his own story and wiring why this is the case, and I know that many churches are toxic environments that really should be stayed away from for the health of everyone involved. But in spite of the many difficulties with churches—even ones that are largely healthy—I still believe that “the local church is the hope of the world” (to quote Bill Hybels), and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (to quote Jesus).
Toward the end of the book, Miller emphasizes that marriage is hard work, but it’s worth it: “It’s harder for marriages to work out these days than it’s ever been. We all need more of a miracle than we used to.” I would say that being part of the church is also hard work, but also worth it. There is something that gathering together as Christ’s body, the church, gives us that we miss out on if our only community is our spouse and friends—people of our own choosing. We are forced to rub up against people we would never encounter otherwise, and this encounter is important for our becoming like Jesus; we learn to love sacrificially those who are different from us. Miller writes, “My faith teaches me that the path to join souls in love must of necessity involve a crucifixion, and I think there’s a metaphor in there for marriage.” And, I would add, the church.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book.