Blue Like Jazz: Lesson materials

bluelikejazz.jpgThis quarter I’m teaching the YANK class: Young Adults, No Kids.

And, yes, this is the Deep South and “YANK” carries all the negative connotations you’d imagine. Evidently, our young marrieds have a keen sense of the absurd. (Good for them!)

Blue Like Jazz, by Don Miller, is an absolutely delightful book. It’s one of my all-time favorites. The guy just writes brilliantly. This, of course, makes it very, very hard to teach.

If you’ve ever tried to teach one of Max Lucado’s books, you know what I mean. He’s already said it so very, very well, you really can’t improve on it. In fact, it’s so beautifully written, I’d just as soon read the book out loud to the class like a first-grade teacher. And they’d probably enjoy that more than my teaching!

But it’s a book that deserves to be studied. So as I go through the lessons, I’ll be posting discussion questions, supplementary materials, and such for the benefit of whoever else wants to teach this book.

Oh, I should add, that Miller’s web site has a discussion outline available for free download. It’s not really my style, but may work well for you.

Chapter 1 Beginnings: God on a Dirt Road Walking Toward Me

Miller deals with his understanding of God. The Bible presents God as “Father” and yet Miller’s relationship with his own father was deeply troubled.

Many people struggle with understanding who God really is, and our less-than-perfect fathers sometimes make it hard to envision God as the perfect father.

Miller then discusses his early awakening to the need for God. He calls his first image of God a “slot machine God.” Pray and maybe you’ll get lucky!

To enrich the discussion, we covered some of J. B. Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small, a delightful book written in 1961 that could have been written yesterday. Phillips (who also wrote Phillips’ translation of the New Testament) lists several false images of God–

  • Resident policeman
  • Parental hangover
  • Grand old man
  • Meek and mild
  • Absolute perfection
  • Heavenly bosom
  • God in a box (this may be where the cliché began. It was fresh when Phillips wrote it!)
  • Managing director
  • Second-hand God
  • Perennial grievance
  • Pale Galilean
  • Projected image

Now, you really have to read the book (it’s short and inexpensive) to get a feel for it all. Phillips then goes on to rebuild a true understanding of God.

We didn’t get halfway through the list before the class took over, sharing their own images of God.

The teacher should start the discussion explaining some of his own earlier false understandings. It’s helpful to also explain how false understandings of God lead to very bad theology and even bad behavior by church leaders. Phillips explains this very well.

At the end, we considered how God’s sending of Jesus undid all this false teaching, how Jesus is none of these false images–and if we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen God.

In later chapters, Miller often speaks of people coming to God through the Gospels, and this only makes sense. You can’t fall in love with someone you’ve never met! The Gospels contain many valuable teachings, but they are most important for introducing us to the person who is Jesus.

Chapter 2 Problems: What I Learned on Television

Miller discusses the human condition. He talks about images of the war in the Congo where millions died senselessly. He tells how he got involved in protesting against globalization.

However, he says, he came to realize that the solution to the world’s problems start with solving the sin problem in ourselves. “Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.”

He points out that as children, we sin. We don’t start out perfect and then get corrupted by the world. Rather, we start out selfish and have to be trained to tell the truth and do right. No wonder the world is a mess!

Where do we learn how to overcome our fallen natures?

Miller writes on p. 20–

I am the problem.

I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems of the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. This is the hardest principal within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy best of a things that lives within my chest.

The thing I realized on the day we protested, on the day I had beers with Tony, was that it did me no good to protest American responsibility in global poverty when I wasn’t even giving money to my church, which has a terrific homeless ministry. I started feeling very much like a hypocrite.

Well, this speaks to my heart! I’ve studied the political church at some length. Here’s what I’ve figured out–


The Romans 1 Argument

The Power Argument

The Powers Argument

Escaping the Shadow of Constantine

Children in a Post-Constantinian World

The 1 Corinthians 5 Argument

Sodom, Gomorrah & Illegal Aliens, Part 1

Sodom, Gomorrah & Illegal Aliens, Part 2

Now, this is far more material than can be covered in one class. I’ve taught a six-month series of classes on this stuff! It’s not hard. People love talking about this stuff.

