Tag Archives: adventure

What Do You Do When Life Spins Out of Control?

When a small airplane goes into a spin, the worst thing for the pilot to do  to try to muscle it back on course. The harder you grip the stick and the more you wrestle against the spin the worse it gets. Or so I’ve been told.

Pilots know that stopping a spin is counterintuitive. You have to power down and point the nose of the plane toward the ground. Yikes.

So too when our lives spin out of control.

In my last blog I asked how you fight spiritual entropy, that state all of us fall into where, no matter how hard we grip the controls of our lives, the slow spin begins and takes our spiritual breath away.

The Fallacy of Self-discipline

At one time severe self-punishment was considered a mark of spirituality or godliness. Famous are the men and women of faith who starved, beat, and even mutilated themselves as a form of discipline, as a way to fight off the creep–and sometimes even the tidal wave–of sin and shame and guilt in their lives. The belief behind this was that they could flagellate the disobedience or evil out of themselves.

Martin Luther, before his “Tower Experience,” practiced such discipline fiercely. He felt God’s justice demanded he punish himself to pay for his sins. No matter that Jesus had already paid his–and our–bill. But Luther discovered that no amount of shivering in the snow all night long in February, nor climbing up and down the Scala Santa (Holy Steps) on his knees in Rome reduced his shame and guilt.

Luther wrote, “I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him! … I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.

The real goal of all this pain was not mere punishment, but rather self-discipline. And maybe even to get God to love them. Luther–and others–wanted to better themselves and believed self-punishment and deprivation would help. It didn’t.

How Do You Punish Yourself?

Spiritual self-punishment is not as popular today, nor as severe, as it once was, thank God. But still many of us practice mild forms of it, maybe subliminally. Today we may only force ourselves to watch several hours of the TV show Jersey Shore, or watch one of television evangelist Benny Hinn’s “Miracle Crusades,” or–if we have really sinned–relive any of the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl wins.

But seriously, now that I’ve probably offended you, how do you punish yourself? In the extreme, self-cutting and eating disorders are well documented problems in the modern world. These painful, heartbreaking disorders are, in part, echoes of those ancient, ubiquitous drives for perfection. And they are just as ineffective at producing perfection.

The other extreme is quitting. Maybe you have just quit trying to grow spiritually.

Many of us, however, simply grab the stick tighter. We work harder. If at first you don’t succeed try harder. That works when cleaning a floor or driving a nail. It does not work so well in matters of the soul.

Rest: The Counterintuitive Answer

What do you do when your life spins out of control? Neither a tighter grip nor giving up is the answer. Irish poet and singer-song writer Thomas Moore wrote, “It’s important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative, and progressive, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture the soul. The soul has different concerns, of equal value: downtime for reflection, conversation, and reverie; beauty that is captivating and pleasuring; relatedness to the environs and to people; and any animal’s rhythm of rest and activity.”

In the Christian world we call this Sabbath. “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing,” says Eugene Peterson.

Without planning it, my recent backpacking trip with my son, Brendan, and some close friends from Oklahoma, turned into just such a Sabbath. On the mountain there was not even a control stick much less an opportunity to grab it tighter. No cell coverage, no internet, no bad political news. Only eating and sleeping and fishing and talking and praying and stars. There was work to be sure. Pumping water, gathering firewood, cooking, the constant watch against the weather. But it is a different kind of work. Work sans worry. It is the work of letting go.

And in so doing the small plane of my life righted, pulled out of its spin, and leveled off.

Sabbath, I’ve rediscovered is powering down and letting go of the stick. But more than that, it’s releasing control of life to a bigger, more capable hand.

We’d love to hear about places and times you have found rest.

Today is my last blog post here.  It has been a pleasure to be a part of this blog for the last several years. Thanks, Mike. And thank all of you for your listening ear, wise comments, funny responses, challenging ideas, and your on-line friendship. Please consider, if you have not already, joining me on my Living Spiritually blog. Click here and subscribe. Eugene

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Why God Likes Vacations

 By Eugene C. Scott

Where do you go for rest and relaxation?

Is it twelve miles from nowhere up a mountain in the Pecos Wilderness? I’m willing to bet most people don’t consider strapping on a 50 pound backpack and hauling it into the wilds a restful idea.

I mean seriously.

Rest? You have to walk the whole way. There’s no escalator.

