A Dehumanizing Cycle?

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I’m reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.  My son picked it up from a friend and was so challenged by Miller’s thoughts, he wants us to check it out and let him know what we think.  I’m only on chapter 8, but he has said many things I find compelling.

You must know the premise of the book is to explain Christian spirituality without using religious thoughts.  Quite a difficult task for me, having grown up in the church and being mostly sheltered from modern-day culture.  Yes, I would fit best in the 1950’s, I think.

In the chapter called “Redemption,” Miller explains the struggle with sin:

“…that’s the tricky thing about life, really, that the things we want most kill us.  Tony the Beat Poet read me this ancient scripture recently that talked about loving either darkness or loving light, and how hard it is to love light and how easy it is to love darkness.  I think that is true.  Untimately, we do what we love to do.  I like to think that I do things for the right reasons, but I don’t, I do things because I do or don’t love doing them.  Because of sin, because I am self-addicted, living in the wreckage of the fall, my body, my heart, and my affections are prone to love things that kill me.  Tony says Jesus gives us the ability to love the things we should love, the things of Heaven.  Tony says that when people who follow Jesus love the right things, they help create God’s kingdom on earth, and that is something beautiful.

I found myself trying to love the right things without God’s help, and it was impossible.  I tried to go one week without thinking a negative thought about another human being, and I couldn’t do it.  Before I tried that experiment, I thought I was a nice person, but after trying it, I realized I thought bad things about people all day long, and that, like Tony says, my natural desire was to love darkness.

My answer to this dilemma was self-discipline.  I figured I could just make myself do good things, think good thoughts about people, but that was no easier than walking up to a complete stranger and falling in love with them.  I could go through the motions for a while, but sooner or later my heart would testify to its true love: darkness.  Then I would get up and try again.  The cycle was dehumanizing.”

The next chapter, “Grace” begins:

“I was a fundamentalist Christian once.  It lasted a summer.  I was in that same phase of trying to discipline myself to ‘behave’ as if I loved light and not ‘behave’ as if I loved darkness.  I used to get really ticked about preachers who talked too much about grace, because they tempted me to not be disciplined.  I figured what people needed was a good kick in the butt, and if I failed in godliness it was because those around me weren’t trying hard enough.  I believed if word got out about grace, the whole church was going to turn into a brothel.  I was a real jerk, I think.”

Hmmm…what do you think?

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32 responses »

  1. “I was a fundamentalist Christian once. It lasted a summer. I was in that same phase of trying to discipline myself to ‘behave’ as if I loved light and not ‘behave’ as if I loved darkness. I used to get really ticked about preachers who talked too much about grace, because they tempted me to not be disciplined…”

    I tried to be a fundamentalist Christian once myself. It lasted, off and on, for about four years. And much like is detailed here, I kept trying to do the right thing time and again while missing the point entirely. And the point, of course, is GRACE…which is rooted in LOVE.

    But I didn’t have that when I was trying to be a fundamentalist. Not at my (old) church. There was always a lot of pressure to behave in a certain way, to act in a certain way, even to vote in a certain way, and to pretend as if life was easy because, well, we had Jesus. And since Jesus was God and God was on our side then the rest of the world was the problem–NOT us. I mean, the mentality was basically: “It couldn’t be us! WE were chosen before time began! The rest of the world is at fault for not accepting THE Good News”–even though that news was presented with such arrogance and so much malicious attitude that I was scattering seeds like a careless farmer…

    But now? Now, I choose my words carefully. Because I have realized that The Seed of God’s Word is very precious to me that I will do all that I can to share The GOOD News in a way that is most beneficial and most positive. And I do this not simply because I know I shall one day answer to The Lord of The Harvest, but because I have learned that The Grace of The Most High God is its own discipline. And that is precisely why LOVE is The Greatest Commandment…

    …because when exactly that much is right in our spiritual worlds, everything else follows.

    (Hmm. I like that. “Grace is its own discipline.” And it is light years beyond the fundamentalism I grew up with way back when.)

    And, yeah, I was a real jerk, too.

  2. I like that, too, Nor

    “Grace is its own discipline.”

    When it’s rooted in love, when we understand how much He loved us first, that He has poured grace upon us, then we respond in love. I think. Is that what you’re saying?

    Let me try again: We did nothing to earn salvation, it was freely given (grace); so we have nothing to owe but love for God and others.

    Then we’re not jerks. Hmmm.

  3. “I. Hate. Typos!!! ”

    Me too Nor. REALLY hate making typos. Glad I got to this post before Michelle deletes. Made me feel better about being so careful in re-reading everything I write! 🙂

    “the point, of course, is GRACE…which is rooted in LOVE.”

