book banter: Blue Like Jazz

image Blue Like Jazz

Donald Miller 


I finished reading Blue Like Jazz last Sunday evening, and I’m pleased to say I loved it. I’d heard some pretty interesting criticism of this book (sorry, Don, if you’re reading this) that made me a little nervous. But the things I heard also made me excited to read it. People were talking about the controversial ideas, or about the author and his “strange” beliefs. Me? I’ve struggled with “Christianity” as a religion all my life. That’s not to say I haven’t been a Christian for years—I have. It’s not the faith I’ve toiled with, it’s the religion. So when I saw the subtitle of this book, “Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” I was immediately intrigued. This sounded fresh to me. I didn’t recognize any of the names on the back of the book singing Donald’s praises, nor did I understand the title. I didn’t get the cover imagery. And I wasn’t sure what these “nonreligious thoughts” would turn out to be. But something about it, about the things I’d heard and what I felt in that subtitle made me want to read it. So I did.

I was right—the perspective in Blue Like Jazz is fresh. It feels raw. It feels honest. It feels like all those questions you’ve always wanted to ask but were always afraid to, because you knew your parents or your pastor would question you questioning your religion. It feels like all those times when you were frustrated that you didn’t understand God or the way this world works. It feels like somebody looking at you in the eye and telling you that you aren’t the only one who has these thoughts.

Here are the three most important takeaways I got from this book:

1) I am worth loving, and I know this because Jesus loves me. I have believed in Jesus for years. I accepted a long time ago that He is God’s son, that He died on the cross for all sinners, and that I believe in Him. I asked Him years ago to come into my heart and save me, and He did. But it wasn’t until Sunday night, after finishing this book, when I went to pray and think on the things I’d just read, that God revealed to me that I am worth loving. No matter what mean things I might say or think, no matter what terrible things I might do, I am still worth loving, and Jesus is proof of this. I felt so relieved and joyful when I realized this.

2) Christianity’s history is pretty ugly, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. In Blue Like Jazz, Donald writes about how he and his fellow students set up a “confession booth” on their college campus, not to take confessions from others, but to apologize for all the wrongs that Christians have done to humanity, from the violence of the Crusaders to their own lack of caring and loving of their fellow students. I’ve always felt defensive in the past when someone would address the evils in Christianity’s past, and even in its present. But it never occurred to me to face these problems and let people know that Christianity isn’t and never will be perfect. After all, this is why we need Jesus in the first place.

3) It is not my responsibility to change people, just to love them unconditionally. I felt so free when I realized this (and it sounds like Don did, too). God has taken the responsibility of changing people off of my plate! I don’t know why I ever thought it was mine to begin with. I’m such a judgmental person. I get it from my father. I’ve always grappled with it and, frankly, never liked it about myself! I want to be someone who can have her opinions without judging people who don’t share them. Instead, I will just love people, and leave the changing up to God.

I realize not everyone who reads Blue Like Jazz will have the same revelations I’ve had. I realize that many people probably already had all this together. But reading a book that is honest and that addresses Christian issues is refreshing and empowering. Many thanks to Donald Miller for his candidness, and to God for dropping this book in my lap. It has changed me.

inspire me Monday: real wealth

Wealth consists not in having great possessions,

but in having few wants.

Esther de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict


My husband and I had a discussion last Wednesday about what we would do if we were ever to win the lottery. We were on our way home from a nice dinner out and saw a billboard for the Powerball which got our imaginations rolling. The chances of us winning the lottery are quite slim, especially considering we don’t even play it, but we thought it would be fun to daydream about it.

Of course we decided we would get rid of our student loans first, and probably the loans of our friends and family, too. Then we would design and build our dream home from scratch, and probably do the same for our parents. We’d put a great deal of money into savings, we’d give a great deal to charity, and we’d buy lots of video games.

But the longer we talked about our impossible plans for our impossible lottery winnings, the more I realized that I was bordering on want. I realized that day in the car as we were discussing that there is a fine line between daydreaming and want.

I’ve always had an issue with envy—it’s something I struggle with. I pray very frequently that God would help me have a sense of contentment with what I have, and that He would also show me daily the blessings that are around me that I so frequently miss.

As soon as I began to feel negative emotions about not having this lottery money, I let the discussion trail off. It had become unconstructive—no—deconstructive. It’s okay to daydream, but it isn’t okay to dwell on things you don’t have.

What do you do to stay content with the blessings in your life? How do you stay on the daydreaming side of the line?


I know it’s a little early to even have thoughts of New Year’s resolutions, but something about tidying up after Christmas—putting the gifts away, throwing out all the crumpled wrapping paper, and doing all those dishes—makes me want to jump start the new me…or, the chance at a new me, anyway.

j0309664I’ve not really been serious about blogging before. I’ve always wanted to do it consistently but I’ve had two fears: 1) that I would neglect my daily journal, which I don’t want to ever give up and 2) that I wouldn’t find time to keep blogging and that I would quit and feel like a failure.

But I’ve realized that 1) I don’t have to give up my journal to blog. There are many things I would write in my journal that I would never post to the internet—and vice versa. And 2) being afraid of failure has stopped me many times in the past from doing things and I’ve got to get rid of that habit.

