On a recent business trip, a friend and co-worker loaned me a copy of Don Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. I’m soon going to be getting myself a copy so that I can take a second read-through. That’s actually saying a lot about the book, because I have/take so little time to read anymore that for me to want to read your book twice is quite the accomplishment. After a second read, I think I’ll pass the book on to a dear friend of mine who I would love to see come to know the Lord. Try as I may, I’ve never been able to adequately convey to him my thoughts and beliefs, especially on weighty issues like Hell. So I was quite surprised by reading the description of Hell in Blue Like Jazz and found it to be as close to my own ideas on the subject as any I’ve ever seen.
The book starts out with this passage (which really hooked me):
“I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Baghdad Theatre one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.
I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.”
The book isn’t about Jazz, but there are a few references to it like this memorable passage:
“I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul … The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.”
Speaking of which… I know some of my friends may be shocked/repulsed by the fact that I don’t believe Jesus spoke “King James” English or that every word in the KJV is a literal fact. Fact of the matter is that I happen to know that the KJV is a translation of the original which attempted to transpose all the original quotes of Christ (et. al) to synonymous words in a different language. In the same way, I believe that Jesus tried to translate spiritual/heavenly terms and concepts into terms and concepts that the people of his day could understand. That’s one of the reasons he was always telling stories and parables. One of the most awful places that the people of His day could imagine was the garbage dump (Gehenna) outside the gates of the city and beneath the hillside where the Romans crucified people (and where they often discarded their bodies). Here there were perpetual fires that never went out, worms, and pain/mourning/gnashing of teeth. I believe that Jesus was trying to convey to the people of His day that heaven was a literal place that they would go to after death if they were members of the Kingdom where they would enjoy the unending presence of God and all things good (a.k.a., the most wonderful place they could imagine, streets of gold and all that) and that hell was a literal place they would go to after death if they were not members of the Kingdom where they would suffer the unending absence/separation from God and all things good (a.k.a. Gehenna). Blue Like Jazz offers one such interpretation, and one of the best I’ve seen in modern language. It talks about an astronaut cast off from a space station explosion into orbit around the earth in a space suit that keeps him alive perpetually but no one comes to save him, no one talks to him, and even the beautiful sights of the earth and sun and stars are slowly and completely shut out by his hair growing throughout the decades and filling up his helmet until he his floating in complete darkness and isolation.