Review: Blue Like Jazz (the movie)

“I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.” – Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

The message of Christianity has never changed, but that doesn’t mean Christian living has stagnated.  Far from it.  But you would never know that from the standard Christian movie.  When I told an unchurched friend about Blue Like Jazz, the first words out of his mouth were, “This isn’t one of those Kirk Cameron films, is it?”  Somehow, somewhere along the way, Christian movies became recursive.  They were stuck on the same page.  They stopped trying to figure things out and started telling everyone else what to think.

Blue Like Jazz walks away from this sort of storytelling.  It’s about walking away from what you thought you knew: whether it be fundamentalist Christianity; hypocritical living; or bitterness toward the church.  It’s about walking away, but even more than that, it’s about embracing the journey to figure things out.

It’s also about embracing those marginalized and burned by the church.  Sure, there are archetypes.  The lesbian.  The boy who was raped by a priest  The son of a mother who becomes pregnant by the married youth leader.  The religion-rejecter; the non-religious but religion-respectful; the Christ-denier; and the Christ-embracer.  But these are characters, not caricatures.  Blue Like Jazz portrays the full person.  It does not only acknowledge and legitimize the pain that exists, but that the source of the pain was people misrepresenting Christ.  It gives a voice to the grief, an apology, and a hug.

As a longtime fan of the books, though, I would have liked to see more of the role of Christian community.  Most of the Christian influence in Don’s life comes through Penny.  This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but Penny’s influence can just as easily be attributed to hormones and liking a girl rather than the transformational work of the Spirit and the role of a community coming alongside a guy searching for God knows what.  I think in its effort to not create the stereotypical Christian ending, Blue Like Jazz de-emphasized the role of Christ and of the corporate church.  Especially since it pushed the envelope in so many other ways, I would have liked to see the envelope pushed a little more here as well.  "Sometimes you need to watch someone love something before you can love it yourself."  I would have liked to see a little more of that love.  (Although the reverend pulling Don out of the port-a-potty after the latter’s hedonistic binge was a particularly nice touch.)

But even then, the beauty of the movie is precisely that there are no concrete answers.  Some reviews criticize that, like jazz, the movie doesn’t “resolve.”  Does it have to?  Blue Like Jazz isn’t about spoon-fed resolution.  It’s about questions.  It’s not about conclusions; it’s about conversations.  It’s not pedagogue; it’s dialogue.  It’s a start, and it falls upon the viewers to come to their own conclusions.  It is a movie that requires a response.

Will I stop being a hypocrite?  Will I stop misrepresenting Christ?  If I do, will you give Him a chance?  Can we work through this together?  The answers “hang there…like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue, like jazz,” and I find that to be a beautiful thing.

Psalm 22

This is the season of Lent.
Of groaning and mourning.
Of death.
"But God"
Oh, the joy that those two words bring!
But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
Made us alive and saved us by grace.
Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but took the form of a servant and dying on the cross.
He was forsaken so that we can be accepted.
Rejected so that we can be taken in.
Denied by the Father so we can become sons of God.

And so we mourn.
We mourn the human death of the God-man,
We mourn the wretchedness of our sin that required such a sacrifice.

We mourn, and yet we rejoice
For Immanuel is not far off
And we worship in the congregation.
We worship because he proclaimed righteousness to those yet unborn,
to we who were chosen before the creation of the world.

Psalm 21

Psalm 21 is interesting because David is speaking from his own experience.  Sure, he has a crown of gold.  But where's mine?  Some of us are never going to be rich.  Some of us won't live that long.  Some of us won't be healthy.  So how does this translate to our lives?

Verses 1 and 7 are particularly telling.  "In your strength the king rejoices."  David is on a throne, the king of a nation, but he doesn't rejoice in his own strength and power, he rejoices in God's.  Where does your strength lie? 

