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Behind the scenes with Jason Miller

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You know him…well, at least slightly. He spoke to you and interacted with you for a week. He poured into your life. Maybe you had some fun along the way too. Jason Miller 1By now, you might have figured out who I’m talking about: Jason Miller, the speaker during Spiritual Emphasis Week. But a week is a short time to get to know someone, especially when he has about 900 other people to meet! That’s why the Beacon sat down with Jason on Wednesday at Sufficient Grounds to get a better feel for who he is and why he wanted to be a part of Spiritual Emphasis Week. Beacon: How do you feel Spiritual Emphasis Week has gone? Has it met your expectations? Jason Miller: Yeah, expectation is a funny word because I’m not entirely sure what I really expected. The campus community is really diverse, and so in coming to speak here I spent a lot of time praying and trying to think about how to speak to a really diverse community. And that brings with it the expectation for a lot of diverse outcomes. So I thought a lot about the guys who, maybe, came here for something other than the spiritual dynamic on campus and was hoping to speak to them. And I thought a lot about people who’ve been leaning in really hard for a long time on their relationship with God and how to speak with them. And I thought about people who know their Bible better than I do and people who haven’t really read a Bible and, kind of, all that spectrum. And just hoping that God would offer something for those people. It’s hard for me to gauge what’s in people’s hearts, but I love getting to see eyes wide open in chapel. I love the feeling of connection on campus right now. Bethel’s amazing, I love that. And (Tuesday night’s) Q&A was really exciting. That’s been my favorite part of the week so far. There was just a lot of engagement, a lot of inquisitiveness, a lot of curiosity and I love that and that’s a good sign. Beacon: Have you been able to navigate that spectrum you’re talking about? What have you seen happening this week? JM: There have been some great conversations with students after chapel. But truthfully, every time I’ve ever preached or taught anywhere, I feel like I’m the worst gauge of what God is doing. And I know that might be kind of weird to say but, you know, in that chapel there’s like 830 seats, there’s 830 hearts. And most of the fruit of that I think is going to be seen in the next few weeks and months. So honestly, it’s a big act of faith to throw something out there and hope that God is using it. Whenever I get asked how the preaching is going wherever I am, I feel like the answer is pretty disappointing, but truth is I don’t know. But I can at least gauge the level of alertness in the room. And it feels like we’re on the same page right now, which is a really good thing. Beacon: So you’re coming from Granger Community Church, this huge church. What are some of the differences between that setting and then coming here for Spiritual Emphasis Week? JM: We sing louder in chapel. I love the worship experience here. It’s one of the things I really miss about being a student here. The community aspect, it’s especially rich knowing that the people who are praying together at the altar on a Wednesday morning are also the two students who live next door to each other in the dorm all year long. So the connection between the lives that students live outside the chapel and in the chapel is so strong, and I love that. It can be a little daunting to stand up and preach in front of all your Bible professors, you know, hoping you get your exegesis right. There’s not quite as much of that dynamic at Granger. At Granger, there’s a different type of diversity there that I really do like. I like that we have people who haven’t graduated high school even though they’re 40 years old. And we’ve got business owners, and we’ve got an international component. So I love both the environments, but there’s something rich and special about being here. Beacon: What has Bethel meant to you personally? JM: When I came here, the first thing that struck me at Bethel that was kind of different - there was a layer being added to my experience of God that hadn’t happened before I got here. I started growing an appreciation for the Holy Spirit in my life. I grew up in churches where it was kind of like the Holy Trinity was like the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible, and the Holy Spirit didn’t get a whole lot of attention. For me coming here was actually a place where that was increased. Just the awareness of God’s Spirit and the attempt to live in sync with that. So that was a big thing. The mentoring relationships I had here were really important, really huge. There were a couple people in my life who became mentors pretty quickly when I got here. And that stuck through my time here in a really profound way. And then for me, the classroom experience, Jason Miller 2especially the philosophy and theology classes, Biblical studies, they really gave me a lot of hard stuff to chew on and stuff to wrestle with and that was really valuable. And I was thinking about it, there were things that my professors said in classes that I didn’t understand at all when they said them. But they hooked me or they provoked me or they planted a seed, and then five years later maybe something in my life, some learning or some wisdom or whatever, came to bear where it finally started to add up all the things that God was trying to get away from me or get through to me. So I don’t want to diminish the classroom experience here too. Beacon: So how did Bethel fit into your decision to become a pastor? JM: Ok, I’ll try to make the brief version of this. When I was in high school, I felt like God was calling me into ministry. And then after acknowledging that calling, I almost immediately turned away from it. And I think that had a lot to do with not having any vision for it. I don’t think I was trying to run away from it, I think it was mostly just I had no idea how that could possibly be a meaningful kind of life. And so I kind of returned to music and instead focused there. And I came to Bethel as a music major, and during that first year, in all kinds of ways that are hard to summarize, God just started redirecting me back to that calling He had already spoken and I had ignored. And a lot of it came down to just seeing the beauty and the power of someone living in a calling whether it be church ministry or not. And then through the major process, I bounced around on majors a little bit, but moving into Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry