I first read Blue Like Jazz when I was 15 or 16 years old. When I finished it, I considered it my own personal Bible and the idea of “Christian spirituality” my own personal faith. In short, Christian spirituality is what Donald Miller describes as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is not shaped by organized religion. Miller believes organized religion has put up barriers, namely intolerance, between people and the love of Jesus. Miller writes that Christian spirituality will tear down some of those barriers.
I saw a lot of that intolerance and felt refreshed believing as long as Jesus and I were cool then everything was cool. The main thing I got from first reading the book is that we should love one another. It tied in to the teaching of Jesus to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and was the one thing I really believed in, and still do. Only good can come from that ideal. There is nothing divisive about loving one another.
The interesting thing to me in reading Blue Like Jazz a second time is I noticed some contradictions, sweeping generalizations and things that plain didn’t make sense. Here are some sections from the book that stood out to me and, if nothing else, made me think:
“I don’t believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons… If I walk away from Him… I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the reasons that any of us do anything.”
This is absurd. I make most of my decisions for intellectual reasons. The most shocking addition here is “social reasons.” Does society truly have a bigger role on Miller’s decisions than intellect? To say you will never change your mind for intellectual reasons borders on fanaticism. To say you would for social or emotional reasons makes it seem like a weaker belief. Or a blind belief.
“‘How can you Christians maintain such an exclusive hold on truth?’…’Cause that’s the way it is, baby. That’s the way it is.’ He walked out the door and left her weeping in agony, rubbing the belly of her little statue of Buddha.”
This is from a section from that same chapter in which a fictional “cool” Christian argues with his Buddhist girlfriend about religion. There are a couple things that disturbed me about this section. First, the idea that Christians know the truth and everyone else should get sympathy for their silly beliefs fits right in with the cliched Christian intolerance. This is emphasized by the the “little statue of Buddha” comment used sarcastically, and multiple times in the book. How silly, you rub a belly and think that will solve your problems. Meanwhile, I worship a cross and pray toward the sky, but that isn’t silly in the slightest. I don’t see how one can be so dismissive. Second, Miller goes on to compare this fictional character to a drug dealer, saying “the same thing that was in the drug dealer in that grimy movie….is the same things that was in [him]: belief.” What? The idea, I think, that Miller is trying to drive home is that people will follow a person who has steadfast beliefs that do not waver. And that’s true. But to me, instead of showing the positive power of Christian belief this fictional character showed the more prevalent collateral damage of “good Christians,” leaving people who aren’t as enlightened as they are weeping in agony, rubbing their Buddha bellies. Because that’s the way it is.
“It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide he committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Indians in the name of Christ. I wanted so desperately to say that none of this was Jesus…”
This comes from a chapter in which Miller and some friends set up a confession booth on the campus of Reed College. Instead of taking confessions, Miller and his friends instead confessed their sins to students and apologized for their misrepresentation of Jesus. I understand the sentiment here, but for those killed in the Crusades, in the Bahamas and in the American West that was Jesus. That was Christianity. It sounds eerily familiar to a lot of rhetoric today regarding Islam. Are all Muslims slaughtering people? Of course not. But there are some using Islam as a justification for atrocities, just as Christians in the past used Christianity to justify atrocities. I do understand that people can misinterpret anything, can twist anything to fit an agenda, but when a religious book is saying the world is yours these kinds of actions are not random.
“I think the most important thing that happens within Christian spirituality is when a person falls in love with Jesus.”
This is noble, and if done the way Miller writes about it is a good thing. It made Miller a more loving person, a less judgmental person, in many ways a better person, at least based on the stories in his book. However, by definition it makes his own ideas and thoughts secondary. Miller admits to be a Christian you must “be a mystic,” and says the gospels are “the only revolutionary idea known to man” which is hyperbole at best. Also, Jesus is generally considered a loving, equal-opportunity savior. But Christian theology says that Jesus and God (and the Holy Spirit) are one in the same. Biblically, if the Trinity taken as doctrine, Jesus then told Joshua to slaughter the Canaanites. To refer back to Columbus’ slaughter in the name of God, Miller wants to say it is not Jesus. I don’t know where or how to draw the line between righteous killing and killing due to misinterpretation.
After reading Blue Like Jazz and The God Delusion, both books have a message of loving one another. One one hand, using your interpretation of the love of God as a basis to love. There is admittedly a lot to interpret. On the other, loving because of the incredible odds we overcame to even exist and to do anything less than that would be to cheapen our own existence.
Thank you for reading,