Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Book Without a Cubby Hole

I remember going to the post office when I was a kid. There was a wall of cubby holes, each one looking identical to the next with only a slender slice of wood separating one from another. The postmaster would take the mail and sort it, placing each letter, bill, magazine and advertisement in its proper box. No matter the piece of mail, there was always a box for it -- one and only one. Everything fit.

Occasionally I find things that don't seem to fit into a category. Like chicken fingers. Forget the fact that chicken really don't have fingers for a moment. Chicken fingers are served almost everywhere these days. Even McDonalds serves Chicken Selects (don't be confused, they're just fingers). In your basic sit-down restaurant, I will see chicken fingers on the kids menu because they're easy for the tykes to eat. Yet if I turn the page I will often see chicken fingers listed as an appetizer for adults and sometimes as a main course. So where does it belong? All three places?

At the local Christian bookstore last week I bought a book which doesn't fit into a category. I'm not sure why I bought it. I had never heard of the author. The title didn't make sense. The cover wasn't spectacular. It was shelved on the Top Ten Bestsellers shelf, but that usually turns me off more than it attracts me. But I plunked down my $13.99 plus tax and took it home. I picked it up a couple of days later and barely put it down before I was finished. I enjoyed it and all, but I really can't describe it. And I really can't put it in a category.

Most non-fiction Christian books fit into a category like Prayer, Prophecy, Biography, Women's Interest or Heavy Theology. I don't know in what section this book would have been placed had it not been in with the Top Ten. I have a sneaking suspicion that the clerks didn't know where to put it either and sneaked it onto the #7 slot when the real #7 book sold out. But I'm not sure why this bugs me so much. Usually I'm quite the champion of things which don't fit into a mold. And I liked this book too. But I don't know which cubby hole to stick it in.

The book is called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. And what originally drew me to look at the pages was the line at the bottom of the cover. It reads, "Nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality." Something (or Someone) kept prodding me to take this one home. I appreciate some off-center perspective challenging what too many authors have repeated, and this book certainly does that. It is a collection of stories about Donald Miller and his adventures coming to faith and coming to a further understanding of what being a Christian is all about. Miller even refuses to call his beliefs "Christianity" asserting the term has been diluted by too many people. He writes of Christian spirituality, which sounds like a bit of a word game to me.

But the author isn't a run-of-the-mill Christian writer. His stories are honest and revealing. Perhaps too revealing. It's not often that a Christian author talks about drinking beer and smoking in his illustrations. Few writers would admit that they can't handle money very well. Miller lays it all on the line. But what draws me to this book is the challenging nature of the essays. Miller talks of the lack of true love in far too many Christian churches, yet shares his experiences with unconditional love while living with hippies. He shares his burden for the people of Reed College in Portland, Oregon where Christians are almost extinct -- partially because most Christians would never set foot there. He writes about the absence of social activism within the Christian church in America. His darts hit the mark.

However, Miller also seems like he is still an idealist. His website contains links to various activist organizations like the ACLU and even! I can understand associating with some politically liberal groups, as they are sincerely trying to make a difference to people, but Miller appears to ignore the difference between a social organization and a political hit squad. He has big problems with the Republican Party, but then again so do I. Still Miller seems to push almost resent anything labelled with G. O. P.

All told though, this 31 year-old writer has struck a chord with me. I wish I hadn't raced through the book so quickly. I'll probably go back through it again, this time one chapter a day to help me respond to some of the challenges. I'm sure a few of the topics will work their way into this blog. And I recommend that anyone else pick up this book and wrestle with the topics. Just don't try to put it in a cubby hole.

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