I think I need to focus on the Romans 1 argument and the 1 Corinthians 5 arguments. In Romans 1, Paul explains just how horrible the world is. He says God “gave them over” to sin and perversion. The rest of Romans isn’t about protests and petitions, it’s about personal salvation. Just how does all that work?

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us we are not allowed to judge the world! Why not? If not judge, then what?

Somewhere in here fits Matthew 7:1 ff about judging, specks of sawdust, and planks in the eye.

You see, I think the church has absorbed a very non-Christian idea: that we should use force to make people act like Christians. We should pass laws against un-Christian behavior, using the power of the state to impose Christianity on an unwilling public.

Some would want to use the military to impose Christian values on others.

Even the left think this way. They want to use the power of the state to make us give up smoking and lose weight! Everyone wants to make everyone else do right using guns and tanks.

Now, it would be great if this could work, but you can’t change hearts with an M-16.

How does Jesus teach us to change the world? And where do we start?

Chapter 3 Magic: The Problem with Romeo

Clever chapter. Loved it. Not teaching it.

There are 20 chapters and 13 Sundays in a quarter. And I’ll be in surgery this week, with someone filling in for me. I need to give him a lesson that’s easier to teach. This one just says what it has to say, says it wonderfully, and I have nothing to add.

Chapter 4 Shifts: Find a Penny

Miller talks about his studies at Reed College, a very non-Christian school. But Miller refuses to seek the shelter of places that refuse to challenge his beliefs. He goes where faith and hedonism are in confrontation. “Many of the students hated the idea of God, and yet they cared about people more than I did” (p. 42). “The few Christians I met at Reed showed me that Christian spirituality was a reliable faith, both to the intellect and to the spirit” (p. 43).

He speaks of the problem of racism in church–still very much a problem, I think–and explains how it’s symptomatic of the larger problem of self-absorption.

He then tells the story of how Penny, a friend at Reed, was converted. Penny explains (p. 47),

We would eat chocolates and read the Bible, which is the only way to do it, if you ask me. Don, the Bible is so good with chocolate. I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn’t. It is a chocolate thing.

Ultimately, Matthew’s account of Jesus converted her.

So here’s how I think I’d teach it. I’d read Penny’s monologue on pp. 47-48, ending with her wanting to be the good soil in the Parable of the Sower.

Here are some questions:

* Do you see reading the Bible as a chocolate thing or a salad thing? Why?

* What kind of person do you think Jesus was? How was he different?

* If Jesus were here today in the flesh, how would he react to you? (p. 46 “Nadine believed that God liked her. I thought that was beautiful.”)

* Penny was persuaded in part by the life Nadine lived. (“And more than that, her faith was a spiritual things that produced a humanitarianism that was convincing. I was really freaked out, because I wanted to be good, but I wasn’t good. I was selfish, and Nadine, well, she was pretty good. I mean she wasn’t selfish.”)

Is Nadine typical of Christians you know? Would most people describe your Christian friends this way? Consider these passages–

(1 Pet 2:11-12) Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

(Mat 5:14-16) “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Does the American church truly reflect these commands? Do most people think of the church–or Christians–as people who do deeds so good that those outside the church must glorify the God they worship?

Do the people we come into contact with see us this way? Do people praise our Father because of who we are and what we do–like Nadine?

Going deeper, this chapter just naturally lends itself to discussing the mission of the church. A couple of links with additional thoughts are this and this.

Chapter 5 Faith: Penguin Sex

Miller talks about the difficulties of faith. It’s not a provable thing, which is hard for many to accept. But then, it’s not contrary to the facts. Rather, it’s outside of us and outside the universe. God is to us as we are to an ant. The ant cannot even imagine what it’s like to be us.

He tells the story of how a friend came to faith through reading Matthew’s Gospel. He tells about the nearly miraculous way the penguins reproduce–nature is so remarkable that it’s easier just to watch and be entertained rather than trying to really understand.

He quotes Chesterton, who says it’s the chess players who go crazy, not the poets.

* Why do you believe in Jesus?

* Do you ever struggle with faith from a rational perspective?