Relaxation? There are bears and mountain lions and mosquitos. And dirt. And you eat out of the same pot you cook with and wipe your spoon on your pants when you’re done. And you sleep on the ground in a tent and poop in the woods.

And there’s no Facebook or Twitter.

Still that is exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next few days.

And I will love every inconvenient, dirty, grueling, quiet, slow, peaceful, real minute of it.

A lightness of soul

Why? Mainly because there is a moment after hiking for miles that you shed your heavy backpack and feel a physical lightness that makes you want to grab onto something for fear you might float away. Then later, before crawling into your tent, that physical lightness turns into a lightness of soul as billions of stars salt the night sky. With those stars comes a lightness–a freedom, as if my soul has taken flight and is soaring and breathing again for the first time. To see the vastness of God’s creation–of God himself–is to be reminded I am not in fact the center of the universe. Hunkering down below those mighty peaks and brilliant stars I remember I do not determine the course of world events, or often, even of my own life just as I don’t direct the stars.

Being busy does not equal being important

Up there I know I am not responsible for who becomes president, poverty in Haiti, global warming, or your happiness. That is not to say I do not play a role in these things. I do and so do you. But wilderness tells me in no uncertain terms, you are not all that. 

I believe this is why so many of us have a difficult time unplugging and truly taking time off. We are comfortable in our delusion that we are all that.

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Busy!” we exclaim. “OMG, you would not believe all the things I have to do.”

But here is what we’re really saying:

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Important!” we exclaim. “OMG, if I stopped doing what I’m doing for just one second, the entire world (at least the one that revolves around me) would collapse.”

The truth is, however, that our worlds do not collapse when we rest.

God likes vacations

Years ago–at the beginning of human time–God created rest saying, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work . . . .” Sabbath–taking one day or more off–is God’s gift to us so that we can feel that lightness of soul. So we know that God, not us, is All That.

Modern science is finally catching up with God on this concept. Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist who wrote a book titled A Happy You, says, “Taking a break . . . affords you an opportunity to step back, put life into perspective, and remember what’s really important. It helps get your priorities straight.”

And all this time we thought God was trying to be unreasonable and bossy. And the funny–meaning ironic–thing is that Christians are the ones most guilty of believing being busy equals being important. And pastors may be the worst of the worst at unplugging and resting.

Cat Stevens’ (now Yusaf Islam) old song “Miles from Nowhere” speaks of unplugging and getting our priorities straight:

“Miles from nowhere

I guess I’ll take my time

Oh yeah, to reach there

Look up at the mountain

I have to climb

Oh yeah, to reach there.

Lord my body has been a good friend

But I won’t need it when I reach the end.

Miles from nowhere.

Not a soul in sight.

Oh yeah, But it’s alright.”

Eugene and Stasia

For me the beautiful thing about being miles from nowhere and falling asleep under the stars, and marking time based on hunger pains not calendar appointments, and spending several days with a fly rod rather than a key board in my hands is knowing that the world is in God’s hands and not mine. Under that vast dome of stars, I realize true importance comes not from busyness but rather from the fact that the God who created those billion stars and that towering mountain knows my name and has written my story in his book. And this is true whether I am resting or working.

When I return, and you ask me how I am, I hope I answer, “I’m not all that. But it’s alright.”

Eugene C. Scott also believes God likes us to take vacations because it gives God time to clean up the messes we’ve made. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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How the Movie The Return of the King Calls Us to Worship

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not only because it is one of few movies adapted from an even better book that didn’t slaughter the story (Nerd alert! I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy a dozen times). And I’m not alone in my assessment. It was a critical and box-office success and won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

But I loved The Return of the King because it told such a big engrossing story. Like all good epics Peter Jackson’s movie connected the small everyday lives of its characters: Frodo, Sam, Strider, Legolas, Pippin, Faramir, and gang with a struggle much bigger than themselves. Save Middle Earth from slavery and death. The film deftly shows each individual character’s role in that cosmic battle.

Like The Return of the King, Worship is Epic

Epic stories well-told, such as The Return of the King, become classics because they strike a chord deep in our souls. Instinctively we want to be part of the chorus singing about the significance of life, if even singing from the back row. Or to return to a movie metaphor: simply to be even an extra in the army of Gondor might be enough to give our lives meaning.

