Donald Miller delivers an adventure through topics of humanity and Christian spirituality in encounters primarily based in Portland, Oregon and around Reed College. The tangible essays look at challenging ideals, lessons in maturity and the search for that esoteric “other” through Donald Miller’s journey.
The pages are filled with non-traditional or “outsider” characters; his friends, whom he crafts passionate depictions of compassionate hearts and complex perspectives. He details several experiences of difficulty fitting in to social groups, church groups and generally feeling comfortable in his skin while pondering religious subjects. There are vignettes that discuss Donald’s feelings of outsider-ship with Christian church folk and his family members. In contrast to outsider theme there are several scenes of love, caring and acceptance that defy the Christian archetype. He details people from varied backgrounds, political alignments and social situations and how their experience can inform better relationships with all people.
Donald’s experiences develop a bridge or understanding and love that follow Christian spirituality, but were personified by non-Christians. Blue Like Jazz poses several ethical, theological and sociological questions that are not easily answered, but does so in an inviting and comforting manner. Donald Miller provides the groundwork for dialogue and understanding so that all people may feel valued and accepted. Ultimately the various characters and stories of different experiences inform the transitory nature of human and the need for friendship and community. The main theme I derive from reading Blue Like Jazz is that caring for the proverbial “neighbor” by loving and accepting each person is where numinous experience or God are found.
I recommend this book (and/or movie) to anyone interested in religious discussion, one that feels like an outsider, one that is seeking connection or one feeling lost in the universe. (After reading those “descriptions” while proofing the review, they sound a bit depressing.) The book is uplifting and fulfilling in the complex details a personal maturation through the exploration of Christian spirituality.
Side Note: The book was recommended to by my wife, who received it as a gift from our friend “Wireless” Mike, whom we also gifted the book. The dual gift giving was complete happenstance and we all purchased the book at different book stores – Barnes & Noble and Vintage Books.
P.S. The film version of Blue Like Jazz is a traditional linear narrative that lends a chronological visual to the stories in the book.