* How did you come to a saving faith?

* Explain the kind of person you think Jesus was on earth. If he visited this church in the flesh, how would he act? What would he say? How would we react?

* Laura, in his story, came to a saving faith by reading Matthew. She said Jesus was either crazy or Lord. She finally decided he was Lord. How do you suppose her reading got her to that place?

* C.S. Lewis famously defended faith in Jesus this way–

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

Mere Christianity, Bk. II, Ch. 3, “The Shocking Alternative.”

* Faith for some people come this way–all nice and logical. But most come to faith otherwise. Reflect on the answers earlier given. How many class members came to faith logically? How many came due to experiencing contact with committed to Christians (parents or others)?

* If most people come to faith through personal relations with Christians, rather than clever debating points, how should we interact with the lost of this world?

* What is it about some Christians that draw people into faith?

* What is it about some in the church that runs some people off?

Chapter 6 Redemption: The Sexy Carrots

Miller begins by describing the wonderful feelings he had as a new Christian. He poured over the Bible and felt as though God had let him in on the deepest secrets of the universe.

* Have you ever had a time in your spiritual life when you felt this way?

* Was it at the very beginning or did it come later?

Miller then explains how his friends — in church! — led him into binge drinking and marijuana.

[Read the sexy carrot cartoon story.]

* What sexy carrots have you had to deal with in your life?

* Why do we all want things that hurt us?

Miller quotes Tony the Beat Poet: “Jesus gives us the ability to love the things we should love, the things of Heaven. Tony says that when people who follow Jesus love the right things, they help create God’s kingdom on earth, and that is something beautiful.”

* Is Tony right?

* What are the “things of heaven” we are supposed to love?

* How does loving these things create the Kingdom on earth?

Points to make–

– “Things of heaven” are foremost the people on whom Jesus showed compassion, the vulnerable and rejected of society, the diseased, bereaved, and poor. Ask for several examples.

Consider Matthew 25’s Judgment Day scene.

– What are the other things of heaven?

I might add love for our brothers and sisters in Christ–especially a love that shows the world we are followers of Jesus. Especially a love that shows unity among Jesus’ people.

What of the environment?

Miller concludes the chapter talking about trying to overcome his wicked desires with self-discipline. He found the experience “dehumanizing.” What is the problem with self-discipline?

Consider these thoughts in light of the recent evangelical emphasis on “spiritual disciplines.”

Chapter 7 Grace: The Beggar’s Kingdom

Miller describes his difficulty in accepting God’s grace. In the Churches of Christ, we have that problem at an institutional level–so I want to consider his remarks first at a personal level and then reflect on how our conclusions might apply institutionally.

* Have you ever tried to earn God’s love? Tell how that happened and what it was like.

* Have you ever been a “fundamentalist”?

* Do you find it easier to accept charity or to give charity? Why?

* Recall Miller’s story of the woman on food stamps. How did he feel he’d taken her dignity? Do you think he was right?

* Pride interferes with our relationship with God. But what if we get too used to being beggars and so become lazy? Does it matter?

* Recall the story of how the pastor had tried to commit suicide. Why do you suppose surviving suicide helped the pastor cope with not deserving his salvation?

* If we are saved despite our sins, why bother to live righteously? Miller never really answers that, just assuming that we’ll fall in love with God and so obey. But lots of people never attain to that level of spirituality. Is that ok? How should we address spiritual apathy in a grace-based system?

* Lately, many scholars and preachers have placed a renewed emphasis on “spiritual disciplines.” Does this run the risk of legalism? How are disciplines different from legalism?

Now, let’s consider the traditional Church of Christ viewpoint on grace. We struggle with allowing grace in the realm of doctrine. And we are often reluctant to teach grace for fear that the listeners will turn grace into license.

* What role does pride play in that attitude?

* How does our view of grace affect relationships within the church?

* How does this view affect the heart of the ordinary Christian?

* How would better teaching change things for the individual Christian? For the Churches?

