Blue Like Jazz ~ The Movie

I mentioned in my last post that I saw the movie "Blue Like Jazz" with Danny while I was in Nashville last week. I've wanted to write about it ever since.

After I left the church I was raised in, I began to realize that I had been deceived my whole life. Danny (my son) and I have had a conversation several times about why we think we were among the first to recognize that we needed to leave that group. Many have left since. But when we broke away, it was still a rare thing for anyone to leave the group to go to church elsewhere. It just wasn't done. We had the truth. There wasn't anything "out there" for us (so we were told). Leaving the group was the equivalent of leaving God. When you elevate belonging to a group that highly, it's idolatry and it's a cult mentality. Our identity as Christians is in Christ alone; it should not be in the group we belong to, or being more special, or of higher ranking with God than anyone else.

Danny and I were feeling these convictions at a time when the majority of our respective peers were not. I'm thankful that more are now seeing what we saw -- the cracks in the theology we were taught. I did not leave because I was hurt or mad or resentful of rules I did not want to follow. I left because of the teaching and the mindset and group-think. I felt that I would wither and die spiritually if I stayed. I did not have the hope or the joy that other Christians had. I knew something was missing. And I was not convinced in my heart that we WERE who we thought we were. Leaving that group was one of the best decisions of my life. It was perhaps the biggest decision because that decision opened up the path to blessings I could not have received without first walking through that difficult door.

The question Danny and I have frequently pondered and discussed is: Why were we "trailblazers" on this road? What was it about us that allowed us to go against the grain? Did it have anything to do with who we are as people or did God just ordain it to happen that way? It was not easy to be in that role. Although, at this point, it is rewarding. We have both thought that if it DID have anything to do with who we are or why God used us in that way, it is perhaps because we were not rooted (as people) in that identity. We just wanted God and truth, no matter what that meant. If it meant saying, "Okay. My whole life has been based on a lie. I am willing to confront that, as painful as it may be..." we were open. Someone close to me once said: "I have believed this for fifty years and I am not going to change now." That person was clinging to an identity that was tied to a group, not necessarily to Christ. And I immediately recognized that pride could be a factor in someone not being willing to consider even the possibility that they were built on sand. It is very hard to reach the conclusion that you have built your life around lies. Sometimes it is so difficult that a person cannot face it. For Danny and for me, I don't think there was a shred of pride involved. It was simply, "God, just show me where I am in error. Lead me out of darkness." It really can be that simple. And when I say simple, I don't mean easy. And I don't mean painless. But when you are willing to give up your comfort zone, your pride, your identity in anything other than Christ, your friends and their validation; God responds to that.

Having said that, in no way do I want to be misunderstood as taking any kind of credit for myself. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I credit God's mercy for everything good in my life. But after seeing this movie, Danny and I were having this conversation about how God uses people to confront these kinds of issues. And we both believe God used us (and others) to confront the deception of our past in a public way. There were many times along the way that I told God I wish I didn't have that role. I wished I could be the kind of person who walked away quietly and kept my mouth shut, never confronted. That isn't who I am. And it really isn't who I aspire to be. But there were some very painful times (especially when I knew I had lost lifelong friends and my value to them) when the personal cost for speaking my convictions felt greater than I could bear. But there was no pain for me in confronting the possibility that I had based my whole Christian life on lies.

Think about it: Why is it hard to admit we've been duped? It makes us feel stupid. It's pride. Sometimes we choose denial rather than feeling duped. And it's because we have taken pride in being right. If we admit to ourselves that we believed a lie and then made all of our life's choices based on that lie, how can we take pride in our ourselves; our choices and our good decisions? It all blows up in our face. For some, that is just unacceptable. For me, it wasn't. And I'm thankful. I don't think it's because I'm smarter or more humble than anyone else. I think God wired me a certain way and those are not my issues (I have others). I believe with all my heart that God had ordained a certain role for me and He created me with the character traits to step into that role. I don't fully understand it. I feel conflicted when I read in the Bible that God hardens the hearts of some in order to fulfill His purposes and He gives special grace to others. I know it is not merit based. I do not believe God looked into my heart and saw something that attracted Him to me over another person. No one will ever convince me (some have tried) that I deserve ANY of my blessings. That would mean that someone less blessed is undeserving. And I just do not, will not ever, believe that.

I did not want to write this post as a "review" of the movie "Blue Like Jazz." Instead, I wanted to share what it stirred and inspired in me. This movie is controversial because it is made by Christians but it is not your typical Christian (Kirk Cameron) movie. It isn't a David slays Goliath kind of movie where the viewer aspires to be David ~ or thinks for a few moments that they can be David. It's the other kind. It's the kind of movie that makes us look at the reality that we are not David, we are the cowards. We hide behind masks; sometimes Christian masks. And behind those masks we are no different than an unbeliever if you look at our life choices and our priorities. As Christians, we have let a lot of people down. I know I have. You know you have. And a lot of people in positions of leadership have been the worst offenders when it comes to what they preach and what they do. Hypocrisy. Nothing is more disheartening or devastating (depending on the magnitude of the disappointment) than discovering someone you had put your faith in has deceived you or is not who you believed they were.

