Blue Like Jazz

Okay, has anyone read this book? If not, it is a must-read. Seth has been reading it, and I decided to pick it up this afternoon and read some. The author is Donald Miller, and much of his inspiration for this book was Anne Lamott's "Traveling Mercies". His writing style and delivery are so great--I just relate to everything he says, and cry, and die laughing....this is quality stuff, guys. The following is some insight into the title of the book:

"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love 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 any of this happened."


This blog will be a long one, as I feel compelled to share a few sections of the book that I really enjoyed today.....read on if you wish.

The following is from his chapter called "Worship - The Mystical Wonder":

"...I love how the Gospels start, with John the Baptist eating bugs and baptizing people. The religious people started getting baptized because it had become popular, and John yells at them and calls them snakes. He says the water won't do anything for them, it will only get their snakeskins wet. But if they meant it, if they had faith that Jesus was coming and was real, then Jesus would ignite the kingdom life within them. I love that because for so long religion was my false gospel. But there was no magic in it, no wonder, no awe, no kingdom life burning in my chest. And when I get tempted by that same stupid Christian religion, I go back to the beginning of the Gospels and am comforted that there is something more than the emptiness of ritual. God will ignite the kingdom life within me, the Bible says. That's mysticism. (Joy's note--he refers to mysticism earlier in the chapter) It isn't a formula that I am figuring out. It is something God does."
"...At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder."

The following is from the chapter "Love - How to Really Love Other People"

"...When my friend Paul and I lived in the woods, we lived with the hippies. Well, sort of hippies. They certainly smoked a lot of pot. They drank a lot of beer, and man did they love each other, sometimes too much, perhaps, too physically, you know, but nonetheless they loved; they accepted and cherished everybody, even the ones who judged them because they were hippies. It was odd living with the hippies at first, but I enjoyed it after a while.
They were not the traveling hippies, the 'live off the land and other people' hippies. They were formally educated, most of them from New York studying at NYU, getting their masters in literature, headed off to law school, that sort of thing. They knew all about Rostandt, all about Hopkins and Poe and Sylvia Plath. They knew the Americans and the Brits and the fashionable African writers, the Cubans and South Americans. They were books themselves, all of them were books, and what was so wonderful is that to them, I was a book too. We would sit around and talk about literature and each other, and I couldn't tell the difference between the books they were talking about and their lives, they were just that cool. I liked them very much because they were interested in me. When I was with the hippies I did not feel judged, I felt loved. To them I was an endless well of stories and perspectives and grand literary views. It felt so wonderful to be in their presence, like I was special.
I have never experienced a group of people who loved each other more than my hippies in the woods. All of them are tucked so neatly into my memory now..." "...I pull them out when I need to be reminded about goodness, about purity and kindness.
...So much of what I know about getting along with people I learned from the hippies. They were magical in community. People were drawn to them. They asked me what I loved, what I hated, how I felt about this and that, what sort of music made me angry, what sort of music made me sad. They asked me what I daydreamed about, what I wrote about, where my faovrite places in the world were. They asked me about high school and college and my travels around America. They loved me like a good novel, like an art film, and this is how I felt when I was with them, like a person John Irving would write. I did not feel fat or stupid or sloppily dressed. I did not feel like I did not know the Bible well enough, and I was never conscious what my hands were doing or whether or not I sounded immature when I talked. I had always been so conscious of those things, but living with the hippies I forgot about myself. And when I lost this self-consciousness I gained so much more. I gained an interest in people outside my own skin. They were greater than movies to me, greater than television. The spirit of the hippies was contagious. I couldn't hear enough about Eddie's ballerina girlfriend or Owen's epic poems. I would ask them to repeat stories because, to me, they were like great scenes in favorite movies. I cannot tell you how quickly these people, these pot-smoking hippies, desarmed me.
Because I grew up in the safe cocoon of big-Christianity, I came to believe that anything outside the church was filled with darkness and unlove..." "...Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined there were, outside the church, people so purely lovely as the ones I met in the woods. And yet my hippie friends were not at all close to believing that Christ was the Son of God.
...Until this point, the majority of my friends had been Christians. In fact nearly all of them had been Christians. I was amazed to find, outside the church, genuine affection being shared, affection that seemed, well, authentic in comparison to the sort of love I had known within the church. I was even more amazed when I realized I preferred, in fact, the company of the hippies to the company of Christians. It isn't that I didn't love my Christian friends or that they didn't love me, it was just that there was something different about my hippie friends; something, I don't know, more real, more true. I realize that is a provocative statement, but I only felt I could be myself around them, and I could not be myself with my Christian friends. My Christian communities had always had little unwritten social ethics like don't cuss and don't support Democrats and don't ask tough questions about the Bible."

