Blue Like Jazz: A Review

Here is a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. It’s one of those you hear so much about, both positive and negative. I know people who love it and site it as their favorite book, while others dislike it vehemently. I finally decided it was time to find out for myself what the buzz was all about.

First, a brief explanation of the book’s title, “Blue Like Jazz”  (Because I LOVE jazz music and I thought this was a cool statement)

“I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul … The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.” -Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

I actually finished this book several days ago. It’s a pretty easy read and I finished it over two days. But, I’ve been mulling it over ever since, trying to decide what I make of it. I keep tossing it around and will probably continue to do so long after this post. The book itself kinda feels scattered and unorganized. Miller tends to be all over the place with his thoughts and at times, it can be hard to keep up. However, it also comes across like a heartfelt, honest conversation…just a bit random and in need of a diagram;-)  I’m guessing he meant it to be this way, perhaps to show that what we think isn’t always neat and tidy.

So, with that, here are my thoughts thus far:

The Good

One of the main themes in this book is LOVE. I related very well to much of what was said, as I’ve been pondering “how we love” a lot lately.  I found a lot of what he had to say on it refreshing, though admittedly stuff we as Christians should already know and practice.  I very much appreciated the emphasis, examples and refresher on the subject. I think all too often we do not show love the way we are called to.

We tend to keep to ourselves, to be honest. Most Christians I know don’t even know any non-Christians unless they’ve worked or went to school in a secular environment. I always wonder how we are going to pursue “The Great Commission” if we never step outside of our church walls.  And, let’s be honest, when we are around non-Christians, how many of us look at them in judgment instead of love? When was the last time you showed love to someone who wasn’t like you?  Too many Christians separate themselves from non-Christians and come off as very judgmental. We need to show the love of Christ to the world.

“…to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can’t accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people…That is why God tells us so many times to love each other.” – Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Miller gives several examples of experiences he had in showing love and grace to non-Christians. One thing I love that he and a group of bible study friends did at a very liberal college during a major party weekend was to create a “Confession Booth”. They planted this booth right in the middle of all the drinking and partying and invited people to come in to “confess their sins”. Only, when the people got in there, Miller and his friends were the ones who did the confessing. They apologized for the ways that Christians have misrepresented Christ to the world over the years and they asked forgiveness for not showing love and feeding the poor and for having a political agenda. People were shocked and touched by this and while I don’t know if anyone came to know Christ from it, I have to imagine that they at the very least went away with a better taste for Christianity than they had going in.

Christianity should be about being Christ-like. It’s not about rules and being judgmental and it’s not about politics.

Often times, I think we get so caught up in the “rules of Christianity” and we fail to realize that some of these things are man-made rules. We need to always remember to study the word and use that as our guide for how to live in this world. I think if we looked more at the way Jesus lived while he was on this earth, we’d realize that we are missing the mark on a lot of things.

I thank Donald Miller for reminding us that it’s not all about us. That we can’t exist in our own little worlds and refuse to engage the world around us. That we need to be pro-active and we need to reach out and we need to show love to this dying world.

The Bad

You’re probably surprised after all that, that I have a bad section to add, but I indeed do. While Blue Like Jazz emphasizes a lot of really great things that we would do well to work on, it also has some things to be concerned about.

While loving people like Christ did is a key point in Christianity, I also believe there is a line that goes too far. Miller spends a lot of time with people who do immoral things, (and yes, Jesus did too, and I have no problem with befriending immoral people, obviously. Jesus came for the sick, not for the well) The problem is that  instead of acknowledging the immorality, while still loving the people, he seems to glorify and exalt the sinful lifestyle. Drugs, *drunkedness and sexual immorality are cool.  He also thinks that a very liberal, godless college is cool and he generally seems to believe that worldly people are more loving and healthier to be around.

“I never felt so alive as I did in the company of my liberal friends. It isn’t that the Christians I had been with had bad community; they didn’t, I just like the community of the hippies because it was more forgiving, more, I don’t know, healthy.” -Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Somebody asked me what it was like to deal with all the immorality at Reed, and that question really struck me because I have never thought of it as an immoral place because somebody like Nathan can go there and talk like Elmer Fudd, and nobody will ever make fun of him. And if Nathan were to go to any other church, which I love and would give my life for, he would unfortunately be made fun of by somebody somewhere, behind his back and all, but it would happen and that is such a tragic crime… And that is what I love about Reed College because even though there are so many students having sex and tripping on drugs and whatever, there is also this foundational understanding that other people exist and that they are important, and to me Reed is like heaven in that sense. -Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

