Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blue Like Jazz the movie: a review.

After having my spiritual perspective affected so deeply by reading Blue Like Jazz a few years ago (and then again recently), I was thrilled to see the book come to life on the big screen.  After reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I was interested and curious as to how the book would come to life.  It did.

With many liberties taken in the creation of the movie from the book, I was delighted to see the heart of Blue Like Jazz left fully intact.

Don takes a journey from his conservative Christian world into the college dubbed as the “most godless campus in the country,” Reed College.  He dives head first into a world of experiences that many accurately depicts what many freshman face as they take their first flight from the nest (which explains why it’s rated PG-13).  Don is warned about the dangers of being religious and fears people finding out that he is a Christian.  He goes so far as to ridiculing the religious in order to feel connected at Reed.  The common struggle displayed between who he has been and who he is becoming is relateable and is what our young people need to see.  I wish I could show this movie to each and every one of my college students.  Get ready, friends.  There will be experiences and there will be struggles.  The struggles are part of the journey.  You are not alone.

The film also gives a glimpse of a well doing, intelligent Christian named Penny—an actual character from the book.  She is a refreshing character who is honest, loving, and passionate about creating good in the world as part of her journey with Jesus.  Penny is patient with Don, gives him perspective, and shows a positive image of what faith looks like in the midst of a highly secular setting.  For those criticizing Blue Like Jazz for their criticism of “church life,” we see a beautiful picture of unashamed, love-filled faith in Penny.

Penny knows who she is and calls Don out when she sees he’s living a double life.  I won’t ruin it for you, but Don finally admits his doubt in church, in God.  He admits his brokenness, the brokenness of Christians.  He admits he’s misrepresented and been ashamed of God.  It forced me to ask the question, “when have I done the same?”  Whether at college, in the work place, in the grocery store, at a bar, among “secular” or “Christian” friends, when have I been ashamed of Jesus and what He would actually stand for?  I think more often than I’d care to think about.

Faith involves people, therefore faith is messy.  Mine is messy.  So is yours.  We need to be honest about that mess.  We need to be open about the struggle and in doing so, allow others to do the same.  In admitting the struggle, we gain freedom trusting that God’s grace is enough for our doubts and broken parts and we don’t have to pretend to be resolved.  For we are and will be unresolved until Jesus returns.  That’s the point.  It’s blue like jazz.

Go give it a shot.  I pray it will be thought provoking and moving for you.  I’m excited to see how God uses Don’s story and this film to touch peoples’ hearts across the country and around the world for Jesus.  Or at least open the conversation.  Maybe it’s time for you to stop being ashamed.  Maybe it’s time for you to say “I’m sorry.”  Maybe it’s time for you to see Jesus as Jesus for the first time.

Blue Like Jazz just might be what you’re looking for.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

this is not the end.

If you've been around me lately, you know that I've been on a Gungor kick, but more specifically the song "This is not the End."  I saw them live a couple weeks ago and couldn't help but dance like a crazy when I longed for the promise of these words and utterly rejoiced in them.

We did a Lenten series this year called eLemENTs ( ).  One of the weeks, we looked at the element, clay.  Clay is a cool thing.  It's messy and dirty.  It's basically dust with some water thrown in.  When clay is soft, it is not finished.  It is process.  It is not final, but vulnerable and moldable.

There are multiple references in Scripture to God being the potter and people being clay.  It's a great image.  God shaping us.  In the times that we feel ruined, smashed, or ugly about our life and story, it's not final.  It made me think of being in God's hands differently.  The potter isn't always gentle with the clay.  Sometimes He smashes it to reshape it into something lovely.  What we usually see as a comforting hand to rest in can also be a strong and disciplining hand that is capable of flattening us to start over.  He is a great and terrifying presence that longs for and demands beauty.  I, the clay, beg to just get there already--struggling to wait in the process of being molded.  The vessel won't be finished until complete beauty is achieved.  Who knows how it might get there and how many times it may need to be destroy, dried, watered, and built again for it to be finished.  God won't settle for less than beauty.

But this is what I know to be true.  God is a great potter.  A loving potter.  A potter that doesn't destroy clay for the sake of it and won't push it harder than it can stand.  There will be those days where we feel out of sorts.  We wonder what God is doing.  "How could He make something beautiful out of the mess that I am?"

Isaiah 45:9 warns us about this. "Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’"

We are clay in His hands.  The hands of a good Potter.  A potter so good that let His Son be clay and absolutely destroyed Him.  There was nothing left.  But our God is one who can't end the story that way.  A world in His hands can't end that way.  He is peace.  He is wholeness and beauty.  He is completeness and rightness.  He is shalom.

That is how I know, on this Holy Saturday, with Jesus in the tomb and the world in the tomb, that we won't stay there.  God continues to mold.  The clay sealing our tomb begins to move revealing a stream of light.

And in the midst of the broken, the dark, the death that surrounds, our good Potter leans over us with a knowing smile and whispers, "this, my darling, is not the end."

waiting for Easter.