This is because God created us to be a part of something grand, epic, so to speak. That is what that strange activity called worship is supposed to do: connect our small, everyday lives to something–or more so, Someone–bigger.

What Blocks Worship?

Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame, calls this living a better story. Worship is the door through which we enter a better story, God’s story. Unfortunately the story conflict often blocking the way is not a malicious ring, or Sauron but daily drudgery. Doing dishes, watching the news, rushing here or there. Forgetfulness.

Maybe we ignore God’s casting call to play even a small role in God’s Grand Story because we think we are miscast, or unable, or we believe there is no such thing as a Grand Story. Yet, as I wrote in my last blog, there are no expendable crew members for God. You are not miscast as a worshiper. It’s the role you and I were made for. Most people, when asked what they would do with large lottery winnings, say pay off debt and then do something big, like help the homeless. Worship. And, as to belief, even non-theistic scientists search for the meaning of life, the answer, the Big Bang. Again worship, just not of God.

We were created to worship God. This is why moutainscapes, brilliant music, the flick of a bird’s wing, or the birth of a baby freeze us mid-breath and leave us seeking more. They tantalize our earth-bound imaginations. Encountering these mysterious moments free our imaginations while at the same time worship of God anchors them to something real, not just fanciful.

Worship is More than Filling our God Tanks on Sunday

Sadly even many who believe in God have forsaken this gorgeous gift from God, unless it be the rare gape at nature.

For many the trappings of religion are what deaden the desire to worship God. Church does not often feel epic. Worship has become a show, or duty, or a time and place to get what we need from God. Worship today is filled with purposes and propositions and practical applications. All the while keeping the true mystery of communicating with God miles from us.

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” Eugene H. Peterson debunks this popular view of worship. He writes, “Fear-of the Lord [his biblical term for a lifestyle of worship] is not studying about God but living in reverence before God. . . is not a technique for acquiring spiritual know-how but a willed not knowing [italics mine]. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being there. Fear-of-the-Lord nurtured in worship and prayer, silence and quiet, love and sacrifice, turns everything we do into a life of ‘breathing God’.”

Much church worship is anything but breathing God. Worship is simply “being there.” Where? In the Presence of God.

Add Worship Back into Your Life’s Menu

But just like when some meals are bland and wolfed down only to fill our empty stomaches, we do not stop seeking that one gourmet meal set in an ambiance of laughter and delight, so too we need not give up the wonder of worship simply because we have turned it into fast food.

Next time you see a movie or read a story or view a sunset that makes you yearn for something bigger, give in to the urge and turn your eyes to God. It’s God calling, trying to connect you to something epic, Someone bigger than yourself. Go ahead, worship.

Eugene C. Scott believes the command to love God with all we are is an invitation to worship. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Freeing Yourself from the Curse of the Redshirt, the Expendable Crewman

“Nobody wants to be the expendable crewman,” my friend Mark said over the phone the other day. For some strange reason we were talking about how in the original Star Trek, when Kirk, Bones, Spock, and some anonymous crew member in a red uniform beamed down to a planet filled with hostile aliens, the crewman in the redshirt always ended up dead, while Captain Kirk scores the sexy alien who looks vaguely like a Victoria Secret model, only with green skin.

I loved Star Trek.

To ensure the story had conflict someone had to die and it could’t be Kirk, Spock, Scotty, or Bones (unless it was a show featuring time warps where the deceased Kirk, Spock, Scotty, or Bones comes back by the end of the show, but that’s another story). Trekkies dubbed this guy “the redshirt” or “the expendable crewman.”

And no one wants to be that guy.

But many of us get up each morning, don our redshirts, and beam down to a hostile environment with a sinking suspicion we are indeed expendable. That’s why I don’t wear red much. I don’t want to be the next target.

Do you feel expendable?

But seriously. There is always someone who can do our jobs better, is better looking, is younger, or older, or smarter, nicer, funnier, taller, newer, or just all around better.

For example, when I first decided to go into church planting four years ago, after over twenty-five years in the pastorate, a younger pastor–an expert in church planting–advised me that, at my age, I should consider church redevelopment instead. Translated that means, “Old guys like you can only handle dying churches. Leave the real, hard work to us younger guys.” I wanted to punch him, but he was considerably younger and I didn’t want to hurt him.

He saw me as a redshirt, completely expendable. I’m glad I listened to a higher authority on what I can and can’t do.

