Blue Like Jazz and Engaging Differences

Brad M. Griffin

This week we released our interview (below) with Blue Like Jazz movie creators Donald Miller and Steve Taylor.  One of the themes we focused on in the interview is the process of questioning faith. We learned in our research that many young people question faith deeply after high school.  In the movie Don responds to a "trigger event" that creates a faith crisis in him, but he also begins to discover a world of people outside his conservative Christian bubble who become unlikely conversation partners on his journey to rediscover faith. Not all emerging adults struggle as deeply as Don, but many are shaken by encountering a new friend who represents "the other" in some way.  

Yesterday at Fuller Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries spoke in chapel. He shared about what happens when rival gang members end up working side by side in their restaurant or silk screen warehouse.  In Boyle's words, it becomes "impossible to demonize someone you actually know." The same thing can happen when we first meet a Muslim classmate or a hall-mate from India (or Indiana for that matter).  

My family once rented half a house for four years. Our housemate during that season happened to be a transgendered person. Besides being the only Christians on the face of the earth who would actually hold a conversation with her, we had the opportunity to learn the real story of a real person who lived in real proximity to us. While we didn't become pro-transgender campaigners over those four years, we certainly grew in our understanding and compassion for this neighbor. That experience became transformative for us. 

In our Sticky Faith research we learned that engaging "the other" was a significant faith-builder for students in their first few years out of high school. One scale (adapted from a UCLA study) explored the ways a list of experiences (e.g., personal injury, course content) impacted faith since entering college.  From this list, the strongest positive impact on faith from students’ perspectives were “Interactions with other students”; “Interactions with people of other faiths”; and “Interactions with people of other cultures/ethnicities”.  In other words, shared conversation and shared life with people who are different doesn't necessarily threaten faith. It actually can strengthen it. 

Blue Like Jazz isn't a movie for everyone. I personally wouldn't take young teenagers.  But for those contemplating the transition to college and adult life, it raises important questions and realities that make for good discussion fodder. One of those discussions can be around the ways our relationships with people who come from different faith, ethcnic, or cultural backgrounds can become opportunities to strengthen our faith even as we work through hard questions. 




PS: The film releases this Friday in theaters around the country. Check out the Blue Like Jazz Movie website for listings.

Published Apr 12, 2012
Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Associate Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is also the coauthor of Sticky Faith ​and Deep Justice Journeys. A native Kentucky youth pastor, Brad now lives in Southern California with his wife Missy and their three children.

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