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.

Three wonderful children’s books

Jon Acuff recently recommended a couple of children’s books with encouraging messages, which I quickly added to my reading list (though unfortunately, our library doesn’t carry them yet). Coincidentally, I also recently came across some children’s books that stand out from the dozens we plow through monthly.

I often feel overwhelmed when I enter our local library to find new books that the kids will enjoy and that have a positive and meaningful message. Thankfully, our librarians regularly pluck out some of their favorites and place them on top of the low children’s bookshelves. I’ve taken to simply browsing these selections since it has resulted in many gems. Here are three that recently stood out.

moon rabbit (Natalie Russell). If you’ve ever experienced the desire to travel beyond your home, then had the conflicting desire to return to the comforts of home, you’ll appreciate this charming tale. Little Rabbit loves her city life, but longs to find her soul mate. One day she follows the sound of music to the country and finds Brown Rabbit, with whom she becomes fast friends. Hanging out in the countryside enjoying her new friend, Little Rabbit eventually longs for the familiar experiences of the city. The two new friends find a wonderful compromise in the final pages of the book.

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (Julie Rawlinson). Fletcher is a young fox who loves his favorite tree. But something is terribly wrong as the tree begins to lose its leaves. Fletcher struggles as nature and other animals begin to prepare for Fall, but in the end finds that change isn’t so bad after all! You can hear the entire book read in this video.

You and Me, Little Bear (Martin Waddell). “Mommy, Daddy, play with me!” This is a refrain every parent hears countless times every day. Little Bear is no different and wants to play with his dad. But Big Bear has a busy day of chores that he can’t put off (sound familiar?). The two find out, however, that work and play do not have to be as different as we often make them out to be. Simple watercolor images make this a great anytime story.

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!

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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