Romanticism and Manufactured Zeal

My life lately has been somewhat melancholy. I see the end of summer approaching, and I’m not entirely excited to give up this relative freedom for the insanity of school life once again. Why is it that I always want to be in school or not in school, depending upon which one I’m not doing at the moment? Why must I romanticize everything?

Speaking of romanticizing, I live in a beautiful mansion built around 1880. It’s falling apart in places, but some apartments reveal the original grandeur of the place. My brother was visiting, and I remarked, “they sure don’t build them like they used to.” He replied, “that’s because we’re not slave owners.” (And before you go off about the virtual enslavement of many of our working class today, I’ll just say that it’s not the same thing.) So much for romanticizing the past.

Ah, now here’s something that I can spiritualize! I don’t know about you, but I romanticize the earlier part of my Christian journey all the time! I had a dramatic conversion experience and the accompanying zeal to spread the good news… mingled amongst a bunch of ignorance. My zeal was channeled into telling kids to burn their non-Christian music (whatever that means, since “Christian” is a personal adjective) and supporting George Bush’s “war on terror.”

I didn’t realize that my zeal had been channeled so early on into a specific package that told me what to think so that I could focus on keeping the passion burning. I don’t know when manufactured zeal replaced the real thing, but it happened. This makes me deeply distrustful of any Christian teaching that emphasizes passion, take your pick: passion for the lost, the poor, justice, evangelism, charismatic experiences, or theology.

Life is messy, but we don’t want to admit it. Romanticism trivializes the pain, the problems that we encounter in our real lives. It looks at the past selectively, pining for the “good old days,” or it looks forward to the day that God sets things right. The former is useless, and although the latter may lend us strength to face the trials of the day, I see it too often that it becomes an escape mechanism to avoid today’s realities.

Yet what lies beneath this romanticism is a good desire that we too easily pervert. I speak of the good desire to belong to a grand story; to find ourselves part of some drama that belies the mundane reality of our daily lives. I believe that God’s dramatic relationship to humanity throughout history is precisely that drama, and what we need to do is stop looking romantically at the past or future, and ask God for eyes to see our part in the drama of now.

God, grant these foolish eyes sight.

3 responses to “Romanticism and Manufactured Zeal”

  1. “I don’t know when manufactured zeal replaced the real thing, but it happened.”

    For me, the manufactured zeal was replaced by the real thing when I found out for myself that I really couldn’t make the Christian life by myself, by following rules laid out for me by culture, whether Christian or secular. When I did everything I was told, when I had passion for everything I was told to have passion for, and still failed, that’s when I realized that true zeal is not found in what you do but rather in what God does through you, something that happens only with a humble heart and a heart that accepts his grace.

    The only passion worth having is a passion for God. Any passion of any other kind is idolatry, even when that passion is for something that God has declared to be good.

  2. Man, that feels just like a continuation of the chat we had walking back to your place from the pub. Needless to say, that mirrors my journey, where the initially sincere passion lost its substance and became ignorant zeal.

    I pray the same for you and for me (and all others fighting indifference, apathy, even apostasy).

    I’m reminded of an excerpt I read in the Kathleen Norris book I was telling you about. She quotes an excerpt from Karl Rahner’s “Prayers for Meditation”:

    “If I make this avowal of faith, it must pierce the depths of my heart like a sword, I must bend my knee before you, saying, I must alter my life…I have still to become a Christian”.

  3. Peter: Thanks for the comment, and a picture of your journey in this. You’re absolutely right that questing for passion too often leads to idolatry. I know that it did in my case.

    Tony: Yeah, this totally jumps off of our chat on the way home from the pub. Cheers for the quote, it’s excellent.

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