    The thing that amazes me about fundamentalists is that they so often miss THE fundamental point: love. God IS love. He tells us again and again to love Him and to love each other. He makes it clear that this is the basis of “the Law and the prophets”. How much more fundamental can you get? (Sigh)

    “my affections are prone to love things that kill me”

    Ain’t that the truth! And I can’t drag myself away from these “things that kill me” – that can only be done with the help of God’s grace.

    [Very carefully checked for typos, spelling mistakes and bad grammar. All remaining instances are … erm … deliberate?]

  4. I like the idea of being able to talk about the things of God without the “Christianese”, so to speak. I have heard of the book a couple times. Sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing the excerpts.

  5. I did not fit the mold to be a fundamentalist, I have sinned way to much for their liking, and honestly I did not change 100% over night. I am still not at the 100% mark. And I thought them to be jerks.. 😉

    Now I see them as misled and misinformed. Grace is huge, and yes there is a change even in a new believer, but it takes times to grow into a person that God has planned you to be. I know all this now, and I am glad to take God’s pace in my changes…those are the ones that actually are who I am and becoming to be…but if I try to make all those changes on my own in the name of being a Christian, I would only find disappointment.

    As Angie said…”without all the Christianese’ that is what the world needs to hear, the facts about Jesus, and leave the jerky stuff somewhere else.

    I think I like the book from what you wrote..love you

  6. Hey, Alan! That whole excerpt brought to mind Romans 7. Only through God’s grace…

    Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

    And then moving into chapter 8 with the teaching of living by the Spirit instead of the flesh. It is amazing what His work in us can do for us while living in the flesh.

    OK…that was a bunch of “Christianese.” How, Angie, do we talk about our Christian faith without using Christianese? I don’t know how to do it.

    Hey, Darla. I’ll ask the same of you, what point am I missing about Christianese? I may totally agree but am just not sure what y’all mean. I would think if anybody spoke in such a way, it would certainly be me. 😳 Should I be embarrassed?

    I agree: Grace is huge, and yes there is a change even in a new believer, but it takes times to grow into a person that God has planned you to be. Amen! We are all works in progress!!

    Love you guys…keep talking…I just may be learning something…???

  7. Oh no no no…not you…you are extremely down to earth to me, and I love you! I have never thought you were jerky..

    what I mean by Christianese is…to a non believer or a new believer to use terms that only seasoned saints would understand is intimidating and confusing…and usually makes a newbie want to run and hide, and wonder if they belong. YOU are NOT like that..

  8. Are we talking about words like “sanctification?” I’m not trying to be obtuse, I really do wonder if I can do this without realizing it. I’ve been in the church my whole life, some words are truly a part of my everyday vocabulary.

    Thanks, Darla, for the down-to-earth part, though. I don’t really think I’m intimidating…that thought is almost laughable! 😀

  9. THere are many words that the world doesn’t have a clue about…one of them for me was Grace…I was so frustrated in the beginning of my walk…I was struggling with so many things…and all the Christian advice i was getting was…HIS Grace is sufficient…and all that it is…not know what that meant…was devastating and made me angry..I may have been more ignorant than the normal bear.. LOL

  10. Darla, HAHAHA!! I believe you’re smarter than the average bear! So as long as we define the vocabulary and stay humble?

    Hey, Papa! I grew up on that terminology! I daresay you’re right! 😀

  11. I read Blue Like Jazz a couple of years ago and I loved it. I forgot how much I loved his folksy storytelling style. He cracks me up with some of his stories. Thanks for reminding me of Miller. I’ve also read his book, To Own a Dragon.

  12. Darla – kind of – its after finding Christ, forgiveness and then total surrender to the Holy Spirit – giving your life totally to Him. Does not automatically happen when we are saved. IT is a definite choice we make – The light comes on! 😀

  13. Yes Michelle, I loved Blue. To Own a Dragon gets into his dad-less struggles. I could relate to that.

    On the cover of To Own a Dragon is a line from the Washington Post, “Miller … writes humorously in a poetic, bohemian style…” I would have to agree with that assessment too.

  14. I’m glad you put this all down for us, Michaela! 😉 (It is a bit long … I could shorten it to Mic … is that weird, though?)

    In reading your conversation about ‘Christianese’ it struck me … it’s not so much the words as it is the communication. When someone has a haughty attitude that says, “I’ll use the words I know just to prove I know it, and if you’re lost that’s your problem,” of if they make no attempt to determine if they’re hearer is actually comprehending what they’re saying … that is “Christianese.” At least in it’s worst sense. But it is the attitude behind it, WAY more than the words. Because I’m with you Michelle … in some ways, there is NO way around using ‘Christianese.’ There just aren’t many words or … analogies that explain this life we live and breathe like ‘born again’ or ‘purified’ or ‘flesh vs. spirit.’ But when we’re talking, we need to make sure that the hearer is comprehending what is said. Otherwise we really are speaking another language … which totally comes off as pride. That I think is what ticks people off and makes them feel like we’re a secluded club with limited membership. Good thoughts. Thanks for the conversation. It kind of helped solidify that for me.

