Even those who followed the Democratic National Convention closely probably didn't notice a closing prayer delivered by a young man in his 30s with the unassuming name Donald Miller.

He said some rather unassuming things in an unassuming voice.

It was hardly a riveting moment for the country.

Still, Miller is a rising leader in what many call the "emerging Christian church." He is the author of several books, including "Blue Like Jazz" — a jaunty, self-effacing memoir about his conversion and his ideas about Christianity. His language is simple, even juvenile in a way. But his ideas are engaging and profound.

Born and raised in Texas, Miller traveled the country as a young man, finally settling in Portland, Ore. There he wrote a couple of books, including "Searching for God Knows What." But it was "Blue Like Jazz" that caught the imagination of Christian America

Like many in the "emerging church," Miller sees such power and insight in the stories of the Bible — the Adam story, the Noah story, the Jonah story — that whether they actually happened or not isn't an issue in his mind. The stories speak the truth about God and how he operates in the hearts of human beings.

In "Blue Like Jazz" Miller writes of his first brush with true Christianity. There was a moment, he says, when he realized:

"Christian spirituality was not a children's story. It wasn't cute or neat. It was mystical and odd and clean and it was reaching into the dirty. There was wonder in it and enchantment."

The problem was he let "good taste" distract him from the Christian message. "I was judging the idea, not by its merit, but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message," he writes.

Miller knows many thinking people will look at him askance, wondering how he could have been duped so easily. But that's their problem. If they can't see beyond their own notions of what is fashionable, they are even more narrow than they realize.

As writers like Miller continue to expand and stretch Christianity, many traditionalists fear he runs the risk of tearing the whole thing apart.

And who's to say? They may be right. Still, in Miller's prayer for the Democrats, I think even the most hide-bound Christian will be able to hear the voice of someone who may march to a new tune, but someone who speaks earnestly from the heart.

"We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation," he said in his prayer. "We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy. ... We have tried to solve these problems ourselves but they are still here. We need your help. ... Help us serve people, not just causes. ... Help us be an example of humility and strength once again. Lastly, Father, unify us."

He closes his prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, like any true Christian — those submerged in faith, as well as those who are emerging into it.


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