Donald Miller's fresh and original voice may change the way Christians view the "status quo" faith and build a bridge to seekers who believe that organized religion doesn't meet their spiritual needs. "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." In Donald Miller's early years, he was vaguely familiar with a distant God. But when he came to know Jesus Christ, he pursued the Christian life with great zeal. Within a few years he had a successful ministry that ultimately left him feeling empty, burned out, and, once again, far away from God. In this intimate, soul-searching account, Miller describes his remarkable journey back to a culturally relevant, infinitely loving God.… (more)
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"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in
This book is a bit uneven in quality. Some of these autobiographical essays were less than impressive to me. But others stopped me in my tracks. This is a book with which many Conservative Christians might be uncomfortable. Miller has his complaints about the church, and about the way many Christians view faith and interact with those around them -- especially those who are different from them. He has no use for empty ritual (though its clear that not all ritual is empty to him), or being judgmental of others, or of the kind of morality that is almost obsessed with sexual behavior.
He does acknowledge the reality of what traditional theology calls "original sin" -- the fact that all people, and the world, are broken and need fixing (the need for salvation). He zeroes in on the sins of self-righteousness and self-centeredness, and the primacy of the commandment to LOVE. In this, I believe he is a faithful follower of Jesus.
He has problems with religion, with Christianity (as an institution), with "religious people," but loves and has faith in Jesus and invites the reader to love Him, too. He does all this with an honesty about his own failings and shortcomings that is refreshing. He gave me some things to think about, so I consider the time spent in reading this book worthwhile.
Anyway, what strikes me most from books like these is how surprised and/or
But my question is, what did he really expect? If you were to read the entire Bible, both Old and New Testament, you will find that God's people have always been messed up, just like everyone else. The only church that loved people properly for a short period of time was the church described in the book of Acts. The later Epistles are warnings to different churches that they need to clean up the spiritual and social messes that they created when they got off-track from seeking God.
If you think about it, it makes sense that the Church is dysfunctional. Broken people, sometimes with severe emotional and social problems, seek out God and come to a church to be around other broken people who are also seeking God. People with low self-esteem, terminal health problems, manic-depressive disorders, divorcees, drug addicts, womanizers, ex-convicts, and the power-hungry all gather in the same place to "worship." We initially come because God has been pulling on our heartstrings and we want to come closer to Him. But we all wind up trying to impress one another with hollow self-righteousness, with only moments of sincere worship peppered in the mix.
It's truly a miracle of God that we haven't killed each other in the process.
Yes, the Church is messed up. Don't be surprised - it always has been. The purpose of the Church is not to whitewash souls; it's to try to seek God together and support each other along the way. And as we sincerely try to come close to Jesus, He is the one who declares us righteous and washes the dirt away.
Blue Like Jazz is about Miller and his spiritual life told in a series of chatty chapters. He keeps things a bit simpler than I'd like, using
Miller managed to do this and I was very interested to find out how. He skirts the issue for much of the book, but he's too honest to avoid it. He's extremely careful with his words and his solution is to forgive, move on and find a church that doesn't look at others (gay people, feminists, liberals, etc...) with fear and loathing. Pretty easy for a guy in Portland, Oregon to say, but he's probably right.
Miller's a likable guy. Any guy who's had a crush on Emily Dickinson and who was able to successfully navigate moving from a hippie camp site to a religious summer camp job has to be. Blue Like Jazz is, despite the subject matter, entertaining and easy to read. Miller's being dumped on a bit for the mild criticisms he's written, and I'm sorry for that.
He loves to say things like “I like the idea of..” or “I feel comfortable with this definition” or something like that - If a theological statement sounds beautiful and he has a got feeling, then Miller may admit it contain some element of truth.
I sometimes have problems with this laissez-faire, laid-back attitude to faith and dogma. Like when he describes some of his friends that have left there churches and become greek orthodox....and adds something like "I think it sounds very cool”. As if it doesn’t really matter which theology the church are based on - who cares as long as it sounds cool and feels cool. (Oh, yes...I know. It is a very un-cool thing to say).
As a fellow Portlander and Christian, and having grown out of a fairly conservative evangelical background to find deeper roots in my faith tradition, I was expecting to love this book, and came away disappointed. Sigh.