The following is from the chapter "Love - How to Really Love Yourself"

"I wish Ani Difranco wasn't a lesbian. I am listening to her right now, and I think I would marry her if she would have me. I would hang out in the front row at all her concerts and sing along and pump my fist and get angry at all the right times. Then, later, on the bus, she would lay her head on a pillow in my lap, and I would get my fingers tangled in her dreadlocks while we watched Charlie Rose on the television.
Some friends and I were walking to our cars one night outside the Roseland after an Emmy Lou Harris concert, and I could see into her bus and Charlie Rose was on the television. I thought to myself, I like that show, and part of me wanted to knock on the window and ask if I could come in. I would not have bothered her or even asked for an autograph. I would have just watched television. He was interviewing Bishop Tutu, I think. By the time I got home the interview was over. If Ani Difranco and I got married, I would write books on the bus rides between cities and in the evening, after the concerts, we would watch Charlie Rose, and three or tour times each night we would whisper, Good question, Charlie, good question. But none of this will happen because Ani Difranco is not attracted to men, I don't think. Otherwise we would be on."

(The background on this next part is that he was dating this girl - a cute writer from the South - great girl - but he was having a lot of trouble accepting love--really going nuts inside)

"...Finally, Andrew (friend) said I should meet with Diane, who is this beautiful married woman who goes to our church and mothers us and speaks love into our lives because most of us are basket cases. Diane was studying at a local seminary to be a counselor, and Andrew recommended that I ask her to take a shot at all my troubles. I didn't want to do it at first because Diane's husband is an elder, and I had spoken at church a few times, so everybody thought I was normal. Certainly if I talked to Diane she would go home and tell her husband I was nuts and then it would get around the church, and when everbody thinks you are nuts you finally just give in to their pressure and actually go nuts. But I was desperate. So I called Diane.
She was beautiful and soft and kind with a tender voice, and she showed up at the house, and I put some coffee on. We went into my office, and I closed the door, in case one of my roommates walked by and saw me talking to Diane and discovered I was nuts. I sat in a chair, and Diane sat on the couch, and I wrung my hands a bit before starting in:
'Well, you see, Diane, I am in this relationship with this girl, and she is great, she really is. It's just that it is very hard for me, you know.'
'You mean it is hard for you to have feelings for her?'
'I'm not gay'
Diane laughed. 'I didn't mean it that way, Don.'
'I do have feelings for her,' I said, with sincerity. 'They are almost too strong, you know. I have trouble sleeping and eating and thinking about anything else. It is hard for me to be in a relationship, it always has been. And that makes me want to bail. I would just rather not be in the relstionship at all than go through this torture. But I promised myslef I wouldn't run from it this time. But I feel like the meaning of life is riding on whether or not she likes me, and I think she does, she says she does, but it still drives me crazy.'
'Whether or not she likes you, Don, or whether or not she loves you?'
'Yea, that too. Whether or not she loves me.'
Diane sat there and make listening noises the whole time I was talking, and when I told her how I will go days without eating, she looked at me and sighed and ooohed and was definitely letting me know that this behavior was neither normal nor healthy. I think I could have told her that Elvis Presley was alive and living in my closet, and she would have been less surprised. When you are a writer and a speaker, sometimes people think you have your crap together.
'You seem so normal, Don. You have a company and are a writer and all.' Diane looked at me, bewildered.
'Yeah. But there is something wrong with me, isn't there?'
I was half hoping she would say no. I was hoping she would explain that everybody is nuts when they get into a relationship, but then it turns euphoric shortly after marriage and sex. But she didn't.
'Well, Don, there is. There is something wrong with you.'
'Oh, man,' I said. 'I just knew it. I just knew I was a wacko.' I thought about that movie A Beautiful Mind and wondered whether any of my housemates existed or whether those guys who kept following me were in the FBI.
Diane noted the concern on my face and responded, smiling and kind. 'It's not that bad, Don. Don't worry. It's just that for some reason, you are letting this girl name you.'
'What do you mean, name me?'
'Well, you are letting her decide your value, you know. Your value has to come from God. And God wants you to receive His love and to love yourself too.'
And what she was saying was true. I knew it was true. I could feel that it was true. But it also felt wrong. I mean, it felt like it was an arrogant thing to do, to love myself, to receive love. I knew that all the kicking myself around, all the hating myself, was not coming from God, that those voices were not God whispering in my ear, but it felt like I had to listen to them; it felt like I had to believe the voices were telling the truth.
'God loves you, Don.' Diane looked at me with a little moisture in her eyes. I felt like Matt Damon in that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams keeps saying, 'It's not your fault, it's not your fault,' and Matt Damon just freaks out and collapses into Robin Williams's arms and secures an Academy Award for both of them. I thought about acting out that scene with Diane, but it didn't feel right so I let it go.
'Yeah, I know,' I told her. 'I know God loves me.' And I did know, I just didn't believe. It was such crap, such psychobabble. I had heard it before, but hearing that stuff didn't silence the voices. Still, there was something in Diane's motherly eyes that said it was true and I needed that; I needed to believe it was true. I needed something to tell the voices when they started chanting at me.
Things got worse witht he girl. We would spend hours on the phone working through the math of our relstionship, but nothing added up, which I received as only a sign of my incompetence, and this made me more sad than before.
Then she did it; she decided we didn't need to be in touch anymore. She broke it off. She sent me a letter saying that I didn't love myself and could not receive love from her. There was nothing she could do about it, and it was killing her. I wandered around the house for an hour just looking at the blank walls, making coffee or cleaning the bathroom, not sure when my body was going to explode in sobs and tears. I was scrubbing the toilet when the voices began. I'd listened to them so often before, but on this day they were shouting. They were telling me that I was as disgusting as the urine on the wall around the toilet.
And then the sentiment occurred. I am certain it was the voice of God because it was accompanied by such a strong epiphany like a movement in a symphony or something. The sentiment was simple: Love your neighbor as yourself.
And I thought about that for a second and wondered why God would put that phrase so strongly in my mind. I thought about our neighbor Mark, who is tall and skinny and gay, and I wondered whether God was telling me I was gay, which was odd because I had never felt gay, but then it hit me that God was not telling me I was gay. He was saying I would never talk to my neighbor the way I talked to myself, and that somehow I had come to believe it was wrong to kick other people around but it was okay to do it to myself. It was as if God had put me in a plane and flown me over myself so I could see how I was connected, all the neighborhoods that were falling apart because I would not let myself receive love from myself, from others, or from God. And I wouldn't receive love because it felt so wrong. It didn't feel humble, and I knew I was supposed to be humble. But that was all crap, and it didn't make any sense. If it is wrong for me to receive love, then it is also wrong for me to give it because by giving it I am causing somebody else to receive it, which I had presupposed was the wrong thing to do. So I stopped. And I mean that. I stopped hating myself. It no longer felt right. It wasn't manly or healthy, and I cut it out. That was about a year ago, and since then I have been relatively happy. I am not kidding. I don't sit around and talk bad about myself anymore.
"...And so I have come to understand that strength, inner strength, comes from receiving love as much as it comes from giving it. I think apart from the idea that I am a sinner and God forgives me, this is the greatest lesson I have ever learned. When you get it, it changes you. My friend Julie from Seattle told me that the main prayer she prays for her husband is that he will be able to receive love. And this is the prayer I pray for all my friends because it is the key to happienss. God's love will never change us if we don't accept it. "

