Here’s one from the archives, inspired by a reader review in the Woman Alive Facebook group. It’s my review in Woman Alive (from 2006!) of a book by a then relatively unknown author. I used to feature a book one month – complete with discussion questions – and then follow it up a few months later with my review and those of some readers. (Thanks to Woman Alive editor Jackie Harris for suggesting changes to the format… what we have now is superior!)
I’ve always liked Don Miller’s writing; back in 2000 I acquired the UK/Commonwealth rights to one of his first, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, for HarperCollins UK.
In many ways Donald Miller is a typical American bloke. He’s a guy who is looking for love and God in the strains of everyday life. But he’s nontypical in that he shares his thoughts and experiences in his Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. He’s been called “Anne Lamott with testosterone.”
The book is a series of linked essays on a variety of topics – from faith, redemption, and grace through to television, romance, money, and worship – that are sometimes quirky, sometimes humorous, sometimes introspective but often insightful. Of the title Miller says, “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself … I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.”
Join me in exploring life through the lens of Don Miller. Here are some discussion questions for you to ponder or share with your group.
- What did you think of the book overall? Did it appeal to you? Why or why not?
- What stood out as you read? Were there images or ideas that lingered with you?
- What do you think about Don’s view that “the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather to have us wasting time” (p. 13)?
- Chapter 2 is all about problems, and basically about original sin – “that we are flawed, that there is something in us that is broken” (p. 17). Do you agree that the problems of the world boil down to “the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest” (p. 20)?
- More on the devil: “I think the devil has tricked us into thinking so much of biblical theology is story fit for kids’ (p. 30). Have you ever thought about Noah’s ark not being appropriate for children because of its themes of judgment?
- Chapter 7 focuses on grace and “the beggar’s kingdom.” Don says how he “could not understand why some people have no trouble accepting the grace of God while others experience immense difficulty” (p. 83). He was one who had trouble. Do you? If so, why? Or why not?
- Discuss Don’s description of the Grand Canyon at night: “There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. (They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.)” p. 100.
- Don realized that “believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is like making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon” p. 104. Do you agree or disagree?
- Discuss a simple truth about relationships: “Nobody will listen to you unless they sense that you like them” (p. 220).
I loved one of Don Miller’s books in the past, and when I started reading Blue Like Jazz I couldn’t put it down. Several weeks later I read the book in full, but by the time I was done my interest had waned. While there are instances of brilliance – I loved the thought of seeing the lines on Jesus’ face, for instance – there seems to be a lot of navel gazing too. I started to get a bit annoyed with what seems like Don’s preoccupation with himself. An editor could have cut a third of these meanderings and made a fabulous book.
Still, there were memorable flashes of light. My heart warmed to hear of Penny’s conversion, as she was loved into the kingdom of God by Nadine. And I could certainly relate to Don’s experience of community life. As I read of his experiences in Graceland, my ten years of living with roommates in Washington, DC, came back with stark clarity. As with Don, living with others was a way for God to highlight my issues of selfishness and pride. It wasn’t always fun, but it was fruitful.
Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller, Nelson, ISBN 0785263705, 242 pages