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Donald Miller, author of "Blue Like Jazz" and "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years," smiles as he tells a story while he speaks during a community worship event held Monday night at the Sherman Center on Dakota Wesleyan University's campus. (Candy DenOuden/Republic)

Best-selling author Donald Miller talks about journey toward God

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Why are you still following Jesus?

That's the question Donald Miller asked Monday night when he spoke during a community worship night at the Sherman Center on Dakota Wesleyan University's campus.

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Miller said it's the same question he began to ask himself when he first ventured away from his Southern Baptist upbringing to attend college.

"Coming out of that culture ... I turned around and asked myself that question," he said.

He said it's a common struggle for young adults, to grapple with whether "this religious thing" is just something that belongs to their parents, or whether they want to adopt it as their own.

"It's an extremely important phase," Miller said.

Lacing his points with stories that ranged from meeting the inventor of mountain bikes to a friend who litigated against witch doctors in Uganda, Miller started with a reference to movie star Mark Wahlberg, who said in an interview on British TV show "Top Gear" that he had never met Tom Cruise, because they "go to different churches," and Wahlberg's has Jesus.

"Me and Mark Wahlberg are going to be in heaven, doing hip-hop songs," Miller said, drawing laughter.

Using the same unique, informal style peppered with humor and personal stories and experiences that have made his books, "Blue Like Jazz" and "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" bestsellers, Miller spoke about growing up in a church led by a strict, controlling pastor who created an image of an angry God.

For Miller, he began to answer his self-imposed question after seeing Jesus "just showing up" in his life and the lives of those around him.

He recounts having discussions with a friend at school, a friend who for a time wanted nothing to do with religion, or with Jesus. Eventually, though, Laura started asking questions, until Miller decided she should "meet Jesus." He told her to read the book of John in the New Testament.

"It was almost like setting Laura up on a blind date," he said.

After his friend called him up in the middle of the night, uncomfortable with feeling like Jesus was speaking to her personally, Miller said it gave him a new perspective.

"I began to realize Jesus is actually moving and active in the world," he said. "He doesn't petition the Baptist convention ... he just does what he wants."

It was especially noteworthy that it happened at Reed College in Portland, Ore. -- at that time considered "the most godless" college campus in the country. It also has, he said, some of the nation's most intelligent students.

At first, Miller said he thought rubbing elbows with the academically elite would mean he had to be able to win every argument on behalf of Christianity to make a difference.

Instead, he said he noticed his peers giving credence to beliefs, academic or religious, "based on what type of people it produces."

"Which is totally biblical," Miller said. "In this environment of hyperintelligent, godless kids, Christianity made sense. This Jesus thing is making sense."

In today's world, he said, which boasts 360,000 Christian denominations that often don't see eye to eye, it's important to remember that they all should have one thing in common.

"As Jesus looks down, He just sees one. He just sees his church," he said.

Despite the bickering and fighting that have divided the church in many places, Miller said Jesus continues to work in peoples' lives.

"I see Jesus showing up ... and it just gives me so much faith," he said.

The evening also included a brief question and answer session with audience members, a time of music led by a worship team and a sneak peek of the film adapted from "Blue Like Jazz."

"A Million Miles in a Thousand Years," was required reading for freshmen at DWU, a fact which Miller told The Daily Republic he didn't know until he got to campus.

"I thought, 'so they're the ones buying it,' " he said with a smile.

Miller said he typically speaks about story structure, but wanted to talk about "where he sees Jesus" with the young DWU crowd on Monday night, a crowd composed of people who may be working through some of the same questions he began asking himself on Reed's campus. Today, he said, he will talk more about story structure.

As he began to study literature, Miller said Christianity began to make sense, intellectually, when viewed through a basic story structure lens.

"I think a story works as a road map for life," he said. "It helps us make sense of our lives."

Miller will speak about that at 11 a.m. today in the Sherman Center on campus. It is free and open to the public.

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