Blue Like Jazz

Originall posted on 1 June 2005

I am busy reading “Blue Like Jazz”, by Donald Miller (Nelson, 2003, ISBN: 0785263 705) (buy it at or The subtitle, “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality” hints at the style – its collection of stories and reflections on experience of a person trying to understand what it really means to be a question on the 21st century.

He explains the title as follows: “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But sometimes you have to watch somebody loves something before you can love it yourself. But I was outside the Baghdad Theatre in Portland one night when I saw the men playing the saxophone. I stood there for 15 minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody loves something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before in the of this happened.”

The book is about the author’s experiences as he attempts to discover meaning and God. In chapter 4, “Shifts”, he recounts a conversation with a woman, named Penny, who was talking about how she became a Christian. Here is an edited extract, interlaced with some of my own thoughts.

Penny didn’t want to become a Christian. She had a friend called Nadine who explained to her why she was a Christian. They been said that she believed Christ was a revolutionary, a humanitarian of sorts, sent from God to a world that had broken itself. But Penny was frustrated that Nadine was a Christian. She couldn’t believe that a girl with this kind and accepting could subscribe to the same religion that generated the Crusades, funded the Republicans, or fathered religious television. But Nadine’s brand of Christianity started to grow on Penny. Penny began to wonder if Christianity, were it a person, might in fact like her. She began to wonder if she and Christianity might get along, if they might have things in common.

Penny explained her relationship with Nadine as follows: we talked a lot about everything, but always, by the end of it, we talked about God. The thing I loved about Nadine was that I never felt like she was selling anything. She would talk about God as if she knew Him, as if she had talked to Him on the phone that day. She was never ashamed, which is the thing with some Christians I had encountered. They felt like they had to sell God, as if he was so poor a vacuum cleaner, and it’s like they really weren’t listening to me; they didn’t care, they just wanted me to buy their product. I came to realise that I had judged all Christians on the personalities of a few. It had been easy to dismiss Christians, but here was Nadine. I didn’t have a category for her. To Nadine, God was a being with which he interacted, and even more she believed that God liked her. I thought that was beautiful. And more than that, her face was a spiritual thing they produced a humanitarianism that was convicting.

She asked me if I wanted to read through the book of Matthew with her, and in fact I did. I wanted to see if this whole Jesus thing was real. I still had serious issues with Jesus, though, although because I associated him with Christianity, and there was nowhere to I would ever call myself a Christian. But I figured I should see for myself. So I told her yes.

We started reading through Matthew, and I thought it was all very interesting, you know. And I found Jesus very disturbing, very straightforward. He wasn’t a diplomatic, and yet I felt like if I met him, he would really like to be. I can’t explain how freeing that was, to realise that if I met Jesus, he would like me. I never felt like that about some of the Christians on the radio. I always thought if I met those people they would yell at me. But it wasn’t like that with Jesus. There were people he loved and people he got really mad at, and I kept identifying with the people he loved, which was really good, because they were all the broken people, you know, the kind of people who are tired of life and want to be done with it, or they are desperate people, people who are outcasts or pagans. There were others, regular people, but he didn’t play favourites at all, which is miraculous in itself. That fact alone may have been the most supernatural thing he did. He didn’t show partiality, which every human does,

Penny then went on to explain that at a raging party one night when she had had too much to drink and some drugs, she had an experience. She heard God speak to her. He said, Penny, I have a better life for you, not only now, but forever. At first she thought it might just be the drugs and alcohol, but she knew it wasn’t. She kept asking God to say it again, but he wouldn’t. I guess it’s because I heard in the first time, you know, she explained. But even with all of that she did become a Christian: I was drunk and high. You should be sober when you make important decisions.

A few nights later she knelt down and told God that she didn’t want to be like she was any more. She went to be good. She wanted God to help her care more about other people because that’s what she wanted to do and she wasn’t good at it. She had already come to believe that Jesus was who he said he was, that Jesus was God. But all she did was just pray and ask God to forgive her. It was pretty simple.

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