Save Blue Like Jazz?

I just gave $100 to the Save Blue Like Jazz campaign.  If you were me, wouldn’t you?

In some circles they call me “Penny from Blue Like Jazz.”  I have mixed feelings about it, but there you have it.  I wouldn’t take back my final year at Reed College for anything in the world.

Here’s the story:  way back when, in 2001, I met a guy named Don.  Even though I called myself one (usually at a whisper) I was skeptical of Christians, especially Christians who wore button downs, cargo shorts, and baseball caps.  But it didn’t take me long to realize that Don’s conformist wardrobe  was the only thing normal about him.  He was actually an irreverent goofball, and more radical than many of the kids with dreads and patchwork clothing that populated campus.  That is to say, he broke harder with his past than they had with theirs.

Nearly ten years later the Christian world knows this story.  They read about it in Blue Like Jazz, and it ignited a bit of a revolution like any story that includes Reed should.  Now we want to see it on screen.  And despite funding difficulties it may still happen.  But some people aren’t so sure.  Well, I couldn’t disagree more so I thought I’d share why.

This movie isn’t just for Christians. Last year Reed’s alumni magazine ran a piece about the Blue Like Jazz phenomenon and the way it has affected the campus in the years since its publication.  Can you imagine?  Every single person who ever graduated from Reed College had the chance to read about the Christian search for meaning and how the values Reed instills in its students – objectivity, intellectual honesty, the courage to ask tough questions, the importance of developing a true community of peers – jive with Christ’s call on our lives to love him with our whole heart, soul, and mind and to love others as ourselves.

I want the non-Christian world to get a chance to see an honest and raw spiritual odyssey; one that shows an alternative vision to the infighting, the hypocrisy, the pettiness of so much that goes on in the church today.  Which leads me to….

The spiritual quest of Blue Like Jazz the movie is honest and vulnerable. Many people have said Blue Like Jazz is just a bunch of ramblings, how could that be a movie?  Well, folks, trust me, I’ve read the screenplay.  It’s good. And it’s not just another cheesy Christian movie.  It’s an honest look at the struggle to find one’s own path in the world, to wrestle with the craziness of the stuff we believe, and come out on the other side a truer person because of it.

It is seriously funny. Anyone who has spent more than two minutes with Don knows he’s a funny guy.  Hearing him speak is like hearing a stand-up comic with depth.  The movie is no different.  Yeah, it’s meaningful, but it’s funny, too.

Steve Taylor is an amazing man and director with boatloads of integrity. When Steve read the confession booth scene in Blue Like Jazz he said to himself, I want to make a movie that includes this scene.  Now, the thing about Steve is he is a purist, a non-conformist, a true artist.  He’s not gonna make a movie or a song or an album just to see it sell.  The man has principles.  He’d rather work on something with integrity than sell out to the forces that be and create a marketable, white-washed product.  That may be the downfall of Blue Like Jazz the movie.  But I hope it means that those of us who believe in putting an honest message up on screen will make it happen.

Finally, selfishly, I want to see my character on screen. Okay, honestly, how many of you wouldn’t give their little pinky to see themselves on screen?  Sure, it’s a fictionalized version of me, but still, that’s pretty cool.

How about you?  Why do (or don’t)  you want to see Blue Like Jazz become a movie?


14 thoughts on “Save Blue Like Jazz?”

  1. Great post, Penny. Thanks for sharing. Believe it or not, I consider it an honor to know THE “Penny from Blue Like Jazz.” Appreciate who you are, though, and what you do to make this world a better place.

  2. OMG! The real Penny! You are my favorite from the book. I wanted to meet you after reading it.

    I want to see it on the big screen because this book changed my life. And I’m interested in how carrots will be made sexy? Maybe.

    1. Thanks…so funny to hear. : ) I live in Seattle….lemme know if you’re ever in town! (But I’m not even as close to funny in person.)

  3. Too often many don’t see their dreams come to fruition. But to play a part in making someone’s dream a reality? That’s awesome. That’s why I gave.

