My friend Ryan Miller is fierce with questions. Questions about love, questions about life and story, and power and shadows. The question we came together around in this episode is what is happening in our culture’s shadows today. In the movie The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey, said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” Ryan Miller’s new fictional story, Insipid, questions it all-good and evil, what is real and what is not. Dark and bright, join us.
What would a demon have to say about modern-day America? There was a time when the Shadows would blind humans individually. But, it was very hard, exhausting work. So, a few brilliant Shadows came up with a system that would do the work for them. Even better, a system that the humans would adore, build bigger, and praise while becoming more imprisoned by it every day. We live in that system. We work and worship in it. We fight for it. But one of its main architects wants out. Or so he claims. And he’s found a burned out pastor to listen to him.
This demon is about to share all his secrets. And maybe save us all.
About Ryan Miller
Ryan has always been in love with a story and its power over society. He spent 12 years creating stories and designs for the best selling Myst video game franchise. He spent 10 years telling stories every Sunday as the pastor of Branches a church he started – before leaving religion altogether. He has started two companies to share stories through art, authored four books, a blog, hosted two podcasts, and is currently creating a story for an upcoming video game as well as a screenplay for an upcoming television show.
Ryan loves to travel, to see and hear the stories of different cultures and peoples around the world. Ryan lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife of 25 years and three kids and thinks it’s all a pretty fantastic and fortunate story to be living.
Friends welcome to another episode of work, life, play. Back in the day in 2012, when I first started podcasting, it was super rare. And for many of you that listened to podcasts networks and it's so polished and so perfect. It's just like watching cable TV. Back in the beginning, it was more like John Connor from the Terminator series broadcasting. If you had a microphone in a closet you could record in and you had something to say, then you could transmit it off into the matrix. So I have stayed with that same spirit largely from the beginning of very hopefully polished where necessary and rough and authentic. I think one of the greatest tragedies of our culture today is how much polish and perfection there is that creates a veneer in such a way that it feels unobtainable and it creates and reinforces an idea of us in them.
My friend, Ryan Miller author he wrote a new book it's called insipid and it's a fictional story. And what I think is really fascinating about it is there's this quote I watched from a movie called the usual suspects and Kevin Spacey's character. He quotes in the movie saying “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he did not exist.”
And I find that to be true. I find that to be very true, that there is such a discussion and dialogue around what is good in the world or a light. And we don't talk a lot about the darkness. There's a lot more talking about the darkness these days in our culture of the clashes of culture, the clashes of social class and lack of equity for our brothers and sisters on the planet. But I think what we don't often talk about is we go further and talk about what sits in the shadows. What is sitting in the shadows, that's driving a lot of it and are the characters in the story they're out of view.
When we're going to talk today, Ryan and I about his new book and these questions about good and evil and what is real and what is not, what is dark and what is bright and what is happening in the light and what is happening in the shadows. So he writes about a character named Seth who craves and wants more life, but the journey he goes on to try and find it, and what stands in his way that comes out of the shadows and the stories that live in the shadows. I think you'll enjoy for instance is good for us and keep going.
Alright, Ryan Miller, welcome back to work life play. Tell me about Seth, the character that your book is about?
Ryan Miller :
Well, Seth is a pastor who is pretty much burned out and smoked out on his faith. You could say he was leaning towards losing hope in all of it, almost atheist level marriage problems, basically kind of a life just sort of wrapped life. A pastor for many years, I enjoyed it immensely.
A lot of people have read the book and who know me and accused me of being sad, which I have to always say, I'm not, but of course there's some similarities in us, maybe an exaggerated version of me. But Seth is a guy who is based off of a lot of pastors that I got to know and talk to, to basically you know, they're in the job for the money. For the security of buying groceries and taking care of their family and having a paycheck. It's not something they necessarily would choose anymore or they enjoy, or there's a lot of passion about it's just a job.
I don't mean it with any judgment. And it's, what else would I do? I'm in this job. I, how could I start over? I get a paycheck. It gives me some, some adrenaline rushes here and there. And you know, I'm doing the Lord's work. so I'll just fight through it and get through it.
