Search Results for: blue like jazz

Some More Thoughts on Blue Like Jazz

Yep, still thinking about Blue Like Jazz. Difficult for me not to in some ways. I loved the book, supported the Kickstarter campaign, participated in several book studies with it and currently leading a Reading Circle on a Million Miles in a Thousand Years. If you are around Lexington, MA, we’ll be discussing Part 5 and the movie this Sunday night after GC@Night in the cafe – All are welcome.

It occurred to me halfway through my second viewing of BLJ, that I was enjoying the movie more this time around. Perhaps my expectations were tempered, maybe I was responding to all the negative reviews of the movie/project, or maybe I was a in a better frame of mind – I don’t know.

The negativity does crack me up. Though it’s not as bad as the Tebow deal, it’s become humorous how people are so quick to hate on this movie and on Don Miller and crew. A while back I saw someone commenting on Don’s body language during an interview. Come on dude, Don and his friends are out out promoting this movie city to city for the past 3 months, cut him/them some slack. The guy sold his house to help finance the project!

In some ways, Blue Like Jazz can’t be the movie to do what many of us want it to be. Primarily because it had become too big in the Christian subculture and Don is too popular of a writer to not have expectations for.   the “first-responders of this movie” are going to be those fans  (It will be interesting to see  more from those who haven’t heard of the book).  Many of us want this to be a conversation piece about God, spirituality, Christianity in general, many others want this to be a traditional tool of evangelism, others seem to want it to be an obscure piece of art floating like an astronaut in space.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of things I didn’t like but I am glad it was made, glad it’s out there and I think Don, Steve and Ben did an amazing job, especially with what they had to work with.

My concerns are as follows: I was never really sold on the “inciting incidents” (thanks Don and Friends for giving us the language to critique your work) that led to Don’s collapse of faith and then the “bottoming out” scene that soon led to his repentance.  If the movie was a true comedy, maybe the “youth pastor sleeping with mom thing” and later “waking up in a porta potty and realizing that your life stinks and the priest rescuing you” works but I thought they could have come up with something better.

In any case, I truly liked the characters of BLJ. I’ll admit my first impression of Marshall Allman playing a young Don Miller threw me off. He looked like a cross between a goofy-looking Sufjan Stevens and a hooded Portlandian version of Eminem from 8 Mile (the movie poster has him in this pose staring down Penny and I’m worried that he’s hiding a black eye about to try to battle her on the bridge). But I have to say Marshall did a fantastic job.

I liked pretty much all the characters and truly hated the cheating youth pastor (played so well by Jason Marsden. While I know this is part is not autobiographical of Don and his mother, I am seriously suspicious of Jason, know what I mean “bro?”). Penny is charming and sweet, thought the Pope character had the best lines and Yuri (the Russian) was great in his small role.

But then there was Lauryn. I liked her immediately because she’s Alex from LOST. She had such a great character until the end – why was there no resolve to her? She’s a key figure in the first half of the movie, Don’s first real friend if you will, then not only does Quinn break her heart but she seems to get dumped by the script as well. She bears her broken-hearted soul to Don and then gets regulated to picking up drunk kids at the Ren Fayre and laundry duty. I know it’s a little complicated that her character is a lesbian but I was expecting a bit more resolve to her.

I’m sure Don, Steve and Ben left a lot on the cutting room floor but if there any plans for a director’s cut, I’d like to see a scene that gives her some dignity and closure (if one exists).

What I was really let down by and I think this will always bug me is that legitimate money was not put into this. Itt should have received the Eat Pray Love treatment (wait they spent $6o million on that??  Ok, how about a tenth of it?). Had it been financed and distributed consistent with standards of modern movie making, I think it could have been a significant cultural moment. I know that sounds naive but if you just go and see what’s out on Fandango, I think I have a killer point.

I hear stories but I don’t really know how these things get funded. I don’t really picture local churches taking their missions budgets and giving them to Kickstarter but I do think the Church as a whole missed an opportunity. If history is any gauge, the next Kirk Cameron film or Fireproof 2 (More Inferno, More Evidence) will get a $10 million backing.  Not sure what a real solution looks like, but we need one, we actually need a quite a few, multifaceted ones.