Chapter 8 gods: Our Tiny Invisible Friends

Chapter 9 Change: New Starts at Ancient Faith

These are great chapters, but I’m down to maybe 5 lessons and have 20 chapters to cover. So I’m skipping these, not because I disagree with the lessons or didn’t enjoy them, but because I just don’t think they’ll resonate with my class (or me) as much as some yet to come.

Chapter 10 Belief: The Birth of Cool

Love and marriage: Miller admits of fear of marriage. He’s afraid his wife will wake up one morning and no longer love him. A married friend tells him that “when a relationship is right, it is no more possible to wake up and want out of the marriage than it is to wake up and stop believing in God. What is, is what is, she said.”

* I’m sure everyone has seen a marriage dissolve. How did it happen? What causes marriages to fail?

* Of course, the majority of marriages don’t fail. Why not?

* How do these answers apply to our relationship with God?

Miller talks about how we turn pop figures into idols.

* Give some examples–who do we idolize like that?

* Why?

* Miller suggests it’s because we all want to be cool, and becoming emotionally attached to cool people is the closest some people can ever come. True?

* Miller complains that we idolize people regardless of what they believe. Should what they believe matter more than how “cool” they are?

* Then why don’t we act that way?

* “Satan … wants us to believe meaningless things for meaningless reasons. Can you imagine if Christians actually believed that God was trying to rescue us from the pit of our own self-addiction?” How would that change the church? The world?

“But the trouble with deep belief is that it costs us something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.” p 107.

* True?

* Do we sometimes reject Christian teaching to avoid the responsibility that comes with it?

Miller exults in the fact that Christianity is not at all cool (not anymore).

* But doesn’t that make it harder to get people to be Christians?

* How can the lack of coolness be a good thing?

“If you believe something, passionately, people will follow you.” p. 109. But, he says, people we follow you even if you believe in nothing of consequence.

* How do we make Christianity consequential–about more than cool and yet attractive?

“I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of the gospel. If the supposed new church believes in trendy music and cool web pages, then it is not relevant to culture either.” p. 111.

* Does the church need to be relevant to culture?

* How can a church be relevant to culture without being a part of the culture?

“Andrew would say that dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something, Andrew would say, is the hard thing. Living for something extend beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe, Andrew would say.

“If Andrew the protester is right, if I live what I believe, then I don’t believe very many noble things. My life testifies that the first thing I believe is that I am the most important person in the world. My life testifies to this because I care more about my food and shelter and happiness than about anybody else..

“I am learning to believe better things. I am learning to believe that other people exist, that fashion is not truth; rather, Jesus is the most important figure in history, and the gospel is the most powerful force in the universe. I am learning not to be passionate about empty things, but to cultivate passion for justice, grace, truth, and communicate the idea that Jesus likes people and even loves them.”

* Why does Miller say his life shows that he thinks he is the most important person in the world? He’s a believer? He’s obviously serious about his Christianity. What does he mean?

* Doesn’t every Christian think that Jesus is the most important figure in history. Why does Miller say he’s just now learning this?

* Why do these new “passions” matter so much?

Chapter 11 Confession: Coming Out of the Closet

Miller starts with a story about a church founded by his friend Rick. “He didn’t really see evangelism, or whatever you want to call it, as a target on a wall in which the goal is to get people to agree with us about the meaning of life. He saw evangelism as reaching a felt need.”

* Does this make any sense?

* How would this approach to evangelism be different from what is traditionally taught?

Miller explains his fear that talking to people about Jesus is like being a network marketing guy, or insistent and demanding and intruding (114).

* Have you ever felt this way?

Miller relates a radio interview (115) where he refused to defend Christianity but was pleased to “talk about Jesus and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and that he likes me.” The host responded in tears and later asked him to teach him more about Jesus.

* Why do people see Christianity and Jesus as such different things? Why such different reactions.

* Would we be better off to take Miller’s approach?

On p. 116, Miller quotes Tony the Beat Poet as explaining that the church has lost its dominant place in society. Leaders are resentful, bitter. He recommends that the church respond with humility and “turn the other cheek like Gandhi, like Jesus.”

* Do you think this is right? Can you think of any examples where Christians are acting like this?

* What would a humble response like this mean in practice?

