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Of Movies & Miracles

As I write this, I am in between my two jobs for the day and on my twelfth straight day of working.  Thankfully, I have the whole weekend off, but if I am loopy & have bad grammar in this post, at least you'll know why.  I just wanted to bring some extra attention to this really cool story that in the midst of all my other craziness I was able to be a part of.  

            A few years back, when I first moved to Pittsburgh, I was feeling a bit like I do now in Austin—out of place, not quite at home, really uncertain of my future.  I was living at home, and I was far, far away from the community I'd developed in college in Missouri.  I didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh besides my family, and while I kind of liked the church they attended, it wasn't the friendliest.  Somehow all my angst catalyzed me into doing some soul searching.  I began to really wrestle with my faith, which I alluded to in my previous post, & it was a time when seeds of change sown in earlier years began to sprout.  I started reading and thinking differently about my faith and church.  I didn't doubt God's existence as much as I wondered what He was really up to.  I had seen people get burned out, turned away, and screwed over by the church (and other Christian organizations).  And just as I was wrestling with how to deal with all this building frustration and discontent, I discovered I was not the only one feeling this way.

            There were several books I read at this time that impacted me and kept me from giving up on the church altogether, and one of them was a little paperback called "Blue Like Jazz."  I don't even remember exactly who recommended it to me, or how I came across it.  (Maybe my journals tell the story, but they're in a storage unit in Branson!  If you remember, leave a comment!)  All I remember is that I was reading it while I worked at an independent coffeeshop and when I finished, I felt so grateful to the author, Don Miller, for his gut-wrenching honesty, that I sat on my stool and wrote him a letter.  (I never sent it.  It's still in my journal.  In Missouri.)

            While some circles consider the book controversial, I know a lot of people have responded to the authenticity and frustration that Miller conveys in its pages.  One of the more moving and profound stories he tells centers around a local college where they have a festival that gets so wild, they shut down the campus and bring in medical units to deal with the drug abuse.  Don & his friends decide that would be a good weekend to spread the word that the campus also has a few Christians who attend.  He jokes with them about setting up a confessional, but his friends surprise him by taking it seriously:
            “Okay, you guys.” Tony gathered everybody’s attention.  “Here’s the catch…We are not actually going to accept confessions.”  We all looked at him in confusion.  He continued, “We are going to confess to them.  We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are very sorry.   We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and lonely, we will ask them to forgive us….We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”
            All of us sat there in silence because it was obvious that something beautiful and true had hit the table with a thud.

            That scene inspired director and musician Steve Taylor to make a movie based on “Blue Like Jazz.”  I found out about the project at the beginning of this year, when I read Miller’s latest book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” (in which he tells a bit of the story-editing process.  It was an EXCELLENT book.).  I got all excited because I love Steve Taylor’s movie work, and I love Don Miller’s writing, and it seemed like such a great way to reach a broader audience with a message of honesty and hope.
            But a couple years after the script was done, funding for the project fell through, and a couple months ago Donald Miller announced on his blog that the movie was dead.  Even though I follow Don on Twitter, somehow I missed this news until I started seeing a mysterious hashtag: #savebluelikejazz.  Two guys who are fans of the book apparently felt as disheartened as I did that the movie wasn’t getting made, but they decided to do something about it.  They started a Kickstarter page to raise money, with a very “meager” (for a movie budget) of $125,000 in 20 days. 

            Word of mouth spread through social media and people began pledging $10, $25, $100, $300 to the project.  Within a week they had well over half their goal met.  Suddenly hope was sparked anew in Taylor and Miller.  They had all but given up in the movie, but thousands of people came together to help this movie get made.  If you know me, you know I’m pretty much broke, but I pledged to this, because I am very passionate about it.  There were some disparaging remarks made about couch potato Christians who only give to movies and ignore Africa (or something to that effect), but the truth is, I think it’s past time that stories like this get told theatrically.  I don’t think “Christian Movies” should become some sort of weird sub-genre that includes movies like “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.”  I think people like Taylor and Miller need to pave the way for Christians to tell good stories cinematically, with characters who genuinely wrestle with faith and aren’t crazy.

            I share this whole thing because I think it’s an amazing story about people coming together to support something really cool.  I feel like I’m a part of it, and not just because I’m getting a phone call any day now from Taylor or Miller.  I also share it because it’s encouraging to me on many levels.  Like I said, I hope projects like this pave the way for more stories to be told—stories that don’t have to fit neatly in the “Christian” genre.  (Like the stories my friends & I write…)  It also encourages me because I have to do some support raising over the next few months for Ireland, and my number isn’t *quite* as big as theirs was, but it is very high—more than I’ve probably made in my whole life.  It’s a scary number, but watching their goal get met (and surpassed!) so quickly reminded me that if God wants us to do something, we just have to ask and let Him work. 

Because we all have a story to tell...and an audience to tell it to.

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