“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Donald Miller Blue Like Jazz
The other day I caught one of the screenings of Blue Like Jazz in DC. While walking back to the metro, one of my friends mentioned a quote from the movie (as well as the book) and commented on how the idea was rushed in the film (or at least not given the time or thought that the quote might’ve deserved). It was set up on Donald’s inability to love jazz music until he saw how much his father appreciated it. He also related it to seeing Penny’s love for Jesus stir a passion in her for the people of Kashmir, India. While Miller’s use of “sometimes” obviously implies that he is not making a general all-encompassing statement, it is worth looking into a little further.
Miller’s examples start out with one key factor, he had some aversion to both jazz, and Jesus (at least at that period of life). So this phrase will not apply to someone who tries ice cream as a child and immediately loves it. However ice cream can serve as an example. I’d argue that in order to truly love something, you have to understand it. Also, in understanding it, you must know how to love it.
Understanding: If I am going to truly love ice cream, I’ll need to at least know why it is lovable. It is lovable in part because it is edible, sweet, flavorful, cold, and creamy (at least not a solid). If I claim to love ice cream because I enjoy its hot temperature, I am not describing ice cream accurately, and am probably talking about something entirely different. Ice cream is also intended for consumption by its creators. If you like ice cream because you enjoy throwing it at a wall, you are not fulfilling the purpose that the creators intended, and you are making it something quite different.
Know How to love: If I understand it, I also must know how to appreciate it and love it. I cannot enjoy the flavors, texture, or sugar if I receive a bowl of ice cream and flush it down a toilet. I might enjoy looking at it swirl and disappear but I am not enjoying ice cream. Rather I am enjoying an odd form of visual stimulation. I can only enjoy ice cream, if I am able to take in the properties that make ice cream, ice cream. I do this by eating it. Which, is also how I understand it!
So what does all this have to do with the quote above? Sometimes we don’t know how to love something properly. We may not know enough about it, and need someone to help us understand the object of love, as well as how to love it.
Your hypothetical friend is a Shakespeare fan, you… not so much. It is hard to get past the language, the plots aren’t quite your thing, and the issues rarely seem relevant to you. You notice that your friend reads the plays, reads literature about the plays, and will often view a play like “Merchant of Venice” multiple over the course of years. You eventually ask your friend, why do you like those stories so much?
The person will probably not tell you that they love Shakespeare’s stories, he only had about six originals. He or she will probably point out the rich literary tradition that he drew upon. Or the person will mention the complexity he added by throwing in a character whose name correlates with a person from Ovid’s Metamorphosis or Greek mythology. The individual might also mention Shakespeare’s ability to write a character’s personal thoughts into a play (a skill and element of storytelling which most screenwriters today avoid like the plague). A true Shakespeare fan will also mention the double entendre in his storytelling. Shakespeare had a remarkable ability for writing plays that simultaneously challenged and maintained the status quo, allowing him to subtly insult a monarch to his face while keeping his head attached to his body. Or, the Shakespeare fan could mention the variety of issues the Bard raises, such as race, homosexuality, hypocrisy, antisemitism, and feminism/misogyny. Then, the fact that the plays are left so open, that the tone or vocal inflection of an actor/actress could drastically alter the play’s message on any of the above topics. This is why your hypothetical friend loves Shakespeare.
His love of Shakespeare also shows you how to love it as well. You don’t just sit back and read, you pursue an understanding. I will never gain appreciation for some of the hints Shakespeare drops with names unless I do some work on Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I will miss some elements he intended if I don’t strengthen my knowledge of his influences. Also, I can miss out on some of the discussion if I choose not to research his production company. If I ignored that, I would be hopelessly unaware that his actors were all male. Knowing that fact alone adds some more puzzles to the story, As You Like It. Where Rosalind, in pursuit of Orlando, dresses up as a male named Ganymede (a character in Greek mythology with some homoerotic overtones) in order to make him the perfect suitor. In doing this, one of the other female characters falls in love with Ganymede. While we cannot make judgments as to his intention, when we picture the play as it would have been presented, it causes us to think even more.
Sometimes you need to see someone love something, particularly how someone loves something to love it. Usually this involves seeing what the object really is, and we rarely will understand something full on our own. If, like Don, you grew up seeing Jesus as a white, middle-class, Republican who fully endorsed Reagan’s supply-side economics who only cared about people after they died… you might have an aversion to Him. It might take someone actually following Jesus (John 14:15), who is caring for the people both physically and spiritually to show you what loving Jesus looks like.