Read the first two full paragraphs on p. 118 describing the idea of the confession booth–

* Are they right? Should Christians apologize for these things?

* How would the University of Alabama react if we tried such a thing?

* How would the professor react that wished Miller would be killed by the “natives” for being evangelistic?

Read Miller’s first confession at the end of p. 123–

* Why did Duder react as he did, tearfully, as Miller confessed?

* Would people at UA react that way?

* How would the community respond?

Miller says on p. 125 that the process of confessing changed him.

* How would confessing in this way change us?

* Why did this make it easier for Miller to share his faith?

* How might we apply this lesson here in Tuscaloosa?

Chapter 12 Church: How I Go Without Getting Angry

Miller admits his distaste for institutions and corporations and such. Then explains in part his dislike of the institutional church.

“I was accepted but not understood” (130).

“I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. …. The bulletin read like a brochure for Amway” (131).

“They seemed to be parrots for the Republican Party. Do we have to tow the line on every single issue?” (131)

“They would talk about how we’re in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn’t clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the powers of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals” (132).

“I didn’t want to befriend somebody just to trick them into going to my church. Rich said that was not what he was talking about. He said he was talking about loving people just because they exist–homeless people and Gothic people and gays and fruit nuts” (133).

“Here’s what I love about Imago Dei.

“First, it’s spiritual. What I mean is the people pray and fast about things. …

“Second, Art. …

“Third, Community. Rick is very, very serious about people living together, eating together, and playing together. He encourages young single people to get houses and live with each other. …

Fourth, Authenticity. … I love this because by being true I am allowing people to get to know the real me, and it feels better to have people love the real me than the me I invented.”

You’ll notice that I’ve not inserted any questions. That’s because all I want is for the class to react to these statements. Is our church like this? Should it be like this? If so, how can it happen?

Oops. I guess I did insert some questions.

Also, the teacher should read the series I’m in the midst of posting on “Reveal”–a self-study by the Willow Creek Community Church that reveals that 25% of most evangelical churches are either plateaued in their spiritual growth or else unhappy with the church–with many thinking of leaving.

The series begins here.

I think this chapter responds to this very problem. That makes this chapter really important.

Chapter 13 Romance: Meeting Girls is Easy

Most recent evangelical literature has not dealt with interpersonal relationships. We teach a lot about “spiritual formation,” which is prayer and meditation and worship. We teach on church growth, which teaches at a macro level but doesn’t deal with actually living in a community. We just assume that if you put people in a room with a Bible and a lesson plan, small groups will form genuine community.

But community is a central part of the Christian walk. We are not designed to be alone. “It’s not good for man to be alone.”

God lives in community–the Trinity. Jesus lived in a small community–12 apostles. Paul traveled with a small band of fellow missionaries.

And we send our missionaries all by themselves. We find it perfectly acceptable for people to come to church and then go home and never actually experience community.

We try to market the church as a place to escape the loneliness of modern life, but other than a large group of people, we don’t really teach people how to get along and be friends. And a lot of us have never learned how.

We define “community” as “fellowship,” which we define as having a party at the church building and then for only a few minutes.

What we struggle to have is real, genuine community where relationships are formed, people share of themselves, and support one another. Small groups is a major step in this direction, but it often doesn’t work.

p 141 “I told her … that, quite possibly, I would get a crush on another woman after I had been married for a while. I also mentioned that my wife might become attracted to another man. The stuff that attracts us to other people doesn’t shut down just because we walk down the aisle, I said.” The girl was offended as Miller was disputing the American romantic ideal.

Was he right?

Does it affect whether we should get married?

What is the likelihood that a married person will become attracted to someone other than his/her spouse? How should we deal with such attractions?

p. 143 “People really like me a lot when they only know me a little, but I have this great fear that if they knew me a lot they wouldn’t like me. That is the number one thing that scares me about having a wife because she would have to know me pretty well in order to marry me and I think if she got to know me pretty well she wouldn’t like me anymore.”

Is this a common problem? Do marriages often fail because of the unwillingness of one spouse to be truly known?

How does this affect our life together as Christians?

p. 144 “You know, Don, marriage is worth the trade. You lose all your freedom, but you get this friend. This incredible friend.”

