Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Blue Like Jazz
"Blue Like Jazz" questions the very notion of what it means to be a Christian. Donald Miller writes about faith with a variety of topics on coming to faith, why to have faith, how Christ can transform, what to do with that faith and how to live a life as a Christian. Other than the last chapter of the book where Miller writes that if Ani Difranco wasn't a lesbian he would marry her, what interested me most was how Miller's perspective on being a Christian did not really come from a sense of organized Christianity as an institution. While he was a Christian and went to church and was even a youth group leader Donald Miller knew that there was something lacking. He believed in his head and he knows that Jesus was God, but he didn't truly believe in his heart. He didn't truly believe with his life. The organization of the church was telling him one thing, but it wasn't quite right for him.
There are several very interesting chapters dealing different aspects of faith that focus on Miller's time at Reed College. Reed is a college that people at his church and other believers declared was extremely immoral and that the college was voted "most likely to not believe in God". That much is true, but it was also a strong intellectual school. When Miller started attending, he met up with some Christians at the school who were essentially an "Underground" group of believers. They talked seriously of what it meant to believe and live for Christ and it was a transformative kind of living, more than just attending church on Sunday it was living as a follower on Monday and Tuesday and every other day. One of Miller's friends believed that feeding the homeless meant more than just giving some money to a homeless shelter, that it really meant to actually go out and feed the homeless, to give them food directly, to sit and talk and share a meal with them. To minister with more than just words and preaching, but by truly loving those whom society does not love. It's a sacrifice that takes a person well out of what they think their comfort zone is. It's a challenge.
The aspect of Miller's time at Reed that I found most fascinating was during the college's weekend party, drunken orgy. It is some sort of festival that most would probably see as one of the more decedent displays anywhere in America. Accepted public nudity, drunkeness, lewdness and this is the norm for that weekend. What Miller and his friends decided to do was set up a Confession Booth in the campus's common area. They expected harassment and perhaps abuse, verbal and physical. Christians are not generally accepted at Reed. But this was a different and revolutionary Confession Booth. The Christians confessed to the Pagans. Donald writes about how they would confess how they were not truly feeding the poor, how he has anger issues and lashes out verbally when he feels threatened and that in general they and many others are not good representations of Christ. And change happened after this. Their activities (feeding the poor, Bible studies for non-believers, etc) gained a measure of respect and more involvement from other students. This isn't to say that the entire school changed, because it didn't, but that a raw Christian faith can find a seed anywhere.
But this raw Christian faith is about truly living a different sort of life, that we as individuals and we as a nation cannot hope to fix the world if we don't see the world differently, that we try to heal ourselves first and that what is wrong with the world isn't the world, it is me and it is you. Saying that hunger and homelessness is a problem isn't enough if we aren't actually trying to do anything about it. If everyone gave $20 a month or whatever to various organizations within America (or worldwide), so many lives could be saved. If everyone stopped the "me first" attitude which is so prevalent and so easily glossed over, there could be radical change. But it comes first from not worrying that the other person isn't changing when we aren't changing, when I'm not changing, because if I change then I'm not worrying that someone else is being selfish...I'm working for change.
But this is a frightening idea because it is easy to be comfortable and just deal with our own issues and we all have issues. To move beyond this is a radical step. It comes from a true change and dedication inside and the daring to move beyond the fear and into the faith.
That's kind of what this whole book is about, but it is also Donald Miller writing about a non-religious but highly spiritual perspective on Christian Faith and that this is so important today. When asked by a radio host to defend Christianity, he couldn't and wouldn't because he didn't know what Christianity and any ten people would have ten different ideas of what Christianity is. But he could talk about Christ and what Christ means to him.
Reminds me of a song by Sara Groves called "Conversations" where near the end of the song where she sings about trying to tell a friend about Jesus and she closes the song with a variation of her chorus "The only thing that isn't meaningless to me is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free. This is all that I have, this is all that I am." This is the root of her belief and is the root of what Miller is trying to say.