Saturday, March 29, 2008
Blue Like Jazz Book Reveiw
The subtitle may give away the tone of this book. "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality". I read this book quite by accident. It was in my office when I returned to Niger, and while I was intrigued by the title, I still did not tackle it until the Director asked if I were reading it. I said no, and he explained that is was quite a popular book in many circles in the US. Never one to worry much about hipness and trends, I still wondered what the buzz was about, so I figured I'd read it and see.
Don, the author, from what I read in the book is a freelance Christian writer and speaker from Portland, Oregon.
There are many great things in the book, and I have used parts of it in our family devotions. Much of it focuses on how Christianity can become a series of rules and regulations, devoid of much love or compassion. I agree that can happen. One gets the impression from Don that those issues are the rule rather than the exception in the majority of churches in the US. I would tend to disagree with that conclusion. Nevertheless, I found parts of the book where I was agreeing with the author more than disagreeing.
From the book on belief (pp 106-107): "The thing I have to work on in myself is this issue of belief. ... Here is the trick, here is my point. Satan, who I believe exists as much as I believe Jesus exists, wants us to believe meaningless things for meaningless reasons. Can you imagine if Christians actually believed that God was trying to rescue us from the pit of our own self addiction? Can you imagine? Can you imagine what Americans would do if they understood over half the world was living in poverty? Do you think they would change the way they live, the products they purchase, and the politicians they elect? If we believed the right things, the true things, there wouldn't be very many problems on earth.
But the trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn't like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, ...
The problem with Christian belief - I mean real Christian belief, the belief that there is a God and a devil and a heaven and a hell - is that it is not a fashionable thing to believe." So one has the tension between real belief and "cool" belief.
From the book concerning how we view ourselves. Here Don talks about what he found out about himself after sharing a house with a group of guys which he calls "living in community". "Living in community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself. All I thought about was myself. The only thing I really cared about was myself. I had very little concept of love, altruism, or sacrifice. I discovered that my mind is like a radio that picks up only one station, the one that plays me: K-DON, all Don, all the time.
... Having had my way for so long, I became defensive about what I perceived as encroachments on my rights. My personal bubble was huge. I could not have conversations that lasted more than ten minutes. I wanted efficiency in personal interaction ...
The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me.
... God brought me to Graceland to rid me of this deception ... It was a frustrating and painful experience.
I hear addicts talk about the shakes and the panic attacks and the highs and lows of resisting their habit ... but no drug is as powerful as the drug of self. No rut in the mind is so deep as the one that says I and the world, the world belongs to me, all people are characters in my play. there is no addiction so powerful as self-addiction."
This is great stuff! We as Christians can so easily be overcome by “me” “we” “us” and our little “Christian” world around us that we become so “spiritual” that we are no earthly good. On the other hand, to be reminded that belief, real belief, costs something (or should), and cost our Savior everything, is a truth that is glossed over in many “You'll like it here” churches.
Don also laments the fact that “conservative” politics have invaded the Christian church. And in someways he maybe right, however, I would argue that there is plenty of “liberal” politics to go around as well, as evidenced by the Obama and his pastor fracas.
In many ways I liked the book an awful lot, but there were three things in particular that just made it hard for me to get through, and ultimately I struggled to finish it.
1 – Christianity is not, and does not have to be cool. I agree, but the book is strewn with names and places from Don's experience that to this reader at least, are meant to show how cool he is and how is brand of Christianity must be cooler than someone else's. He mentions Al Green, hippies, Ray Swarez, pipes, protesting, C.S Lewis, Wilco, Katie Couric, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Reed College, Loren Pope, cusswords, racism, Dr. King, France, Mt Hood, the high desert, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Susan Faludi ... I could go on. Obviously I am not as hip as Don. But is that how we are to measure our worth? By who we know? Where we have been? How trendy we are?
2 – While Don goes out of his way to deplore the church being in lock step with conservative politics, his perceived notion that liberal politics have some sort of high road in this regard is evident throughout the book. If you want to say that there is conservative political climate in American churches, just saying that if they were liberal it would be better because they care more, doesn't cut it. Unfortunately, he comes off as someone who is discriminatory against parts of the church in America because it is not hip enough, and somehow stands in the way of his political view, or his views on “better” Christianity.
Our home church is probably largely Republican, but we have never taken a poll, and the issue rarely comes up. Until fairly recently, during the course of conversation while teaching a Sunday school class, I found out that a former elder, and someone I have great respect for in the church, votes Democrat. Did that color my picture of him as a spiritual leader in the church? No, I still find him to be a very level headed person, worthy of respect. I find that attitude more compelling of Christian brotherhood than merely trying to redivide people.
3 – The biggest problem with the book is that while there are these great nuggets of truth about how we view people, and how our world can be infinitely greater than the immediate, most of the book has to to with “K-DON, all Don, all the time.” It is about Don and his friends and Don and his pastor and Don and his potential girl friends and Don's outlook on life the church and everything. I get the point. Don is saying that people's perception of the church and Christianity is more relational based than biblical based. I love the ideas in the book and they have challenged me to be more relational in my ministry, we do have to grow, and being stuck in how we feel about God, Jesus and the church, will lead to a church that is only a social club to affect social change. Affecting social change can be part of it, but the Christian life is so much more.
Don wants no one to judge him, and his Christian spirituality, but seems to stand ready to judge others if he feels they are opposed to his take on life issues. And I guess there is the rub of the whole thing. Don feels. And he feels strongly. But is that all to the Christian life? There are points throughout the book that allude to the fact the it is beyond only feeling, and also about surrender and learning and discipline and sacrifice and worship. These are things you don't necessarily feel, but are a significant part of the Christian walk.
Read the book. Read it with an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out ;-) . There are challenging things here to consider as we relate to people from different walks of life. But I would filter these things with a good study asking what the bible (and by extension Jesus) says about the subjects presented.