Have you been told you’re the expendable crewman?

God, the higher authority, doesn’t see you that way. 

I find it ironic that the Being who needs no one else in order to exist does not view us as expendable while many of us who desperately need each other in order to survive treat each other as disposable.

Is that because we’ve been conditioned by a throw-away, newer is better culture? Probably. But we created that culture.

The deeper reason for this attitude might be that we believe if we treat others as redshirts on our crew then we must be the indispensable James T. Kirk–or his equivalent. Treating others as expendable makes us feel as though we are not. Work-a-holism boils down to this.

“I must . . . make . . . myself . . . indispensable,” we groan under the load while our children, spouses, friends, and sometimes God himself wait out by the trash dumpster.

But doesn’t this only make us more insecure?

Thus we’re constantly looking over our shoulders for our replacement, creating a vicious circle. We know he or she looms there because we were once someone’s replacement.

The true source of our security.

This is why knowing we were created and loved by an Indispensable God is so crucial to living healthy, spiritual lives. It gives us a true, unmovable foundation to base our lives on.

God does not need you or me in order for the world to keep spinning, for the world to be healed.

Better! He wants us to play a part.

God is not waiting for someone better to parent your children, sing your song, love your spouse, do your job, pray your prayer, write your book, right a wrong, weed your garden, laugh with your friend, be a part of your community, or dream your dream. God chooses to love you and out of that love chooses to use you.  God’s choice makes you non-expendable, not your false belief that you can live without others, nor your IQ, fast car, job, or lofty, faulty self-image. So take off that damn redshirt and get busy.

Eugene C. Scott is non-expendable in part because he can perform the “live long and prosper” sign without glue or masking tape. Please join the Living Spiritually community by following his blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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How I Almost Invented the Zip-Line and Other Bad Decisions

How I saw myself

“Let’s tie a rope from the top of this cliff down to that tree and slide down,” I said standing atop a thirty foot cliff. I was ten years-old and full of myself, being one of the older and cooler kids in our gang, and also having just been named the starting pitcher of my Pee Wee baseball team.

“Great idea,” said Tim, who was slightly older and, in reality, a lot cooler because it was his rope.

I tossed Tim’s rope down and secured the top to a large rock. Tim tied the other end to a tree. We then cut a short piece off the end to loop over the zip-line.

“It was my idea so I go first,” I said.

“It’s my rope.”

“I go second then.” We tied a safety rope around Tim’s waist and slowly lowered him down.

“I’m going again. Without the safety rope,” Tim said when he came back up. He zipped down the second time laughing and shouting.

Finally my turn came. I sat on the edge of the cliff with my legs dangling over. My brother and a tall kid looked up at me. Fear turned my mouth desert dry.

“Go! Or are you chicken?” Tim chided.

I launched myself into thin air. Unfortunately, Tim, not being a Boy Scout, was not trained in knots. The bottom knot came untied and I fell straight down, landing standing up, on my left leg. I felt and heard it snap. The tall kid took off running for home.

“I broke my leg,” I whined when everyone gathered around me.

“You did not.”

I pointed to my left foot which was hanging sideways on my leg. Both bones, compound fracture, end of my baseball career. I’ve regretted that day, especially years later when I realized I almost invented the zip-line.

Unfortunately, jumping off that cliff was not my worst decision. I’v made many more. So many that at times I’ve been afraid to make one at all. I’ve frozen at the top of the cliff, so to speak.

My Top Six Worst Decisions:

6. Dropping out of high school for a job at Gordon’s Greenhouse that paid $1.75 an hour.

5. Climbing to the top of a glacier to see if “Those really are bear tracks going in that cave.”

4. Moving from the Mile High City, gateway to the Colorado Rockies, to Bloomington, ILL, popcorn capital of the mid-west.

3. Breaking up with my future wife, Dee Dee, when I was in the 8th grade.

2. Trusting Tim’s meager knot tying skills.

1. Buying a used Chevy Citation. For the sticker price, without bartering.

I have good reason to not trust Tim or myself. But I’ve made some good decisions too. Or more correctly, just as not all that glitters is gold, so too, not all that begins daft ends dark.

My Top Five Best Decisions:

5. Dropping out of high school for a job at Gordon’s Greenhouse that paid $1.75 an hour. I’ve seldom quit anything since and have been married 33 years and now have a doctoral degree.

