No one ever accused me of being on the cutting edge of anything. I'm behind the curve in all areas of life, slow on the uptake. I defend myself as intelligently cautious; those who know me would say that I'm just clueless. Anyway, I offer that as an excuse as to why I'm just now posting about a book that was published in 2003 and which has been mentioned many times by many better bloggers and writers.
First, I have to give credit to Jim over at Serotoninrain, who was the first to get my attention about Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Jim is pretty much the antithesis to me when it comes to books, as he's always the first to find the good stuff, and you'd think that by now I'd learn to just immediately go buy and read whatever he recommends instead of waiting, like, five years. (I'd link to some of his posts that referenced the book but I think they were pre-Wordpress and therefore not searchable.)
But, then, it occurred to me that not everyone I know is as cool as Jim and it's entirely possible that some of you haven't read Blue Like Jazz either. This post is for you, especially if you are a Christian (or if you're curious about what it means to be a Christian).
Listen carefully: read this book. It takes just a few hours -- a Sunday afternoon works great -- and I promise that you'll come away with some new ways to think about Christianity. More to the point, you'll be challenged to look at your own flavor of Christianity through a new lens, and particularly if you grew up in the Bible Belt in a mainstream evangelical church.
Miller opens his heart and allows the lifeblood to spill onto the pages of his book as he describes what it means to be a sinner held fast in the arms of a loving God. His witness and testimony isn't powerful because of his theological or hermeneutic prowess; it's powerful because he tells what Jesus has done for him.
Along the way, he also manages to entertain the reader; this is no dry and somber work. It's often playful, even juvenile in a Dave Barryish kind of way. One of my favorite passages is taken from a chapter about money, where he describes what it's like to be a poor writer (this passage could, by the way, apply to bloggers, with the exception of the overstatement of how much they get paid):
Christianity Today describes Miller as "Anne Lamott with testosterone" and compares Blue Like Jazz with Lamott's excellent Traveling Mercies. I wouldn't disagree; both books are now in my "read again every so often" collection, both for the writers' skill and for their messages. (Miller shares Lamott's dislike for Republicans and corporations, although he's not as rabid about it. The strength of my recommendation for this book is directly proportional to the negativism with which you assimilate this observation, as it gets right to the heart of what Christians should be about.)
You may be wondering about the book's title. The phrase comes from an almost-throwaway line in a passage about the beauty of the Grand Canyon at night, where Miller describes the stars as "...notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz." He writes about jazz a few times through the book, beginning with the introductory author's note, where he relates how he never liked jazz until he saw a man on a sidewalk playing a saxophone for fifteen minutes, and the man never opened his eyes. After that, he liked jazz; the musician's love for it was that infectious.
That, my friends, is how we are to be about Jesus, never taking our eyes off him. Because that's the surest way to show others how to love him, too.