Thursday, August 23, 2012

Blue Like Jazz: Book Review

The Book

Title: Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality
Author: Donald Miller

This book was initially recommended to me in High School. I read it then, considered it a good read that provoked several thoughts & thought I agreed with some of it while disagreeing with other parts. Overall, I could see why a lot of people liked it, but never felt my life should be based on it. It was simply a good read, but not worthy of being placed on my "Re-read Annually" list.

I read it a second time as I began college. I just finished re-reading it now as I am in the middle of Grad school. This time was different, however. I was challenged to re-read the text with several questions in mind. These questions were designed to re-frame my perception of the book. They certainly have.

Technical Merit

Don Miller is one of my favorite authors when it comes to technical merit. You know this if you read my review of his most recent work: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Miller writes with the flourish of a poet, the honesty of a child & drops a revelation like a sonic boom. He gains 5 out of my make-shift 5 star rating for wordsmiths.

(Granted, his stream-of-consciousness style has been known to frustrate people, so if you disagree I completely understand. Perhaps this is just a style that really resonates with me & my own mental processes.)


BLJ follows Don's spiritual journey with snippets from his childhood, adolescent, collegiate & adult experiences. Note that his life experiences are real-world interactions that show how God's love pursued him. His experiences & the people he interacted with are diverse &--at times--unruly/unholy, yet God used those experiences to teach Don that He moves in the world that is outside of the typical white, anglo-saxon, protestant, Republican one he grew up in.

Don Miller describes the ugliness of the human condition according to his own testimony--he looks inside his heart for the ugliness & looks to God for the cure. At the core of his message, he states that we are broken people who need help. He reinforces that the wages of sin is death, & Christ--motivated from His own love for each individual in this world--died in our place. In addition, this substitution can be applied to anyone who believes. We then must serve our God out of gratitude & reciprocal love for him. In essence, Christian spirituality hinges on two things: Repentance & Loving Jesus.

My Takeaway

One thing I have always said, & continue to say: this is a testimony. I have heard many men get up & say they were murderers before coming to Christ or womanizers or major drug dealers. I have heard many testimonies that included time in a prison cell. I have never heard them say: In order to be saved, you have to experience this too. Don is the same, he in no way says that you have to experience God the way he did. If anything, he says you need to listen to him in your own language.

Honestly, I thought I disagreed with the book a lot more before I read it this third time. I realize now that Miller is arguing for a Christianity that returns to the spirit in which it was founded--free from politics & attempts to legislate morality. His argument about our use of love is especially convicting. Notice that we value people, invest in people & relationships are bankrupt. By using an economic metaphor for love, we subconsciously treat it like a pay for service program. I give you love if you render X. We should love, not as a reward for good behavior, but because God is love & God motivates us. At one point, Don says, "This was the way God loved me. God had never withheld love to teach me a lesson." A Christian should love as God loves.

One final point. People tend to get confused with Don's insistence on using the term Christian Spirituality rather than Christianity. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, what Don intends to do is distance real Christianity from politicized Christianity. In essence, it mirrors the book on Evangelicalism I reviewed a few weeks ago, where the authors tried to separate that movement from racism, homophobia, republicanism, etc. In addition, Don tries to describe the wonder & awesomeness of God. Sometimes Christians try to compartmentalize & "reduce God to math" so we can pretend that we have all the answers. Unfortunately, God is greater than that. Don echoes some C. S. Lewis as he argues that the Creator must be both outside of & much greater than the creation. That is the very definition of mysticism.

At the end of all this, I recommend the book to anyone who is grounded in their faith. I also recommend this to sheltered Christians who need a dose of reality. Obviously, there is a level of maturity that is a prerequisite to all reading, that is the only barrier that I place on my recommendation.

More Reading

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Everything You Know About Evangelicals is Wrong
Mere Christianity
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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