This past weekend, I read Don Miller's "Blue Like Jazz," as I traveled to and from a family reunion in Oregon. I read about half of the book each way. "Blue Like Jazz" was incredibly popular in Christian circles (especially young, postmodern/progressive circles) a few years back, but I never got around to reading it back then. In fact, I'm not really sure when I bought the book, but I found it on my bookshelf and decided to take it for a spin—I am so glad I did! I am fairly certain that this will be one of those books that I will choose to revisit often. I can't necessarily put my finger on why, but it was quite profound. I think if I read it a bit more slowly, digest it a little and discuss it with other people, that would help. Highlighters and marginal annotations (thanks, Ms. Tay) would be a good start. It also made me want to get into my Bible and back up some of the things he asserts about Jesus and His teachings with Scripture.
It might seem a little cliche, but I feel that the overarching theme was "What Would Jesus Do?" I say this because, the author shared with his readers a physical and spiritual journey of sorts, where he learned and re-learned what it is to live as Christ intends us, as a follower of Christ, as an ambassador or representative of Christ. Historically and especially in the present-day we see proof that we aren't very good at representing Him.
One of my favorite stories from this book, is when Don and a small group of Christians at an extremely liberal college (Reed College), plan how to be present at a school festival that is known for all sorts of crazy debauchery--events are created specifically to help enhance the participants drug trips among other things. As a sort of joke, Don suggests they set up a Confession Booth in the middle of the quad. The group is split on whether or not this is a good idea. One group member is determined to make this happen, and presents an idea that when a person enters the booth, that they will not take a confession from them, but give a confession. They will confess how Christians, throughout history, and themselves personally have misrepresented Christ (the Crusades, ignoring the homeless, less fortunate, lonely, etc). This was such an incredible and profound idea to me. And they did it. And the liberal atheists and agnostics and others at their school appreciated it. So many people who reject the Church and Christianity do so because they have been hurt by someone who has misrepresented Christ and His Kingdom. And we are too busy defending ourselves to consider the option that we are wrong or confess and apologize.
Christians are not perfect. I am not perfect. I am sorry for forgetting you, for judging you, for ignoring you, for saying bad things about you, for saying bad things to you. I know I am going to mess up again and again and I was not made to do that. I was made to love you, and care for you, and encourage you, and support you. I'm sorry.
Another powerful thought I gleaned from this book was the idea that as a follower and representative of Christ, we should love like Jesus. We should recognize each person as one who has already been redeemed by Him. We should approach all that He created with love—from the smelly hippies to the capitalist pigs; from the liberal, science-loving professors to the Bible-thumping conservatives; and everybody else too. Nobody is exempt from the love of Jesus.
Jesus says, in Matthew 5:44-45a, "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." That sounds hard, but that is what we are called to do, so I will try.
John has a lot to say about love in I John 4. In fact, he says that if we don't love, we don't know God (verse 8). It sounds pretty important, especially when we talk all the time about our "relationship" with God. You cannot have a relationship with someone you don't know, and you cannot know God if you do not love. Therefore a relationship with God is conditional on a life filled with love. I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage in "The Message":
So we MUST love, not so that someone will love us back, but because God loved us and we are His representatives and a conduit for His love.
God Is Love7-10My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can't know him if you don't love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God.
11-12My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!
13-16This is how we know we're living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He's given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we've seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God's Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we've embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
To Love, to Be Loved17-18God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
19We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
20-21If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both.
Someday I'd like to unpack this more, because there are still a lot of questions, like "How did he show love in challenging the Pharisees?" and "How can I show love and grace to sinners, yet not support their sin?" and the ever-constant question: "What Would Jesus Do?"
With all that, let me say, I'm sorry and I love you! I really do!