This one's for you Tom Bombadil. And for anyone else who cares about this sort of thing as much as I do. Or even if you don't.
Tom has been recommending a certain book by a certain "Christian" author to me for quite some time now and I have been telling him for quite some time now that I would get it to it. Well, I finally got to it. The book is Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I devoured this little 250 page or so book in about 5 or 6 hours, almost at one sitting.
It was just so refreshing to finally see a "thinking" Christian, someone who has wrestled with the same issues that I have been wrestling with for so long. If more Christians were like Don, I truly believe there would be more Christians in the world.
Donald Miller is basically not your Grandma's Christian. My own mother would probably call him a heretic. For you see he loves Jesus, but he drinks beer and smokes cigarettes, cigars and pipes. He even attended what he termed the most liberal college in all of America, while auditing a few courses, Reed University in Portland, Oregon.
To me, Donald Miller's version of Christianity is MUCH closer to that originally envisioned and taught by Jesus Christ himself. I can't really put it all into words, Don did such a fine job of it himself.
But... not to rain on the parade, there were still some problems with all that he had to say, things I didn't quite agree with.
For one, he says at one point, that the story of the Fall of man, whether viewed allegorically or as actual historical fact, is the ONLY explanation for why man is the way he is, why mankind is so selfish, mean, etc. Hold on a minute, Don. Is it REALLY the ONLY explanation around? I think not. Maybe the only explanation he has ever heard of but certainly not the only one. Maybe the only one that makes sense to him, but certainly not the only one. Evolutionary biological theory explains it all pretty well if you ask me. As does the Buddhist way of looking at the concept of suffering. Even IF the Fall of man in the garden of Eden WERE the only explanation around, where does that leave us? All 3 Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity AND Islam believe this same story. But they each have very different views on the way to salvation, only one of which believes Jesus is the one and only way.
So even if I concede that the story of the Fall of Man IS the only explanation around, great, now we have narrowed the field down to 3 different religions, each of whom believes the other two are going to hell. We still haven't progressed much past ground zero, have we?
Also, he says that it doesn't really matter if the story is taken allegorically or as fact, it is still the only explanation. But... it DOES matter if the story is allegory or not, doesn't it? Truth matters, does it not? Are we merely subscribing our beliefs to what makes us feel good? If the story is not really true but just an allegory, just myth, then it explains nothing. Some cultures have stories about how the earth is suspended on the back of a giant tortoise and when you ask them what holds the tortoise up, the answer is another tortoise, ad infinitum. This story explains things, does it not? But it's not the truth. There are lots of theories around the world relating to creation, they all explain what is observable, but they can't all be the truth.
Another minor point of contention, is that Don at times, resorts to old Christian cliches. You can readily tell that he was raised in a more conservative Christian surroundings. When he was in the mountains at one point in the book, he is staring up at the stars and all of a suddent has an epiphany. He says that God holds the stars and the heavens static in the sky. Apparently, he didn't audit any basic astronomy courses at Reed or else he would have known that nothing in the universe is static, not even the stars which appear to be static. God does not hold anything in the heavens static, everything is in constant flux.
Lastly, it all just appears to me as if, not only him but his many friends who were once skeptics but become Christian, do so as a sort of intellectual giving up, so to speak. It's as if they have just given up. The questions were just too difficult for them to bear, and the society in which we live tells us that Christianity is the answer, so after much internal wrangling and fighting, they just gave up and defaulted back to the religion of their youth. His friend Penny had some major issues with Christianity, as far as I can tell from the book, none of them were answered, she just called him one day to say, "Hey, I love Jesus now too."
Having said all of that, if I was to become a Christian again one day, this would be the kind of Christian I would be. Don seems like a really cool guy, a really smart guy who loves the arts and is not afraid of intellectualism. I really loved the fact that he once fell in love with Emily Dickinson. Here is a man that understands that just because one loves Jesus does not mean they have to be a monk. There is still much beauty in this world to behold, much to enjoy, and that includes reading, the arts, a good beer, and even watching South Park.
I am not saying that this book totally convinced me, as I said, there were some issues that I had with it, but it's come closer than anything in a really long time to showing me that it's ok to be a Christian and that the Christianity I grew up is not necessarily all there is to Christendom.
I understand what he means when he says that believing in Jesus is not something he can intellectually explain to someone, but it is just something he feels in his gut. I can understand that. I can respect that. I can relate to that. Even as I have run away from the Church, I have still always found myself believing in God, I have NEVER been able to make the leap to Atheism and I have always admired and revered Jesus Christ, even if I haven't always admired and revered the Church that sprang up after his death.
And oh, I also like the fact that Donald Miller gave the benediction prayer at the Democratic National Convention and is a supporter of Obama. It is possible, even preferable in my humble opinion to be a Christian Democrat. I still feel very strongly that Jesus himself was liberal and I still feel very strongly that the Republican Party is Pharisaic in attitude and beliefs. They have fooled too many people for way too long by pretending to be followers of Jesus but Jesus said that there is only way to know if someone is one of his disciples and that is if they love one another. By their fruits we shall know them.