I hope the author revisits some of the topics contained in this book with a clearer voice, stronger editing, and in a less namby-pamby manner.
My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don't really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don't believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and some guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it's about who is smarter, and honestly I don't care. I don't believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons. Who knows anything anyway? If I walk away from Him, and please pray that I never do, I will walk away for social reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything. - p. 103
I'm not saying that he's not a
anyway, it's hard for me to explain why i think this book is misleading and yes, even dangerous. His style is readable, entertaining, humorous, pensive and even inviting. But his search is for a religion that suits his hippy, cool, 'beautiful dude', political activist style of 'spirituality' that doesn't have a whole lot of Scriptural truth to it - he has his epiphanies and aha moments but they don't seem much more than philosophical eye-openers. oh, i could go on. i do pray the Lord uses this book to draw many to Himself - but I wouldn't ever recommend it and you will do well to stay away from this fluff.
(ok, was that too harsh? i usually am not so critical of books! but this drew something out in me very strongly).
hope i didn't offend anyone who LOVED this book. it just didn't cut it for me.
He is also the
“There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz. And as I lay there, it occurred to me that God is up there somewhere. Of course, I had always known He was, but this time I felt it, I realized it, the way a person realizes they are hungry or thirsty. The knowledge of God seeped out of my brain and into my heart. I imagined Him looking down on this earth, half angry because His beloved mankind had cheated on Him, had committed adultery, and yet hopelessly in love with her, drunk with love for her.”
Blue Like Jazz is the coming of age story of the author as he struggles with his own ideas of religion and the new world he encounters away at Reed College. This isn’t your parents “Inspirational Christian Reading” book either, this is a visceral piece full of honesty and truth. Blue Like Jazz is easily one of the best Christian experience books I have ever read. Miller is an extremely talented writer.
Blue Like Jazz will make you laugh out loud while asking you the toughest of questions.
Read with caution! Highly recommended.
There is one word of caution, however. If you're leading a comfortable Christian life this book may introduce you to some dissonance in your spiritual thoughts, attitudes and practice. That may, or may not, be helpful - but I've read this book a half-dozen times and keep finding something refreshing and new in it.
Miller writes like a masterful storyteller, with a lot of wit and charm. I appreciate Miller's transparency as he shares with us his struggles with shyness, women, love, money, and integrating into community. He shares with us how today's evangelical Christian has hopped on to the conservative Republican bandwagon and essentially scared away anyone who does not share these same socio-political ideologies. How true this is. It took me many years to see this myself as a one-time staunch Republican.
I highly recommend this book to both Christian and non-Christian alike. Specifically for those who are seeking and in their college-aged years.
Do you use love like money? I mean, do you withhold love from others in an attempt to get them to change their ways? There's an essay in this book about that, I found that convicting. Miller works through how to love people like Jesus did; namely, how to love those Christians who are different than you even if you think they're on the wrong track in their beliefs or attitudes or actions. That's what I currently am thinking about.
I would give the first half of this book to any non-believer as a great witness and apologetic for the Gospel. Miller's adventures and conversations at Reid College are great and extremely thought-provoking. The second half of the book, starting with the part on relationships and Emily Dickinson are only so-so as they are mostly his introspection and stories of him learning to live in community. Helpful, but no moreso than just talking to a fellow believer in your Sunday school class about what they're thinking about. Miller probably didn't intend for this book to be the best-seller that it was as it's simply a compilation of his personal essays. (I now see that he blogs, too.)
How do non-teenagers who aren't raised in the same Southern Baptist context (or someone who was not raised at all in church) that I was come to Christ? What does meeting Jesus look like to them? I find that most of my friends through life were raised in church and struggle with this question, struggle with loving those who come to Jesus differently. It's easier to think of sharing the Gospel cross-culturally in another country than it is in America. That's a problem.
I find myself thinking of Rodney Reeves' guest sermons at my church this year. "If you think someone isn't a Christian because he smokes and cusses, you might be a pharisee." or "If you think God loves you more than someone else because you've been a Christian longer and have read the Bible more than he/she, you might be a pharisee." (Read Matthew 23:33 for why it's not good to be a pharisee).