4. Climbing to the top of a glacier to see if “Those really are bear tracks going in that cave.” That’s just really a great story I’ll tell another time.

3. Moving from the Mile High City, gateway to the Colorado Rockies, to Bloomington, ILL, popcorn capital of the mid-west. My youngest daughter was born, my oldest daughter met an incredible man and married him, and I am grandfather to the two best grandkids in the world to name a few unexpected outcomes of that move.

2. Trusting Tim’s meager knot tying skills. I now know that scars, physical and emotional, are–at the same time–the most tender and tough parts of me. And if I had become rich and famous because I invented the zip-line, I would not have become a pastor.

1.  Finally marrying Dee Dee. You knew that was coming. Plus, there is nothing even God can do with a used Chevy Citation.

Does Life Just Work Out for the Best?

But this is not simply a case of life “working out for the best.” Nor is it proof “everything has a reason.”

No.

Shallow platitudes and blind fate had no hand in my worst decisions becoming my best. This was not a mere learning my lesson. I still don’t trust ropes or philosophies tied by the mere hands of man. Only God can bring beauty from ashes and joy from weeping and give even suffering a reason. As I look back, I see God’s hand, gently–or not so gently–redirecting my poorly chosen paths. And because of that, I (more often now) face decisions–and life generally–boldly, fearlessly. Because this turning of worst to best is the powerful work of God’s perfect love. It’s called redemption. And that is where I place my trust and base my decisions.

Eugene C. Scott decided to get up this morning. That was either a good or bad decision depending. He also believes living spiritually means living fearlessly. You can join the Living Spiritually community by clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Living Spiritually as an Art: Counting on God

True epiphanies are rare. I’m not talking about instants of sudden inspiration or “aha moments.” Those are rare enough.

I’m talking about those times that the dictionary describes as “a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being,” those scarce times when God breaks through.

My first epiphany of the sacred kind came in 1972. It came like a meteor knocking me out of a degenerating orbit and into the path of redemption. As Phil Keaggy sang back then, God’s “love broke through.” That meteor saved my life.

I can count the other meteors on one hand.

Counting God’s Presence

But are those life shattering moments the only times we can count God’s presence? As if living spiritually is all mountain tops and glowing sunsets.

The late Guy Chase didn’t think so. Chase, a renowned artist, carried a piece of shirt cardboard and an India ink pen in his back pocket and every time he sensed God’s presence he yanked out the pen and placed a dot on the cardboard. He finally considered the strange piece of art finished after he had recorded 40,000 mini-epiphanies.

In the course of 2012 being the Year of Living Spiritually, I’ve tried similar experiments to heighten my ability to see God in the ordinary.

Living Spiritually is an Art

What I’ve come to realize, besides how difficult it is to intentionally see God in daily life, is that living spiritually is more of an art than it is a science. Guy Chase seemed to know that. While I try to record my encounters with God in words and pictures (which are also art) and ideas, Chase counted them in artistic dots that, when taken as a whole, look to me like a doorway into some unknown and adventurous place. Chase’s art calls me into a new daily adventure of seeking God.

Chase’s art has also shown me that artistically representing something mysterious, such as an encounter with God, can often better capture those encounters rather than trying to define them precisely. Seeing living spiritually as an art gives God room to move and show up in my life. Not that we should’t try to articulate and define our experiences with God. It’s simply that God is more than we can count.

40,000 versus Infinity

Still I try. But I find I can’t count 40,000 of anything much less 40,000 times I’ve felt God present. In reality, even that number would pale to the truth of God’s omnipresence. There is not a cardboard big enough to record God’s continual caress of our lives.

As I scan Chase’s dots, I can only imagine how alive Guy Chase must have been during his art project. How he must have grown and changed, knowing he was never alone. And I realize how I long to hear just one or two of the things Chase saw and learned as he marked dots on his cardboard. How I yearn to live with such intensity and awareness.

Yet, as day 135 of the Year of Living Spiritually opens, I have noticed a laxness in my counting God’s presence. My daily journal entries have shortened, as has my God-attention span.

Chase must have grown tired too. But the final truth in his untitled, and now lost work of art, is that God does not grow tired of investing every molecule of life with his presence. You can count on that.