major for a little bit, that helped me a lot. But also being involved in my home church, which is something I wish Bethel students would lean more heavily into, while I was a student being involved in local church ministry that was a place where I started to understand how God had wired me. And everything I was learning here was great, but local church ministry was part of that. Beacon: And what church was that? JM: Harris Prairie Church of Christ. It’s up right at State Road 23 and Capital Bridge. Local church ministry was a part of (the process of becoming a pastor), the RA experience for me too though was another ministry. I spent two years in Oakwood and one year in Manges. And getting to be an RA was really amazing, really life-changing for me. Just for the chance for life and life discipleship with guys. I really miss that actually. Beacon: So talk about your background a little. Where are you from? Just talk about your time before Bethel. JM: So I was a local kid through middle school and high school, I was in South Bend, Mishawaka, Granger, that’s been home for me. I went to Penn. Curiously, I had never really heard of Bethel, didn’t know much about it until my senior year. I thought Bethel, when I did hear about it, I thought it was Amish – true story. And then, senior year of high school a buddy asked me where I was going to school. I said, “I’m not sure.” He said, “You should go to Bethel.” I said, “Why?” I thought it was Amish. Why would you go? And he said, “Well my dad’s the vice president.” And I was like, “Whoa, sorry.” That was Steve Cramer’s son, Jim. So he dragged me to a chapel and checked it out. Music was my everything growing up, so music was what I was looking for in a college. Which was why I was planning on going to IU, they have a good music school there. But yeah, we bounced around a lot before then, lived in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, but planted here in sixth grade and never looked back. And music was my thing and I thought IU was the place to do music and then through some random events my senior year, God kind of redirected me here. Beacon: So it sounds like music is your big interest. Any other interests? JM: Music. I love playing music. I also love, like, my buddies and I we go to a lot of shows. Lollapalooza’s a big thing every year. We probably try to hit two or three shows a month. I just think when you’re in a venue and music’s being made there’s just something raw and really beautiful about that. You know, I love small venues in Chicago. Music’s a big thing. I’m a big nerd so books and reading, I eat that stuff up. And then I’m a food freak. Love food, love to cook food. Yeah, I love to cook food. Beacon: So with music, and this may be hard to narrow down, but do you have a favorite type of music or favorite artist? JM: Don’t ask me that, you know that’s a bad question. Yeah I mean, I have two qualifications. The music has to be beautiful, and you need to be singing about something. I don’t need Christian music, I don’t need gospel music, just sing about something. Like if you’re bearing your heart in some way in your song, if you’re singing about some journey for purpose or meaning, any way you want to crack open and share your heart, that just gets me going. Best shows the last few years have probably been Bon Iver. My roommate and I a year ago, we flew out to New York City to see Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall. Unbelievable. You could hear a pin drop. Six thousand people and you get to those real quiet whispery parts in their songs, the whole room was just like, you know, locked in. Bon Iver was great. I like guitars a lot, so like I’m not a guitar player but anybody who knows how to make a guitar work like Gary Clark Jr., or Black Keys or Jack White. I don’t know if that’s helpful at all but those are some of the shows I’ve seen in the last year. Beacon: So you were in the chapel band. Any interesting Shawn Holtgren stories? JM: Oh man, sure there are! Some of my favorite stuff used to happen when, we had a curtain that we would shut at the beginning, so it was really dramatic. Like, the curtain would be closed and announcements would happen in front of the curtain. And the band was behind the curtain. And Shawn likes to have a good time, he’s a bit of a prankster. So, like, I remember one time when, I think it was our drummer maybe, was up front making an announcement and he was going to turn around to try to come back behind the curtain in the middle of the stage. And so Shawn just held the seam shut. So the poor kid’s in front of the entire student body and he’s just digging and digging and digging to figure out how to get backstage. And so he had to walk all the way around. Beacon: So in one of the sessions you said that Bethel is a special place and students shouldn’t take it for granted. How do we do that? JM: First of all I’d say assume the best. Any time you live in any kind of community, you always have a choice of how you’re going to interpret things and how you’re going to interpret people. Cyncism robs us of a lot of the beauty that we are blessed with every day in our lives. And I think that in a community like this, cynicism can rob someone of seeing what it really is, what God’s doing here and how rare and special it is. So assume the best and beware of cynicism and reject it whenever you can. And I’d say take advantage of the relationships you have here. Do whatever it takes to lean in. So with your faculty, with the people in your dorm, with staff – a lot of what makes this place special is the people. And if you don’t lean into that you might miss out. Beacon: So finally, what are you looking for in these last few days of Spiritual Emphasis Week? JM: I’m looking for commitments to next steps. That can be commitment to a mentoring relationship, that can be commitment to discipleship. It can be as simple as getting time with your roommate to be vulnerable about what God did in your heart this week so that you guys can work together on it through the next weeks and months and encourage each other. And then (on Thursday) we’re gonna talk a little bit about the difference between purchases and practices and how most of us in twenty-first century America have been almost entirely acclimated to sort of a purchase mindset. And practices are really frustrating when you approach them like purchases. And we’re gonna talk about how a lot of what God’s done this week is going to be sustained by practices. And how hard that is and how different that is. Beacon: Well, thank you so much, Jason. It’s been an awesome week. JM: My pleasure man. Thank you.
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