I'm going to read the back for the listeners. So when a stranger in a coffee shop offers him something extraordinary, he has to listen. Even if the oddly normal man claims to be a friendly demon leading one of the most brilliant and successful cons of humanity to ever exist, the man may be crazy, but he knows secrets. Seth has been, has told to no one, he reveals a reality. Seth has never experienced. So, pick us up there and the story and tell us about it?
Ryan Miller :
It's kind of a modern takes on screw tape. I would say a little edgier 2020 version. So this demon, we call them a shadow in the book. I just liked the word shadow better, but a lot of people wouldn't know that for the back of book. And that goes into our shadow side and our darker self and our societal shadows. And this, this shadow/demon comes in a burned-out pastor. Who's in it for the money and says, listen, I know why your life's falling apart. I know why you have all these doubts. I know why you're where you're at. And I can explain all of it. And hopefully in the end, get you out of it because I want out of it too, because I've, I've created this culture that’s got you stuck, and I understand it better than you do. And if you help me help you, we might both find a way out.
From your journey, that phrase of being stuck and wanting a way out. What were some of the ways that you wanted ways out?
Ryan Miller :
I wanted a way out from a job I had before I was a pastor. And that was the classic, which, you know, very well and talk about very well. Got paid a pretty good amount of money, hated the job. I would come home just depressed, but didn't know where else to turn. So that's a very obvious one. I think a lot of people can relate to, it was just that hamster on a wheel.
It’s been a long process and this book was eight or nine years in the making kind of the whole trajectory of me entering into the church world in a more official level and then leaving it. I think there's a lot of ways we want out that we're not always aware of. Richard drawer, this quote is one of my favorites. “It's the easy profit is the one that comes, tell the enslaved that they can be free, but the much more difficult profit is the one that comes to tell the free that they're actually enslaved.”
And to me, that's what this book at its best would be about is that we're not free and we're enslaved and there's something way better than this false fake surface-y freedom that we have. And that is the kind of stuff that I'm talking about. So there's a much deeper level stuck of just the things that drive me. When I wake up in the morning, the things that make me go, the things that make me happy or not, and it's so much subtler.
So that that statement is we're not free and this is for the free that are actually enslaved. So how are we not free?
Ryan Miller :
I think America is very stuck on getting to the top, getting ahead, getting more enough is a word that we don't have in our vocabulary. We say we do, but we don't. And I think in the short term to say it succinctly as I can, we're settling for something so much less than is available. And I think tied to that is that we don't give evil enough credit, so, or the darkness or the shadow side, whatever you want to call it. And I think this book is in a sense, trying to give evil more credit. I think when we think evils just tempting us with the very simple things in life, we miss out on the very great things in life they're tied together.
This is in a sense saying there's so much more to life. There's so much better. There's so much more freedom. There's so much leaving our attachments, leaving this pursuit of more and evil is, is smart enough to make all of these things, the thing that we're fighting our lives for. And it's not going to do it blatantly because that's, that's too clear to all of us. So it's going to do it subtly and covertly and in the most tempting of ways that even us for a very intelligent and profound and wise quote, unquote, think we're above and beyond.
Do you know the movie, the usual suspects? One of my favorite lines 1995 usual suspects, Kevin Spacey, “the greatest trick we'll use here, the shadow that the shadow ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.” So how is that true in this book? How is that true in your life?
Ryan Miller :
I think the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that the devil is stupid. You know what I mean? It's, it's almost like, Oh yeah, of course there's evil. Of course, there's temptation, but it's not oh, well, I'm not I'm not filling in the blank, so therefore I'm not evil.
it's so easy for us sometimes to resist the devil, that that would be exactly what a devil would do. The devil in a sense, doesn't exist in our own head. And then the devil has one. So, I guess there is, there's levels of that, but I think most people would think some kind of evil or darkness exists. It's just how willing we are to say like, yeah. And that, that darkness can get me.
