Hello people. Eugene Cho the Reviewer is back. You hated my last review of Mark Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage, so I’m trying again with my endeavors to be a world class reviewer and thus, I am writing a review for the movie, Blue Like Jazz, based on Donald Miller‘s book…Blue Like Jazz. Love how those matching titles work.
Let me first say that I have yet to see the film but since we’re living in a day and age where people are inclined to write reviews about books they have yet to read, I say what the heck. As much as I want to say I’ll see the film very soon, I can’t make any promises. Why? I haven’t been to a movie theater in several years. I honestly think that the last movie I saw a movie in the theaters was The Lord of the Rings. Ages ago.
To my defense, I have read the book although it took me several months because my bad reading habit is to pick up at least a dozen books to read at the same time. To Donald’s credit, I mostly read dead people so it’s not to say that I want him to have a short life, it caught my attention enough to pick it up even though I know (and hope) he’s very healthy and in the middle of a long life.
Let me also say that I quasi-know Don Miller. Not super well by any means but we’ve exchanged tweets here and there and we actually had an intimate dinner together – along with 30 other people in Chicago. But we sat next to each other but both of us sat across Dr. John Perkins and let’s be honest, neither of us cared about sitting next to each other because we were sitting across Dr. Perkins and we were both ga-ga for Dr. Perkins. And if you’re wondering, we had Chicago pizza which was good but nothing compared to the nuggets of wisdom Dr. Perkins was dropping all night long.
So, I’ve got a few thoughts to share – not necessarily specifically about this film (since I haven’t seen the film) but just the general vibe of the film (and the various conversations I hear over the interwebs) and the general intersection between the spiritual and secular – if there is even such a distinction.
Here goes some random thoughts about what Blue Like Jazz teaches us about creating a better story:
First, two thumbs up:
In honor of the greatest movies critics the world has ever known (that would be Siskel & Ebert for you young folks), I am giving “two thumbs up” to this film just as I gave two thumbs up Rob Bell about his news of going Hollywood to help create a new TV show on ABC called Stronger.
Why? Because creating art, taking chances, stirring conversations…are all lost art. And it ought to be commended.
Knowing the Context of the Book
The criticism I’ve heard of the book (mostly and by default, the film, presumably) is that it’s not a very robust theological book. That would be an incredibly fair and pointed critique…if the book was meant to be a theological book or an offering under ‘biblical studies’. But, it’s not…it’s a novel in semi-quasi-autobiographical narrative form. I’m not saying it’s a devilish book but it’s not a theological book a la Calvin’s Institutes.
Context and intent are pretty apropos.
In doing an interview with a reporter several weeks ago for an article that was posted in various places including the Washington Post, I explained why I “liked” the book. It not only dealt with the “what” of the content but “how” the content was conveyed:
Eugene Cho, 41, the lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, understands the appeal.
“Even if you might not agree with everything, there’s something about how the author, Donald Miller, is really welcoming people into conversation and thought that really appeals to people,” he said.
Miller hopes the movie has similar impact as the book, showing people they aren’t alone in difficult spiritual struggles.
“There are other people who deal with these things: the space between the church and the world, the pulls from either side,” he said. “Not just the church and the world, between a mom and dad, between love and sex, between faith and doubt. All those places. More people than we know live in those spaces.”
Cho sees another message encouraging all Americans, not just religious people, to interact with groups different than themselves.
“We tend to live in this very polarized world and we’re seeing this more so in this election season,” he said. “Particularly from a religious point of view, we tend to eventually gather with those who think like us, look like us, feel like us. It doesn’t do us any good.”
There’s space for commas and question marks in good art:
Hmm. I’ve heard there’s sort of a quasi-war of words between various filmmakers behind your traditional, overt Christian movies and the creators of Blue Like Jazz – which is not your traditional, overt Christian movie.
This sort of stuff makes me wonder why some Christians are inclined to think that there’s only one way to communicate something; one way to do music; one perspective of theology; one way to do art; one way to understand Jesus; one way to do church; one way to write … and one way to do film making around Christian themes.
Thank God that art can’t be isolated into one box or one expression. Hopefully, whatever we do, there’s a commitment to not just ‘content’ but how we convey that content.
One could contend that “Christian art” demands for happy endings, clear storylines, order, and appropriate conclusions…and sometimes, I wonder if our marriage to such conclusions exclude us from the journey of compelling artmaking.
Commas and Questions Marks are sometimes okay rather than Periods and Exclamation Marks.
Or in other words,
do we have a finalized conclusion and then make art to help justify that conclusion? Is that good art?
From a preacher’s viewpoint: Do we have a conclusion and then look for a bible passage to help us make our point or conclusion or do we really allow the narrative of the Scriptures to speak, disturb, inform, and transform us?
We shouldn’t be asking if we’re artists or not. We’re all artists in some manner or another. To my point, stories are a form of art. We’re all creating, living, and communicating stories and thus, we’re all artists. So, a more compelling and accurate question would be: “What kind of art are we creating?” and “What kind of artists are we?”
Create. a. Better. Story.
We love to knock on Hollywood and all that “junk” it creates and blah blah blah. I certainly do. We criticize and then wonder why Christians can’t create compelling art blah blah blah.
Boom. Here’s an attempt. Just in the same manner I gave kudos to Rob Bell in helping create a different story, I’m giving props to Donald Miller and the director, Steve Taylor
It’s easy to criticize. We all do it. We criticize the moral decay and decline of society, art and culture. Or we get on our enlightened Christian horses and criticize cheezy Christian art and artists.
Been there and done that. Criticizing that is.
A great antidote to receiving criticism is not more criticism or returning criticsm. Rather, it’s to create something more beautiful and compelling. Don’t tell us what you’re against. Show us something different. Compel us. Create a better story. Invite us into that story.
Enough of my ramblings. Your thoughts?
- Did you like the book?
- Are you planning on watching the movie?
- Is there such a thing as Christian art?