My brother, at the tender age of 5, passed a church building while riding a city bus with my aunt. She asked if he wanted to go to church. He winced. "No way." "Why?" she probed. He said, "Because Jesus was a good boy and they killed him. I am a good boy and they might kill me, too."
The complexity and humor of this story cannot go unnoticed. If this story was a sitcom, I would write that my brother grew up, learned the difference between Jesus and the church, and goes every Sunday.
It's not that easy. Matters of faith rarely are. More often they are passionate and emotional, like love -- simple in concept, complicated in execution.
I "over-stand" this complexity, attending church with regularity. I read a book once that captures some of these thoughts: Blue Like Jazz. I liked it so much I bought books and sent them to several friends. Then I heard they wanted to make it into a film but they lost the funding. So I joined a community who helped to crowd fund the production (the largest project funded through Kickstarter.com, to the tune of $345,992) to bring an adaptation of the book to the screen. The movie opened during the weekend in 150 theaters across the country. It's well-acted, with Marshall Allman (True Blood) and Claire Holt (Vampire Diaries), and well-told by Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson, based on the New York Times Best Seller by Donald Miller. It is worth seeing.
After seeing the film, I went back to my dog-eared book. This highlighted section reminded me why I wanted to see this story told. Don Miller writes:
"My Sunday school teachers had turned the Bible narrative into children's fables. They talked about Noah and the ark because the story had animals in it. They failed to mention this was when God massacred all of humanity. [...] How did we come to think the story of Noah's ark is appropriate for children? Can you imagine a children's book about Noah's ark complete with paintings of people gasping in gallons of water, mothers grasping their children while their bodies go flying down white rapid rivers, the children's tiny heads being bashed against rocks or hung up in fallen trees?"
Miller also writes:
"I felt as if Christianity, a religious system, was a product that kept falling apart, and whoever was selling it would hold up the broken parts behind his back trying to divert everybody's attention. The children's story stuff was the thing I felt Christians were holding behind their back..."
"Reality is like fine wine. It will not appeal to children."
This quote is in another of Miller's books and resonated for me as I watched the film. So... by the way, Blue Like Jazz is not a family film, as Steve Taylor stated at the New York screening. "It's not a Christian movie. It's a movie made by Christians."
Blue Like Jazz is not sitcom-style story telling. It's not neat. You will be uncomfortable. You will laugh. You may even cry. There are twists and there are turns. It's gritty and edgy. Like many of the people who read the book, you might even see some aspect of yourself in the film. And it's even got a little controversy, with some churches protesting the film.
It's odd because the film is not a criticism of church or even faith. It's one man's story that a lot of people seem to like. It is an invitation to look at the complexities of living out your faith, your purpose in life and loving people along the way.
We live in an age of accountability and transparency. Community is king. The fact that Blue Like Jazz is in theatres is because 4,500 people decided it should be. The movie, like the book, will strike a chord. Although it has been called a "coming of age" film, I think it's a "Isn't it about time we had this conversation film?"
Protests about the film are revealing. And well, I like the protests, because I see it as the beginning of a dialogue, not a controversy. I see it as the chance for communities of faith, yes churches, to take a look at a current generation and engage them on new terms.
When a single tweet, photo, video, post or viral campaign can change the course of an election, effect the brand of a company, impact the direction of a war or fund the making of a film, it's time for organizations, intuitions, companies, and yes, houses of worship to consider new methods of engagement.
The best place to start with any conversation is to listen. Why not listen to some jazz?