True? What freedom do you lose?

In the U.S., we greatly value our autonomy. We like doing what we want, and get angry when other people tell us what to do.

Sometimes, married couples are good at giving up their freedom to each other, but they insist on having autonomy as a couple. Lots of couples have a real problem with being committed to church–and to Jesus. They prefer their freedom to having friends. Rather, they figure they have the only friend they really need.

Why are we like that?

p. 145 “I thought to be married was to be known. And it is; it is to be known. But Danielle can only know me so much; do you know what I mean?” … “I’m saying there’s stuff I can’t tell her, not because I don’t want to, but because there aren’t words. … She knows me better than anybody else in the world, but she doesn’t know all of me … . … but there are places in our lives that only God can go.”


How does this intimacy with God affect how we feel about God? Is it good? Or scary?

p 146 “I mean that to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can’t accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable fro other people. …. That is why God tell us so many times to love each other.”

How can/does the church make people feel lovable? How should that affect their relationship with God?

Now, we sometimes get off track. We want people to feel the need for redemption and so tell them how unlovable they are. Then we tell them that God will save them, but only because of the merits of Jesus’ life–not their own. As a result, we often create low-self-esteem Christians. They appreciate their salvation but feel inadequate and unworthy. And therefore they are unable to accomplish anything for Jesus in this life–looking only to the next life to be good enough to really matter. We told them they just aren’t good enough!

How do we break this cycle?

Husbands — go home and read the scene from “Polaroids” to your wife or fiancee.

Chapter 14 Alone: 53 Years in Space

p. 151 “I think being in love is an opposite of loneliness, but not the opposite. There are other things that I now crave when I am lonely, like community, like friendship, like family. I think our society puts too much pressure on romantic love, and that is why so many romances fail. Romance can’t possibly carry all that we want it to.”

True? Does marriage truly “complete me,” as the new cliche’ has it? What’s missing yet?

It’s easy to say “Jesus,” even that’s not enough. As mentioned above and by Miller we have need for other people in our lives–and in many ways that vary throughout our lives.

p. 153 Miller tells the story of a forest ranger who’d been alone for two months and had forgotten how to engage other people. He couldn’t not be alone.

Has that ever happened to you? Why is that so bad?

Some people actually do quite well being alone. How can that be?

Read the cartoon beginning on p. 159. Miller’s cartoon’s have a different kind of punch line, don’t they?

p. 173 “Loneliness is something that happens to us, but I think it is something we can move ourselves out of. I think a person who is lonely should dig into a community, give himself to a community, humble himself before his friends, initiate a community, teach people to care about each other, love each other. … Loneliness is something that came with the fall.”

Is it really that easy? What about a couple that’s lonely? How do they escape?

15 Community: Living with Freaks

p. 175 “Before I lived in community, I thought faith was something a person did alone, like monks in caves. I thought the backbone of faith was time alone with God, time reading ancient texts and meditating on poetry or the precepts of natural law and, perhaps, when a person gets good and godley, levitating potted plants or pitchers of water.”

Why does the American church put so much emphasis on our individual relationship with God? We talk of having a “personal relationship” with God–not a corporate or community relationship. Jesus is our “personal Savior.” We are urged to have “quiet times” with God. Prayer is usually pictured as a personal encounter with God, rather an encounter between a family or a congregation with God.

“I hadn’t seen a single book (outside the majority of the New Testament) that addressed a group of people or a community with advice about faith.” Indeed, we take a NT book, exegete it, and then apply it “to our personal lives,” not to our community or congregation. Rather, it’s about how “I” should live, rather than “we”!

And yet countless passages are talking about our lives together. Can you think of some?

How about 1 Cor 13–which we read at weddings but is really about how to do church!!

Miller’s pastor was pushing him to move in with a bunch of guys from church. p 176 “He asked me I had the chance to minister to anybody out there in the country. He asked if was having an influence on the cows. … He was being very annoying.”

p 181 “Living in community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself. … I had very little concept of love, altruism, or sacrifice. … The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me.”

p 185 “I asked [Bill] how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. ‘Don,’ he said, ‘If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.'”

