Blue Like Jazz - 2015 Reading Challenge

Good day, readers. Eleven days into the new year, and I have finished one book and begun another. Since there are people participating in the 2015 Reading Challenge with me, I will do my best to keep you updated on what book(s) I'm reading next in case you want to read the same.

I thought it appropriately ironic to begin with "A book at the bottom of your to-read list." That book, for me, was Blue Like Jazz.

The reason itwas on the bottom of my to-read list was because I generally don't like books about Christianity. I either find them stuffy and judgmental, or noncommittal and pointless. But this one was different. This is the kind of book I can recommend to anyone, similar to C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, because it's well-written and not preachy.

 I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened.

Donald Miller's first really popular book is a collection of essays on his journey from being a fundamentalist Christian, to being a religion-despising hippy, to ultimately finding a balance between the two. The tag line for Blue is "Nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality." Miller writes about his relationship with God and how he has learned to express it in an unoffensive way, a necessity since he attended Reed College, one of the most liberal and anti-religious academic establishments in the USA.

He writes about making a confession booth on campus where he and a few other students who claimed relationships with God invited their classmates in. Rather than asking the students to talk about their sins, Miller and his friends confessed their own failings as well as the mistreatments that fill thousands of years of Christian history. The gist of his first conversation with a bemused student reads:

There's a lot. I will keep it short. Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix His spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that....I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation.

Miller writes about living in the woods with hippies for a month and then trying to be a counselor at a Christian youth camp directly after (his account of being asked to shave his beard and make himself presentable made me laugh and feel sick at the same time).

Mostly, he writes about the dichotomy of believing in something so strongly that he knows sounds ridiculous to most of the world. He dislikes how so many Christians avoid the questions and difficult passages in the Bible, deflecting instead to talk about the sections they know well.

I felt as if Christianity, as a religious system, was a product that kept falling apart, and whoever was selling it would hold the broken parts behind his back trying to divert everybody's attention.

I found a lot to relate to in this book. I was raised in a very religious community, but fortunately by incredibly loving and non-fundamentalist parents. As an adult, I quickly grew to dislike all of the elitism and hypocrisy that seems to go along with Christianity. But, as Miller points out, there is a radar in some of us that says to believe in Jesus, just as there are radars in nature that guide animals in things like mating and migration (his example focuses on penguins).

No matter what you may believe, I think you'll find a few laughs in Blue Like Jazz, and at the very least, some quite refreshing honesty.

I am currently fulfilling my non-fiction reading check with Jonathan Franzen's Farther Away. After that will come Harlan Coben's The Woods as my thriller read.

What are you reading?