I interviewed Don Miller last week. I’ve spent a couple days with co-writer and director Steve Taylor. I watched Blue Like Jazz twice at screenings I helped arrange. I’ve written elsewhere about the film. But I’ve been stewing on a question…
When I was talking to Don about the film, he referred to “people who live between faith and doubt, between the Church and the world.” Then somebody I work with sent me a question about the film. Christianity Today published a mixed review. I think the main critique was that the film never quite got to the point of a “Christian movie.” It didn’t provide a bulleted outline of what you should believe, that there was too much on people’s experience and not enough on doctrines. There will be no invitation to accept Jesus into your heart in the theater. “What do you think of that?” my coworker asked.
This is a piece of art. And art does not do a good job of prescribing. When Christians (or anybody) try to make art prescriptive, it trips into sentimentality and cliché. And that is not good art.
What art does do, however, is open up spaces for conversation. Art provokes something in us. Art challenges us. Art invites thought and a response. This is true of the audience of this film. And in talking to Don, this was also true of the team that made this film, that there was a mix of people and perspectives on the project, with lots of conversation and relationships flowing out of the script and the production.
Blue Like Jazz doesn’t offer clear, easy answers. But I think it resonates with the experience of a lot of people have had with the Church in the past twenty years, both as insiders and outsiders. It shows us the tension, the angst, the hypocrisy, the back-and-forth of faith and lack of faith.
So, you shouldn’t see Blue Like Jazz if:
- You want easy answers.
- You can’t consider the possibility of shortcomings in yourself, whether Christian or not.
- You have a hard time laughing.
- You want Christianity to be locked away in its own subculture.
Why are you planning on seeing Blue Like Jazz? (Or not?)
There’s a good chance you’ve read Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (Thomas Nelson, 2003). Don Miller’s sold over a million of ‘em.
But he and Steve Taylor have adapted it to be a film, and it’s coming out in the spring, on April 13, 2012. Steve (and a swell guy named Dave Palmer who runs Dunk Tank Marketing) came to Madison a couple weeks ago and let some of us at InterVarsity screen the rough cut of the film.
Let’s be honest here, a lot of stuff produced by Christians is either indistinguishable in quality or content from anything else or ham-handed efforts to proselytize make it painful to watch (especially if you’re a thoughtful follower of Jesus).
But Blue Like Jazz comes through:
- It’s funny (a major victory for adherents to a faith that is plagued by its adherents).
- They don’t assume the audience is stupid.
- It doesn’t shy away from issues (or the language) of college students.
- There is a bear suit, a robot protest, tall bikes, and puppets.
- It’s genuine and believable, even with a sort of modern day fairy tale feel.
- The music is great.
- It raises questions without easy answers.
And that’s the real strength of Blue Like Jazz. Yes, it’s a good film on it’s own merit. But in the film, Miller and Taylor have made some space for honest conversations about what my friends believe, the crazy stuff Jesus said, and how the Christians often are way off in left field (and not in a good way).
So reread the book, maybe give it to someone for Christmas, and get ready.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Here’s a fun presentation I did for 80 InterVarsity staff members at our recent staff conference. Caution: it’s not your normal corporate PowerPoint.
In moving into work with a big, high quality organization, I have to face some of my insufficiencies and idiosyncrasies. But I also have to face those of a big, high quality organization. One colleague recently commented about a project, “We’re not working with concrete here.”
So true! A lot of what we do could be more efficient and fun if we just remembered this. Do it, don’t overthink it, review it later, and fix in then if need be.
Yep, from work to a tent, s’mores, and the fam and then back to work in the morning. Fun.
…and join in His beautiful and epic story.
Wonderful poetry from a video for Passion ’11 at http://vergeministries.blogspot.com/2010/08/west-coast-tour-day-18-looking-ahead-to.html.