Blue Like Jazz: the movie is as great as the book

I had the privilege of seeing Blue Like Jazz (the movie) recently and thought it was a fantastic newcomer to the world of faith-related films. I say privilege because this movie almost never saw the light of day. Due to funding issues early in production, BLJ was almost relegated to the annals of movies-that-never-were. Instead, a couple of devoted fans turned that failure around by launching a project for it on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. In just ten days, the project raised the $125K it initially wanted, then continued to climb. By the project’s deadline, roughly 4,500 contributors had contributed almost $346K. I was one of those contributors and my donation gave me the honorable status of “Associate Producer.” At the time, this made it the most funded Kickstarter project ever (see BLJ featured in this Kickstarter blog post). You can read Don’s synopsis of this journey on his blog.

My bias runs deeper than just being a Kickstarter donor, however. I’ve enjoyed Donald Miller’s books for years. His disarming writing style and nonjudgmental approach to tough questions of faith strongly resonate with me. Blue Like Jazz was my introduction to Miller’s books. I don’t know when or why I decided to pick it up, but the book has since become one of the few I feel compelled to give to others who, like me, approach faith with a critical mind. The movie, like the book, tell a chapter in Miller’s life; his wrestle with God during his transition from high school to college.

It tracks the mystery of what a personal relationship with God looks like in a disarmingly genuine way and leaves out the preachiness, condescension, and over intellectual-ness most books in the “Christian” genre fall into. I’d even go so far as to say BLJ keeps such enlightened company as classics like Screwtape Letters in presenting the story of God’s love as just that: a story, not a lecture or scientific proof.

Some of my favorite moments, themes, and quotes in the movie:

  • When Don is hanging out with his freethinking dad, he gets the sage advice to “Write your own story,” don’t let others write your story (plan your life) for you.
  • Attending Reed College – and surrounded by primarily non-Christians for the first time – Don finds that many liberal-minded individuals proclaim themselves “open minded”…unless it’s about Christ or anything to do with traditional religion.
  • A familiar paradox is evident in the Reed student body: they emphasize wanting to be free, yet one of Don’s first friends there advises him to “get in the closet, Baptist boy, and stay there.”
  • The idea that you can get “lost a sea of individuality” – that is, everyone is trying so hard to be something different, that a sense of community, of belongingness, of a common “tribe” gets lost.
  • I loved Don’s cameo as pretentious author giving a reading in a book store!
  • While it was dramatized, I got the distinct impression that Reed College is full of geniuses…doing mostly stupid things.
  • At a pivotal point, Penny says “It turns out I like Jesus…a lot.”
  • The scenes where Don is hanging out with mostly emotionally messy individuals struck me as the very crowd Jesus is described as hanging with.
  • A thread I found interesting in the story is that while Christians can’t escape (and shouldn’t deny) the brokenness of the church, likewise those who embrace a hedonistic lifestyle should acknowledge the emptiness and meaninglessness in it.
  • “I hated them because I thought they made me look like a fool.”
  • “God isn’t like me.” (Don says this during an apology for how he has behaved and how he represented (or denied) Christ.)

While BLJ may have been denounced by conservative Christians, I found the film set the bar a bit higher for “Christian” films. For one, actual actors with actual acting talent were employed. While I don’t mean to slam other films specifically, it’s obvious when amateurs deliver lines and when seasoned actors do so. The only aspect I found lacking was that I would have preferred a bit more character development, especially in the supporting cast. All in all, though, I’m extremely glad to have supported this effort, I’m proud of all of those who made it happen, and I hope to see more films like this in the future.

Research that Hebrew word carefully before it’s permanent [I just Googled]

There’s an increasing interest in using Hebrew and other foreign languages on jewelry and tattoos. Even the Bieb and his pop have latched on to (or fomented) this trend. Whether it’s the mystique of using an ancient language or the beauty and abstraction (to non-speakers) in the script, the appeal is understandable. What is harder to fathom is how careless consumers and artisans can be in getting the translation of their work correct. There’s even a whole website devoted to such disasters.

What I Googled: sanctified in Hebrew

Why I Googled it: I saw a ring via a Pinterest pin that claimed to have the Hebrew word “Kodesh” (meaning: sanctified, set apart) on it. Knowing some Hebrew, I was curious to know if the word was rendered correctly. Translation and design mistakes frequently occur because the Hebrew alphabet and right-to-left writing are unfamiliar to the artisan and the words do not always translate easily.


What I found out: There are various spellings (in Hebrew) of the word “kodesh.” This is due to the fact that vowels are designated by various symbols below, above, and within certain Hebrew letters. Which means that without vowels, it’s difficult to determine what a word is if it’s taken out of context.


Somewhat predictably, Strong’s Concordance was one of the first search results I checked that proved helpful. I looked up the word sanctified (#6942) and found that the word קדש is often translated as the verb “holy,” “sanctified,” or “set apart.” Wikitionary also captured this definition.

The ring I had seen used the word קדוש (note the additional letter vuv). When I originally searched for קדוש, without vowels, I found it translated as “kadosh,” meaning “speciality.” After additional research with Strong’s (#6918), I found that it is more frequently translated as either the noun or adjective form of קדש. The Hebrew Wikipedia entry(after running it through Google Translate) also supported the alternate spelling of the word.

Google Translate

Sensagent and Wiktionary were additional helpful resources in figuring out this puzzle. Both interpreted the word as holy, sacred, or blessed.

This would seem to be the more accurate word choice for use on jewelry since it describes the person (or what they’re striving toward). This is the same word that is used in perhaps the most well-known of all Jewish prayers, the Shema Yisrael.