That's the beauty of the Gospel.  It's for everyone.  Those who are successful will be tempted to boast in their own strength, but it is God who enables their success.  Those who are down on their luck will be tempted to despair in their lack of success, but it is God's strength that will uphold them in tough times.  Both will be able to glory in their salvation, and both will be united as one int he Church by their salvation.  They will be blessed forever in the joy of God's presence and the strength of his might.

And God's strength means an end to injustice.  An end to suffering and those who cause others to suffer.  It means righting wrongs and eradicating evil.  This is something to be thankful for as well.  So we exalt God by thanking him for what he is doing and looking forward to his promised work to come.  We will sing and praise his power forever.

Two poems

I haven't been posting because I've been working on my poetry.  It's ironic that one of my #finishyear goals is getting in the way of another one.  The first poem has been ridiculously stubborn, but I'm happy with how the second one turned out.  Enjoy!  I'll be back to regular posting on Friday.


All things were made through Him.
Without Him, nothing that has been made
Would have been made,
And all that has been made
Is sustained by His Glory
His Weight
The Gravity that holds stars and planets and moons
in place
And choreographs the cosmic dance.

All in accordance
With the word of the Word
Who spoke "Let there be"
And there was.

But what is man?
Ashes and dust
A flower in the field
A breath
A passing shadow
And yet that breath came from the very lungs of God
And though a shadow in the Valley of Shadows,
I shall not want.

Winter Dusk in Orange County
Slow, but Deliberate,
the Distant Artist  tints
the once-azure expanse
ombre shades of red, orange, and yellow
Before disappearing in the West
Behind a parking structure,
Making way for the Winged Stallion,
Hunter, Lion, Bear, and
Southwest Airlines.

Psalm 20

You know how sometimes you read a passage of Scripture, but the words feel foreign to you?  You know that the words are true, but it's difficult to connect with them.  I'm having one of those moments today reading Psalm 20.

You see, my law school experienced its second depression-related death in a month.  It's a small community to begin with.  When the first died, it was a tragedy.  After the second?  There are no words.  Those who remain know and understand the stress of law school.  We know, too, that there is also life outside of law school, which comes with trials of its own. 

People want answers.  But more than answers, they want to know that everything is OK.  That their loved ones are "in a better place."  That they are "looking down on us."  That one day, we'll all be reunited again.  People don't really want answers.  They want reassurance.

And I can't give it to them.

That's why passages like this are hard.

"May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!"

"May he grant you your heart's desire
    and fulfill all your plans!"

These are blessings and prayers.

Not promises.

We will experience trials and suffering of all kinds.  1 Peter 1 tells us this.  We serve a man who was poor, and homeless, and who allowed himself to be murdered.  No man is greater than his master.

But there IS a promise we can hold onto:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
     but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright.

We can trust God for what we need.  I have salvation, and these deaths make me so much more thankful for this gift I did not deserve.  The gift I could not take for myself.  The gift given to me, and that I have received.  And because I have been given that gift, because I have received His spirit as the seal of my inheritance, I know that I am anointed.  I know that the Lord will save me.

There are many things that vie for my trust, but I will trust in the name of the Lord my God.

Therefore, I can "shout for joy" over my salvation.

Psalm 17-19

Yikes, I'm way behind.  My health hasn't been that great lately due to the trifecta of awful nutrition, exercise, and sleep, which explains why I don't have a ton of extra energy to devote to blogging right now.  I'm determined to follow through with the Psalms, though.

Today what I'm doing is creating a new Psalm out of 17-19.  Many times the Psalms become familiar to us through reading and repetition.  For me, I have a number of the Psalms memorized, so it is far too easy to gloss over the Truth.  Instead of reading each Psalm as a chunk, I read these Psalms phrase-by-phrase and reassembled it into a new poem.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.

I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. 
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! 
Then I shall be blameless, 
and innocent of great transgression.
The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; 
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.  
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
For you save a humble people,
but the haughty eyes you bring down.

For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation—
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes; 
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed.