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Volume 98, Number 1

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Community: Living with Freaks

An excerpt from Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

In the short year at Graceland I hurt all the guys at one time or another. Fixing the carnage would take time.

I had to make things right with each of them. I had really messed things up. [One housemate,] Jeremy . . . couldn’t stand me. I had run my car through the garage door one night and neglected to fix it. Jeremy parked his motorcycle in the garage and so he had to use the broken door every day. My room was directly above the garage, so when Jeremy went to work in the morning at five o’clock, he would start his motorcycle engine, and it sounded like somebody was starting a lawn mower next to my bed. I would get furious, and later that night I would ask him if there was something we could do. He said no, that was where he needed to keep his motorcycle. And that was true. So, every time Jeremy had trouble getting the broken door up and down, he would get mad at me, and every time he started his motorcycle at 5:00 a.m., I would get mad at him. The issue, of course, was not about the motorcycle or the door; the issue was about whether or not we respected each other, whether or not we liked each other.

One evening I was down in the basement . . . do[ing] some laundry . . . but somebody’s clothes were in the dryer. There was no place to put them so I put them on the floor. I didn’t think anything of it, you know, because the floor was pretty clean, but it turned out the clothes were Jeremy’s and, later that night, when he got home he wrote a note on our white board to the person who had thrown his clothes on the floor. . . .  I told him it was me, and I apologized. He had to go for a walk he was so mad. It was the last straw for him.

When he came back I asked him if we could talk. I told him it was time we dealt with it. He kept wanting to walk away from the conversation

Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz

In April, author Donald Miller visited campus, giving a reading and a chapel talk and attending a luncheon with members of the College Honors Program and The Boyer Scholars Program. His most recent books include Searching for God Knows What, Through Painted Deserts, and To Own a Dragon.

because he was so mad, but I wouldn’t let him. I was ready to apologize, I told him I didn’t feel like he cared about me because he started his motorcycle every morning, and I had become defensive about that, and that made me want to get him back, and I had done that sort of thing subconsciously, with little comments and that sort of thing. I had never told him, at the very beginning, that I felt like he didn’t like me and I wanted him to. Instead, I had been proud and passive-aggressive. That was why we were experiencing all of this. And I told him that I felt bad. I didn’t accuse him of anything, which looking back was very, very important. And, also, I didn’t expect anything from him in return. I really didn’t feel like he owed me anything. Jeremy listened very carefully once he had calmed down. He was great. He told me how much he liked me, and that meant the world to me. In that moment I could feel all the anger I had been feeling melt away. I couldn’t even remember what I was angry about. And the next morning, when Jeremy started his motorcycle, it didn’t even wake me up.

I was in San Francisco recently staying at this bed and breakfast place for people who are in the city to do ministry. It was a small house, but there were probably fifteen people living there at the time. The guy who ran the place, Bill, was always making meals or cleaning up after us, and I took note of his incredible patience and kindness. I noticed that not all of us did our dishes after a meal, and very few people thanked him for cooking. One morning, before anybody woke up, Bill and I were drinking coffee at the dining room table.

I told him I lived with five guys and that it was very difficult for me because I liked my space and needed my privacy. I asked him how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. “Don,” he said, “if we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.”

Reprinted by permission. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller. © 2003 Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.

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