Every year, somewhere around the middle of July, downtown San Diego undergoes a metamorphosis. Fifty-story high banners unfurl down the walls of skyscrapers, every bus and trolley is cocooned in elaborate advertising wraps, hotels and restaurants are closed to regular business then reopened with specific themes. Even Petco Park, home of the Padres, is transformed into an alternative universe.
Why? Comic Con.
If you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, you can Google it to get an idea. But nothing takes the place of being there. Over the years, my family has enjoyed watching the crowds of LARPers and furries swarm the city while we trek through on our way south to Ensenada.
Zeal—properly placed—is a good and necessary thing.
It’s fascinating to consider the time, effort and commitment these people put into their, er, hobby? Not even close. Religion? Few would use that word.
But whatever you call it, they are zealous about it. You might question the object of their zeal, but don’t question its authenticity.
What are you zealous for?
Not a question that gets asked much these days, maybe because “zealous” is an uncomfortable word. Generally, “zealot” isn’t a positive moniker. Even in the Bible, the Greek word for “zealous” is just as likely to be translated “jealous,” which conjures up images of pouty, controlling behaviors or religious fanatics. We prefer words like “passionate” or “excited” or “fan,” which are usually considered positive terms.
But there’s a place for zeal. There are times, and things, to be zealous about.
Augustine defined the very nature of vice or sin as a “disordered affection.” We could rightly reference that as misdirected zeal. We are naturally zealous, at least at first, for the things and people and places we love. While we definitely need to be careful not to use it in achieving abusive or selfish ends, zeal—properly placed—is a good and necessary thing.
However, one of the most serious obstacles we confront when it comes to being properly zealous is boredom.
We live in a culture that craves the new, the exciting, the novel—the next big thing. This poses a particular challenge to maintaining properly-ordered affections; a zealous love, if you will. That kind of love is much more the product of consistent, patient, disciplined attention.
And that can prove boring. It often feels overly repetitive, uninspiring, mundane. It also offers no guarantee of success. We may never recover the spark of passion that ignited our affection in the first place. Zeal, as opposed to the emotional high we often confuse with love, is a disciplined, practiced habit. As Nietzsche commented on what’s necessary for any virtue to succeed, it takes “a long obedience in the same direction.”
So I’ll ask it again: What are you zealous for? Where are you investing your disciplined time, effort and affection? Where should it be directed? Do you struggle with being bored by it? What is that boredom trying to teach you?
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.