Growing up as a student of drama, musicals, and show choir, I was often told to have “passion.” Directors of various kinds urged me to wear this passion on my sleeve, to connect with others by doing so, and to bear it all on the stage. In my memories of artistic expression, passion was tied to a feeling to be communicated; mostly cathartic portrayals of conflicted characters.
I’ve noticed something similar in the Church. We’ve adopted passion as one of our buzzwords; a word we use so often that its borderline cliché.
My alma mater was filled with students who cried, who raised their hands during musical worship, who jumped and shouted, and who came down to the altar at the front of the platform to pray with others and to cry. I took various classes on music in the worship service. One class in particular had us watch videos of huge stadiums filled with individuals “passionately” expressing their religious experience; often by jumping, shouting, crying, etc.
The professor asked, “What do you think?” I responded that I was moved and inspired by what I saw, that I wished I had that kind of “passion,” and that I found it to be exciting. And then the professor grinned.
He replied, “Thanks, Ben. And you introverts. What did you think?”
As an extrovert, his point hit me hard.
I tend to be outwardly emotional in my expression of faith. I tend to lead with my affections, I tend to lift my hands when I sing, and I tend to raise my voice a little when I preach. I talk with my hands, laugh loudly, and often make silly sounds for no reason. I get recharged by being around people. If you haven’t noticed this about me yet, you will.
As an extrovert, I’ve realized that many extroverted Christians have stolen the word passion and have remade it in our extroverted image. And I want to redeem that. I am not going to say that there isn’t a place for the type of passion I have described. Some of us (raises hand) have a preference for it. Plus, there are ample examples throughout the Church’s history praising it.
Still, the frank fact facing us is that passion has often become synonymous with such outward expressions. Even if one is not individually prone to practice their religious faith in these ways, we still tend to think of extroversion as the authentic means of expression. For example, introverts I know have even tended to speak this way, saying that “I wish I was passionate”. And extroverts might use their extroversion as a mask from learning other ways of being.
So, as an extrovert, please allow me to share some of what I have learned regarding passion.
The Christian tradition has understood “passion” as “suffering”. To experience passion was, literally, to suffer. For example, the passion of the Christ means the suffering of the Christ.
Now, words change their meaning. Passion also means strong fervor for something, a great desire for something, or a robust interest in something. And many of these changes happened over time. For example, nice used to mean dumb.
But I think that considering passion in terms of suffering might be instructive so that we can be sensitive to us a spiritual body, both extroverted and introverted. I say this because “passion,” as I have described it initially, can turn to obsession, obsession to pride, and pride to painful abandonment. Many who have been “passionate” have inflicted great harm in the name of what they were “passionate” about.
In suggesting “suffering” as a filter for “passion,” I am suggesting that we open ourselves to those forms of religious expression within our body which differ from extroversion.
Maybe we should think about “passion” as the cultivation of vulnerability to those around us; to be open and affected by them. To see the passion deep within the quiet stillness and personal thoughtfulness presented by our introverts.
Maybe passion means being committed to the notion of suffering within a congregational community committed to the cause of Christ.
And maybe passion via suffering means spending our time giving and living generously for those in need, being people whose hearts and minds are attuned to the calling of God within our vocational particularity, and whose posture is curiosity to learn of others rather than a preference to force our own views through heated exchange.
Maybe passion means being committed to learning about what others are willing to be vulnerable for, championing the image of God within people, and to use everything we are for Christ’s cause.
Maybe the foundation of passion for us is the willingness to suffer alongside and for each other.
And in that way, maybe we can redeem what passion means.