Monday, December 01, 2008

The Power of Passion

"Sweet Hommmme Alabama!"

The voice was so off-key it made me smile as I walked the last part of the tunnel towards the busker singing his heart out near the exit.

"Sweeet, sweet home!"

The crowd filed through the narrow corridor, and I moved to the right, slowing slightly to get a look at this terrible singer. He was straight from the 1960's, with a scraggly beard and long hair. The one side of his guitar had some fur attachment on it, like one of those coats you see for small dogs in the winter. I was trying hard not to laugh as I passed by, but he caught my smile and misinterpreted it.

"Have a good weekend!" He said.

I nodded, his face suddenly bathed in a mask of joy as he belted out another song. His voice wasn't that bad, I thought. It wasn't the voice that had changed of course, merely my perception of it. And instead of laughing at him, I was suddenly smiling with him. All because of the singer. All because of his passion for his task.

I headed up the stairs into the cold night, unable to stop thinking about the simplicity and power of passion. If humanity was continually engaged in "a war of influence", passion was probably the single most important ingredient in the mix. Too often however, it was packaged and commercialized as nothing more than another item on the "psychological need" shelf. As just another thing to be learned and added to our repertoire.

It wasn't difficult to locate religious books on the "passionate life." Unfortunately, they inevitably ended up commoditizing faith and using passion as something to help market "the gospel." Suddenly the one thing capable of transforming the human experience, the one thing able to make our hearts sing in the face of life's tragedies, was downgraded into yet another product.

The ten-minute walk to my car was cold one. I shuffled forward, hunched over, unable to stop sniffling. My sickness had lingered these past weeks, and some days it was all I could do to maintain the energy at work before crashing at the end of the day for much needed sleep.

"What the..."

Jammed into my windshield wiper was a plastic bag, with yet another note "From the Committee of the Neighbourhood Watch." Although the spot I'd started parking in was legal, I'd picked the curb outside a million dollar home. "If you can afford to drive, you can afford to pay for parking." the note said. They left me these messages every day. The plastic bag was new, the latest effort to "preserve" the note in light of the snow and rain we'd received recently. Some days, just for fun, I posted the previous notes under my windshield wiper. A preemptive maneuver, one I supposed was better than being rude or writing a nasty message back. Something like "my car was a gift, you prick" or "your home is worth a million dollars, and you have time for this?" or "don't you have anything better to do?" But then, maybe that's why we get stuck on rules. Why we so often became stuck on telling people how wrong they were and how right we were about the slightest infractions.

People who had no passion often found zeal instead, and there was nothing more dangerous than a zealot. Unlike those who have found what makes them uniquely them, zealots have accepted the substitute, usually in the form of religion or politics and usually involving the delineation of the human race. Why my country is better than yours. Why my race, my gender, my sexuality, my whatever, is better than yours. A zealot is dangerous because the drive for life is adopted -- like playing a role -- and as a result, cannot be simply explained away, not without having to endure the painful psychological extrication from something they don't even believe in the first place. Most wars are started by zealots. Most religions are defined by them. The unfortunate truth is that those who love the least love the loudest, and so zealots often win the "war of influences" by default. Those who have found true passion do not wish to be engaged by those who they consider to be fake, and those who have neither zealotry or passion are inevitably influenced by both.

Part of the appeal of post-modernism, for me at least, was this sense that authenticity and being and yes, passion, should be more prevalent in my life. That too much of my life was fake. That too much of my life was about what was practical, or what others thought I needed, and not enough about the "real" me.

You can get lost in the philosophical aspects of "the real me" and what it means, but the heart of it was this sense that I didn't want to pretend anymore. That I didn't want to feel like an actor slipping into another role. That I wanted to unveil that deep sense of self and be at peace with how and who I was. We all have days when we feel a stranger to ourselves, when the world feels out of place, when we wonder just how we got "here" at all. Part of what held me back however, was this whole idea of passion. Releasing myself into that was not an option. I'd been passionate before, and it was more than a disaster. In essence, I became what I hated. Even now, thinking back to those times, I still feel the regret. And the loss.

So much the loss...

The rain had picked up, and it drizzled along my windshield, blurring the night into a sea of yellows and shadows. I glanced over at the two or three leaflets on the floor of the passenger seat left over from my parking spot. the ones from the Committee. I remembered a time when I was younger, driving in the rain, my floor covered with leaflets from another "committee". Religious pamphlets that explained "the gospel" (How to Know God) in four easy parts. I remembered delivering them, handing them out to people with burning sincerity and zeal to change the world.