  4. Penny,

    I read BLJ a few times back in 2003. You are the only character I can recall by name from his book. You changed the way I hear the name Penny, from reading that story.

    I was born on Mt. Tabor and raised in SE Portland. I went to Clackamas HS and had 3 peers from my class attend/graduate from Reed. These friends of mine were excellent people and highly thought of by my high school peers and the church folk in the community.

    Since reading the book I have wanted to see a book like Blue Like Jazz come out about a Reed students/alumni entering in to the Bible college world the same way Don entered into Reed world. Just bringing all the humanity with them in love, Bringing the Reed and the weed and their love for knowledge and truth. I would read that book a few times too! I am sure a Reed student could pull out some kind a great scene like Don did with the confessional.

    Glad your are in this world.


  5. I’d love to see Blue Like Jazz turned in to a movie. I read it as required reading for my documentary class in film school– go figure– and it inspired me to go on my own awkward pilgrimage of sorts. I created a travel show called Asking for Directions ( that features conversations about faith with fellow misfits from all around the world.
    Shameless plugs aside though, I’ll tell you why I’d really love to see the BLJ movie succeed, and now more than ever. It’s because there’s a chance it might NOT succeed.
    It’s because somehow Donald Miller is back on the ropes again, he’s once again the underdog that we all loved before he became a household name. Instead of velvet ropes, we’ve returned to grass roots, and I can sense Donald and the rest of us are happy to be home again.

    1. Pat, I love that idea — Don, the underdog. It’s been a little weird to see the meteoric rise, and I gotta say, I get what you’re saying.

      Thanks for the shameless plug — took a look and it looks really cool. And I LOVE that you chose Orcas Island. I grew up sailing in the San Juans and have always loved Orcas. I’m glad you did, too.

      Best of luck with the travel show; I’ll be paying attention.

  6. I think I’m indifferent either way. As someone who’s read the book a half dozen times, I would definitely go see the movie, but I am super skeptical that it will turn out to be decent. All of your counter-points as to why someone should not be skeptical address all of my concerns, but (no offense) I don’t think I believe you. haha… I don’t know why. I guess it just seems impossible for this not to be another super cheese ball Christian movie. Is Kirk Cameron playing Don?

    If the funding comes through and the movie is made, I hope it’s great. But I guess I think your final point makes all of your other points invalid. You are emotionally invested in the film, so of course you want to see it made.

    1. There’s just a lot of cynicism and skepticism out there in the Christian world isn’t there? I suppose I get that, to a degree. I think everybody’s gonna be pretty surprised by how out there this movie is, so let’s hope it gets made.

      As for my points being invalid…..okay, I see your point. But, as much as I can say one way or another, I’m pretty sure I’d want to see it whether or not I was in the book. I mean, really, anything about Reed College is worth the watch!

  7. I want to see it become a movie, because it literally changed my life. I related to Don on so many levels, but that’s not what changed me… What changed my life is that BLJ contributed greatley to my getting fired from the youth pastor position at my former church. Thank Don!! & God too. I read the confessional booth chapter to my students. Word got back to the pastor, that what I was teaching from that book was wrong. The pastor read that chapter (not the whole book, mind you) … apparently ‘us “Christians” have nuttin to apologize fer’ …thus sparked a stand off. Me & Don in one corner, and the Pastor and “The Truth” in the other corner. A short while later I was fired, but really we (me & Don…and you too, Penny) won. It was my Inciting Incident (oops, wrong book) if you will. Perhaps the film can change the lives of other people aswell. I know it will. Just no Kirk Cameron… PLEASE no Kirk Cameron…unless he’s in a big orange carrot suit…that I could handle.

    1. Don’t worry, Ben, Kirk Cameron wouldn’t touch this script with a ten-foot pole.

      I can only hope that the film will have the same kind of impact on non-Christians that the book had on Christians. I can’t wait for my Reedie friends to see it.

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