Overall, I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. I need to reconcile a few of Miller's thoughts, which are logically sound, with Scripture. I also need to read Francis Chan's Crazy Love. Hopefully I won't read that book 5 years late.
This is my last book review for 2010. I still have at least a dozen physical, paper books on my bookshelf that I bought either long ago or last Christmas that need to be "read and released." So, I'll be getting to work on those starting tomorrow.
It was well written
Secondly, that Christians don’t love “sinners” because all they see is the sin and not the person. I wholeheartedly agree with this as well. Some may be more apt to “look down their noses” at a “sinner” rather than just reach out in love. This is obviously not what God wants Christians to do.
Thirdly, that many Christians support right wing causes to the absolute exclusion of any left of center concerns. Guilty again. We do need to give to the poor and take care of the needy, particularly widows and orphans. Jesus taught that as well.
I do have some concerns with some of his philosophy, however. He seems to advocate a grace and “acceptance” that go a little too far. I’m not talking here about non-Christians at all. I’m talking about people who claim to be followers of Christ. He lifts up Christians who appear to be following God in one or more areas, but yet are still engaging in practices not pleasing to God. He implies we shouldn’t judge and just accept. Of course God is the ultimate judge of all of us. Yet, the Bible clearly states that we ARE to point out to Christians (NOT non-Christians) areas that are not God-pleasing. Donald Miller himself has actually done that very well in his book!
My point is this. Once we are a follower of Christ, God loves us unconditionally and forgives us everything we do. That I believe. His grace does go far–really far! But, just as he forgave David for being a murderer and an adulterer, he also pointed out that there would be consequences to David’s acts. These consequences were the natural result of David’s sin. Yes, we are forgiven, but we still have to face the consequences. So why not try to obey God so as to receive our reward in heaven? I’d rather not just barely “escape through the flames” and be a toilet-scrubber in heaven. Of course, that’s just a figure of speech. What? You say you’ve tried and just can’t live up to what God wants? NONE of us can. Not without his help. That’s the whole point of Christianity. We couldn’t do it ourselves, so God took care of it for us. If you have the desire to please God, all you have to do is ask for his help to do it.
In conclusion, I think the Church would do well to examine some of Donald Miller’s points. But we can’t say that it doesn’t matter what we do because God loves us unconditionally and his grace covers all–EVEN THOUGH THAT’S TRUE!!! Because honestly, I wouldn’t want to live with the consequences of my actions if I just did what I wanted all the time. And even aside from the consequences, Christians should love God and WANT to please him.
It was a struggle to start off with; maybe it had something to do with the 'post-modern' memoir structure, where he jumped
However, after I put it down it was often difficult to pick up again to read. A good read yes, an enjoyable one? Not really.
Tom has been recommending a certain book by a certain "Christian" author to me for quite some time now and I have been telling him for quite some time now that I would get
It was just so refreshing to finally see a "thinking" Christian, someone who has wrestled with the same issues that I have been wrestling with for so long. If more Christians were like Don, I truly believe there would be more Christians in the world.
Donald Miller is basically not your Grandma's Christian. My own mother would probably call him a heretic. For you see he loves Jesus, but he drinks beer and smokes cigarettes, cigars and pipes. He even attended what he termed the most liberal college in all of America, while auditing a few courses, Reed University in Portland, Oregon.
To me, Donald Miller's version of Christianity is MUCH closer to that originally envisioned and taught by Jesus Christ himself. I can't really put it all into words, Don did such a fine job of it himself.
But... not to rain on the parade, there were still some problems with all that he had to say, things I didn't quite agree with.
For one, he says at one point, that the story of the Fall of man, whether viewed allegorically or as actual historical fact, is the ONLY explanation for why man is the way he is, why mankind is so selfish, mean, etc. Hold on a minute, Don. Is it REALLY the ONLY explanation around? I think not. Maybe the only explanation he has ever heard of but certainly not the only one. Maybe the only one that makes sense to him, but certainly not the only one. Evolutionary biological theory explains it all pretty well if you ask me. As does the Buddhist way of looking at the concept of suffering. Even IF the Fall of man in the garden of Eden WERE the only explanation around, where does that leave us? All 3 Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity AND Islam believe this same story. But they each have very different views on the way to salvation, only one of which believes Jesus is the one and only way.
