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Keith Miller column

July 20, 2009

What an inspiring guy Keith Miller proved to be. Had fun writing this column

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EILEEN FLYNN

At 82, Keith Miller’s perspective on faith is still fresh

Saturday, July 18, 2009

 

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how I spent seven years on the religion beat in Austin without encountering Keith Miller. Some of you might be shaking your heads and wondering the same thing.

For so many Christians in the past several decades — and not just in Austin but around the world — Miller offered a fresh perspective on Christian spirituality.

Somehow, though, I only learned about Miller a few months ago when he earned an honorary degree from the Seminary of the Southwest. Bob Kinney, communications director for the Episcopal seminary, sent along a copy of the citation that accompanied the degree. It began: “Passionate Christian, eclectic writer, marketplace apostle, dynamic public speaker and gifted counselor, you thrive on leading people to God.”

The citation also noted that the former Archbishop of Canterbury had one of Miller’s books on his nightstand.

OK, I thought, I ought to find out about this fellow. A quick Internet search revealed Miller’s many contributions to the church.

He has written or co-authored 23 books. His first, “The Taste of New Wine,” published in 1965, sold more than 2.5 million copies and has been translated into 11 languages. He stressed an intimate and dynamic relationship with God and helped guide dozens of couples on their spiritual paths at Laity Lodge, the Hill Country retreat center started by Howard E. Butt Jr. He has been called upon by church leaders to address groups ranging from the Maori in New Zealand to skinheads in Sweden. At 82, he continues to write weekly devotionals that hundreds subscribe to by e-mail.

How could I have missed such an influential Christian right here in Austin?

When I put the word out to some of my sources that I was planning this column, several wrote to tell me how Miller had influenced them. A Methodist minister remembered reading Miller in the 1970s. A Presbyterian lay leader said he subscribes to Miller’s devotionals.

The Rev. Cathy Tyndall Boyd, an Episcopal priest in Austin, told me Miller’s work had an impact on her spiritual formation even before she read him. The adults in her parish were reading Miller’s books and discovering the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives, which in turn inspired the teenaged Boyd. That was about the time she first sensed a call to ministry.

By the time I got around to meeting Miller last month, I knew he was a man who had changed lives and whose own life has been transformed more than once by faith. But in visiting with Miller at his Northwest Austin home, I discovered that these weren’t decades-old accomplishments. Far from complacent, this white-haired, bright-eyed man is still hungry for the divine experience, still passionate about helping others find it. He laughingly calls himself a “talent scout for God.”

At the moment, he said, he’s trying to see religion through a child’s eyes so he can better understand the prophets in the Bible (yet another book he’s working on).

We sat at his kitchen table, and I mostly listened as Miller poured out his story and his ideas in a stream of consciousness, stalling only occasionally to search his memory for a name or date.

He began a search for God as a boy in Oklahoma. As a young man, he attended seminary in Connecticut but dropped out after deciding that the priesthood was not for him.

He found success in the oil industry but also suffered devastating loss. By age 28, he had buried all three members of his immediate family — his parents died relatively young and his brother was killed while serving in the Air Force.

Faith would restore him and he would use that to inspire people all over the world, notably business leaders and their spouses who attended Laity Lodge retreats seeking to become more devoted Christians.

But his success in spiritual writing and speaking would also prove overwhelming. He would struggle with his ego and addiction before emerging again through spiritual renewal and recovery.

His journey led him to understand that the purpose of religion “is not to change people. … My job is to help remove the blocks between you and God.”

The way Miller sees it, “religious people think about religion. Spiritual people think about reality. A spiritual person asks, ‘Is what we’re doing real?’ “

Maybe that’s why he’s been able to reach so many people. Not just the people in the pulpits and the pews but the spiritual searchers and misfits and burnouts. He’s not simply asking people to complete a religious exercise, to say a prayer or recite a creed or show up for church service but to strive for an authentic experience with God. He understands that faith is, for most people, not stagnant. It shifts, it deepens, it fades.

For those of us interested in matters of faith, Keith Miller ought to be on our radar. But not because he’s written important books and held influential retreats and demonstrated the power of faith in overcoming addiction or dealing with loss. We ought to be paying attention to Miller because he reminds us to look at the world with wonder, with the eyes of a child. And whether we’re believers or skeptics, we can all benefit from a fresh perspective.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 20, 2009 1:59 pm

    Ah! Here’s the column on your blog!
    I just left my comment about Keith on the space for comments for the next post!

    Jeanie

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