Inner City Diary
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Who changed the meaning of "Passion"?
January 18, 2004
What do you get passionate about?

If youíre keeping track of NFL football, youíre seeing lots of passion these days. Players, coaches, fans and announcers. The game brings out the passion in people. Why else would you see a bare-chested bunch of guys paint their bodies and scream like madmen in the snowy stands? I suspect itís a combination of passion and copious quantities of alcohol.

Passion is a word associated with hockey parents, lovers, and a predilection for chocolate. As a candidate for public office, I quickly learned how passionate or rabid people can be about their political parties. People are passionate about ideas and styles of music. Fewer are passionate about their jobs and fewer still are passionate about the difficult things in life.

My thoughts regarding the meaning of the word ďpassionĒ were sparked as I attended a screening of Mel Gibsonís movie, ďThe Passion of the Christ.Ē

The film is a very graphic depiction of the suffering of Christ between the time of the last supper and his death.

The occasional flashbacks to earlier points in the life of Jesus provide welcome relief to the unrelenting reality of his suffering and crucifixion. They provide a context of prior experience for the people we see on the road to the cross.

People who have heard the story of Christ will find that they can read the account of the suffering of Christ far quicker than it actually happened. The film tries to improve on that situation. It tries to capture in about two hours what happened over a far longer period of time.

It brings us a little closer to truth than simple words on paper.

Thereís been some controversy about the film, centering on a concern that it would inspire anti-semitism. The film is painfully frank in its depiction of hate. History hurts. You see the hatred of some of the Jewish leaders for Jesus. But you also see the hatred of Romans for Jews, the beastial behavior of soldiers, and even the attack of Peter on the servant of the high priest.

I donít buy the allegations of anti-semitism. Anti-semites will always find ways to rationalize their hate and stupidity. The movie is no more anti-semitic than it is anti-Roman.

Others will no doubt make self-righteous, open-minded (not!) pronouncements on the tendancy of Christians to use a movie about Christ to proseletyse for their faith. Itís funny how those same people will go home and endure countless hours of proseletysing by beer companies, political parties, unions, fashion designers, and idealogues of various stripes.

On the other hand, those who trust in a movie to convert people will be sorely disappointed. I donít doubt that anyone who watches this movie will be deeply impacted by what they see. But lasting life-changing decisions are based not on a movie, but on some very personal interaction with the subject of the film.

But enough about the movie. Iím sure youíll write your own review, have your own opinion. As I left the preview of the movie, I wrestled with the title. Iím a minister. Iíve used the phrase, ďThe passion of ChristĒ before. But this time I thought longer about the meaning of the word ďpassion.Ē

Somewhere, sometime, the definition of ďpassionĒ has changed. Our modern concept of passion has deteriorated to excitement or a strong emotional or intellectual attachment.

The historic definition, however, has more to do with ďA suffering or enduring of imposed or inflicted pain.Ē

I started thinking about how many of us are willing to endure the pain of our ideas and attachments.

Christian scriptures assert that Jesus endured the pain of the cross because of the benefit of forgiveness, life and hope it would bring to the people around him.

Regardless of what you believe about that message, it may cause you to consider if the things youíre living for are worth dying for.

Iím not on some masochistic trip. Iím not talking about suicide bombers whose death derives meaning only from the number of strangers they destroy. Iím not talking about rabid idealists who suffer the alienation and counterattacks of people they have attacked. Passionate interests can be self-serving and destructive.

Iím talking about whether we are willing to be victimized by our highest ideals. Do we believe anything so strongly that weíre willing to suffer for it? Or will we release our convictions at the first hint of pain?

The passion of Christ, when viewed in this context, says more about his love than the hatred of any of his attackers or detractors. Additionally, it leaves me with some personal challenges as I discover and live out my passions.
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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