“I can’t do it. It would be like, say, trying to fall in love with somebody, or trying to convince yourself that your favorite food is pancakes. You don’t decide those things, they just happen to you. If God is real, He needs to happen to me.” -Donald Miller
“It is no coincidence that Jesus talks endlessly about love. Free love. Unconditional love.” -Donald Miller
Some people have asked me if I have a hard time being a Christian and a liberal, and I tell them honestly– not really. But that wasn’t always the case.
Many years ago, I had a very hard time balancing the two. The thing is– there are things that I believe in very strongly, and I guess I would call them ideals. Such as equal rights for homosexuals, the right of a woman to govern her own body, that everyone is entitled to free health care, etc. In fact, there was a point in my life where it would have been easier to talk me out of believing in God then it would have been to convince me that homosexuality was wrong.
But I felt like that made me a bad Christian, and a bad liberal. So I started trying to hang out with a lot of conservative people, thinking that would make it easier for me to change my mind. But it didn’t– in fact– it made me want to not be a Christian anymore. And that was hard for me– such that I ended up closeting my Christianity.
These days, I don’t have that problem, and I will now shamelessly plug one of the sources that helped me realize that there was no disconnect between my faith and my ideals: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.
“I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.”
Blue Like Jazz is a memoir that Donald Miller wrote about his life. He was having some of the same problems I was having– I would see the faith, the relationship that fundamental Christians had, and I wanted that. I wanted it badly. But then I would hear some of the things they were saying– and I would be so depressed. I knew that I could never be pro-life. I knew that I could never vote against legalizing gay marriage. I knew that I could never be against stem-cell research.
“I do not believe a person can take two issues from Scripture, those being abortion and gay marriage, and adhere to them as sins, then neglect much of the rest and call himself a fundamentalist or even a conservative. The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, and neglects health care, world trade, the environment and loving his neighbor and feeding the poor is, by definition, a theological liberal, because he takes what he wants from Scripture and ignores the rest.”
“…I wonder what it sounded like to God when Jerry Falwell went on television and said the reason the twin towers were hit by those planes was because there were homosexuals in the building. I wonder what kind of an annoying squeak that was in God’s ear.”
Don’t get me wrong– it’s not that I necessarily think that the right-wing is full of crazy, hate filled people. In fact, I tend to enjoy there being a spectrum of beliefs, including the extremes on both ends, because usually that means that moderation wins out. But what I knew for myself is that I couldn’t be like that.
Donald Miller was having some of the same struggles– trying to find a way to fit into the fundamental Christian mainstream while still holding true to his ideals.
After reading his book, I had a realization that was beautiful– and I honestly think that if more people had this realization, there would be a lot less people who hate Christians and Christianity– just because Jerry Falwell says that GOD says something, doesn’t mean that God said it. Just because a lot of Christians think that watching South Park is like communing with the devil, doesn’t mean that God feels that way. Just because some Christians think that women should be submissive to their husbands doesn’t mean that that is what God is saying.
I’m not trying to start a firestorm here. I know that we could all quote Scripture at each other all day long. What I am saying is that I was able to get to the idea that I don’t have to accept what other people say GOD SAYS just because they say it. It’s my job, it’s on my shoulders, to find out and decipher what I think God is trying to say to me, and what he wants me to do with the instructions that he has left for me.
I know, I know. Just wait, I haven’t even gotten to the part where a shrub in my front yard burst into flame and started talking to me. In Aramaic.
“Dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe.”
After reading some of his work, I started feeling more comfortable getting into the Bible on my own, and trying to figure things out for myself. It started to be easier for me to have friends that come from all different kinds of faith, or lack thereof, and not feel like I needed to be campaigning for or against anything. I became comfortable saying that yes, I am a Christian, and yes, I typically vote Democrat.
Eventually, I was able to say this: the reason I believe in universal health care, gay rights, and giving to the poor is because that’s what I learned from Jesus. The Jesus that I know would leave his entire flock in order to look for the one lost sheep. The Jesus that I know turned to a condemned criminal as they both lay dying and said, “Surely– today you will be with me in the kingdom of Heaven.” The Jesus that I know told us, “Hey man, FRANKIE SAY RELAX. It’s no your job to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, YOUR job is to sort out your own salvation, and try to help people along the way.” The Jesus that I know said to love each other– to love and love and love and love each other. And then I stopped feeling bad about being a liberal– because I think that Jesus was kind of a liberal, what with all the free love and giving away your possessions and all, and I also stopped feeling bad about being a Christian. Because when you look at your God as the author of infinite love, compassion, and good will (rather than the author of confusion, judgmentalism, and hatred), how can you be embarrassed about that?
A few years later, and some guys wanted to make a movie out of Blue Like Jazz. So they wrote a script and got a cast together (and Donald Miller wrote a book about the experience, called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which is also very good) and they were set to start filming this month. Then… an investor pulled, and they didn’t have the funding. So Donald Miller posted on his blog that production was postponed indefinitely.
So another bunch of guys got together and organized a fundraiser on Kickstarter, a website that funds art projects. In just SIX DAYS they raised the money that was needed to begin production. That’s how badly people want this movie to be made.
Anyway– they are now trying to raise enough money to make Blue Like Jazz the biggest fan-funded movie of all time, and they are pretty close to their goal, which is just over $200,000.
Usually I would never post something like this– if the movie is terrible I’ll lose all my street cred.
BUT– if anything I said here resonated with you– I would really urge you to go out and get the book. It seriously changed my life– I’ve lent copies out to several people who then lent it out to other people, and it has changed everyone I know who has ever read it.
And if you’re mostly just interested in me not talking about my faith anymore because it gives you the heebie jeebies….. sorry! 🙂 Next post, I swear, it will be all saggy uteruses and sore nipples, I promise.