Limited runs in theaters are tricky, you can read Don’s figures and thoughts here. I anticipate that the DVD Sales will be pretty solid. It will be used in countless sermon illustrations, youth group lessons, college Bible studies and various other places. We’ll see this DVD in every CBD catalog for years to come and will likely end up in Best Buy $4.99 bin, which isn’t bad, it just how consumer culture robs the remaining essence of something.  I’m confident that they’ll make their money back and then some but wish it had a better theater run.

Again, ultimately, I do think Don, Steve and Ben did an amazing job with what they had. And I wish them the best as BLJ rides out and hope this experience ushers in many good things.

For more check out:
Don’s BLJ brief “What Critics Are Saying…” List (one-liners from from NY Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, etc.)

Go see it, here’s the theater list –
Here’s a link to my first post, “Why I Hope Blue Like Jazz the Movie Does (Really) Well”

Why I Hope Blue Like Jazz the Movie Does (Really) Well #bluelikejazz

Last week I got to see an advanced screening of Blue Like Jazz – I liked it and I give it an A- and I hope you go see it as soon as it comes out on April 13th. It’s an indie movie, so its theater run will be directly related to the success of its release in the opening weekend.

For those who are unfamiliar with BLJ (and Don Miller), it was a very popular book that was released back in 2003. The subtitle was “Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” and it especially resonated with countless young adults who were/still are frustrated with the idea of organized religion (and several aspects of the Christian subculture). It became a New York Times bestseller and Don became a bit of an anti-hero for the jaded church brats (like me).

Then he became a regular on the Christian speaking circuit which caused some to burn their BLJ books. This is probably more appropriate for a different post but this reminds me of those who stopped listening to Arcade Fire when they won the Grammy in 2011. What is about rejecting something that we liked so much but now hate it because it’s mainstream? Seems to me that we ought to celebrate the times when the mainstream gets it right. Frankly, it just comes across as snobby and this post may be in reaction to that type of criticism.

Personally, I want more writers like Don and more movies like Blue Like Jazz. Not imitations, just good, honest, “unresolved but trying to resolve” stories and storytellers. For those who have never read anything by Don, he writes in a casual yet blunt memoir style. He’s intelligent, he’s funny and he gets away with a good bit because he’s self-deprecating. Perhaps one of the key pieces to his popularity is that people don’t really want to be Don Miller. They may want his success, his platform, parts of his story but I don’t know anyone that wants to be him. Why? Well, as he will tell you, he’s got issues – he reminds you of that regularly.

Again, that’s why so many resonate with him. Especially in 2003 when it seemed that everyone who was writing had their act together. We like stories and movies about people who don’t have their act together and that’s why Blue Like Jazz the movie works.

The movie is about a graduating senior, you guessed it – named Don Miller – who is a church youth group volunteer, a good son, and has planned to attend a Christian college in Texas. At his last Sunday in church, he finds himself betrayed by his most trusted relationships. He takes his father up on his offer to attend the well-respected, progressive Reed College in Portland, WA. “Baptist boy” comes on campus and his paradigm is radically altered.

The movie is about his resignation of believing in God, a search for his true identity, a girl named Penny, understanding the dynamics of family and friendship, redemption and rediscovering God. There are a number of themes here that most people can relate to.

I liked that Steve Taylor directed it. He’s been around the Christian subculture scene enough to know what’s not going to work with the audience that he wants it to work for. I admire his courage here. They could have decided to play this safe and gone the Courageous-Face the Giants-Fireproof route but they would been Left Behind. Even I would have set fire to my Blue Like Jazz book.

I liked that they didn’t go the Christian movie route. I like that it’s PG-13. Steve Taylor explains the rating on the movie site. “I made it clear to all our potential investors and/or heads of media companies, the vast majority of whom were fellow Christians, that this was not going to be a family movie. The reason was simple: How do you tell the story of a college kid who flees his Southern Baptist upbringing in suburban Houston to attend the ‘most godless campus in America’ without showing what that environment is like? And how can that environment be portrayed realistically in the context of a ‘family’ movie? Doesn’t have to be rated R, but it’s probably going to be PG-13, right?” Admittedly, while this has caused me to think twice about promoting this church-wide, in the long run, this is the right move.

