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Dan Merchant wonders, “Guys, guys [and presumably gals, too]—how are we supposed to have a conversation when everybody’s talking at once? Why is the Gospel of love dividing America?” Want to know why? Merchant decided to find out, so he donned a religious bumper-sticker-covered jumpsuit and set out across America in the documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.

Along the way, Merchant meets Southern Baptists, apathetic Protestants, atheists, Al Franken, Catholics, homosexuals, Jim Santorum, a cross-dressing nun, and Tony Campolo calling Jon Stewart a “prophet of God” (referencing Tucker Carlson’s Crossfire on CNN, October 2004). He listens, asks, talks, pokes, prods. People critique his bumper stickers. They talk religion. In a conversation.

Merchant meets Ron Luce, leader of the national youth movement “Battle Cry” and discusses the “bee-hive” Luce and the event ran into in San Francisco. “Battle Cry” wants today’s Christian youth to speak out against the mass media culture that has turned America, a “Christian nation” according to Luce, into a culture opposed to Christianity. In San Francisco, “Battle Cry” staged a protest event on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall.

“It’s like we put our finger into a bee hive, and we didn’t know it—we didn’t realize it was a hotbed for a very violent response to people who represent the Bible,” Luce said.

This situation, according to Joe Garofoli, of the San Francisco Chronicle, put this Christian event on the same sacred steps for gay marriage, where the Mayor had decided to bless gay marriages just a few years ago. After the blow-up during the first event and plentiful press coverage, Luce brought “Battle Cry” back to San Francisco the next year, and again held a protest on the front steps of City Hall.

Merchant’s documentary opens with an animation of commentary from talking heads:

Jon Stewart: “Religion: it’s a powerful healing force in a world torn apart by… religion.”

Jerry Falwell: “We formed the Moral Majority. We weren’t intending to say everyone else is in the Immoral Minority.”

Merchant hit the streets and asked for the opinion of Americans on what Christians are all about: to be holy. Fanaticism. The Crusades. Killing off non-Christians. Trying to get other people to be Christians. Being good people That “love thy neighbor” thing. Theatrics. Jesus Christ. Being really snobby. Hypocritical. “Preparing to be holy, and being butt-[censored] wild behind closed doors. And that’s a fact.”

For Merchant, the trip began on a trip to Ethiopia, where he met Christians “full of joy, kindness and grace, despite living with daily hardships that would snap [him] in half.” That messed him up, he said, because he started to recognize the “stark contrast” between the Christians in Ethiopia, and the Christians he saw in America. “This collision of faith and culture in America—is killing me,” Merchant says. “It’s one thing to project our faith from a bumper sticker, it’s another to have a conversation. I think we’re getting it wrong again.”

Some will recognize this title from the book release. Lord Save Us has garnered attention from the Today Show and a USA Today Op/Ed piece. The film is available on DVD via group-screening license, by free download from the film’s website, or in a planned limited theatrical release June 13.

As documentaries go, Merchant and co-producer Jeff Martin produced a solid one. Both put their extensive television and film production experience to work, and through their production label hope to create more titles that express the spiritual truths of grace, redemption, and forgiveness.

The voices they include in Lord Save Us span the colors and faces of America and give a multi-sided voice to this commentary on Christianity in America. Politics and hot topics make up the early minutes of the film, while social justice and humility fill the later minutes. The film is also up-to-date, including footage of the Iowa Debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Through much of the film, there is a visual stimulation overload with animation, news clips, original interviews, talking heads, images, and music. Yet the representation implied is clear: there are many, many voices… and as Merchant noted early in the film, they’re all talking at once, and few are listening.



I met Bob this week working on a college mission project. I was the construction "expert" on our crew, and Bob was along for the ride. Bob is not a college student. Bob is a retired minister, has worked with the campus ministry at his local college for a few years and came along with a group from the college-age/stage church in his city. Bob loves those college students. And from what I've seen, they love him, too. It is nice to see a group of 50+ college students roll up to a mission trip with their pastor and somebody like Bob leading them. Here's to all the Bob's working in college ministry -- and youth ministry too!



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Jazz Notes CoverIn college, one of my friends thought a jazz book was misplaced in the spirituality section of the local bookstore. He bought it, liked it, passed it around his apartment and the rest of campus. None of us realized how big this book would be. That was Blue Like Jazz in 2003, which author Donald Miller himself never imagined would be a big hit. Miller admits in Jazz Notes that the books success surprised him, and he “anticipated about 90 percent more [negative feedback]” than he got.

Five years later, Miller himself has moved on, as have many of the crowd’s favorite characters, including Tony the Beat Poet and Pastor Rick. The book had sold over one million copies, and the screenplay for “Blue Like Jazz: The Movie” is complete and ready for filming. Now, Miller revisits Blue Like Jazz with Jazz Notes: Improvisations on Blue Like Jazz, a remix version, giftbook style.

Miller’s story is riveting at times. His stories are vividly honest and he asks questions that other people of faith often avoid. He talks about the first time he sinned at the age of 10. He talks about his friend Laura, a pastor’s daughter and avid non-Christian, exploring God and the Bible. He tells the ever-popular story of setting up a Confession Booth at Reed College in Portland, a notoriously secular school, where he and his friends apologized for everything that Christians had done wrong.

Blue Like Jazz is one of those books that I read nearly a half-dozen times, and it was difficult to decipher the new material from the old in Jazz Notes. Even if you have read it a dozen times, Miller writes with a freshness that will grab you every time. Clips from Blue Like Jazz are woven together with Miller’s commentary, new stories, and updates on the original story. The book also features a CD of Miller reading excerpts from the audio book.

If you are really interested in Blue Like Jazz, I would recommend the entire book. If you’ve read Blue Like Jazz and know friends who would like it, or if you want just a quick read, pick up a copy of Jazz Notes. And stay tuned for “Blue Like Jazz: The Movie” and Let Story Guide You, Miller’s much anticipated new book due out later this year.