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

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality

"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened." ―Donald MillerIn Donald Miller's early years, he was vaguely familiar with a distant God. But when he came to know Jesus Christ, he pursued the Christian life with great zeal. Within a few years he had a successful mini...

Title:Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0785263705
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:243 pages

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality Reviews

  • Seth T.
    Jul 10, 2007

    I thought of several different ways in which to begin this review - several witty comparisons that would surely catch the reader's attention. But that was a month and a half ago. See, I started reading

    on the 20th of July and it is now the 4th of October. I have four pages left and I'm not sure I have the strength to continue.

    For you see:

    is wearying. Endlessly self-amused and self-absorbed, he seems to want nothing so much as to be hip, cool, edgy (despite his own p

    I thought of several different ways in which to begin this review - several witty comparisons that would surely catch the reader's attention. But that was a month and a half ago. See, I started reading

    on the 20th of July and it is now the 4th of October. I have four pages left and I'm not sure I have the strength to continue.

    For you see:

    is wearying. Endlessly self-amused and self-absorbed, he seems to want nothing so much as to be hip, cool, edgy (despite his own protests that hip, edgy, and cool are vanities and wastes of time and energy). And if four years of highschool taught me anything, it is that everyone with a heart is thoroughly and deeply embarrassed when the Very Not Cool Guy walks in and tries to be cool. Think: The Offspring's "Pretty Fly for a White Guy."

    The thing is: Christianity cannot be cool. There is no reason non-believers should see Christianity as anything even on the same plane as Cool. Christianity says and believes terrifying things about the non-believer. Forget the homosexuals a minute - Christianity says that the friendly, tax-paying, socially-active, community-leading paragon of virtue who doesn't bow the knee to Christ is horribly sinful and an actual enemy of God. No matter how kind and cool they are. For Christianity to become cool, it has to stop having anything to do with Christ and his message. Maybe Donald Miller wants that. It kinda seems like it, but who can say - since he's not that great at expressing anything beyond his own meandering and fleeting feelings on matters.

    About two-thirds into the book, a friend (who won't receive and identity via nickname, such as Tony the Beat Poet or Andrew the Protester) ask me what kind of a book it was. I had a hard time describing it at first. Then I realized:

    Really, Miller's book is nothing more than a glorified blog in its meandering promise to get to a point that never comes. In reality, Miller would make a much better blogger than he does a writer. Unfortunately, even as a blogger, he would only be so good - because despite moments of value and bits that come close to insight, his style is heavy-handed and obvious for too much of the book's 240 pages (I know, only 240 pages and it's taken me almost two-and-a-half months!). I think his would probably sit in the Occasional Reads section of my blogroll, checked only so often for fodder for my own blog postings—and only out of some sense of duty because he linked to me first.

    One good-but-obvious point Miller makes throughout the book is that the human expression of Christianity in the contemporary American church is lacking at best, gravely flawed at worst, but most likely, somewhere in between. This is clearly true. But also clearly known to probably most of us. And the real problems are not often the ones that Miller is pointing out - he seems frequently upset at how little the church fits in with a world filled with lovely sinners. Yet still, there is value in his critique.

    But not much. Again Miller shows himself to be like too many bloggers; and like too many bloggers, he has much criticism and too few answers. If he were a blogger, this might be acceptable; after all, the only cost associated with reading a blog is time (and perhaps mental health). A book, however, is paid in currency. There is real loss if a book does not measure up to its published value - and

    does not. I hate to say that because there are a few amusing stories and I get the feeling the book wants to be useful - but it just isn't.