Tell us then how, as you pick apart the layers in that addiction and that longing walk us through some of the adventures, the low points of what Seth encounters in your book and how that translates to your own experience?
Ryan Miller :
There's a lot of areas. This stuff shows up. I think religion is one of the first and I don't want to start bashing religion again. I led a church for 10 years and it was amazing and I loved every minute of it and it was powerful, but I do think what we've done to religion in America has allowed us to settle for something much less than it was available. So we've settled for a God that fits in a box that we bring our sacrifices to and who gives us XYZ. And if we don't get XYZ, we haven't done enough sacrifices. It's so primitive. And so surface-y, and so much of a trap even within religion. You can see this manifest itself in all kinds of ways.
If you look into capitalism, it's kind of at its root, the whole idea of you get capital to start your business. And then you need to keep kind of paying off that capital and our economy functions on people needing next falls, new fashion, and next spring's new colors. And we use more and, and we're told even the one that you bought last year is not any good anymore.
Politicians will be very open about this. Like, Hey, we need you to keep shopping. We need to keep supporting your local businesses. We need you to keep more and more. And I am a local business. I get that, but that can be very much of a cage. I think there's a whole sexuality piece. That's a huge cage in our society. And I'm not, I'm not going to go on some purity movement here because even that in itself can be a form of a cage. So Seth has kind of walked through these different aspects of his life. He has a lot of sexual baggage. This demon kind of walks him through some of that. He has a lot of religious baggage, obviously he's a pastor. So, there's demon walks them through that.
He lives in America and he's grown up in a society and a culture with constant programming saying, you're never enough. You never have enough and you need more. And you want to get to the top if you have to. And the steam and kind of walks him through that. And these are just forms of attachments. You know, it's kind of that question of what is happiness. And we have created happiness to be when I get this thing or this person I'm happy, but you know, that's not true happiness. That's just an attachment. And so I hope Seth, by the end of it finds that he's got what he needs, that this world is way bigger and more intriguing than he thought.
So, on that riff that you just had Ryan about capitalism's a cage, sexuality can be a cage. Religion can be a cage. Growing up in America can be a cage that prohibits the freedom that we're made for. Yet we don't view ourselves as enslaved reminds me a lot of the matrix and Neo finding himself, asking this question of what is the matrix and which is really this, you know, what's really going on here. And I guess what I hear you saying is that you're choosing to take this bold, move to name what you see that's going on here. What are the risks that we're running with our lives in believing that evil is not real and that we are actually free?
Ryan Miller :
It might be really easy to come back to the ancient story. You know, God's people being enslaved in Egypt, Moses and the plagues. And we've all kind of heard bits of this story. It's become part of our culture. Basically this group of people, they had some promise of food and survival, but they were also beaten and had to work for a master. So they're fried in the story. They're out in the desert and they're free for the first time in the desert in that sense, freedom in that sense can be overwhelming. It's just the mystery of it. The unknown, the doubt, the uncertainty, the confusion, where do we go next? And so they have this longing to go back to Egypt and at least they say we had our stew there. At least we had our meals every day. And it would be so interesting to talk to these people and say, why would you ever want to go back to that?
And you can just imagine, well, look at this desert land. I mean, what do we got out here? Well, you have freedom. You can do whatever you want. You can go wherever you want. God is with you. Yeah. But you know what, it's fine. I'd rather go back to the certainty of knowing I'm going to have soup tomorrow and all of the answers and all of the security in that sense. So I think that story represents so much of where we're at in life. And I think I grew up in a religion that promised me a lot of answers. A lot of security, a lot of codes. If you will, if you do this, this will happen. Include when I die, I'll go to heaven. I mean, we can go all the way to the end there so that it was very much, this is how it works.
You don't have to be religious to grow up this way. You can, this is how America works. This is how nationalism works. This is how money works. This is how sexuality works. This is how these things work. And so true. Freedom is scary in a way it's very unknown. It's mysterious. It's the uncertain, it's, it's that true wilderness like feeling. But I having been there in bits of my life I want more of it and I am becoming addicted to that kind of freedom. And once you're there, you really start to realize what kind of a false freedom we've grown up in.
