Picked up some books thrifting yesterday. It’s been quite a long time since I read a book for pleasure, but since husband was gone hunting this weekend, I thought I’d go for it. I finished one of the books today and simply loved the experience of reading for pleasure. Going to pick up recreational reading again, even if it is at a much slower pace. Anyway, onto this Book Club discussion of Blue Like Jazz.
Two people I know recommended Blue Like Jazz to me–one probably ten years ago and the other within the last five. I’ll admit that a big part of why I was never interested in it was that the title turned me off. Not sure why exactly, but it just didn’t sit well with me.
I have mixed feelings about the book. Prior to reading the book, my thoughts regarding Donald Miller came from his presence and reputation in Christian circles. I know lots of people that really respect him, and several of my friends recommend his A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Having not read his most recent book, my suspicion is that Miller did a lot of growing in the years between Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles. I also kind of have mixed thoughts on the Christian circles in which he runs, so take this book club response with a grain of salt if you love all things Christian coming from the upper Northwest region of the US.
Peppered throughout Blue Like Jazz are some great thoughts regarding authentic struggles with the Christian faith. There are honest conversations regarding big issues in Christianity and clear desire to share the Gospel and God’s love in redeeming ways. Miller is open about his struggles with issues in the faith during his 20s. He argues that real faith is costly and that we should act on it. He asserts that the love within marriage is not the end all love and that love within marriage is better if each loves God first and most. His comments regarding the need for community and sources of loneliness are also appreciated. Miller also takes several opportunities to criticize a large portion of the Christian population that hates democrats and gay people.
BUT, there’s also a whole lot of hipster angst, privilege, and lack of awareness of broad lived experiences. There was a lot of privileged white talk about acting out faith. Now, acting out faith is good, and I was certainly challenged to do that more myself by reading this book, but there was just a lack of discussion about the differential experiences of folks with regard to all of this. I felt like the whole book was written to privileged white Christians who perhaps hadn’t asked themselves critical questions about their faith. The book takes us through Miller’s initial steps in this process. We all have to start somewhere, and I don’t mean to judge him for his experiences. I’m just saying I wanted a more rounded outlook. I wanted more. I expected more.
My dissatisfaction can be summed up by the title I was always wary of. Blue Like Jazz is explained in a brief two paragraphs at the end of the book. It’s a completely inadequate explanation of jazz music as a music birthed out of freedom and that Christian spirituality is also birthed from freedom. Christian spirituality, then, is “blue like jazz”. “Everybody sings their songs the way they feel it”. This explanation was, frankly, kind of offensive. He mentions that he learned this tidbit about jazz music by watching BET one night. This was simply cultural appropriation. It was clear that no real thought was put into this analogy. No understanding that jazz music was a way that the African American community rebelled against the power structures set in place by whites. Just a nice little bow to put on a book wrapped up in a clever title.
I’m interested to read Miller’s other book some time down the road to see how he’s changed since Blue Like Jazz, but I’m not exactly eager to get on that one right away.