The takeaway: Based on these results, I concluded that the word used on the ring is indeed correct. And, in case you were wondering, Justin Bieber and his dad must have done their research, too, since their ink is the correct way to spell Jesus in Hebrew (which is Yeshua, more frequently Anglicized as the name Joshua).

See life (and learning) like a musical piece

A powerful insight into life, education, and careers. In only two minutes, British philosopher Alan Watts cautions against one of the most troubling outcomes of the modern education system and focus on career: realizing that you’ve missed most of what life has to offer. It’s no wonder that schools are pumping out generic clones that dutifully meet the “standards” to which they are taught.

After watching this, hopefully you’ll be inspired to “stop and smell the roses.” If you are, tell me what “rose” you stopped for in the comments.

Via Michael Wesch’s blog.


How to get a date to the prom (and launch a music career?)

Via Neatorama

Forget about Rebecca Black and the Beeb, this guy has the right idea. Taking asking a girl to the prom to a whole new level, this kid did everything right:

  1. He impressed the girl with talent and risking shame in front of the class.
  2. He wrote a pretty decent song that required the use of his homies (who were probably a source of extra confidence, too)
  3. He had the whole thing videoed and uploaded to YouTube.

The “awwwww!” factor is quite high, meaning that the video is likely to go viral and his talent as both songwriter and singer. While his initial objective to get a date for the prom seems to have been accomplished, I hope this kid gets a lot more out of his efforts.


Innovative new kids guitar project shows promise [Kickstarter]

I’m a big fan of Kickstarter, the site that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to raise funds for innovative new projects. If you’re not familiar with the site, project leads submit a video proposal, dollar amount to be raised, funding levels, and a time frame. If the dollar amount isn’t reached by the deadline, no one is charged a penny. Typically, different contribution levels provide different rewards.

Today I stumbled across a new project called the Loog Guitar, a child-friendly instrument that theoretically makes learning the guitar easier for little hands and minds. The guitar comes disassembled for some fun (I hope!) parent-child bonding time. It is designed with only three nylon strings so kids can learn power chords and build their confidence on the guitar before switching to a more traditional six-string.

As a sometimes-guitar-player, I’m always on the look-out for ways to teach my kids to play. Fake guitars like Paper Jamz and Guitar Hero are fun toys, but teach nothing about how to handle a real instrument. A child-size six-string – which we have in our home – is more “genuine” but difficult for the kids to hold and overwhelming to learn the basics. Watch the video on Kickstarter to see the vision of creator Rafael Atijas.

I paused before contributing only because I didn’t know at which level to participate. The $150 level appealed to me since it includes one of the first instruments off the production line. On the other hand, a $500 contribution gets you three of the buggers. However, without the chance to play or listen to one, I opted for the lower amount. This is one area I think Kickstarter could improve: provide a flexible way for contributors to suggest alternative reward packages. In this case, I might have chosen to give $300 for two guitars.

Looking at the pace at which the project is getting funded, I don’t doubt that this one will succeed. I’m looking forward to playing…er, I mean helping my kids play with the Loog when it arrives!

A life story worth retelling: A Million Miles by Don Miller

Don Miller is one of the best nontraditional “Christian” authors of our age. His books speak candidly about the Christian life in essays that are readable and relatable. A Million Miles is Miller’s story of rediscovering his passions and overcoming writer’s block. Ironically, it also tells the story of his former failed movie venture, which has since turned into a smashing success.

Watch the video for more on one of Miller’s most popular books.

What story are you telling? from Rhetorik Creative on Vimeo.

The future of public education – how can we prepare for when they enter the workforce?

This engaging video from the New Brunswick school district outlines the cultural and technological changes the New Brunswick school districts are considering to improve the way they deliver education to the next generation of children. What I like most are the observations that kids are increasingly becoming productive members of society earlier in life. Whether it’s through profit-driven businesses (that are more entrepreneurial than the paper routes or lemonade stands of yesteryear) or through community service, children are putting their skills to use before they’re even out of elementary school.

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Forming your child’s online reputation

I’ve posted pictures and stories of my kids on my family website, on Facebook, and republished to various other platforms for a long time. In fact, since before they were born.

And it seems I’m far from alone.

A study by the internet security firm AVG found that 92% of U.S. children aged two and under have a presence online. The cause, obviously, is a generation of parents familiar with the web enthusiastically leveraging it to share information with friends and family regardless of geographic and temporal boundaries.

What does this mean for our kids as they grow older? Will having a historical record of their childhood preserved online – without their consent – give them another reason to seek counseling?

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“Flip-thinking” movie production: engage the fans, build the funds

I’m watching and participating in a fascinating experiment unfold in the movie industry. The main character in this case is Donald Miller, author of a number of best-selling books on life and nontraditional Christian faith.

The first book I read by Miller was Blue Like Jazz. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. BLJ instantly hooked me on his take of the modern church and his journey of faith. In a series of essays, Miller discusses events from his life and how they impacted, or were impacted by, his faith and involvement with church. His journey is, at times, thoughtful, funny, sad, and inspiring. Occasionally, all at the same time.

But this story is about more than just a great book being transformed into a movie. It’s about witnessing what might be the next major shift in the film industry. A shift that includes putting fans back at the center of the process and flipping the way they interact with films.

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“Flip thinking”: Turning business and education models upside-down

In an Telegraph article from 12 September titled Think Tank: Flip-thinking – the new buzz word sweeping the US, Dan Pink tells the story of Karl Fisch, a math teacher-turned school district technologist-turned math teacher again (due to budget cuts). In the article, Pink tells the story of how Fisch is taking a novel approach to teaching in his public school classroom. Pink certainly wastes no words in this article, packing it full of ideas for a wide range of industries.

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