The beginnings of this blog will be based on this time of New Year’s, a time when so many people set new goals for themselves. They feel as though the slate has been wiped clean come January 1 and now they can actually do all those things they’ve been promising themselves they’d do for months now.

I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always been of the persuasion that there is no time like the present, and it’s silly to wait until January 1 to start exercising, quit smoking, write a novel, be a nicer person, or whatever the goal might be. If you realize there’s something you need to change in life, just change it. Stop waiting for January 1, or next Monday, or even tomorrow. Time isn’t going to wait on you.

This time last year I decided I would do something about changing myself and becoming a better person, despite my opinions about the “new year” being the time for it. But I had many things I wanted to accomplish this past year, like volunteering more, like finding a home church, like being more positive, like checking up on my Grandma more often. I didn’t feel like the massive list of goals could be tackled without a plan, and I’m a girl who loves a plan.

So I made what I call a “Weekly Goal Planner.” I made a giant calendar in Excel that shows every week of the year. I numbered each of those weeks, and I put one goal on every week. It’s easier to train yourself to pray every day or be a better listener if you give yourself an entire week to focus on that one goal. I found that by giving myself that entire week, things became much more habitual and I didn’t have to think about them as much (if anyone wants to see the Goal Planner, just let me know and I’ll post it). In the middle of the week, if I thought of something I’d like to do, like workout more frequently, instead of beating myself up about not doing it now, I assigned that goal to a week in the future and let myself forget about it for the time being.

Growth and change are just as difficult as they are important, so I found by breaking up my little goals, they were much more attainable and as a result of achieving them, I gained more confidence in myself. It’s a lovely little cycle.

I’ve already made my 2010 Weekly Goal Planner. Of course it isn’t completely filled out but, as the year progresses, I’ll think of more things to fill in the blanks. But it occurred to me today that there are some big goals, some long-term goals, that I want to accomplish, and I don’t think they can be contained on a weekly basis.

Since I’ve always wanted to blog, I’m going to do it. And since I’m going to do it, I’m going to use this blog for accountability. Every Sunday, I’m going to post a resolution update—I’m going to re-list my resolutions and give the world a status update on each one. This is the one thing I’ve never tried, and I’m a little scared to (there’s that fear of failing again), but I’m going to do it.

Here is my list:

1) I will write more. Whether in my journal, whether snippets of poetry, or whether I somehow start writing fiction again, I am going to write. I love writing—I’m just lazy. Playing video games is easier than writing. Doing the dishes is easier. I can come up with a million excuses and things to do instead of writing, but I’m not going to anymore. I am going to write.

2) I will read more. This year, I’ve read only 8 books (one of which I finished reading today). The year isn’t over, and there is at least one more book, possibly two, that I hope to finish by 2010, but my unspoken goal has always been at least 12 books per year. Now the goal is spoken. I will read at least 12 books in 2010.

3) I will honor the Sabbath. For me, that’s going to be Sunday. I realize there’s a lot of cross-denominational debate about what day of the week constitutes “the Sabbath,” but honestly, I don’t think that God’s going to be pointing fingers on judgment day saying, “Shame on you for honoring my day of rest on the wrong day of the week.” Seriously? Some cultures don’t even have days of the week. It’s all semantics. Anyway, I’m going to obey that commandment. All the others are obvious and easy (don’t steal, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t murder, etc.) but for some reason, I’ve always neglected this one. I’m not sure what exactly this will mean, but I am going to honor the Sabbath.

4) I will find a home church. This was actually one of my goals this past year, and I failed. I certainly did try, but I could’ve done a much better job. I’m not going to let my discouragement keep me from continuing the hunt. I’m not a “churchy” girl, but I know I need a church family. God has a place for me, despite my pickiness, and I’m going to find a home church.

5) I will take better care of my body. I realize this is a loose goal. I don’t want to say, “I will work out X days a week” or “I will lose X pounds” or “I will eat more vegetables.” There was a time in my life, during college, when I was routinely working out, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep. I never quantified those things, but as soon as I was “healthy” I knew it. It’s physical and mental. When I’m finally taking care of myself again, I’ll know that I’m doing it right. At the moment, I’m not. I feel sluggish and disappointed in myself. I will take better care of my body.

6) I will be more loving. This isn’t to say that I don’t love people. I love my husband and do my best to take care of him. I love my parents and call to check on them frequently. I love my friends, my family, even strangers! But I’m talking about a conscious and quantifiable love. Conscious in that I want to do what’s best for others before I do what’s best for myself. I want to help others with the right spirit. I want to do my husband’s laundry without thinking the entire time about how it would be nice if he would help me more around the house. I want to check those proofreader marks for my coworker without thinking that I’m above the task and that they could do it themselves. And I want to shower people in love rather than judgment. That will be the hardest part for me, because I’m very judgmental. But I want to be more loving, with a pure heart, and I will.

All of these things require time, but mostly they just require time management. I’ve got to be smarter about managing my time so I can stay committed to the goals that are important to me.

Besides resolution updates, I hope to use this blog for other things, things I’ve always wanted to blog about but never have! I think the resolution updates are going to keep me coming  back to the blog, and the rest of the posts (crafts, recipes, book reviews, etc.) will keep others coming back.

Happy 2010 everyone—may it be full of blessings!