  • Jason Savage
    Aug 14, 2007

    The problem with Miller, Bell, and this whole Gen X/emerging church/postmodern church movement is that they want to be so much smarter than they are. Truthfully this book is spiritually shallow and leaves me thinking, "yeah, but so what?" I have already wrestled with a lot of the issues raised by Donald Miller and found myself wanting him to say more. I believe I finally put my finger on the issue. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that one day we would worship in Spirit and in Truth. Miller has fo

    The problem with Miller, Bell, and this whole Gen X/emerging church/postmodern church movement is that they want to be so much smarter than they are. Truthfully this book is spiritually shallow and leaves me thinking, "yeah, but so what?" I have already wrestled with a lot of the issues raised by Donald Miller and found myself wanting him to say more. I believe I finally put my finger on the issue. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that one day we would worship in Spirit and in Truth. Miller has found the Spirit, but is low on Truth. His book does not challenge me because it is nothing more than the ramblings of an idealist. The difference between C.S. Lewis and Miller is the challenge. Lewis really does challenge me to think harder about my Christianity. Miller makes me feel like we should all sit around and pontificate while smoking pipes. Sounds like fun, but what's the point? I like that. That's how I would describe Blue Like Jazz. "Sounds like fun, but what's the point?"

  • Samantha
    Jan 23, 2008

    Instead of critiquing, perhaps let me just share a few of what I found to be some of the most powerful -- powerful because they are written so simply, and so simple in their truth -- lines that provide a glimpse of Miller's style, the beauty of this book, and the beauty of Christian spirituality:

    "It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like run

    Instead of critiquing, perhaps let me just share a few of what I found to be some of the most powerful -- powerful because they are written so simply, and so simple in their truth -- lines that provide a glimpse of Miller's style, the beauty of this book, and the beauty of Christian spirituality:

    "It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. This is how God does things."

    "And so I have come to understand that strength, inner strength, comes from receving love as much as it comes from giving it. I think apart from the idea that I am a sinner and God forgives me, this is the greatest lesson I have ever learned. When you get it, it changes you...God's love will never change us if we don't accept it."

    "I think the most important thing that happens within Christian spirituality is when a person falls in love with Jesus."

    and the quote that hit me personally the most.."I think the difference in my life came when I realized, after reading those Gospels, that Jesus didn't love me out of principle, He didn't just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused HIm to love me."

  • Ben
    Jan 01, 2009

    This book was recommended to me by MyFleshSingsOut, who is a very religious goodreads friend. He is a Jerry Falwell loving, hardcore, right wing conservative. He believes the entire old testament word for word:

    of it is allegorical to MyFleshSingsOut. He doesn't even believe in evolution. You've probably run into him before. He goes around this site trying to save souls.

    Knowing that I struggle with my belief and that I'm not nearly as religious as him, but more spiritual, than say, the ave

    This book was recommended to me by MyFleshSingsOut, who is a very religious goodreads friend. He is a Jerry Falwell loving, hardcore, right wing conservative. He believes the entire old testament word for word:

    of it is allegorical to MyFleshSingsOut. He doesn't even believe in evolution. You've probably run into him before. He goes around this site trying to save souls.

    Knowing that I struggle with my belief and that I'm not nearly as religious as him, but more spiritual, than say, the average goodreader, he advised I give this book a shot.

    And I'm pretty glad I did.

    It's not a very deep or penetrating book. If you're looking for the deeper questions of science and the existence of God, or musings on morality, this is not the place to turn. Donald Miller was no Dostoevsky, nor was he as analytical as I would've liked. I do not recommend this book for non Christians.

    The tone is very informal. He's just one of the guys talking to you. He's young too, like just-turned thirty or something. And it shows, not only in his lack of probing depth, but in his annoying need to be cool all the time. He constantly goes out of his way to show that he's not like other Christians, because, you see, he's been there and done that. He drives a motorcycle and has hung with hippies, and he hates Pat Buchanan. He even drinks and goes to parties. You see, he's cool. And if you forget how cool he is, don't worry, because he'll remind you time and again.

    Yet, there are some advantages to Miller's frank, informal narration. He's brutally honest about his shortcomings, he's entertaining, his prose makes for easy reading, and he

    have heart. His message is a positive one: focus on love and Jesus, not doctrine and religiosity. And really, his childlike look at things is refreshing at times: he comes up with some touching insights; the kind that seem simple and obvious, but tend to get lost or go unnoticed in everyday life.

    So, while I rolled my eyes a number of times, I did appreciate this quick and easy read, for both its entertainment value, and its ability to remind me why I'm a person of faith.

    Thanks for the recommendation, MyFleshSingsOut! I liked this book.