Eugene C. Scott can count to ten without using his fingers. Beyond that?  He is also very honored to count you as a reader and would love to hear about how you count God’s presence in your life. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Blue Like Jazz: A Movie Review

By Eugene C. Scott

I wouldn’t voluntarily see a “Christian movie.” It’s not that they are cheesy. That’s a cheap shot. I’ve seen my share of cheesy “non-Christian movies.” Rather, it’s that movies produced by the Christian faith community, which supposedly portray faith, and might produce faith, seldom exhibit faith in God’s ability to communicate through a story well told. This usually makes them lousy stories. And it’s ironic because Jesus fearlessly told stories: one comparing God to an unjust judge.

Today’s Christian movie industry would never do such a thing for fear that some poor sap like me might misunderstand the point. Therefore, Christian movies seldom tell authentic, compelling stories because they are overly concerned with not offending popular Christian orthodoxy, with getting Truth right, and with ensuring that the movie gets people to heaven. For an example of this, read here  for a discussion of whether the character “Penny” from “Blue Like Jazz” is Christian enough.

But I wanted to see “Blue Like Jazz” because I read the book several years ago, and found it refreshing, not your typical pastor-of-mega-church-preaches-sermon-and-turns-it-into-a-book book. Donald Miller is an excellent writer: poetic, funny, serious, irreverent, and honest in his prose. Miller trusted me to get the point instead of impaling me with it. I hoped the movie would follow suit. Plus Christianity Today said, it’s hardly Christian cinema as usual.

So, though I had trouble imagining Miller’s series of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality” being turned into a complete story, I donned my disguise and trooped off to see “Blue Like Jazz” (I always wear a disguise when going to Christian movies or book stores in case someone recognizes me.  Just kidding, sort of).

Eugene heading for his local Christian bookstore

The movie is the story of a fictional 19 year-old Donald Miller, who begins to feel his Bible-belt is cinched a bit too tight. “Don,” played dryly but authentically by Marshall Allman, has been accepted into a Christian college. The scene depicting his “graduation” at church is as intentionally uncomfortable as any I’ve sat through. Exaggerated but too close to home. Unknown to Don, his estranged–and strange–jazz-loving father enrolls him in uber-liberal Reed College in Portland. He rejects the idea as crazy until his mother inadvertently jerks his magic-carpet faith completely out from under him.

The rest of the film shows Don struggling to figure out who he now is, if he is not some caraciture of a flannel-board Christ. Don’s struggle is real and funny. I have not traveled Don’s path, but I did during the movie and I wanted his conflict and disappointment and loneliness to shape him into the person I read about in the book.

The writing is sharp, bouncing from Seinfeld-like irony to true soul searching. The scene where Don is sitting on a bench, alone, writing in his journal was powerful story-telling. More-so, when a friend from Houston unexpectedly shows up at Reed over Christmas break.

Director Steve Taylor filled Miller’s college life with quirky, troubled, and extremely intelligent fellow travelers. The movie claims the average IQ score at Reed College is a couple above genius. I have to admit, for several reasons, I may not have survived at Reed. It looked to me like flypaper for the world’s wildest and weirdest. But Reed made for a perfect setting for Miller’s journey.

Blue Like Jazz was not “Christian” nor cheesy. I enjoyed it. I laughed, cringed, hoped, and was lost in the characters and the story most of the time.

A couple of exceptions:

The animated car scene where Don drives from Texas to Portland is silly, even cheesy (but not “Christian cheesy”). I found myself taken out of the story then and it took me a few minutes to dive back in. I wish Taylor had spent that valuable screen time letting Allman develop Miller more deeply.

Too bad Taylor didn’t have more money so the cinematography and technical aspects would match the writing and over-all story. Even then it is well done on all levels.

Also, despite Taylor’s success in letting the story speak for itself, there were a couple of scenes that seemed built to communicate information rather than show Don’s struggle. But this was not often.

Over-all, however, “Blue Like Jazz” is a well-told, thoughtful, provocative story about a young man digging below his facade of safe, American consumer-driven religion to see if there is a real, living, breathing God buried there. That story is one, according to sociologist Christian Smith, many in fictional Donald Miller’s age group are living.

It’s a movie to be enjoyed and discussed. What did you think?

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He tried to sound a lot like an official movie critic in this review because he grew up reading the reviews in TV Guide and it’s always been a dream of his to become a crusty media critic. Besides after ranting about Christian movies and book stores, he might need a back-up career.

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