The following is from the chapter "Jesus - The Lines on His Face"

"All great characters in stories are the ones who give their lives to something bigger than themselves. And in all of the stories I don't find anyone more noble than Jesus. He gave His life for me, in obedience to His Father. I truly love Him for it. I feel that. I think the difference in my life came when I realized, after reading those Gospels, that Jesus didn't just love me out of principle; He didn't just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me. I think I realized that if I walked up to His campfire, He would ask me to sit down, and He would ask me my story. He would take the time to listen to my ramblings or my anger until I could calm down, and then He would look me directly in the eye, and He would speak to me; He would tell me the truth, and I would sense in his voice and in the lines on His face that he liked me. He would rebuke me, too, and he would tell me that I have prejudices against very religious people and that I need to deal with that; He would tell me that there are poor people in the world and I need to feed them and that somehow this will make me more happy. I think He would tell me what my gifts are and why I have them, and He would give me ideas on how to use them. I think He would explain to me why my father left, and He would point out very clearly all the ways God has taken care of me through the years, all the stuff God protected me from."

I just think that is so beautiful.

One more...

"I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul. It is as if the soul is saying something, something about freedom. I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is something very difficult to get on paper. But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful.
The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands."

Well, if you made it this far, and I hope you have, I hope you enjoyed it!!
2 Responses
  1. James Says:

    Very nice Joy. Wondering if I could borrow the book sometime. You definitely made up for lack of blogs with this mammoth one. And yes... I did read it in it's entirety.


  2. Anonymous Says:

    This book resides on my night stand,along with a few others that I read at night before sleep...thanks for sharing some parts that rang true with your spirit...I love being shaken out of my box don't you?!! And realizing I never wanted to be there in the first place...mom