  • Tabby
    Apr 23, 2009

    I wish that reviewers on this site would review books for what they are meant to be and not insist that they be something else. "Blue Like Jazz" is not meant to be a deep theological treatise. If you thought it was supposed to be, then of course it doesn't compare to Augustine or C.S. Lewis. Miller's book is instead meant as a memoir of one man's walk with God, his struggles along the way, and what he's learned from them. I enjoyed this read a lot because I related to many of his struggles. Whil

    I wish that reviewers on this site would review books for what they are meant to be and not insist that they be something else. "Blue Like Jazz" is not meant to be a deep theological treatise. If you thought it was supposed to be, then of course it doesn't compare to Augustine or C.S. Lewis. Miller's book is instead meant as a memoir of one man's walk with God, his struggles along the way, and what he's learned from them. I enjoyed this read a lot because I related to many of his struggles. While I understand those who complain he placed too much emphasis on "feelings," I think for me it was actually a good reminder that Christianity is about more than just head knowledge. Having grown up in a church that is heavy on doctrine and probably somewhat mistrustful of feelings, Miller's book reminded me of the command we see in Matthew 22:37: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

    Yes, Jesus does say to love him with "all your mind." Yes, I think it's great for people to read theological classics. But I hope that along the way, we don't forget that Jesus does say to love him with "all your heart." The heart is the seat of our emotions and it's also where we keep the things dearest to us. I think it's important for Christians to cultivate that sense of the awe and grandeur of God, and also to cultivate a deep and affectionate love for Christ. If we don't have those things, how will our lives reflect the love that Christ has shown for us?

    One of the saddest things for me is to see people who continue to outwardly live "good" lives, but who have lost their passion for the things of God. I know we all go through dry seasons where sometimes all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, and I have sympathy for that, but I hope that's not the place we stay. I think we ought to be striving to maintain closeness to God as much as we can, and do our utmost to keep Him in the center of our hearts, souls and minds.

  • Greg
    Oct 21, 2009

    On Easter evening in 1999 my friend Mike (I'm so tempted to call him Mike the Goth or fill him with some hyperbolic characteristics that would make him sound cooler than any person could really be, but I won't succumb to Miller's influence) were hanging out at an almost empty coffee shop in town when two guys about our age approached us. At the time I was finely attuned to when someone was making an approach to hawk Jesus, in upstate New York it happened fairly often (more on this a little later), in New York City it doesn't happen in the same way. Now this skill set can pick out someone making an approach asking for spare change.

    I don't know what Mike was wearing, probably something all black, or black with military pants. I know that I was wearing my Amebix t-shirt that had a guy crucified on the front, and 'No Gods, No Masters' on the back. I wore it because I was a shit who liked to passively get a rise out of people, and it was Easter--or Zombie Day as I had wittingly started calling the earlier in the day when Mike and I were heading to a store meeting at Kinko's.

    So anyway there we were, and these two guys approach us, and the one starts talking to us, making small talk, and I go into shutdown mode, knowing what is coming. Mike keeps answering the guys questions. The other guy who isn't doing much of the talking looks like he is about to explode with excitement, he just wants to say something, and after a minute or two he just blurts out, "Hey, what do you think of Jesus?" I say nothing. Mike starts blurting out Crass lyrics like "I am no feeble Christ not me, he hangs in glib delight..." and "Jesus died for his own sins not mine". Mike seems to be enjoying himself, the Christians seem to be enjoying themselves in some perverse way, and I'm really fucking embarrassed. I will them away but my powers of mind control are absent because by some occult means they end up taking a seat at our table. We talk to them for the next hour. Well Mike talks to them, I sometimes give one word answers to a question if I'm asked directly, but I just stare at my coffee cup and listen.

    To make a boring story shorter, they all talked, and they tried to get us to sign up for the eternal Jesus plan of salvation insurance, Mike had some fun with them, and every few minutes they would all start kind of talking like normal people, until usually the excitable one would once again shot back with some kind of Jesus thing.

    A week or so later, maybe more, but not much more, Mike and I were back at the same coffee shop (where we were everyday at some point), and the guy who didn't talk about Jesus quite so much in the conversation showed up and asked if he could join us. We all talked, I was a little more involved in the conversation, and the Jesus guy (sorry I don't remember his name) turned out to be a pretty decent guy, and didn't really talk about Jesus at all.