Further, I like that I didn’t hear Switchfoot as the credits rolled … even though I like Switchfoot. And though I wished they had a bigger budget, I really like the way it was shot – it’s a cool looking movie and Ben Pearson did an absolutely fantastic job.

My hope is that the risk is rewarded. My hope is that people who are fed up with church-types and parts of the Christian sub-culture will watch it and say what a number of people said after they read the book, “Yeah that’s what I’m talking about!” I’m not expecting a cultural awakening here nor do I hope that Don Miller becomes a “superstar” religious figure – I just think his voice and this story will connect with people and I’m excited about that.

While there were some things I wasn’t sure about (I’m going to wait until after the movie is released to give my full review), I genuinely liked it. Again, it’s an A- and I hope it does well, really well.

It releases April 13th – Check out the site and watch the preview here.

What We Learned From Mark Driscoll and What We Can Pray For Next

Image from Mars Hill Church

On Sunday Pastor Mark Driscoll announced to his Mars Hill congregation that he will be stepping back for six weeks as the elders examine the charges against Mark and determine the appropriate next steps. It’s hard for me not to see this as a good thing as I’ve discussed him on this blog a few times and he’s come up in countless conversations over the years. Too much has gone on for too long and Mark needs to be held accountable.

Being a pastor and in this space, an amateur blogger, I know how this can look. I’m another kicking a guy when he’s down, another example of the church eating their own and clearly motivated by jealousy, etc. I am also well aware of Jesus’ warning of judging others as you will be judged by the same measure (Matt 7:1-2). May the Lord judge my heart here but I hope to communicate as “Christianly” as possible of where I am coming from.

It’s actually healthy to talk about this in loving and restorative ways. It’s not only ok, it’s actually necessary because this scene in Mark Driscoll’s life is a cautionary tale for all of us. Further, hopefully some goodness can be found in the mess of all this. And lastly, should the day come when my personal behavior has become such a distraction to the Christian mission, I hope my faith community would be courageous enough to ask me to step down. May God give the Church the wisdom to discern between judging, rebuking and enabling.

In the meantime, here are three lessons learned.

Good, acceptable, conservative orthodox doctrine does not give you license to do whatever you want. In so many words, Mark has acted like a jerk. Like many, I had heard of Driscoll more than ten years ago. He was the “cussing pastor” out of Don Miller’s soul-worthy [Read more…]

Reflecting on “Controversy” – We’ll Always Have Some

Controversy – the very word itself creates unrest in the heart. I cannot count the number of times that I have seen that word preceded with an attaching name/place and thought “Here we go again.”

There’s a controversy in every corner and when it gets big enough, it becomes cultural.
Lately, it’s the Trayvon Martin case.
Romney has a daily controversy, Obama does too.
In the NFL, it’s the Saints Bounty scandal and soon it will be another “Tim Tebow Controversy.”
A couple weeks ago in my little sub-culture, there was controversy surrounding the movie Blue Like Jazz (which in case you forgot ;) I liked the movie. Here were my posts)
About two months ago, it was the Kony 2012 controversy which started as a sub-culture thing and blew up globally (while I have my concerns, for the most part, I support their work).

Chances are you have started, instigated, fueled a controversy in your corner of life. Likely won’t make Headline News, probably not a Lewinsky life-changer, and hopefully it’s something you laugh about now.

Years ago in a previous church, I changed the Middle School ministry to include 6th Graders. We talked about it for months, it felt like I consulted 500 out of the 300 people in my church, it seemed everyone thought it was a no-brainer. Then it became official and someone told me, “Well, that decision is a little controversial.” I couldn’t believe the word “controversy” was used. “People are actually talking about this?” Then I found out that some didn’t even have sixth graders, some didn’t have kids in the youth ministry! It reminded me of what Paul said, “Does the foot say to the hand, I don’t like the kind of gloves you are wearing?” (I didn’t say which Paul). So much of it didn’t make sense to me.

I’ll tell you this though – I remember it felt personal.  But I’ll get back to this later.

This series is going to have a couple parts but today, exploring the nature of controversy and our appropriate response to it. But today I want to reinforce the simple point that there will always be controversy. Always. And we should probably get better at dealing with it.

