Daniel McMillan is warm and friendly, always ready with a smile and a hug. He’s one of those rare people who asks how you are and listens for your answer because he really wants to know! He serves as an acolyte and volunteers his time for events and activities throughout the year at our church, including passing out chapstick during the Pride parade (see photo). Read on to find out more about this character and what he thinks about meditation, frogs falling from the sky and thighs with cellulite. . . .
1. Tell me about a meaningful community experience you have had in the Cathedral.
My baptism was the most important community experience at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I felt a very real spiritual presence in the presence of this new community. At the time, I thought that baptism was about a single person being given the seal of Christ; that you were his, and it was private. Now I know that the body of Christ is a community of believers all doing the work of love; the work that Christ bids us to do. I now see my baptism as coming into a community that works for love, and by virtue of love. We’re all love workers.
2. What kinds of things do you do that help you draw near to God or God’s people?
Apart from prayer (this includes those times of mentally being with God while things are happening) would be centering meditation and breathing. It can be so hard to quiet yourself when many things are going on around you and inside yourself. I need things to be outwardly, visually very simple: the room darkened, single flame of a candle burning at my alter, and me sitting on pillows, fixing on a particular picture of Jesus, sometimes the Virgin, and then closing my eyes.
3. What is a book/film/song you think everyone should read/see/hear and why?
Book(s): I’m sorry I can’t choose one, but I’ll tell you about four that I really like: Martin Buber’s I and Thou, because of its simple way of describing the two primary words, “I” and “thou,” and “I” and “it,” and how these two words characterize the way a person is in the world (i.e. connection and love or negation and seclusion).
Thomas Merton’s The Inner Experience, because we need to know that the inner life exists, first of all, and that we can get closer to it when we realize what we’re up against: the exterior self, which is essentially the self that strangles by distractions, habits, and words all conspiring to attenuate the call of the inner self.
Any book by Anne Lamott because she really just cuts through the shit and she does so comically, without wavering. I loved the story about, “The Aunties” and how she struggles and overcomes herself with a love for her own body, even a body with thighs that have cellulite! It’s a lesson that every woman, and gay man, needs to hear.
Lastly, and most importantly, I recommend the Bible because of, well, God, and Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ wonderful mother, Mary. In combination with a true faith, the Bible is mysterious, scary, and wholly enigmatic. How many times I have read passages thinking I knew what the story was about and then essentially that same story plays out in my own life, and I think, “Oh that’s it!” Fast forward five years and I’ll hear this same story again, only my life is reflecting to it from a different angle, and again, I learn something new.
Film: P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, because we are all messed up, some more than others, and we all need frogs falling from the sky sometimes to let us know that God truly is watching and hoping that we will choose to become reconciled with God and the people to whom we have been unkind.
Song: “Save Me,” by Aimee Mann from the film Magnolia, because it’s such a beautiful story of a person falling hard, then being saved by Christ, then realizing that he or she must “accept the freaks who could never love anyone.” “Huh???” That’s hard to do, but it’s one of things that I think we have to do, if we want to call ourselves, “disciples of Christ.”
4. At this particular moment in history, what is the most important work the church can do?
Immigration reform and homosexuality are the two most important things going on in the church right now.
Immigration needs to be understood, really understood, and mainly from the side of those who are migrating. Put more simply, what kind of world is so poor, so without basic necessities and infrastructure that people would leave their own families (wife, children, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, grandfathers and grandmothers), the homes in which they grew up — be willing to do that — and then risk death crossing the border into an uncertain, unfamiliar, at times, hateful, world, with a different language and a different culture? It must be pretty bad for someone to risk all of that.
LGBT issues are very important, but to me this is more about fear and xenophobia. In other words, people use passages in the Bible to justify living, dare I say, a “xenophobic lifestyle.” To construct a life by persistently defining who you are by people you claim you are not is, well, not Christ-like. Bishop Spong is very attractive when he says we need to get rid of the “imperialistic distinction making” and get into the wasteful kind love that relativizes all distinctions, getting to that level core; that inner self (Christ), that we all are when we look through the fear that our external selves have generated (Merton).
5. Anything else you would like to add about your life at St. Paul’s Cathedral?
My life has been very blessed by people at the Cathedral. I consider it my home (church) away from home (house) away from home (heaven). I know that through the good people there, who are open to the Holy Spirit in their lives, my life has expanded in Christ and will expand more because I have seen, understood and practiced that same love; the love that is shown to me every time I go to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Editor’s Note: Other little known facts about Daniel: he’s an excellent ice skater and long distance runner. He also knows how to do some fancy flips into the pool!
Hannah Miller will be writing Cathedral Characters, an occasional series about people in the Cathedral community. If there’s someone you’d like to hear about, drop a note for Hannah in the comments!