18 Love: How to Really Love Other People

Well, I’ve just skipped lessons 16 on Money and 17 on Worship, which are really important topics, but I’m just plain out of quarter. Sunday is the last Sunday of the fall quarter, so I have to make painful choices. And the Bible says that love is the only command, so maybe we need to take the time to understand it better before we go to the next quarter and the next topic and the next teacher.

Miller begins by talking about the time he spent living in a commune of hippies. Even though the hippies were nowhere near accepting Jesus, he says, they truly accepted him. They never judged and listened intently to what he had to say.

He then describes his time attending a Unitarian Church. Again, he found wonderful acceptance, love, and community.

And he couldn’t help but contrast the wonderful love and acceptance he found in these communities to the less enjoyable love he’d experienced in the Christian church.

(215) “I began to understand that my pastors and leaders were wrong, that the liberals were not evil, they were liberal for the same reason Christians were Christians, because they believed their philosophies were right, good, and beneficial for the world. I had been raised to believe there were monsters under the bed, but had peeked, in a moment of bravery, and found a wonder world, a good world, better, in fact, than the one I had known.”

Has anyone experienced this kind of community outside a Christian setting? What was it like? How did it affect you?

Why do we stereotype non-believers this way?

(215) “The problem with Christian community was that we had ethics, we had rules and laws and principles to judge each other against. There was love in Christian community, but it was conditional love. … If people were bad, we treated them as though they were either evil or charity. … Christianity was always right; we were always looking down on everybody else. And I hated this.”

Is this a fair charge to bring against American Christianity? Give examples either way.

Aren’t we supposed to live by Christian principles? Does this mean we should judge others by these principles? The posts on the church and politics address this question–


The Romans 1 Argument

The Power Argument

The Powers Argument

Escaping the Shadow of Constantine

Children in a Post-Constantinian World

The 1 Corinthians 5 Argument

The 1 Peter 2 Argument

Sodom, Gomorrah & Illegal Aliens, Part 1

Sodom, Gomorrah & Illegal Aliens, Part 2

The New Perspective: The Church & Politics

You see, when the church becomes involved in the government, we often wish to impose our principles (correct principles, they are) on non-believers. Is that the Christian, the Christ-like way?

We have to be careful. Jesus, for example, forgave the woman caught in adultery but he also told her to sin no more. On the other hand, she was a Jewess and hence committed to living under God’s principles. What did Jesus demand of Gentiles?

(217-9) Miller attends a seminar where a communications professor discusses metaphors. They discussed our tendency to use war metaphors for cancer and how this actually makes patients think their condition is worse then it is. Many give up.

He then asked for metaphors for how we relate to other people.

* We “value” people.

* Favorite people are “priceless.”

* “I’d give anything to be with her!”

* We “invest in” people.

* Relationships are sometimes “bankrupt.”

Miller realized we speak of relationships in economic terms, as though relationships were commodities to be bartered.

“The problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money. … If somebody is doing something for us, offering us something, be it gifts, time, popularity, or what have you, we feel they have value, we feel they are worth something to us, and, perhaps, we feel they are priceless. … I used love like money. The church used love like money. We love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.

“… We we barter with [love], we all lose. When the church does not love its enemies, it fuels their rage. It make them hate us more.”

Hmm … Is he right? Is this fair to the church?

How would this kind of love look in action? If really lived?

Give some examples from Jesus’ ministry.

How would it affect your relationships?

Can you think of examples of how this works (or doesn’t) in church life?

Why are we this way?

What does it really mean to love our enemies?

Go over the story of Don and his annoying friend.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Blue Like Jazz: Lesson materials

  1. David Guin says:

    Chapter 2 brings to mind the story of G.K. Chesterton who, when invited to submit an essay to The Times regarding the question "What's wrong with the world?", responded simply, "I am."

  2. Pingback: What’s Wrong With How We Do Church?: Blue Like Jazz « One In

  3. Antonio says:

    Which of the story of Don and his annoying friend? Any help would be great.

  4. R.J. says:

    I wonder what’s your opinion is on Christian Hedonism?

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