Saturday, June 21, 2008

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

The full title of this book is Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Though I grew up going to church, and went to a private Christian school for many years, I have never read a book about what the term "Christianity" means to someone else. Donald Miller writes like he is having a relaxed conversation with the reader--he is extremely honest about himself--flaws and all. The book is divided into 20 different chapters, each one dealing with an issue that he dealt with about God and what it means to be a Christian. In addition, he tells the story of his growth through lessons he learned from the people who surrounded him.

There are many great points that Donald makes in his book. I would venture to say that most people have struggled with many issues that Donald does, regardless of their religious beliefs. I see two major points that Donald discusses throughout his book--1. Who/what is God? and 2. What does it mean to be a Christian? No matter how people are raised, I think most people at some point in their lives, grapple with the existence of God or a greater being. Many find it difficult to believe in something that can't be proven or seen. Donald has a friend Laura, who is one of the smartest people he knows. She wants an explanation for the existence of God, and Donald says, "I had no explanation for Laura. I don't think there is an explanation. My belief in Jesus did not seem rational or scientific, and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief. I think Laura was looking for something rational, because she believed that all things that were true were rational. But that isn't the case. Love, for example, is a true emotion, but it isn't cannot be proved scientifically. Neither can beauty. Light cannot be proved scientifically, and yet we all believe in light and by light see all things (54). Donald frequently returns to the issue of the rationalization of God. He knows there isn't a concrete explanation for many questions that people have about Christianity and God, so he simply tells them how he thinks or feels, without pushing his ideals or beliefs.

The second major issue Donald deals with is the term "Christianity." He says, "Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word Christianity, and they will give you ten different answers" (115). Oftentimes, the term is thought of with negative connotations--people who are close-minded, pushy about their beliefs, irrational and fake. Donald wants to be the opposite type of person. He wants to be one who genuinely cares about all people, regardless of what they believe, or how they act, and he spends lots of his time with people who are different from himself. He discovered that "Nobody will listen to you unless they sense that you like them. If a person senses that you do not like them, that you do not approve of their existence, then your religion and political ideas will all seem wrong to them" (220). Donald knows that some Christians feel that they are above non-Christians, and look down on them. He feels that this is a huge disservice, and since God loves everyone, and Christians are supposed to follow God, that it shouldn't matter whether a person is a Christian or not, they still deserve to be loved.

Blue Like Jazz is a book that can be read and appreciated by Christians and non-Christians alike. Donald Miller is humorous, warm, and honest. The goal of his book is not to try to force people to believe and think the same way he does, but instead, he wants to share his experiences and his thoughts, and let the reader take from them what he or she wants. He has a passion for people and understanding and appreciation that everyone is different.

Something that was a bit irritating for me is that even though Donald is so tolerant of people with different values and beliefs, he is fairly negative about many Christian practices. He also brings politics into the picture quite often and makes the assumption that most Christians are Republicans. I'm not arguing that this is or is not true, but for someone who does his best not to judge people who do not believe the same as he does, he is rather harsh on those who have the same beliefs as he does, but carries them out in different ways. However, I found his book to be a refreshing perspective about a topic that can be so controversial.

Date completed: June 21, 2008
Number of pages: 240
Rating: 4/5


cj said...

I'm sorry to hear about the flaws of the book because I have been caught by the title and the cover every time I see the book. Now I'll definitely need to think twice about buying it.

Thanks for the great review.


Dar said...

This sounds like a good read and one I'll definitely look into despite the parts that you said irritated you because I'm fairly certain they will irritate me also. On the whole though it sounds like one could benefit from reading it.

What a great review!

Tiffany Norris said...

This was a great review! I agree--it was interesting, but the same things irritated me, too. I didn't think it was quite worth the hype that it's gotten. Definitely worth reading, though. :)

Laura said...

~CJ--There are some very thought provoking and positive aspects to this book as well--I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it!

~Dar--You are right, I think there are many benefits to reading this book!

~Tiffany--I really hadn't heard very much about this book except from my little sister who recommended it. I always enjoy seeing another perspective on this subject, especially a person who is so open about their thoughts.

Trish said...

Sounds like this one ended up better than you expected it to be--and I love the quotes that you put into your review. I'm very curious about his judgment against people who don't carry out his same beliefs in the same way--I wonder why this is when his message overall seems to the complete opposite.

Great review, Laura! For someone who steers clear of anything religious, you have me very curious!

Laura said...

~Trish--you know you can always borrow my books! This is a great book to read if you want to see a Christian perspective on life, humanity, and God. Again, this is just one man's perspective, but it is thought-provoking for sure!