    A couple of more times the decent Jesus guy showed up and asked to join us and then sat and talked with us for an hour or so. I didn't mind if he showed up, he was actually a fairly interesting guy, and he was a Christian, but kind of in the same way that I was a vegetarian at the time. I really cared about not eating or wearing animals and if asked I'd talk about why I felt that way, but I never felt the need to ask someone eating a hamburger if they knew they were eating a cow. I'd like it if everyone stopped eating meat, but I wasn't going to preach to someone, they would do what they liked. He was kind of the same way, he never pushed Jesus on us in these conversations.

    Instead we found out that he was part of this group called Word of Life, which is a Christian all year camp / school for kids to be trained to be evangelical missionaries. The group itself I hold in very low regard, but this particular guy was just a normal individual without a pathological need to share and convert (he may have gotten that part erased from himself over time). He lived at this place, and part of each day he studied the bible and was trained to go out and spread the word of Jesus, and the other half of the day he skateboarded. Seriously, he skateboarded and worked on getting better at this Bible boot camp in order to 'infiltrate' the skateboarding youth culture that hadn't been to receptive to the good word so far.

    I kind of think of Donald Miller as this guy.

    As an aside, one of the other battle tactics of the Word of Life was to bring young girls to Saratoga Springs on a Friday or Saturday Evening in nice weather and unleash them from their vans on Broadway. Lots of people are out on the main drag of town in nice weather, and Saratoga is a kind of artsy town, and one of the only towns with a vibrant downtown that people come to, so these girls would be unleashed on the streets to convert people to Christ. On a particular Friday evening I was sitting on a planter in front of a coffee shop that had recently banned me from their premises, reading the brand new collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace

    , when the live action show I'll call

    started. I saw the small army of young girls (probably around 15 to 18 years old), unloaded out of the van, and disperse to conquer the hordes of heathens out of the street. All of the girls were wearing very revealing (or slutty) clothing and their approach was to go up to men and start flirting with them, before changing to conversation around to Jesus. It was one of the most surreal things I saw, not legal girls flirting with guys in their late twenties and older and then trying to convert them. Jailbait for Jesus. I don't know if they won any conversions, but they had no trouble getting guys to keep talking to them.

    Forgive me Jesus I have sinned once again in a really long and rambling tangential personal story in what should be a book review.

    I wanted to hate Donald Miller. I didn't though. I think that he is terribly misguided and unconsciously (or unintentionally) dishonest but I think he's probably got his heart in the right place. Of course I'll say that because he's pretty much the same person I am, but where I have wrestled with dis-belief in all things for most of my life he wrestles with belief. We are both reclusive, self-obsessed and overly self-conscious. We both have a similar sense of moral outrage at the world, and seem distrustful of institutions, and even ones that basically profess what we believe. He's a Christian who finds churches stifling and judgmental; I've been at separate and overlapping times a punk, an anarchist, a philosophy student and a vegetarian who for the most part has been unable to bear being in the company of others who shared my level of interest or commitment. He would leave church early just so he didn't have to talk to people afterwards, I'd bring pre-calculus homework to punk shows my band played in and then sat off to the side doing that once my band had played just so I didn't have to deal with the people.

    I relate to him as a person, and there is something likable about him in the book. (He's probably a much more likable person than I am.)

    In the comments to Ben's review of this book, I said I couldn't wait to rip Miller a new asshole in my review. I'm not going to do that, the book didn't turn out to be nearly as awful as I wanted it to be. But I was ready for it to be, and the first chapter nearly did me in with his description of having his first real interaction with God. I quote it below:

    One, this is called becoming an adult in your awareness to other people, as opposed to a child who has difficulty in cognitively having mature interpersonal thoughts (but good for you to think about others, there are lots of people who may never mature enough to realize that what they do or don't do can effect other people). I don't want to belittle anyone's experience, but doing a shitty thing and then feeling guilty about it doesn't need a God in the sky to make that happen; I also think that if I was in the midst of being that close to the omnipotent creator of the whole fucking universe, or feeling so terrible, I wouldn't be falling in and out of sleep; but then again at thirteen I couldn't sleep on my back, because once I lay on my back I'd think that this was the position I would be put in a coffin when I died and the final position I'd ever be in, and that would make me feel claustrophobic, as if I was really in a coffin, and then I'd realize I was going to die, and I'd start calculating how much of my life I'd already lived (this would later become calculations on how much of my life I'd wasted so far), and then I'd think about everyone else I knew and loved dying and I'd keep thinking about this until I stopped laying on my back and distracted myself with other thoughts. (Forgive me again Father for I have once again sinned in transgressing the bounds of book reporting).

