spirituality that's messy like jazz

The other day I posted my answers to The Jennifer Meme. One of the questions Jennifer composed was "Name at least one book you’ve read that’s influenced your philosophy." I answered with two titles: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli. In comments on that post, Gwynne asked how Blue Like Jazz influenced me. In reality, it was the experience of reading those two books back to back that caused me to rethink the way I approach God, Jesus, faith, life.

First off, Blue Like Jazz is beautifully written. In subsequent works, Miller has not even approached the level of intimate, honest prose he offered up in Jazz. Reading it, while at the same time trying to write for publication myself, gave me lots of insight into how hard it is to write something that's truly beautiful. I think the effort in itself, offered up to God, delights God. But there was also the content of the book. A fair number of theologically conservative Christians lambasted Miller for being soft on the gospel, but I just don't see that in the book. Miller chooses to emphasize the love of God and writes in a gentle language. In other words, he doesn't use the buzzwords that theologically conservative people like to see. Which is fine by me.

In one chapter of the book, probably the most often cited by those who loved it, Miller writes about his time as a staff member at Reed College in Oregon when the Christian organization he worked for put up a confessional booth but reversed the confessional process.

I said we should build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that said "Confess your sins." I said this because I knew a lot of people would be sinning, and Christian spirituality begins by confessing our sins and repenting. I also said it as a joke. But Tony thought it was brilliant. He sat there on my couch with his mind in the clouds, and he was scaring the crap out of me because, for a second, then for a minute, I actually believed he wanted to do it.

"Tony," I said very gently.

"What?" he said, with a blank stare at the opposite wall.

"We are not going to do this," I told him. He moved his gaze down the wall and directly into my eyes. A smile came across his face.

"Oh, we are, Don.

They did, but they wound up being the confessees, not the confessors. And as is so often the case with great ideas, this one ministered more to those who concocted it than to those they were seeking to reach. I think the body of Christ could learn a lot from this story, and not just about seeking forgiveness for some of its foolishness, but about its (the church's) overall approach to people...

Part II coming momentarily.

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