    As for the book. What you printed really prodded me.

    My answer to this dilemma was self-discipline. I figured I could just make myself do good things, think good thoughts about people, but that was no easier than walking up to a complete stranger and falling in love with them. I could go through the motions for a while, but sooner or later my heart would testify to its true love: darkness. Then I would get up and try again. The cycle was dehumanizing.”

    It is really good to take this to the thought life. That, in Christianity, is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve got a battle waging between my ears …

  15. “…it’s not so much the words as it is the communication. When someone has a haughty attitude that says, “I’ll use the words I know just to prove I know it, and if you’re lost that’s your problem,” of if they make no attempt to determine if they’re hearer is actually comprehending what they’re saying … that is ‘Christianese.'”

    This makes sense to me, Annie. It is very difficult not to use the words. It seems, even reading the excerpt from Miller’s book, he’s using the terms as well, just making sure they’re understood.

    A battle waging between your ears??? I get that!

    Thanks, Sheryl. Come on back anytime. Nice blog you have there! 😉

  16. I have read this book and like others much enjoy the simplicity and wit with which (sorry for the alliteration) Don miller writes.

    As for ‘redemption’ I think he only scratches the surface; which in turn corresponds to the depth of understanding of grace.

  17. Hi Michelle, I have heard of this book before, and these excerpts have made me really keen to read it, thanks for posting them!
    From what I’ve read here, I really like Miller’s style. He describes our fallen nature in a way that is so easy to relate to I think -“self addiction” and “affections … prone to love things that kill me.”
    The opening lines of both passages here really got my attention too! I am inspired to read it and would love to know your thoughts too when you’ve finished it.
    Lots of love to you.

  18. on a side note – I actually attended a reading by Don Miller a few years back. He read to us several excerpts of his work including Chapter One of “Dragon”.

    If you think his writing style is hilarious – you should hear it in his own words – with inflection and feeling and all that.

    ROFLOL!

  19. Oh, I can only imagine, Bad, how great it would be to hear him. My husband keeps looking at me as I burst out loud, laughing at some phrase. He just might become a new favorite.

    Hey, Birg! Yeah, the way he’s expressed the self-addiction (also using self-absorption…that one stings!) and loving those things that will kill us. He certainly does bring to mind the wrong choices I’ve made. 😦 I’ll let you know what I think when I’m finished. Love you!

  20. You got it right here, Michelle: “‘Grace is its own discipline.’ When it’s rooted in love, when we understand how much He loved us first, that He has poured grace upon us, then we respond in love.”

    And Annie with this one: “When someone has a haughty attitude that says, ‘I’ll use the words I know just to prove I know it, and if you’re lost that’s your problem,’ of if they make no attempt to determine if they’re hearer is actually comprehending what they’re saying … that is ‘Christianese.'”

    But, to me, Christianese isn’t simply the words that are used–the high and haughty nonsense that only serves as a detrim–

    A thought just hit me.

    HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT CHRISTIANITY LOOKS LIKE TO THE NON-BELIEVER???

    Oh! Now THERE’S a topic!!!

  21. I’ve wondered, Nor. But being a Christian since I was a small child has put me at a disadvantage. I have to take the unbeliever’s word for what it looks like. Is that storm going to hit soon?

    It’s really good, Carl. I’m enjoying it. Love you, brother.

  22. i havent read this book. but i was fortunate to hear him speak a few years ago in Chicago. and like Bad said, FUN-NEEEE!!! but his message isnt lost in the humor. he is deep and to the point. i like his style.

    for a minute i sat here and thought what i would discover if i was mindful of the negative thoughts i had for an entire day. i nearly had an anxiety attack. cuz i know it wouldnt look good.

    for the second part…the only thing i kept thinking was…if Gods grace is New every morning then there must be abundant flow of it. and if i am covered in it i can surely spill that over onto others.

  23. I think that many times we have a sickness of over analizing things. How much we live in love. How much we do not live in love. How much we read the Bible. How much we do not read the Bible. How much time we spend time with God and how much we do not. Many times I believe we are our own worst enemy because we kill ourselves majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors.

    I believe that the Christian that has found some degree of acceptance of who they are and their relationship with God lives there life with one conviction. Am I known by God. Not necessarily do I know God because you can know God and who He is and not actually be dedicated to a daily pressuit of Him. What I refer to is being known by God. Have I drawn close enough to Him that He recognizes me as a friend or an aquentence.

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