Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller’s seminal work: a review

This book is getting old now, but I just read it for the first time. I’m glad I waited, so I could separate it a bit from the hype that surrounded it on its first release. I found it to be a remarkably easy to read, beautifully written collection of essays on what Christianity is all about. Miller has a way of disarming you with his gentleness and wit, and then stabbing you with the cold, hard truth when you recognize yourself in his portraits of those that have missed the real and simple message of Jesus regarding sin, grace, and redemption. I  alternately laughed (like, out loud) and became very serious.

So much of this book is worth reading and re-reading…and I can’t even begin to talk about all of it here. The part that hit me like a freight train was the section on how we talk about love, beginning on page 218 in the paperback edition. Miller notes the economic language with which we discuss our human relationships: we invest in people, our relationships can become bankrupt, and people are priceless. He says,

“The problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money….This was the thing that had smelled so rotten all these years. I used love like money. The church used love like money. With love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.”

As he explained how this is played out on both the church and personal level, I felt my heart sink. This was me. For the past 2, 3, 4 years, I’ve withdrawn from many human relationships—with Christians and non-Christians, family members and friends—because I didn’t think it was worth the effort. I didn’t think it worth the effort because I believed no one would really put in the same kind of work in the relationship as I would…and if they’re not going to be equally as “invested” in the relationship, why even have one?

As I pondered this part of the book out loud with my wife after reading, I had to struggle to keep my emotions in check as the full weight of my own selfishness hit me. Even if my grossly unfair assumptions about other people were true, this is no reason to withhold Christ’s love and grace and commitment to them. After all, it’s not my love to withhold. Any love I can give comes by grace through Christ anyway. The more I thought about it, the more I found this mindset of love and commitment as a trade good to be deeply ingrained in my worldview. I am honestly ashamed, because I can look back now and see why many of my relationships have failed, how I could have been a better husband, and the impact it had on all sorts of personal ministry. To make matters worse, all I had to do was take my cue from the clear example of our Savior, who loves us so much—despite anything we have done—that he died for us, so that we would be redeemed and have life.  I believe this is the kind of unconditional love I should be sharing with all people.

I’m uncertain as to the specifics of what this means going forward—all this happened about 9 a.m. this morning. I know I need to stop withholding friendship and commitment based on a perceived level of reciprocity, and I really need to mediate anew on Ephesians 5, which begins this way:

…walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...”