The logical question is why?  Well, in some sense we need them and in another sense, there’s money and power to be made.  Some controversies are legitimate. Some are created to keep you watching. Similarly, some only to get site clicks. Of course, these statements are subjective. But discussing/creating/manipulating controversy creates revenue, popularity and increases platform.  However, at its best moment, it also has the potential to lead to the truth (or a form of it).

We’re always going to have controversy and as Christians, I look forward to discussing how  we can add goodness to them.

What controversies are you following? Have you created any in your corner? Have you ever been in the middle of one, even a small one?  Feel free to add your thoughts and hope you tune in to the next post.

Reflecting on Articles Discussing the Slowing of the Christian Media Industry

You probably heard by now – we are in tough economic times. This is affecting virtually everyone, including those that represent the prosperity gospel. Last week I read two articles about the terrible condition of Christian publishing and Christian music sales. There was this Newsweek article called Preacher Don’t Publish by Lisa Miller (love the title) and Music In Recession by Mark Geil on the Christian Music Today site. Who would have thought that those who peddle the idea of profitable materialistic gains for “spiritual investments” would also be affected? Jesus can give joy to the suffering, heal the sick, shine light into darkness but apparently He’s not recession-proof. If ever there was a time to use the supposed “prosperity gospel” as a form of evangelism, it would be now.

Am I glad that some Christian bookstores are closing and that several Christian magazines are out of print? Let me consult my Prayer of Jabez bobblehead.  Hmmm, I know I am supposed to say, “No it’s a terrible shame and it’s giving the devil more ground” but this is my blog and this month, I’d like to refrain from lying about trivial matters (yes, I know how that reads).  Yes, I am glad that the recession is affecting Christian media.  While I do not want all the Christian publishing houses and various businesses to close, I hope this causes a re-shaping of the industry.  To me, the idea of the Christian bookstore is a dinosaur.

Do I hope that these once sanctified from the ways of the world real-estate gets converted into, say, an Adult bookstore? Aside from the countless laughs I would enjoy from seeing the expressions of faces on Ladies Bible-study thumpers hopping out of church vans, my real answer is no, I’d rather see regular bookstores. I can hear one of those ladies saying, “There is no such thing as a regular bookstore. The merchandise will be set by the store owner and you won’t have as many Christian books as say, New Age books.” Well that will be true if  New Age readers frequent more than Christian readers.

Don’t get me wrong, I buy Christian stuff all the time. Like many, I listen to David Crowder Band and read Brian McLaren books. Like many, I do not listen to Casting Crowns (not that there’s anything weird about them) nor read Joel Osteen books (because there is something weird about him). I own all the Nooma videos and every time some sincere soul urges me to see Fireproof, it reminds that I have yet to see academy award nominated, Rachel Getting Married.

I like that I was able to buy Tony Jones’ New Christians from Barnes & Noble two days before Christmas (I’m sitting in a B&N right now and there’s one copy of New Christians currently on the shelf). It’s great that people buy Third Day albums at Target and I await the day when you can rent the in-production, Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz movie from Blockbuster. Christians should shop where everyone else shops – this is normal. One of the few bullets we’ve dodged as a Church is that we did not see the advent of the Christian grocery store. Though I have an imagination cultivated by years of watching the Simpsons, I’ll spare you what the inside of such a place might look like.

Sensitivity is not one of my gifts so take that as a warning but I was a little encouraged after I reading those articles.  The decline of the Christian publishing and music industries implies that the Christian bubble is leaking. My prayer is that Jesus would drive a spear through it so more in the Church will find themselves engaging throughout society.

Book Review of Who Goes There: A Cultural History of Heaven & Hell

 Book Review of Who Goes There: A Cultural History of Heaven & Hell by Rebecca Price Janney.

 The summary given by

  Princess Diana, John Ritter, Saddam Hussein, Mother Teresa, Chris Farley… Does it seem  reasonable to guess where each of these people ended up after they died? While it is  comforting to suppose that everyone who’s “good” goes to a better place when they die, and  everyone who’s “bad” doesn’t, on what is that hope based?