So even if I concede that the story of the Fall of Man IS the only explanation around, great, now we have narrowed the field down to 3 different religions, each of whom believes the other two are going to hell. We still haven't progressed much past ground zero, have we?
Also, he says that it doesn't really matter if the story is taken allegorically or as fact, it is still the only explanation. But... it DOES matter if the story is allegory or not, doesn't it? Truth matters, does it not? Are we merely subscribing our beliefs to what makes us feel good? If the story is not really true but just an allegory, just myth, then it explains nothing. Some cultures have stories about how the earth is suspended on the back of a giant tortoise and when you ask them what holds the tortoise up, the answer is another tortoise, ad infinitum. This story explains things, does it not? But it's not the truth. There are lots of theories around the world relating to creation, they all explain what is observable, but they can't all be the truth.
Another minor point of contention, is that Don at times, resorts to old Christian cliches. You can readily tell that he was raised in a more conservative Christian surroundings. When he was in the mountains at one point in the book, he is staring up at the stars and all of a suddent has an epiphany. He says that God holds the stars and the heavens static in the sky. Apparently, he didn't audit any basic astronomy courses at Reed or else he would have known that nothing in the universe is static, not even the stars which appear to be static. God does not hold anything in the heavens static, everything is in constant flux.
Lastly, it all just appears to me as if, not only him but his many friends who were once skeptics but become Christian, do so as a sort of intellectual giving up, so to speak. It's as if they have just given up. The questions were just too difficult for them to bear, and the society in which we live tells us that Christianity is the answer, so after much internal wrangling and fighting, they just gave up and defaulted back to the religion of their youth. His friend Penny had some major issues with Christianity, as far as I can tell from the book, none of them were answered, she just called him one day to say, "Hey, I love Jesus now too."
Having said all of that, if I was to become a Christian again one day, this would be the kind of Christian I would be. Don seems like a really cool guy, a really smart guy who loves the arts and is not afraid of intellectualism. I really loved the fact that he once fell in love with Emily Dickinson. Here is a man that understands that just because one loves Jesus does not mean they have to be a monk. There is still much beauty in this world to behold, much to enjoy, and that includes reading, the arts, a good beer, and even watching South Park.
I am not saying that this book totally convinced me, as I said, there were some issues that I had with it, but it's come closer than anything in a really long time to showing me that it's ok to be a Christian and that the Christianity I grew up is not necessarily all there is to Christendom.
I understand what he means when he says that believing in Jesus is not something he can intellectually explain to someone, but it is just something he feels in his gut. I can understand that. I can respect that. I can relate to that. Even as I have run away from the Church, I have still always found myself believing in God, I have NEVER been able to make the leap to Atheism and I have always admired and revered Jesus Christ, even if I haven't always admired and revered the Church that sprang up after his death.
I like reading again.
The book is amazing. By amazing, I mean that it is totally different than any other book I’ve ever read. It’s almost like you’re
Donal Miller is a Christ-follower - his words met my heart over these last few nights with the kind of “meeting” that says - “hello, I’ve felt that way before”. There isn’t a lot I DISAGREE with in this book, except maybe the fact that I don’t know how many beers Donald had to drink while he was writing.
It still amazes me how “anti-drinking” I am at this stage of my life - I guess I’m just a Wesleyan through-and-through..
Anyways - the book carries the subtitle: “Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality” - and that is exactly what it is. Don Miller talks like a preacher’s kid - with his insight to the “Christian subculture” and his outrage with it. It’s an exciting book for me to read and it will take another reading to even scratch the surface of what great stuff this book is made of.
Miller explains his view of Christianity in such simple, easy to understand (for me) verbiage, stories and examples I think I
One of the things I love about this book is that Miller never bashed other religions, or people who believe in Jesus or don't. He explains his views, and why he beleives what he does. He also discusses some times in his life when he had questions, he didn't go to church, he had trouble finding a church he was comfortable, and struggles some of his friends had with not believing in God and then reconciling that belief with wanting to and ultimately believing.
Miller's writing is so beautiful it's like one long, easy to understand poem. Sometimes I found myself re-reading passages just for the beautiful way he strings words together.
I think anyone would enjoy this book -- young to old, devout or curious, and even atheists might like it just for his writing style. This is another book I would give as gifts to everyone I knew.