Blue Like Jazz
Yes please. I finished this book in less than a day. Beautiful. I don’t agree with everything that Miller says, but I love his use of provocative statements and the fact that I was caused to think. Miller has a great writing style and is very human in his book.
I was challenged to love people last summer by a friend and have failed miserably in the past year. I’ve only just come to realize how royally I’ve messed everything up in the past week or so. I have many apologies to make. It’s frustrating for me because it’s even hard for me to love the people who are supposed to automatically be included in that love thing. It’s easy to see how I’m not loving members of my family. When you love other people, relationships just run more smoothly. Not that love is the easy answer to all your problems. No. But love is the basis of all things. If I can learn to love, I can erase most of my relational stress. There’s no excuse for my lack of love. It’s a choice, and I’ve been choosing not to love.
Miller was describing a point in his life where he didn’t want to be around people. He was frustrated by everything. Um, yes. That’s me. And it was all because of selfishness. It is because of selfishness. And it’s because of pride.
It seem that at the heart of all these huge battles I’m having are two extremely basic things: love and humility.
Please take a moment to read just one of the parts that I can relate to.
For a very long time, I could not understand why some people have no trouble accepting the grace of God while others experience immense difficulty. I counted myself as one of the ones who had trouble. I would hear about grace, read about grace, and even sing about grace, but accepting grace is an action I could not understand. It seemed wrong to me not to have to pay for my sin, not to feel guilty about it or kick myself around. More than that, grace did not seem like the thing I was looking for. It was too easy. I wanted to feel as though I earned my forgiveness, as though God and I were buddies doing favors for each other.
Enlightenment came in an unexpected place: a grocery store. I was on my way over Mount Hood to spend some time in the high desert with a few friends. I was driving alone and decided to stop in at Safeway to pick up some provisions for the weekend. While standing in line at the checkout counter, the lady in front of me pulled out food stamps to pay for her groceries. I had never seen food stamps before. They were more colorful than I imagined and looked more like money than stamps. It was obvious as she unfolded the currency that she, I, and the checkout girl were quite uncomfortable with the interaction. I wished there was something I could do. I wished I could pay for her groceries myself, but to do so would have been to cause a greater scene. The checkout girl quickly performed her job, signing and verifying a few documents, then filed the lady through the line. The woman never lifted her head as she organized her bags of groceries and set them into her cart. She walked away from the checkout stand in the sort of stiff movements a person uses when they know they are being watched.
On the drive over the mountain that afternoon, I realized that it was not the woman who should be pitied, it was me. Somehow I had come to believe that because a person is in need, they are candidates for sympathy, not just charity. It was not that I wanted to buy her groceries, the government was already doing that. I wanted to buy her dignity. And yet, by judging her, I was the one taking her dignity away.
I wonder what it would be like to use food stamps for a month. I wonder how that would feel, standing in line at the grocery store, pulling from my wallet the bright currency of poverty, feeling the probing eyes of the customers as they studied my clothes and the items in my cart: frozen pizza, name-brand milk, coffee. I would want to explain to them that I have a good job and make good money.
I love to give charity, but I don’t want to be charity. This is why I have so much trouble with grace.
A few years ago I was listing prayer requests to a friend. As I listed my requests, I mentioned many of my friends and family but never spoke about my personal problems. My friend candidly asked me to reveal my own struggles, but I told him no, that my problems weren’t that bad. My friend answered quickly, in the voice of a confident teacher, “Don, you are not above the charity of God.” In that instant he revealed my motives were not noble, they were prideful. It wasn’t that I cared about my friends more than myself, it was that I believed I was above the grace of God.
Like Rick, I am too prideful to accept the grace of God. It isn’t that I want to earn my own way to give something to God, it’s that I want to earn my own way so I won’t be charity.
As I drove over the mountain that afternoon, realizing I was too proud to receive God’s grace, I was humbled. Who am I to think myself above God’s charity? And why would I forsake the riches of God’s righteousness for the dung of my own ego?
Sometimes it’s discouraging to look back and wonder if I’ve made much progress over the past year. It’s encouraging to realize that there are areas I need to change in my life. It’s encouraging to know that everything is possible with God. It’s amazing to think that one day this struggle will be over. I will stand in the presence of Perfectness. And in that day, I will be like Him.