To adequately understand how these thoughts impact us today, Rebecca Price Janney goes back to the colonization and founding of the United States. From the Great Awakening to the American Revolution, through the tumultuous 19th century, all the way past two world wars, and a technological revolution, Who Goes There? pieces together a thoughtful narrative of American beliefs about the afterlife.

Who Will Like This Book – If you have an appreciation for history, specifically American, then you’ll probably like it.   For those who enjoy a decent popular read, the author gives solid summaries of significant cultural and spiritual moments and how they reflected people’s understanding of heaven and hell.  I found the historical parts to be a great review and it leads me to recommend this also for those who do not understand the summary of the last 100 years of Protestantism in the North American Church; it’s a nice book to read a few chapters of before headed to bed.

Most Beneficial Setting – This would make an EXCELLENT young adult Bible study/Sunday School-type for busy Relevant magazine reader types who read a handful of books a year.  The history would be very beneficial to those who have a fuzzy understanding of evangelical history and crave a better one.  It’s a religious history book written on a popular level.   However, I do no think that it will lead to provocative discussions after the second week or so.  Perhaps best used with a teacher with a solid grasp of history and theology.  

Who Won’t (or might not) – I just don’t think it’s for those who are really into the spiritual memoir books (Blue Like Jazz, Girl Meets God, etc.), I am not sure I see that person connecting with it.  I’m not saying that if you liked Blue that you won’t like Who Goes There? but I’m just saying it’s a different genre of book.  I guess I say that because it’s classic, “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  The cover is well-marketed and the book looks “fun”.  While it’s easy to read, short chapters, and a nice big font, it’s not a memoir.  Also, it’s not going to appeal to seminary students, academic types and anyone who likes to read Hauerwas, Wright, and Willard.  It’s just not written to appeal in that regard.

What I Found Difficult –  I didn’t find the concepts to be difficult and I don’t think anyone will be annoyed by the writing style.  My glitch was as the book continued, I found myself wanting more.   At first, it was hard to put my finger on it but I wanted a deeper analysis of the cultural mindset of heaven and hell.  I wanted to see more of the academic climate, the perspective of the pew-sitter, the debate, the tension, and the solutions that helped and failed.

What I Loved – Rebecca received her doctorate from Biblical Seminary and did graduate work at Princeton.  She knows history and was wise enough to focus on selective moments to build short chapters around.  I can only imagine the text before editing was 30 times the final edit.  Really enjoyed Chapter 12 that outlined the tension between liberalism and conservatism, the rise of fundamentalism that led to the genesis of evangelicalism.  As a frustrated post-evangelical, seeing a bit of the pre-evangelical mindset was helpful.  

Reflecting on EDC Dave Kinnaman's Presentation – Notes and Thoughts – Post 4

Last week I had posted a little from the Eastern District Conference.  Here are some of my notes from Dave’s presentation.  I encourage to get a copy.  Admittedly the research gets kinda heavy.  Dave apparently knew that and perhaps this is the reason he concludes each chapter with a vignette that illustrates the point.  But this is content that we as church leaders, vocational and lay, should not only have accessible but be working on understanding.  As in, answering how did we get here?

Impressions non-Christians between the ages of 16-29 have of Christians:

  • Judgmental – 87%
  • anti-homosexual – 91% 
  • hypocritical – 80%
  • too political 75%
  • sheltered – 78%
  • proselytizers – 70%

– This is our brand image in the market place

– What I am not suggesting is that we take a poll and roll out a religion that people want.  

– we know that we will be persecuted for our faith.

– Indeed we need to address sin.

  •  What young Christians and non-Christians said

– present day Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended

– it’s a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy (loved that part)

– This is the primary conception that people have. 

  • Some see the Church as “ASSAULT” and “LITE” as opposed to “Salt” and “Light” 
  • America may be a missions field but it’s actually a field of different missions
  • Opportunities in the Post Christian Culture

– opportunity to change the culture war backlash (and the political backlash often associated)

– we can say this is what true discipleship looks like.

– social justice opportunities.  Many younger generations are  

   very interested in serving.  

