Sometimes, you need to see someone loving a thing before you can love it, too – so says the character of Don Miller in the big screen version of his best-selling memoir Blue Like Jazz. (See fellow blogger Enuma Okoro’s review of the film here).
The movie, which hits theaters in some 25 cities come April 13th, tackles many of the probing questions of Christian identity – is it a stable journey that progresses linearly from baptism to the grave without doubt or duplicity? is it sustainable when dislocated into inhospitable environments? and is it enough to follow in the biblical footsteps of the early Christian disciple who confessed “Lord I believe but help my unbelief?”
Understandably, the movie weaves these narrative threads together with more panache but less nuance than the book. As the director Steve Taylor put it at last night’s advance screening in Raleigh, movies aren’t made of the middle ground but gain their force by the contrast of extremes. Don himself admitted freely the movie is fiction.
But aren’t the middles infinitely more mysterious, more memorizing in their mundane-ness? Admittedly, I’d rather watch the awkward and unscripted dialogue of a movie like Blue Valentine that makes you cringe in its bleakness rather than the latest rom-com with all its aspirational aesthetics. Certainly Miller’s upbringing as a Baptist Texan and education as a student at Reed College – “the most godless campus in America” – was already fodder enough to propel the force behind the movie’s making. Yet despite adding the plot twists of a philandering youth pastor and a lonely lesbian, the movie remarkably held on to its jazz-like subtleties whilst still being a stylish production.
When a young youth pastor in the audience asked during the Q&A that followed the screening how she could show this PG-13 movie to her students to whom she preaches no cussing, no drinking, and no sex before marriage, Taylor and Miller answered kindly that despite what she preaches her students will soon be, if they’re not already, exposed to the incongruity of their Christian identities with those foisted upon them by the world. This is no Christian movie with saccharine smiles and pat answers. It invites inquisition. It invites improvisation.
Sometimes, you need to see someone loving a thing before you can love it, too. Perhaps this is the sentiment of the apostle Paul’s oft-used phrase pistus christou – translated in many Bibles to mean our “faith in Christ” but more accurately understood as “the faithfulness of Christ.” The distinction is profound, for like Don, we do not conjure up belief with the snap of a finger or the bending of a knee. Rather, we see someone, someone like Jesus, loving God first before we can begin to pattern our life on their faithfulness. And so we step on their feet and learn the beat until we are emboldened to freestyle.