This movie deals with THAT aspect of being a Christian. A friend told me, after seeing the movie, that she thought only those who had come out of toxic situations (like we had) could appreciate this movie. But I didn't agree after I saw it. I think the kind of toxicity (hypocrisy, plain and simple) that this movie confronts is present in almost all of our roots. It was present in the days of the Pharisees and it is present today. Instead of defending wrongs committed in the name of God, we need to be repenting for the ways we have misrepresented God to each other as believers and to unbelievers. Because we have. We must be willing to consider: Who might we have prevented from entering the kingdom with our hypocrisy instead of pointing them to Christ with our love?

These are the questions and thoughts this movie stirred in me. There will be objectionable content in this movie for some Christians. I've been told that certain Baptist churches banned it and highly recommended people not see it. I wonder how much of that reaction is self-preservation. The protagonist in the movie comes from Baptist roots. But the movie is not an indictment of Baptists. If anything, this movie is saying (in a different way, to a different audience, at a different time) what Jesus said to the Pharisees. "Woe to you, hypocrites..." At least, that's what I think it's saying. That's what it said to me.

There were moments of discomfort for me in viewing this movie. For the most part, it was a very humorous movie. Danny says Steven Taylor is a really funny guy. He knows him personally. And there were a few scenes that were actually filmed at Church of the Redeemer (where Danny is an assistant pastor). But even if you are uncomfortable with the content for the entire length of the film, the last fifteen or twenty minutes make the movie worth seeing. I'm not saying the end will be comfortable for you. If it is, you are self-righteous. I think the protagonist says what we should ALL be saying, but most of us are not.

When I left my roots, I was so fearful of being deceived again. I was afraid of deception more than almost anything. I realized that if I had based my life on a lie once, I could do it again. Only God knows how much I longed for truth. Not MY truth (as the popular saying now goes). I wanted God's truth. And not so I can clobber someone else over the head with it. Not so I can be right. Not so I can control anyone else's life or be superior to anyone else. ONLY so I can be rooted in Christ and be a reflection of Him in this world. ONLY so I can better light someone else's way. ONLY so I can help make a clearer, less obstructed path to Him for others. ONLY so that I can love like HE loved on this earth.

The Gospel is scandalous. The Gospel tells us that tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom ahead of the religious and the self-righteous. The Gospel says that the first will be last and the last will be first. The Gospel teaches us that we love Him because He first loved us. Not that He loves us because we had the good sense to choose Him. We can only receive the Gospel in humility. If we think we are bringing something valuable to God that He needs, we haven't found that humble posture that is an absolute requirement of receiving grace.

If you watch this movie and feel superior in your heart to a single person portrayed, you don't comprehend your own sinfulness and your own need for God's merciful, gracious gift of His Son. I hope you will see the movie, grasp and take to heart its message.

It isn't the kind of movie that will make it into mass theaters. I intend to watch it again on DVD when it comes out.

To all who contributed to the making of this film, I just want to say that I think you illuminated the struggle of many who love Jesus, but have been severely let down by His followers. And you did it by emphasizing that we, as His followers, can change how He is represented.

If only we will...


DeeDee said…
"No one will ever convince me (some have tried) that I deserve ANY of my blessings. That would mean that someone less blessed is undeserving. And I just do not, will not ever, believe that."
LOVE that, Shari! Great post. I couldn't agree more.

I still say that after reading the "public" and "professional" reviews of the movie, I think maybe unless you experience toxic religion yourself, you cannot even pick up on the message in Blue Like Jazz. Same with "The Village." Reviewers came back with a mediocre rating and it's impact hit me like a train! It's because I'd been there - experienced the lie, was effected by it my whole life, hated it and escaped smoking (and I don't mean ciggs!). Neither of those movies were mediocre for the likes of me.
Shari said…
Thanks for your response, Dee Dee! I haven't read any reviews of the movie. But I guess what I am thinking is that most Christians have experienced a toxic religion of some degree. Who hasn't been let down by anybody the way the protagonist in this movie was let down? Maybe it wasn't everyone's mother or youth pastor, but many many people have turned away from Christianity because of hypocrisy. But I do agree that the movie would have even more meaning to those like us.
Anonymous said…
Hey Shari,

Great thoughts and post.

I remember reading your story back when I posted the NM album review. I like how you once again share, only this time, it seems, it's from a bit of a different perspective. Almost as a third party now. I think your hurt has subsided some since then. I know you give God all the glory for having taken you this far. PTL!

When we left the megachurch we had been members of for over nine years because they were preaching a watered down gospel, I often wondered why we were "trailblazers", as you so aptly put it. Why was no one else was seeing it?

I am thanking God that we were not so firmly rooted in that particular church. I am also thanking Him for keeping in us the heart to pant after the water of his word.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Shari said…
Your observation is correct, Barry. I have gotten past so much of the emotion I once felt. It is a closed chapter. To God be ALL the glory! Because I was certainly not capable of doing that for myself.

I always enjoy hearing from you. Thanks for leaving your comments.

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