  • A Healthier global awareness of leadership
  • Confront our Hyper Individualism
  • Pluralistic Culture 

 work alongside people of other faiths to help our cities

     – Desire for transparency 

– project-focused churches

– our agenda becomes (not to get you on our campus) but how can we benefit/serve the community.

     – Search for Purpose

– empowering students to pursue their vocations

Spiritual entrepreneurs

   – Chuck Colson – agent of God’s common grace …

   – Mike Foster – porn talk

   – Junky Car Club – living with less so others can have more

   – Catherine Rohr – coaches prisoners to develop business plans

   – Most prisoners are the best entrepreneurs just bad guidance

   – Jamie Twarkowski – to write love on her arms

   – Tim McMahaon – started a Mormon blog

   – to talk about Mormonism, beliefs, non-beliefs, etc.

   – Common Good – Rescuers – Conversational –  Imago Dei

– It’s as much a problem to confront our self-righteousness as it is to confront unrighteous.  

– Perhaps our greatest problem is due to how our superficiality has shaped us as the Church.

* I take my share of responsibility in all of this.  My heart is grieved by some of my words, actions, attitudes, etc.  And these are just the things that I know about.  Indeed I have repented (and still in the process of in certain aspects) of these moments but I regret the damage I’ve caused to the Church/Body/Christ’s followers.  

I know many were touched by the scene in Blue Like Jazz when Don and his friends set up a reverse confession booth.  When someone entered, they as Christians apologized for, in short, not living up to the calling the Church has received.  There have been many moments prior to and since that have had a similar spirit.  I mention this, not because I think this is reverse confession booth idea is a strategy that needs to be immediately employed, but rather to give an easy example of Christians taking responsibility.  

It’s sentences like you just read that get me in trouble.  But I cannot delete it or edit further but here is a disclaimer.  I am not stating that all the world’s problems are exclusively due to the Church’s failure(s).  That would be among our most arrogant assumptions.  We simply do not have the power to do that.  Again, where we are failing is in not living up to our calling and failing to live the Gospel and being faithful disciples making the most of the opportunities given before us.

Certainly, the Church has taken the initiative on many great things and God has used us in many beautiful ways and at times, in spite of ourselves.  We have the potential to do so much more, if we would allow the Lord to be at work in us.  Unfortunately, it will be difficult and it will hurt.  But thankfully, it will glorify the Lord and build the Kingdom.

Reflecting on our young adult group and the Suburban Christian


One day I will share this blog with people.  Some of the people will be those that I am writing about.  Well today I am thinking about our young adult group.  Truth be told, it’s a pretty good group.  I really enjoy being with them and think it’s one of the better aspects of our church. 

Generally we meet the first three Sunday nights of the month and our strategy has been where book groups meet small groups.  So we use books to spring board conversation.  We’ve used Don Miller’s, Blue Like Jazz, Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis and now we are reading the Suburban Christian.  This last book has been the toughest for some because there’s a bit of sociology in it and the first two chapters are not as sexy as say Blue … or Velvet …  Maybe I am missing the boat here, but I don’t think so.  It’s a good book.  And it shouldn’t be compared to aforementioned books because they are each written for different reasons. 

I find myself a little frustrated with this.  I keep trying to read it with new eyes, trying to forget that I have already determined that I have found value in it and I know I can be stubborn but I don’t think this book deserves the criticism that some in our group are giving it. 

If we were reading Dallas Willard’s great book, The Divine Conspiracy, and everyone was complaining about how hard it was, then I’d probably say, “Ok, maybe we reached too far this time …”.  I’ve had well-intentioned, intelligent people not appreciate Willard’s greatness.  That’s ok, they don’t need to go to heaven.  Sorry, I meant to say, maybe they’re not ready to read it.

But Suburban Christian contains so many conversations that we should be talking about.  Where we live, where we work and shop, how we spend our money, how we identify ourselves, social justice aspects, and the list goes on.   Just rambling about this online gets me going on it. 

Well, I guess I am trying to figure if/when to pull the plug.  Maybe we’re throwing pearls to the swine.  Maybe we should read something easier, like anything not about God – maybe the something from Tim LaHaye or Larry Jenkins. 

Don Miller Interview on Shine FM

Don talks about his new book and about Blue Like Jazz … the movie.