    Miller also says things in the book that sound all emo, and kind of poetic and cool, but which are just wrong. And this would be fine if this was poetry, but he's using these wrong facts to justify believing in God (and for God's existence in an indirect way). Here are the two that really jumped out at me:

    Light is a scientific concept, what light is, how we see, even types of light that we don't have the capabilities to see with our naked eyes. It sounds romantic to say that light isn't understood, a mystery, and that as a result it's like God but this doesn't hold any water.

    We hear a little more on this general theme in a second argument with a false premise just two pages later:

    Orthodoxy

    I'm pretty sure penguins don't exist for our entertainment, and as for the further claims of it being a complete mystery that one would go crazy trying to unravel, there are people who do study penguins and have a fairly good understanding of why they do what they do (the penguins being talked about here, are the mating habits of penguins, you know like in

    , which is mysterious and beautiful, but not as something utterly unknowable.

    My real issue with this quote is the Chesterton quote, and using what is a bullshit statement to make hyper-logical / rational thinking seem as a malady, of which the poetic mind is immune to. I don't know much about the history of chess, but I know that every grandmaster didn't go insane. You have Bobby Fisher's, but you also have Gary Kasparov who I've never heard is insane even though he is probably one of the greatest living chess players in the world. On the poetry side I'll just say Arthur Rimbaud, Robert Lowell, Antoin Artaud, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath; and that is just right off the top of my head.

    I have about ten more of these types of examples marked by little pieces of ripped paper in my copy of the book. But I think I've made my point, and no need to brow beat the poetic licenses Miller's emo-ey confessional prose takes (a style I am a sucker for when it's done good, and hate when it's done poorly. Miller falls in the middle, he never makes me fall in love with his world, like a great writer of this style would do, but he also doesn't make me want to throttle him with his own book..... I wonder if Miller ever read Cometbus, and if Cometbus influenced him. Aaron Combetbus is a good example of this kind of personal prose that can work beautifully, although Cometbus won't make you want to believe in God, it might make you want to go live in squats, travel the country, drink too much coffee, read too many books, smoke too many cigarettes and fall in love with smart beautiful and damaged girls that can only end badly.)

    But I'll share one more little 'quirk' of Millers, and then call it a night for this review. His belief that Buddhists all rub the belly of Buddha statues and make wishes on them, and uses this as a way of showing how misguided people can be. This is just silly, untrue and even if it was true not any more silly and absurd as believing that a) by praying to God he makes checks wind up at your apartment on the day rent is due (pg. 188), b) that by giving God his tithe of 10% of what you earn he makes it so that you end up making more money, as if he is some kind of mutual fund (pg. 197), or c) the whole cracker and Christ thing (pg. 237).

    I probably have so much more to say, but I'll leave this review by saying that I found Miller much more likable than I expected, and I imagine if I met him he'd be a nice guy to talk to. Him and I just from different sides who both happen to know that the other side is wrong. Oh, and he seems to have come around to jazz, and I pretty much can't stand it.

  • Lyn
    Jul 18, 2011

    Great book, I really like Miller as an author. I loved the scene at the Reed College baccanal where Miller and his Christian friends offered the reverse confessional, brilliant!

    Even for the non-religious, this book may restore a little faith in humanity.

    If you find that your faith is somewhat unconventional, this may be a good book for you.

  • Maxwell
    May 31, 2014

    I finished this book a few days ago, and I just can't stop thinking about it. It's not a perfect book by any means, but it was perfect for me at this moment in my life. I'm only bummed I waited so long to finally get around to reading it.


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