In honor of Holy Saturday, here's a blog post from last about waiting for Easter this week and in life.

Blessings as you wait.  This is not the end.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week reflections.

Holy means "set apart."  This week leading up to Easter is a week that the Church has set apart for centuries.  It's easy, in preparations and celebrations, to get side tracked and lose focus on what truly is happening during the week that leads up to Easter.  Even if you haven't yet, I challenge you (and me too) to set apart the rest of this week in reflection on Jesus' Passion and what that means in your life.

I found a lovely series of Holy Week devotions here:

His words about simplicity, what God has intended for us, resting, and how Jesus is teaching us to love each other are awesome.  Here's a taste of what you'll see there:

The temple had become a marketplace.  Instead of people bowing their hearts, they were turning a profit.  A pretty far cry from God's original intention.
Reflection:  "When God first drew me into a relationship with him, he had something good, pure and life-changing in mind.  Is my relationship with him still characterized by that simple purity and life-changing devotion?
"Lord, forgive me for cheapening your presence in my life.  Fill the temple of my heart with your over-powering glory once again."

So, when Jesus got to the temple did he think "What good is  a temple if people don't meet God there?  It's supposed to be a place where your soul gets fed.  That's its purpose after all.  Not just to look pretty."

On the outside, the temple was a busy place (just like the fig tree: it had a lot of leaves), but on the inside it was dead  (just like the fig tree: it didn't bear any fruit).  The temple was supposed to be a "house of prayer", instead it had become a place of preoccupation and spiritual distraction, robbing people's hearts from their God.  So, Jesus "cursed" the temple too, by clearing out the money changers and teaching the merchandisers a lesson:  this isn't what it's supposed to be like!
Reflection:  "I sense my life is cluttered with things that distract me from connecting with God on a more intimate level.  What things do I need to clear out of my life?  Am I really willing to declutter my life?  Am I willing to simply pray and wait upon God?  Or am I content with avoiding God by doing the business of 'Christian activity'?  I will take time to listen to God and meet with God this week."Prayer:  "Lord, clear out my heart.  Do what you will, even to the point of 'over-turning' my tables.  Remodel my inner world."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Have you ever felt ridiculous?  I do all the time.  I get embarrassed about my appearance or things I say or if I’m good enough.  Then, this is usually followed by a layer of shame for how insecure and self-focused I can be.

Last week, I got to speak on a challenging text—Jesus being anointed at Bethany by an unnamed woman in Mark 14.  A woman walks into Simon the Leper’s house while Jesus is eating with the disciples..  She dumps a jar full of ointment on Jesus that was worth a year’s wages.  Talk about ridiculous.

The disciples thought so too and let Jesus know about it.  They chided her for not thinking of the poor when she made such a “waste” of wealth, not to mention bringing shame on herself as a woman among a room of men, none to whom she was married.  Jesus quieted the disciples and honored the woman and her act of love.   He explained that the woman was anointing Him for His burial—a common use of oils and ointments.  He even said that she would be mentioned every time the Gospel would be told, but her name isn’t even listed.  After all, she wasn’t there for her name, but to honor Christ’s.

I was convicted and moved by this story.  How often am I that smitten and enamored with Jesus that I am completely unaware others’ perceptions of me, the shame I may encounter, or what it may cost me?  Not often.  I think it’s difficult for most of us to relate to such an impractical expression of love in such a responsible world.  It seems so ridiculous.  And it is.
I’ve experienced people thinking I’m ridiculous for many things—not going to college right away,  serving on a ministry team for a year, going into professional church work, not being a party-er or dating any guy I could find, or putting myself out there for conversation with strangers and those different than me.

I’m not a huge fan of feeling like people are disapproving of my choices, but that’s what this Scripture is all about.

Jesus said we would have struggle here.  People here don’t know or understand Him or us because they don’t know our Father.  We need to get used to this and believe, instead, in the love the Father has for us.

It’s a love big enough to make us totally unaware of ourselves.  We stop thinking about others’ opinions, how we look, and if we’re good enough.  It’s not convincing ourselves to put them aside, it’s being so in love with Jesus that you’re rendered unaware of anything else.  Adam and Eve knew what that was like.  They were naked before the fall, but they were so enamored with the Lord that they didn’t even care to notice.  When we believe we are loved like Jesus loves, we are freed from our addiction of self because we just can’t take our eyes off of how wonderful He is long enough to even glance in the mirror.  This is what is truly beautiful.

A life to the full is one lived without fear, without shame, and totally engrossed in the love of our Lord.  Whether you are like the woman in the story, the disciples, or even Judas who runs out to betray, know and trust His ridiculous love for you regardless of who you are or how you respond.  This coming Friday, Good Friday, we remember how shamed, embarrassed, and ridiculed Jesus was on our behalf.  I challenge you to set apart time this week to love Jesus and be loved by Him.  Read and retell the story.  Respond how it moves you to do so.  You can never outdo the ridiculous love Jesus showed for you on the cross, but you can love Him because of it.

Here’s to a ridiculous Holy Week, meantime, and eternity.