I’ve been carrying around a few books wherever I go lately including Restless by Jennie Allen and Thrive by Mark Hall from Casting Crowns. The book that’s logging the most miles, however, is Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I’m fairly sure that my friends either don’t believe I’m really reading it or that perhaps I have some undiagnosed learning disorder because that book has been with me for long enough now to give the impression that I can’t really read. The truth is that I blow through books the way I tackle most aspects of my life. I devour them. I eat, sleep, and breathe them and then, in a flash, they’ve been consumed and I feel empty again.
I don’t want to consume. I want to revel. I want to read, think, write, then read again. Remember “slowly”?
Blue Like Jazz came in and out of my life then back again in a way that felt like God reminding me to listen when I’m being spoken to. Maybe even try to listen the first time He speaks. A friend in worship band began talking to me about the movie version of the book, telling me what felt like a very long story about one scene in particular and the connection of the director to that scene. There was an excitement in his voice, almost an urgency. One Sunday while listening to the same sermon for the third time, I decided to download the book to my phone. I began to read it and then cast it aside. Every time I scrolled through the screens of my phone over the next couple months, I was reminded that Blue Like Jazz is in my Kindle library. I continued to ignore it. Then one night several weeks ago while showing another worship band friend something else on my phone, he saw the Blue Like Jazz cover staring up at us.
“Is that Blue Like Jazz? That book changed my life.” I went home and ordered the paper copy, grabbed a pen, and here we are.
When you carry around a book subtitled Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, you occasionally need to answer questions or field uncomfortable conversation. One church friend has pointed out multiple times that he simply cannot relate to the book on any level. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Perhaps it’s nothing. But the reason he’s given me – that he’s known Jesus since the fourth grade – has been stuck in my mind.
I also grew up in the church, specifically the Church of God. We sang the old school hymns, washed each other’s feet, feared hellfire and brimstone, and worshiped with a man who either spoke in tongues or babbled through prayers with such a thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. My fellow congregants were tired farmers, blackened coal miners, and widowed women who sat together in a clump as if their survival depended on it. I dropped a quarter in a plate every Sunday morning and stood to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” next to my parents and brother. Each summer I went to Vacation Bible School for one week and sleepaway church camp for another. I still remember around the age of six or seven sitting in my brother’s seat at the kitchen table while my dad helped me ask Jesus into my heart. I closed my eyes. I pictured him in there, a tiny little man with a beard and flowing robes.
You see, I’ve known about Jesus my entire life, too. I sang the songs and bowed my head and read my beautiful lilac Bible. I had moments when I knew He was with me, wrapping me in His love. And I had moments when I couldn’t imagine He was real to me, to anyone, nor would He ever be. I vacillated between wanting to understand it all and wanting to hide from the idea of any of it. I loved the Christians around me yet I hated them and their judgment.
Growing up in the small town where your family has lived since the Revolutionary War means having the pleasure of being surrounded by extended family. My family is small, but important. I loved my grandparents and had you asked me to describe my grandfather, I’d have said he smelled like pipe tobacco and motor oil, carried M&M’s in the pocket of his work shirt, always chewed gum, and loved ham, gum drops, and above all, working the land.
But really, he was a bit like that tiny Jesus living in my heart. He was there. I asked him to be there. I wanted him there. But I didn’t know him.
I was blessed to have my grandfather with me until shortly after the birth of my second child, his strong mind hanging in right through when his tired body gave up. In his final years I came to know him as more than just the man with soil and grease in the cracks of his worn hands who sometimes shared his candy with his grandkids. He became a complete person, a man who courted a feisty farm girl, wrote her letters while he was driving truck to and from Baltimore, and stayed with her all night to comfort her when her baby brother died in the fields. He became the person who worried most about my sickness during pregnancy, remembering driving his own wife to the hospital during month five and nearly losing her as they lost their first child. I had always loved him. But before he left this earth, I finally had the chance to know him.
I’m not sure what I’m going to find as I read these books, if I’ll achieve the proverbial breakthrough moment, my life suddenly changed. What I do know is that for me, it’s time to finally try to know Jesus.