Monday, May 01, 2006

'Blue Like Jazz' by Donald Miller

I have mixed feelings about the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. One the one hand, this guy can write. His chapters read easily. He slips in and out of conversations easily and he manages to bring seemingly meaningless ramblings around to make a point. Not only that but he’s about as cool as a person can possibly be. He’s got some ideas about faith and about living as the church that are definitely worth listening to. It’s hard to not like the way he presents his ideas too. He’s funny and intriguing. I wish I had gotten the chance to hear him speak at Calvin recently.

On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if, amidst all that cool and cleverness if there really is a point in there. Sure, Miller makes a number of little points along the way and the note on the book cover calling him Anne Lamott on testosterone is pretty funny and helpful but that’s exactly the comparison in which Miller comes up a little short. When I read Anne Lamott I either find myself impressed with her ability to make a point in a way that amazes me or I just laugh and enjoy the writing. I never get the feeling that I’m being set up – something I got occasionally in reading Blue Like Jazz. Of course, comparing Miller to Lamott is hardly fair – that’s a pretty tough standard to hold anyone to.

All this may be nits that I’m picking because I really did like the book. I especially enjoyed reading about the hippies he lived with one summer and how that taught him about loving people unconditionally, something we don’t do in the church very well – let’s be honest – something I don’t do very well. So I’m looking forward to picking up another one of Miller’s books. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it – he writes too well for me not to.


bethany said...

I had the same reaction to Blue Like Jazz. I loved it, but not as much as I loved travelling mercies (but to be fair, here, what have I loved as much as I loved travelling mercies?). He seems a little heavy-handed from time to time, but it doesn't ruin the book.

Nathan said...

read Searching For God Knows What next. it's better, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I read Blue Like Jazz a few years ago, but the points Donald Miler makes still resonate with me at different points in my life and in interactions. I agree with you about the hippy chapter -- that was very compelling. I even shared it in Sunday School class when we were talking about how to make the church better. You should read Searching for God Knows What. I found it to be more bibically based, and the points are easier to follow.

James Stewart said...

We heard him when he spoke in the FAC at Calvin a couple of weeks ago, and I was very disappointed. He's an engaging and entertaining speaker, but seemed to largely be advocating a movement from one packaged understanding of the Christian faith, to another.

A switch from proscribed answers to 'how' questions ("how do I have a successful marriage?" etc) to proscribed answers to 'why' questions ("why marriage?") with little regard for the importance of the meeting of those two things in praxis, or any sense of a shared searching.

It felt symptomatic of much of what is going on with Emergent, Relevant Magazine, and so on. While I don't know if Miller affiliates himself with either of those, his apparent co-option of what is cool without regard for how style/substance connect (or any real hint of the radicalism he would like to be identified with) fits very much into those other disappointing molds.

ableknife said...

thanks for the review. as i read, i thought of another book you may enjoy called Jesus in the Margins by Rick McKinley. he addresses some similar topics that may be of intrigue. blessings~