So, because everyone is accepted at Reed, it makes it a moral, even heavenly place? Despite the fact that it is chock full of immorality? Acceptance of people is great, but not at the expense of glossing over the sin. And why does he assume that “church people” will make fun of the kid who talks like Elmer Fudd? I’m starting to wonder what kind of Christians this guy has been around! I can’t imagine someone coming to my church with a disability and that person being made fun of. I don’t think any decent person would make fun of someone with a disability, Christian or not. This is more a issue of decency and character than it is about being a Christian.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15–17)

Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. (2 Corinthians 6:17)

Miller has a bad taste for Christianity, which to his credit, he admits and knows he needs to work on this. And, while I understand that the world tends to view Christians in a negative light, this does not give us cause to disassociate ourselves from Christianity and from the church. After all, the bible says that  “All men will hate you because of me.” Luke 21:17

“For me the beginning of sharing my faith with people began with throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained. Christianity, unlike Christian spirituality, was not a term that excited me. And I could not in good conscience tell a friend about a faith that didn’t excite me. I couldn’t share something I wasn’t experiencing.” -Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

I thought that Miller tried too hard to dissociate himself from the Christian culture. I think he feels he needs to apologize for Christianity. And, while I agree to a certain extent that Christians have messed up, I don’t think it’s fair to take it to this extreme. He seems to want to put down any form of organized Christianity and exalt a worldly lifestyle. I’m all for showing love and accepting people, but not at the expense of ignoring darkness and sin. I don’t think the two should be mutually exclusive.

As I pondered this book, I read a lot of reviews, just trying to wrap my head around my thoughts and to make sure that I wasn’t misreading what I had read. And, amongst all the glowing reviews, the bashing reviews and the mixed reviews, I found several things like this:

This book has been the catalyst to my decision to leave the church. The thoughts were there – I was just trying to change the church. I believed it could be done. But, who am I to stop something they don’t even see through their ignorance. I will no longer subscribe to the church as an organization or to the current Christian belief system.

That kind of thing saddens me. I don’t believe that Mr. Miller intended for people to take this away from his book, but considering the large amount of anti-church comments in his book, I am not surprised by this. Ironically, Mr. Miller does attend church and like I said before does acknowledge his need to change his opinion on organized religion and the church. The funny thing is, he seems so willing to show love to the world, but he forgets to love his own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Conclusion

I think a lot of Christians can benefit from much of what is written in this book. I think we need a good reminder on loving our neighbor, caring for those less fortunate, loving people in the world without having an agenda, distinguishing between what is biblical and what is merely tradition or politics and stepping out into the world more often.  But, we need to be careful to love the world, but not the things of it, show the same nonjudgmental love to the church and fellow Christians that we would offer to the non-Christian, not forget the Cross of Christ and that he died because of the sins of all of us and not be ashamed to call ourselves Christians.

*I do not believe that drinking alcohol is wrong. I believe Jesus drank alcohol and I believe in moderation, that alcohol has many benefits. The bible is clear that drunkenness is wrong. Drinking in excess to the point that you are no longer in control of your faculties is wrong.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this book. I tried very hard to be fair and objective and I truthfully, found a lot to love in this book. It inspired me in many ways. However, I’m not sure if the good message outweighs the bad. Thoughts? Comments? Other perspectives very much welcome!!

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4 thoughts on “Blue Like Jazz: A Review

  1. Inspiring. You used that word at the end of your blog post and I think it wraps it up quite nicely. In my opinion, if you read this book and aren’t inspired to make at least a few changes in your spiritual life — even if you didn’t like the book — you need to read it again. Great review, Kimmy.

  2. Michael

    Your review of Blue Like Jazz is fair and very interesting. I happened to stumble upon while looking for a picture of the book and found myself intrigued by what you had to say. This book happens to be my favorite and something that I have enjoyed reading again and again.

    While I happen to agree with Miller’s views, I can understand why you had bad things to say. Certainly I wouldn’t choose to over look people living sinfully or immorally, but something has to be said for such people showing more acceptance and love than many christians. Sure many a church talks the talk, but how many will walk the walk?

  3. Michael

    And now after reading my review there, I think that you could almost make a drinking game out of how many times I use the word ‘happen’. If I could change it now I would.

  4. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Michael. I know a lot of people who absolutely loved the book, and I can totally respect that. I found a lot of good in it, and I’m glad I read it. That being said, some of it concerned me. I’ve noticed a lot of negative being attributed to the church as of late, and it worries me when books like this that are so influential, cause even more negative to be thrown at the church. I will agree with you, that many churches talk the talk, and don’t walk the walk, but I think a lot more do, than don’t. Acceptance and love should be shown by every Christian and every church, but never should the gospel be compromised. Thanks again for your comment! 😉

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