But if I found a demon and I want to control humanity, I mean, I'm going to promise them all the security in the world, all the answers in the world, all of the formulas in the world and let them believe that they are free while they're living in a cage and potentially even building that cage themselves because they've become so addicted to it.
Thinking as I'm listening to you, Ryan, there was this church 2000 years ago and this guy, Paul wrote a letter to them about how to get along and how to actually find life and how to pay attention to where they might be building their own cages. I have been reading this passage almost every day for the last couple of months and what this, as we're talking about, what what's it like to live in America these days? And I would just expand that to say, to live into the world.
I’m going to read this passage about what he talked about 2000 years ago “it's obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time. It's repetitive Loveless, cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage frenzied, and joyless grabs for happiness, trinket God's magic show, religion, paranoid loneliness, cutthroat competition, all consuming yet never satisfied once a brutal temper, an impotence to love or be loved divided homes and divided lives, small minded and lopsided pursuits in the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions, ugly parodies of community.” I could go on.
Sounds a little bit like the work of S the shadow, huh?
Ryan Miller :
Yeah, it does. Powerful words.
I think as a pastor slash Christian slash whatever I was, I could hear passages like that and put it all into a box, even as I was reading about the danger of boxes.
It takes a lot of effort and work to really dive into ourselves and drill in because it's, it's unsettling. You know, you get to a point, Oh my gosh, wait, what, what is all of them? And what am I doing?
This second part of this passage here says, “but what happens when we live God's way he brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard like affection for others, exuberance about life serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates them. And people, we find ourselves in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Sounds a lot more like freedom.
Ryan Miller :
It does. I grew up believing that I had to get something or achieve something or do something or be something or find something. And I'm really leaning into this idea that it's all already here instead of believing that I need to go find God, no, God's already here. God's been here in every single instance. I don't go anywhere to find God. I can find pieces of life that uncover God or help me to see God or love or unity or peace or whatever it is. But via that I've got to keep pursuing is, is done. The only thing I need to pursue are the things that are blocking me or blinding me or, or imprisoning me in that sense. We've already got it. We're already there. We've just got to work on seeing it and believing it and experiencing it versus finding it. And maybe that's the greatest trick is that you don't have it. You've got to go obtain it somewhere. And once we start on that path, maybe that's where we begin to become on the path of darkness, which is again, very subtle and tricky and tempting. And that is to me, why it makes more sense.
For us to find your book, we find it. And if we want to go deeper, what else are you up to in the world?
Ryan Miller :
Well, it's on Amazon and there's also insipid book.com. You can find some stuff there. I love hearing feedback. I love hearing what people are getting from it. Putting a book out is like putting a kid out in the world and there's no shield around it. It's just kind of, wow, here I am. This is, this is truly me. I mean, this book is so me and my thoughts on the world that it's pretty vulnerable at times. And I'm really proud of it. And I love that. I did it. And for all of that reason, I love hearing what people think about it though.
The worst thing, I don't know if they're the same for you. The worst thing is silence. When people have read it and say nothing, I would much rather, you know what? I just didn't get into it. Or man, I didn't, I didn't like it. Or I was confused. I love the feedback.
There's a interview I did with David Wilcox, the singer songwriter. And one of the things he talked about with every new album that he released is that he viewed them as a flock of birds. Once the release happened, then that those flock of birds take flight and go wherever they go. And he may or may not see any of them ever again. It's good. Yeah. Casually, some of them will fly back and deliver a message.
So, I think that in that all of that being true, like a kid and then like our kids, the older ones that go off and go to college right. And kind of start to live their life or like role changes. And the gift is to actually here about the work that we've done in the world and how it impacts people. They're a flock of birds.
*We’ve done our best for this transcription to accurately reflect the conversation. Errors are possible. Thank you for your patience and grace if you find errors that our team missed.
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