Culture

Donald Miller – Blue Like Jazz

A friend of mine said I needed to read Blue Like Jazz.  My young colleague often hypes things to the maximum, so I put off reading the book.  Then I noticed the buzz in other circles, so I relented and wished I had been moved sooner.  Donald Miller brings a winsome wit to the page and challenges current conventional categories … is he evangelical, post-modern, left coast, etc. … it doesn't matter.

Miller writes a string of essays that recount a journey of resolution.

I never like jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theatre in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxaphone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. Is as if they are showing the way.

I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened (page ix).

What a journey you take with Miller. He reveals his heart in so many dramatic ways. He also challenges us to reevaluate our assumptions. Take this quote on things he hates about churches:

First: I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you were supposed to point out the benefits of a product when you are selling it. That is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak. They were always pointing out the benefits of Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It's not that there are not benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it's a vacuum cleaner. I never felt like Jesus was a product. I wanted Him to be a person. Not only that, but they were always pointing out how great the particular church was. The bulletin read like a brochure for Amway. They were always saying how life-changing some conference was going to be. Life-changing? What does that mean? It sounded very suspicious. I wish they would just tell it to me straight rather than trying to sell me on everything. I felt like I got bombarded with commercials all week and then I went to church and got even more.

Miller continue his riff:

And yet another thing about the churches I went to: they seemed to be parrots for the Republican Party.  Do we have to tow the party line on every single issue?  Are the Republicans that perfect? I just felt like, in order to be part of the family, I had to think George W. Bush was Jesus. And I didn’t. I didn’t think that Jesus really agreed with a lot of the policies of the Republican Party or for that matter the Democratic Party. I felt like Jesus was a religious figure, not a political figure. I heard my pastor say once, when there were only a few of us standing around, that he hated Bill Clinton. I can understand not liking Clinton’s policies, but I want a spirituality to rid me of hate, not give me reason for it. I couldn’t deal with that. That is one of the main reasons I walked away. I felt like, by going to this particular church, I was a pawn for the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republicans did not give a crap about the causes of Christ.

Only one more thing bugged me, then I will shut up about it.  War metaphor. The churches I attended would embrace war metaphor. They would talk about how we were in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn’t clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the powers of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals. Their teaching would have me believe I was the good person in the world and the liberals were the bad people in the world. Jesus taught that we are all bad and He was good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war. The truth is that we are supposed to love the hippies, the liberals, and even the Democrats, and that God thinks of them as more important than ourselves. Anything short of that is not true to the teachings of Jesus (pages 131-132).

Now that statement will shake your worldview. If it doesn’t, substitute conservative for liberal, Democrat for Republican (and vice-versa), and fundamentalists for homosexual, and then see where you stand in Miller’s critique of muddled middle of today’s civil religion that too often passed for Christianity.

I especially call attention to how a person of conviction learns to love other and self, by paying attention to loving Jesus (see "Love: How to Really Love Other People" and "Love: How to Really Love Yourself" on pages 207-232). Find a copy of Blue Like Jazz … I pray the God I met in Jesus resolves for you as well.