Not only has this book been significant in the life of Don Miller, this book as been instrumental in the lives of many Christians. I can say it was for me. But the more I look back on my life--where I was when I first read the book--the more I wonder about what the commentary of Blue Like Jazz is actually saying and what it was actually saying to me.
I remember a time in my life when I held in my mind a picture of what the Church was, or what I thought it was. This picture was greatly tainted by my own life. My observations were colored by confusion, anger, and who knows what else. I believed my problem as not with Jesus, but instead with the Church. I looked at the Church that I saw and it didn't fit within my definition of cool or anything worth much of my time. I didn't like the music I heard on the radio. The people seemed to annoy me. And I really didn't like the sermons I heard that said I might have something wrong with me or that God was something I didn't want him to be. I held some kind of grudge against the Church, the very Bride of Christ. You see, I didn't understand that Jesus loves the Church. I was like the guy who tells his friend, "I like hanging out with you, but I can't stand your wife."
Like so many other people, when I read Blue Like Jazz, it was as if I found a like-minded person that gave me permission to continue feeling the the way I was. But the funny thing is I was only reading what I wanted to read. I was finding agreement with what I liked and tossing out the rest, and I don't believe I was alone in this practice of selective reading. And I'm sure I was not alone in my frustration and anger toward the Church.
As the years have gone by, I've starting realizing that it's not about me. Nothing is about me. It's about Jesus, and he loves the Church. Seeing this, I've started to understand God's people and I've started to see some good in what I once was so bitter toward. There are lots of good intentions in the Church. There is lots of love in the Church. It's easy to have patience with people and love them when the grudge is lifted and forgotten. It's easy to find freedom in Christ and in his love and passion and community. He's the head of this thing we call Church. He describes the Church (and that includes all believers) as his bride, so to know Jesus is to understand what he sees in his bride and why he has so much love for the Church. And as we let go of the self and our desire to run counter to the Jesus and his Church, we actually discover ourselves and the person Jesus is calling us to be. And we see why Jesus loves the Church as much as he does.
Today, I know a guy who is angry at the Church. I see that there has always been people who are angry at the Church, and I believe there always will be angry people in my life. I hope so because at the point that I don't see angry people, there is a good chance that I've enclosed a safety bubble around me and that's not what God as called us to do. So I am thankful for this angry guy. I also hope that one day he won't be angry anymore.
For angry people, the Church people can't seem to do anything right and it seems I can't seem to say anything my angry friend is willing to hear. He is angry. I get that. He likes the commentaries that run counter to what the Church tends to think. I too used to like those commentaries. He likes fighting with God's people. I used to be a fighter. He likes fighting with me. And I see myself in him. I often think it's people like my friend, and even the me of my past, that so quickly gravitate to books like Blue Like Jazz. Why?
Might it be that in these kinds of books we find permission to continue placing our definitions and desires in a position of higher righteousness than the Church? Or maybe we go beyond the Church and we even like to place ourselves over God? But please don't get me wrong, I am not saying that this was Miller's intention. (He offers some insight into his own intentions for writing the book in the video below.) It is just that with books like his, we can pluck out the cool stuff we like and gloss over the stuff we don't. For example, I've met people over the years who love Blue Like Jazz and have seemed to define their Christianity as a Lone Ranger experience. But if they were to turn to Chapter 12 of Miller's book, they would find that Miller is encouraging his readers to find a church and go to it, to become part of its community. I wonder if the movie will be like the book in this regard?
I am thankful for this book. It was right where I needed it, when I needed it. But it's just one book. It's not some masterpiece of theology or philosophy. It's just the well written thoughts of one ordinary guy. For me, I found it was only the start of a journey that led me back to God. It got me thinking. Now I daily meet God on the road as I read his Word. Long since reading Miller's book, I've come to find a reunification with my Heavenly Father and the community he has for his people and the commission he has given us all. I've put aside the bitterness and anger. I'm no longer jaded with Christianity or the Church; now I only reserve the feeling of 'jaded' for politics. I hope Blue Like Jazz is this way for other readers too, but I fear for many, it is the end. . . the place where one stops. It is license and nothing more.
I confess, I'm kind of excited for this movie. Maybe not for the movie itself (because books are always better than the films), but for the conversations this may bring into the light. I'm thrilled for more opportunities to talk about the life that Jesus offers us, even if we are not granted the control to define or shape it. I'm excited to point people on a journey of discovery, well beyond the jaded feeling this book helps brings to the surface, which likely the movie will do as well.
It is an interesting book and it will likely be an interesting movie. Donald Miller is also the author of Through Painted Deserts, To Own a Dragon, Searching for God Knows What, and A Thousand Miles in a Million Years.
*I have no monetary connection to this book; however, I have written for and supported Burnside Writers Collective, a website with a connection to Don Miller and his friends.