In those days, God was all, and the pamphlets were as much symbolic of the driving hunger for a life that mattered as they were a real part of what I believed. To friends and strangers alike, I burned with a fire that would not be quenched, and I refused to take no for an answer. God could change their life. He had changed mine. Be changed! Be like me!

I quickly became the master of the argument. I could walk people through Scripture or discuss the nature of God in philosophical terms. I latched onto every new archeological discovery that "proved" the Bible. I shouted and beat my chest into the winds and rains of a culture infatuated with everything but God. For four years, I carried pamphlets in my car, knowing that I might need them. Understanding that a soldier must always be prepared to fight. I was the epitome of passion, and living the life I had always wanted. Or so I thought...

The rain had stopped, and I turned off my wipers as I glided to the final stoplight before home. The leaflets lay crookedly on the floor, my gaze inexplicably drawn to them once again. What I didn't realize when I was younger was that I wasn't living a life of passion at all. I'd become a zealot. I didn't understand the difference between the two, and didn't care. That wasn't unusual of course, since zealots generally don't care about such "trivialities".

Of course, there's nothing trivial about the difference between being a zealot and living a life of passion. Passion comes from within you. It is not forced, and it isn't fake. Zealousness is always amplified with external help. (This is why cults and fundamentalists maintain such strict "socializing" disciplines. Get a zealot away from the bolstered environment and it breaks down quickly.) In my case, I was going to church four times a week. I had no non-Christian friends. And if I did hang out with a "non-believer" (catch the language there) my goal was to convert them so they'd believe what I believe.

Passion does not seek imitation but likeness. Someone who lives a passionate life is not looking for disciples or converts, but seeks instead those who find in life -- in all its heartache and pain and joy -- a humane reality that is at once authentic and real and heartfelt.

Important question: does a Zealot know that they are being "fed", that they have been given a "passion alternate" by people who inevitably use this psychological drug to control both people and their environment? Sometimes. Rarely. I didn't understand why it all felt so wrong until I left the church for two years. Somewhere along the way I realized that I had accepted the "zealot's pill" as an alternate to a life of real passion. The life God intended for me.

The rain had changed to snow, and I pulled into the driveway, still thinking about the busker with the fur guitar. I picked up the leaflets from the floor and threw them in the garbage on my way inside. No more games. The house was quiet, and I unlocked my room and stepped in, grateful to finally be home. These days I had a better understanding of passion and what it really meant. Why it was so important, and how much it meant to follow a life led from both above and within.

One only had to go on the internet to find crazy and hateful dialogue from people who called themselves Christians, or Christos, followers of Jesus. Clearly, they had, like me, accepted the life of a zealot, rather than the passionate life of someone in pursuit of God.
Passion is not enthusiasm. It is not charisma or results or what appears to be excitement, although that can be part of it. Passion is the allowed expression of our inner self in our daily life. It is the freedom found when we anchor our heart to our life. Zealousness is much different. Zealousness is comparative. It is always seeking to convince, to influence, and to promote. Passion has no need for this, because the goal is not to see other transformed by us, but to see in others the freedom we find in our own uniqueness, our own special-ness, our own stamp of God's creative touch. Passion invokes invitation. Zealousy invokes coercion. And lies.

(Part of the reason so many young people leave the church when they are eighteen is because the church, like other human organizations such as political parties, knows zealousy better than it does passion. Young people do well to avoid it.)

A life of passion is one of moments, when time stands still, when there seems to be complete unity with what we are doing and who we are, when our actions no longer look to the world for recognition. It is in those moments, when our passion has united the "all" of who we are, that we know what it means to be fully human. And the result is stunning. Someone who is truly passionate does not need to sell or convince anyone of anything. They do not need to convince or coerce or convene.

They need only to live.

The house was quiet, and I turned my music on to put the finishing touches on my latest novel. I still hadn't made it as a novelist, and there were days when I wanted to give it up, but I could fell my inner self smiling when I wrote. It was my passion. And to that end, I didn't need a publisher to convince me I'd made the right decision. I would write because I was supposed to, I would write because I was born to, I would write... and I would love every minute of it.

Passion has always been an important part of life, especially in Western culture. Too often however, we have accepted the substitute, and in so doing, have cheapened our faith. Cheapened our relationships. And most importantly, cheapened the world's perception of a Creator much greater, and much more loving, than we give Him credit for.

We all have passion inside of us. It resides in the parts we rarely visit, past the pain of disappointment and the cynicism of a life spent watching zealots. Past the discouragement of those closest to us and the "good sense" that keeps us as square pegs in round holes.
My prayer this week is that you will work past the pain and hurt, that you will open yourself to the person you have always wanted to be, and that you will discover the life of passion -- complete and broken and yet still joyful -- that God had in mind when He created you.