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Blue Like Rock - Musings on Miller

Blue Like Jazz, the movie? That was my first response to the news that Donald Miller’s bestselling memoir had been made into a feature film a few years ago. But upon discovering that former rocker-turned-film producer Steve Taylor was behind the project, I simply had to see it.

So I scheduled a movie night at my house, microwaved some popcorn, and watched it with a handful of friends. Miller’s story of spiritual struggle and eventual triumph of faith—amid his disillusionment with church and his immersion into party life at college—made for compelling drama and meaningful discussion afterward. Everyone gave a thumbs-up in support of the movie.

But as much as I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite pack the punch that the book had on me personally. That’s no big deal, because the book is almost always better than the movie, right? Perhaps it simply couldn’t match Miller’s gift of masterful story-telling, or maybe the actors weren’t that great. Or it could be that the viewing public is so accustomed to the vivid depiction of sin on the screen that if a film doesn’t contain a quota of flesh, blood, irreverence, f-bombs or a combination thereof, it will come across a bit anemic. I do wonder if a subconscious need to be safe plagued the project, as if it had to maintain some level of clean so that churches and Christian colleges could show it without controversy (even though it had plenty of dirt if you compare it to other “Christian movies”).

Regardless, the cosmic struggle with faith, which felt like a matter of life and death in the book, seemed to be reduced to a relatively brief spat with God.

But whether you read or see Miller’s autobiographical musings, it ultimately doesn’t matter. In any form, Blue is a beautiful, messy, honest, human story of Christian faith that doesn’t resolve—like good jazz, like divine mystery. And yet after reading the book or watching the movie, one feels strangely confident that the way of Christ, which may or may not align just right with your church’s version, is worth our pledge of allegiance. Open-endedness and confident commitment are not mutually exclusive in the life of faith.

As with all authentic story-telling, readers/viewers see themselves in and through Miller’s experience. One doesn’t necessarily finish Blue Like Jazz and say, “Wow, Donald Miller is cool” (though he might be). Instead, you get positively blue and self-reflective, thinking thoughts like, “Thank you for my life, God. Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for walking alongside me on this journey. Think I’ll go love somebody. Do justice. Love mercy.”

My road to and with God is different from Miller’s, and yet his authentic approach at telling his story has inspired me to think about my own. While Miller ran from the god of his upbringing, I had no real spiritual upbringing to speak of. While he rebelled toward a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, I “rebelled” to God, defying the hedonism that ran in our family veins. While he struggled with the ridiculousness of belief, I struggled with the meaningless of unbelief. While he had to come to terms with the caricature of God that his church proclaimed, I had to come to terms with the empty lies of the world. And while Blue Like Jazz as a title works to convey the smooth, introspective mood of Miller’s return to grace, I would have opted for something more like Blue Like Rock, conveying wide-eyed passion and screaming intensity as boy meets God for the first time. Plus, I never did like jazz. I still don’t.

And yet, when the disillusioned church-goer and the spiritually-ignorant pagan cried out to God in search of truth, authenticity, and meaning to this life, they both ended up in essentially the same place—in the open arms of an infinite, loving God. God is good, the gift of salvation amazing, and the miracle of life worth living! There’s no formula, no straight way, no 1-2-3 to God; but when you encounter Jesus, you know it. A peace and a clarity overtake your entire being, no matter from whence you came. At that point, I want to break out in a high-intensity song with electric guitar riffs. A saxophone won’t do!

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