06 August 2009

What's your passion?

Last week in our Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions, we were challenged to "go deeper" and we were also asked what our "passion" is. 

My first thought was--are the "deep" audience and the "passion" audience exactly the same people, or do some respond more directly to one or another of the two words? 

I've noticed that the word "passion" is very acceptable to some writers, and is on others' lists of words that have lost their savor through overuse. ("Our passion is your problem.") I'm somewhere in between--its expiration date might be getting close, but I haven't found an adequate substitute.

Actually, when the word is used in marketing a product or service, the word is now useless. Passion is now part of the total quality solution commitment for enhancing the customer experience by delivering excellence and adding value by going beyond my expectations.

Please, just do what you promise!!

But when you're talking about spirituality and ministry, I don't quite know what other word quite suffices. Passion is more than enthusiasm; enthusiasm is wonderful and even necessary but it is transient, while passion refers to something that becomes a consistent central focus of our applied spirituality and gives meaning to our lives.

The word is a bit confusing--a generation ago we might have said, "What are you passionate about? What part of your life of service or devotion do you do passionately?" Now we often hear or say the collapsed formula, "What is your passion?" In either case, we want to know what service provides the most inspiring, rewarding, joy-filled, self-abandoning, or divinely urgent outlet for your gifts and your energy.

It's an important and legitimate question, and maybe there's no other single word (yet) that covers all that territory. But I'm curious enough to ask these questions:

1) Am I right in my definition?

2) Is there a better word?

3) Is there a danger that the word is weakening through overuse? Do you sometimes feel as if churchy peer pressure says you MUST be able to name a "passion" even though you really haven't found something that evokes the joy, energy, and urgency implied by the word?

Finally--back to the question about different audiences. Do different temperaments understand passion differently? If the concept of "what is your passion?" still has any meaning, it can't be confused either with compulsory cheerfulness on the one hand, or a martyr complex on the other.

We had a vivid and wonderful example of the varieties of passion on the first evening of yearly meeting, which featured two panels of Friends serving in various global and local outreach ministries. One of the panels included a Friend whose ministry has lasted many years and has led to many new Friends meetings under circumstances of sometimes violent persecution. He presented his vision with vigor and confidence.

Another Friend described how she became gripped with a concern for immigration and immigrants less than a year ago; she was transparent about not knowing where it would lead, and asked us to pray for humility as well as guidance as this ministry unfolded.

I was as moved by this second example as I was by the first. I'm passionate about our life and service in Russia--sometimes I pinch myself and ask whether it could really be true that I'm able to have this privilege among these gracious people. But if you ask, "What is my passion?" ... forgive me if it takes a little longer to compose an adequate answer. It has more to do with prayer, with struggling to become more transparent and repentant and available. If you forced me to come up with one word, at least for now, it would be "communication." As with so much in my spiritual experience, passion does have moments of ecstasy, but it's more about persistence.

Righteous links:

"Breaking free of American evangelicalism"--an interview with Soong-Chan Rah.

Did Joe Biden do Russia a favor with his undiplomatic descriptions? All too true, says Kirill Benediktov, but Russia has some experience with surviving and overcoming. (It's also hard for me to judge someone's insights without knowing the answer to this question: Does the observer have any sense of heart-connection with the people he or she is analyzing?)

"Good people live in bathtubs": Russia's struggle for adequate housing.

"Best Intentions": Andrew Bacevich examines American intentions and American self-reflection through a Graham Greene lens.

Tom Wolfe's perspective on human spaceflight (and what we could do for $10 billion/year).

What do you think of these suggested "vital changes for climate change activists"?

Becky Garrison in the Wittenburg Door: "Today's theologians rock with the oldies."

And finally, here's a ministry that was done with love and passion.

Bittersweet nostalgia, thanks to the film Blues Brothers and John Lee Hooker:


Nancy Thomas said...

Thank you, Johan, for your thoughtful questioning. Since coming home to the States, I've felt very uneasy with the use of "passion" and so far am just resisting adopting the word. Actually, I like the word "enthusiasm," at least in its old root sense of being "in-God-ed"--or filled with God for a certain purpose. It goes with the concept of vocation. Of course that's not how we use the word today. When someone, usually in a church setting, asks me what my passion is, I resort to understatement and tell about causes or activities I am continually drawn to (like poetry, prayer, or immigration). I accept your challenge to reflect on what it means and what might be a better way to frame the question.

Nancy T.

Carol said...

(A parenthetical thank you for posting the link to the Bacevich piece. An example of sustained icy passion.)

Johan Maurer said...

Hello and thanks to you both! Yes, there is such a thing as "icy passion."

I really like the word "enthusiasm." When it is used in the closest sense to its origins, it's not as episodic as the way we use it these days. By the way, the highway that goes from Moscow to Elektrostal is called the "Enthusiasts' Highway" within Moscow's city limits.

anj said...

A Friend in my meeting, Hal Haydock, calls my passion exuberance. That feels very friendly to me. And much less commercialized or over used.