Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian SpiritualityBlue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Blue Like Jazz about 2 years ago, long after the cool-wave had crested, and finally read it last month. It was embarassing to me, an obviously trendy Christian, that I was reading one of the coolest Christian books around about 6 years after it mattered.

See, once you become aware of the Blue Like Jazz/Donald Miller movement (if you're not already) you quickly realize that it is heavy with words like "cool," "trendy," "relevant," and "fresh" (as the paragraph above illustrates). This is really unfortunate because being "cool," especially in Christian circles, can be as damaging as it is helpful. So let's pretend for a moment that it is 2003 and we haven't heard the BLJ hype just yet, okay?

If you're going to enjoy this book, I think the subtitle is important because it is not a Christian self help book, a devotional, or even clearly defined topically; this is a book of "thoughts." Once you understand that, the slightly meandering and personal journey from cover to cover makes a lot more sense. Think of it as a series of conversations with your friend Don, filled with a lot of anecdotes and a few really good observations.

That said, Blue Like Jazz was a good book. I found myself occasionally confused, sometimes irritated, often inspired, and crying once. "Good" to me usually means three stars but I credit the last two chapters, "How to Really Love Yourself" and "How to Really Love Others," with inspiring that fourth star.

I was confused because it does seem to wander a bit from topic to topic. I was irritated by the heavy use of sarcasm and criticism of the church which, at times, seemed to be an attempt to distance the author from the (forgive me) uncool or negative characteristics of the Church or just to be funny. I get the church's failures, really I do, but I don't like friendly fire. But, like a good friend who you used to dislike, I found myself becoming okay with the sarcasm the more I got to know the book.

I was inspired because, more than any other "Christian" book I've read, this one seems to genuinely like people who aren't Christians AND, more importantly, it shows that God does too. It looks outside of cultural christianity and finds God there. I was inspired because I get what "Blue Like Jazz" means: God, love, faith, people; none of it actually resolves, though we pretend it does. But there is beauty even in the dissonance; the leading tones seem to dangle our souls above some "God/love/faith/people" truth even though we may never actually land cleanly on that truth.

And I cried because love really can change lives; because love means more than pretentious religiosity. Because love transcends and love heals and I see that in Donald Miller's meandering noreligious thoughts and experiences. I cried because loving people, beyond preaching and morality, actually loving people really is the point.

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