When Faith Seems Blue Like Jazz
- Audra Davis Contributing Writer
- 2004 10 Oct
When asked about the title of his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller is taken aback, “What? Is it offensive?” He is surprised that someone wouldn’t get the meaning. As he explains in the book, jazz “is a free-form expression. It comes from the soul, and it is true.”
This is the perfect analogy for Blue Like Jazz, written in a “stream of consciousness” style, with an authenticity that can only come from the soul.
Miller said people are surprised when they find out that he’s a very private person. People ask, “What are you talking about? You’re all over this book.”
“There’s a line of what we’re willing to share with other people,” he explains. My line is a little closer so that people can know a lot, but it’s also a bigger, taller wall. So there’s nothing in the book that I’m embarrassed about or wouldn’t talk about.”
Miller says he learned this from David Wilcox, a folk singer. “The more vulnerable he is, the more he’s telling the audience they can be friends. He’s saying ‘I’m going to give you something you can use against me. And if I’m going to give you something you can use against me, then I trust you.’”
One of the very early stories in this book sets the stage for his willingness to share. He said the decision to tell people that he wet the bed until he was 10 was the ultimate test.
“I put it in the book and took it out five or six times. But once I decided that was going in the book, everything else was easy. It wasn’t like it was anything to be ashamed of. It was when I was 10 years old. What’s it matter? But when I was writing it, it was like I was back there telling my 5th grade class that I’m a bed wetter.” After overcoming that mental block, everything else was downhill.
Miller also adds that it was easy to be vulnerable when he didn’t expect anyone to ever read the book.
“My last book was a dead bomb, there was nothing that said that this book was going to get published. I think God just set that up.”
At that point in his life, he says he felt like he had three choices, “Get a real job, be a cookie cutter writer, or write creatively thinking no one was going to read it and just write for the joy of writing.”
Fortunately for readers, he went with his gut. He says the feedback he has gotten has been amazing and humbling, explaining that he never thought it would hit people the way it has.
“So many people that I had tension for… who are very different from me have read the book in droves and have been unbelievably kind.” These are people he refers to in the book as “fundamentalists” or “conservatives.”
“I just assumed they didn’t like me,” or thought, ‘He’s a flaming liberal.’” Instead, Miller has heard things like, “I don’t agree with his politics, but I love this guy’s story.”
Miller says that there are two things he hopes people will take from his books, a more authentic expression of faith and that “the gospel of Jesus is not a formulaic invitation to know God.”
He explains that a relationship with Jesus is a lot like a relationship between married couples. So many times couples expect those first “romantic” feelings of attraction to never end. However, Miller explains that it’s been scientifically proven that those chemicals last approximately two years. He says after that period, the chemicals change to a secondary chemical “that causes you to stay. A feeling of ‘This is it, I’m not going to choose something different from this.’”
Just as we could in a marriage, we have the option of walking away from our relationship with God in disobedience.
“If you’re a believer, and you know Christ, it’s not a matter of finding an authentic relationship; it’s a matter of not looking for something else,” he says. “I think a lot of people have made a lot of money telling Christians that they can have that primary chemical produced again regarding their faith.”
As in our human relationships, “we go through frustrating times with God.” Miller continues, “Sometimes when I worship I’m bored out of my mind and sometimes when I worship I’m in tears and that’s the way it is.”
He went on to say that it has been affirming to hear so many people with similar views on faith. A number of people have responded that they feel left outside the traditional church, that they are frustrated with the standard “mold.”
As the book title suggests, Miller likens our relationship with Jesus to jazz music. “It is a music birthed out of freedom…Everybody sings their song the way the feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.” He invites readers to experience the “true and beautiful song” which occurs when “the soul gets set free.”
Miller concludes his book simply, “ask Him to put a song in your heart. I can’t think of anything better that could happen to you than this.”
This transparent discussion is continued in his next book, “Searching for God Knows What,” which will be in stores in October, 2004. In Searching, Miller explores the countless systems people use to "save themselves" and how the Gospel of Jesus – and the personhood of who he actually was – is the only thing that will save and satisfy us. Visit the Thomas Nelson website for more information.