In Pursuit of Passion

Everywhere I turn, I see my generation as a collective, passionate people. We are passionate about photography. About music. About the perfect brew. Passionate about Uganda and sustainable agriculture and travel. Passionate about Red vs. Blue and the Blackhawks and skinny blue jeans.

But most of all, it seems, we are passionate about passion itself.

Growing up, us Millennials—the moniker given to my generation—feasted on a diet saturated in encouragement to “discover our true passions.” Whenever we asked “What should I do with my life?” our teachers and parents often advised us to “follow your passion” wherever that may lead. (1)

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this Millennial-specific career advice working itself out in two distinct ways. On one hand, there is no shortage of twenty-somethings espousing unusually strong passions for everything and anything, from the grandiose to the mundane. People in this group tend to be the creative, artist-type. The entrepreneurs, using and exaggerating their passions to serve as a selling point for their wares, a raison d’être for their business and being.

Take, for example, the photographer—an entrepreneurial enterprise with which I am well-acquainted. Visit the website of any young photographer and their “About Me” paragraph will read like a script: “I bought my first camera when I was seven and have been passionate about taking pictures ever since.” Or the indie coffee shop owner that claims “coffee preparation is my passion.” Or the not-for-profit director who claims to be part of a “group of passionate and determined creative problem-solvers who want to make a difference.” (2)

In all of these endeavors, it’s not so much the end goal that matters but being able to boast a sense of passion while getting there. In many ways, passion has become a generational code-word to validate our pursuits—the profitable and not-so-profitable, the purposeful and not-so-purposeful. Because we were challenged to “pursue our passions,” admitting to doing anything less admits failure. And so we’ve forced ourselves to become passionate about everything, not because we ABSOLUTELY love these things and certainly not because they are worthy of our passions but because a claim to passion allows us to claim some measure of success—at least by the Millennial’s definition.

Then there is a second group in my generation who heard the same advice to “follow your passion” but have yet to find their passion. While the first group consists of creative entrepreneurs, this group is made up of the philosophers and academics, those who realize passion should follow value rather than define value. Of course, this approach makes passion a hard-to-find commodity. While their peers are out finding passions in fake mustaches and Instagram, this second group is waiting for passion to find them.

And wait we do. We wait while working at jobs beneath our level of education. We wait while floating from overseas teaching gigs to yearlong mission trips. And even some of us simply sit and wait. In all of these situations, the goal is to delay commitment to any one career that may—but very likely may not—be our passion. We’d rather fail by “doing nothing” than fail by pursuing something less-than our passion.

GUILTY AS CHARGED
I must confess that, in true Millennial form, I’m a guilty member of both groups. On my good days, I can muster enough energy to pronounce myself passionate about many things—photography, farming, blogging and good design. What’s more, I’m lucky enough to be pursuing each of these “passions” with little holding me back.

And then there are my bad days. Days when my passion still seems “out there” and “waiting to be discovered.” Days when I wake up waiting for that reason to get out of bed in the morning, for that “calling” and “purpose” to use its mighty force to pull me to my feet.

And on the on the rare, in-between days, I’m able to see both approaches to life for what they are: the first approach is an offensive one based in self-validation and not a little bit of vainglory; the second approach a defensive one based in fear.

And on those days, in a right frame of mind, I realize that neither approach lies in tandem with the message of the Gospel I claim to believe.

CHRIST’S PASSION 
This doesn’t mean that the pursuit of passion goes to the wayside in the Gospel story (Millennials don’t have it all wrong). What this does mean, I think, is that when pursuing the life of a Christian, instead of asking ourselves “What is my passion?” we should ask the question, “What is Christ’s passion?”

The entire last week of Christ’s life is dubbed in Catholic circles “Christ’s Passion.” (3) Perhaps it’s a bit juvenile of me to play with words like this, but I fancy the suggestion that Christ’s passion—His gets-strongly-excited-about-can’t stop-thinking-about-wakes-up-to-talk-about passion—is the same as His Passion—His death-on-a-cross-for-the-redemption-of-mankind passion.

I imagine that if believers—especially us Millenials—started aligning our passions with Christ’s Passion, we’d discover incredible freedom in our own pursuit of passion.

For those of us seeking to legitimize ourselves and our pursuits by claiming them as “our passions,” a change of focus toward Christ’s passion gives us all the validation we could ever need—Christ’s death on the cross in our stead is justification enough for all that we are and all that we do.

For those of us still waiting to discover our passion before we commit to what only may be the “right” or “wrong” endeavor, Christ’s passion lets us know that there is grace enough to cover all our doubts.

So, as it turns out, teachers, parents, and pastors were right to teach my generation to pursue passion. What they failed to teach—or we failed to learn—is that it’s not our passion we should pursue, but Christ’s.

And in Christ’s Passion there is no failure.

FOOTNOTES

  1. This September 2008 article from the Harvard Business Review reports the steady growth of the phrase “follow your passion” as standard career advice during the 1990s—precisely when my generation came of age.
  2. Direct quotations from actual websites.
  3. Truth be told, it wasn’t until after the 13th century, that the word word “passion” referred to anything but to Christ’s death on a cross. Whats more, it would take another 300 years for the meaning of “passion” to expand to its current, nuanced meanings. This article from Slate Magazine explains how the word “passion” evolved to its current Catholic and non-Catholic meanings.

