Friday, October 06, 2006

Blue Like Jazz

I recently finished Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz, and I have to admit it made me cry. Well, almost. My eyes welled up a little. But that's about the closest I've been to crying in the last 5 years, so that's saying a lot. (I’m convinced that’s some how very emotionally unhealthy, but who’s to say?)

The thing is, Miller's book has one of the most moving elements in it: convincing evidence that our faith still moves people. I feel dumb saying that, because obviously, I profess faith in God because I believe that statement to be true. Still, there’s infinite value in being reminded.

What really floored me was Miller’s account of the "confession booth" at Reed College. On the date of an annual celebration of drugs, drinking, and sin at the secular college, Miller and his small band of Christians decided to do something that points to Jesus. They set up a confession booth on the green; only they didn't ask the hardened agnostic & atheist intellectuals on campus to confess their sins. Instead, they decided to confess their own, as well the sins of others who have done wrong in the name of Christ.

They apologized for the crusades, and for their personal failure to live up to Christ's calling. As a result, they brought tears to the eyes of a lot of wounded students who secretly longed for faith even though their social structure did not allow for it. I've known people who feel that only evil comes from religion. That sounds alien to many Christians, who often have only good associations with it because of a faithful family member or what-have-you. Devoid of these holy examples, many non-religious people have a deep-seeded fear of God, religion, and religious people ingrained in them from a young age.

When I read stories of Christ's power melting these hearts, I know that whatever I'm doing is lacking at best, wrong at worst. I'm reminded of the times when God has reached down from heaven to hold me up, and I realize all over again that it's the power of God that matters. That's one thing that's so frustrating about anti-emotional intellectualism, anti-intellectual emotionalism, and the church's glorification of it in Western culture. Where’s the sprirituality?

I've been smart, and I've had schooling, and I can safely, solidly say that intelligence means jack squat. For the longest time, I thought that when people ask a question, the goal was to have an answer. Jesus would have an answer, I would think. But that's often not the case. Sure, he knew the answers to a lot of questions, but often he answered with other questions, or with convicting remarks. He didn’t just say the right answers; instead he waited for the Father’s leading. An interesting concept, to be sure.

For instance, in another really moving section of Blue Like Jazz, Miller talks about being on a radio talk show that has a distinct atheistic slant. The host asked him to defend Christianity. There are hundreds of ways to defend the faith, but that's not the route that Miller took. Instead, he said he wouldn't defend the term. He said that the word had negative connotations to a lot of people, and he wouldn't reinforce those by making statements about Christianity. Instead, he said that he would rather talk about how he came to believe in Jesus. The host was deeply moved and later confessed that "he didn't like Christianity but always wanted to believe Jesus was the Son of God." I think there are a lot of people like that, just waiting for us to really love them enough to be willing to say the right things.

But it's never about the logical answer. Having the theologically correct answer proves nothing but that there's a way, though faith, to have cohesive beliefs. This is not extraordinary. Everyone uses faith to make their beliefs cohesive. There is a whole faith surrounding UFOs and the conspiracy theories that bear witness to them. It’s completely cohesive, because people have thought of a million ways for it to make perfect sense. But these answers will only hide the deep hurt these people feel inside. Similarly, intellectual answers about the death and resurrection of our Lord will only mask the wonder of his grace.

But the emotional answer will also always get in the way. I’ve been a compassionate person at times, but bleeding-heart sympathy does nothing for people either. My brother cares deeply for a lot of people, but like me, was cursed with foot-in-mouth disease. As such, he has a terrible way of expressing that compassion, and it often comes out as frustration and anger. Love runs deeper than these emotions. Somehow, it lies in the spiritual, and it somehow has been known to allow normal men to say extraordinary, heavenly things.

This spirituality is something that I’m convinced I’m completely ignorant of. If the Lord is willing, I hope I’ll learn what it means someday, because it’s the only thing worth believing in anymore.

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