 

The Origins of Originality

A few weeks ago I took a day “off” to attend a photography workshop. It was billed as a “day of inspiration” and I looked forward to refueling my think tank after a busy season of wedding work.

Much of the discussion centered on our need to be “original” in our vision and our work. The speaker emphasized time and time again that our work matters only to the degree to which it is original. To make his point, he shared the websites of several artists around the world who are successfully chasing after new ideas—and the subsequent recognition and/or jobs they received from their efforts .

But originality has a short shelf-life. It only takes the next guy to build on your idea for the “original” idea to be left as old and forgotten. In today’s social-media world, this creating and building upon can happen in 15 minute cycles. If the value of our work comes merely from it’s level of originality, than our work suffers from a short shelf-life as well. 

So, rather than leaving the workshop inspired to “be more original”, I left discouraged by the enormous amount of attention originality attracts; the high commodity that originality has become in a culture that is always going after something newer and better. It is impossible to keep up.

I’m now reminded of how the goal of This Beautiful Life is anything but original. The core task—learning how to grow, preserve, and cook and share food—is a task that has been central to man’s existence since our beginning. While new technology has certainly changed the way we farm (sometimes for the best, many times for the worse), farming is never about being original. It’s about submitting to the history of the earth and its ability to produce harvest after harvest after harvest. Farming is about letting go of our need to be original—to do things in a way never before done—and agreeing to work in tandem with nature’s course. And most of all, farming forces us to recognize that no matter how much we “do”, how much “originates” from our labor, it is ultimately God who creates.

What’s more, I like knowing that God does not validate me by my ability to come up with next big idea but rather, He is the crazy idea. His Truth is the origin from which all originality results.

And with Him, my value never expires.

A Call to Communion

A favorite worship song of mine is “Better is One Day.” The common refrain sings “Better is one day in Your courts/Than a thousand elsewhere.” I love this song for its reminder of the strength we have when we commune with God and for its promise that “one day” we will experience this communion for eternity. At distinct moments of my life, I remember feeling as if I was already living in that “one day of full communion.” These moments are defined by complete joy in Christ, a peace with myself and the world, and unbroken closeness with the Lord. These moments are only hints of what’s to come; it’s in this very hint of feeling where I want to live my life.

Deciding to live in a “hint of a feeling” is abstract and real life is filled with concrete hurdles that hinder, (at best) and prevent (at worse) our quest for the abundant life and complete communion with Christ. A large hurdle for me personally to experience this fullness of life stems from my insecurity about being single. Singleness is a huge topic, both within and without the Church, and one I cannot fully delve into in this here post. Suffice it to say, I struggle with being ok if it turns out I don’t ever, in fact, marry.

This past fall, with a little encouragement, I decided to face this fear head-on, asking myself that should I never have the chance to marry, how would I like my life to look. How could I see my life as beautiful and not simply cope with my singleness. In asking this question, I wasn’t looking for a simple answer. What I really sought, what I really wanted and prayed for, was a vision for life. And in every sense of the word, the Lord filled me with a vision for life—so distinct from anything else I am presently doing that I know the Holy Spirit had just a little somethin’ to do with it.

Briefly stated, the vision presented the desire to learn how to grow food and work toward the creation of a farm using Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) practices. Also part of the vision was the idea to buy a farmhouse (Charlottesville, Virginia came immediately to mind), rehabbing it, making it cozy, beautiful and welcoming. I saw a vision for how I could integrate my work as a wedding photographer into this endeavor, switching a barn into a studio/gallery space and the house as a place of hospitality for clients and other artists alike.

Moreover, the vision focused on how this farmstead would also be a place for others (students, agriculturalists, seekers, intellectuals, pastors, vagabonds…) to seek comfort and love, open to people staying or periods of time long enough to learn their stories and inspire them and encourage them in the beauty of God-given life. It was a vision of simplicity but without the guilt often associated with such simplicity. It is recognizing that beautiful things and spaces can refresh and rejuvenate. It’s about not feeling ashamed for having discovered beauty and joy in a world of darkness, but instead creating a life that basks in this discovery.

As all of these ideas flooded my mind, I began to understand that my fear of not marrying was really a fear of being alone, of not being in community, of not being known and loved by others. I believe God made us to need, yes, even crave, community (as evidenced in His triune nature). But community exists only when there is something moving individuals toward each other. The vision of this farmstead is one that begs to draw others toward each other, the earth, and God. It hopes to reach downward, outward, and upward, all the while being a place that expresses the beauty God graciously provides for our enjoyment.This Beautiful Life is the namesake of this new vision of and calling on my life. This blog is my platform to share the birthing of this vision and calling. Through it, I will share my stories as I go about the task of learning to farm. Along the way, I will share thoughts on hospitality and communion, togetherness and beauty. Lastly, and most of all, I will simply tell my own story as I endeavor to live in the hint of that glorious “one day.”