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an edukation in passion

I've been watching a lot of movies lately. Partially on purpose, partially out of procrastination. Often, when I finish a large project, the first thing I want to do is veg out, not do anything for a couple of days, and relax. As a result, I spend a lot of time on the couch, watching movies and playing around on the internet.

Last night, I finished my thesis. I'm contemplating going back in and adding one more piece of evidence from book six in my chapter four, but besides that, it is essentially ready to send out. I defend in 11 days (on the 15th) and Spring break starts tomorrow. As a result, I, for once in my graduate education, have absolutely no pressing obligations on my time.

On Tuesday, I watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the newest in the Harry Potter series (which reminded me of the section I need to add to my thesis), and last night I chose a foreign film called The Edukators.

The Edukators, or Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei, is a German film that takes place in modern day Berlin. Jan, Jule, and Peter are all anti-capitalist revolutionaries who call themselves "The Edukators." They spread their philosophy--educate people--by breaking into mansions in Berlin, rearranging the furniture, and leaving a note that says "Your days of plenty are numbered," or "You have too much money." They don't steal anything. They don't really break anything. They just give them the eerie feeling of someone else having been in their house, watching them, and watching how they spend.

It's an interesting concept, and while I can't condone breaking the law, even if it is in order to achieve a righteous end, I have to admit their philosophy and mine, to some extent, do align. That's what intrigued me the most about this movie--it broaches the idea of revolutionaries for social justice, and how well they can keep their passion going, their fire stoked.

Passion can sustain you for some time. It's good and right to be passionate about a cause, and to know that you won't waver, and that passion can inspire others to move with you. But as you try to mold your life more and more around that passion, as things begin to change, the weight of the system--capitalism, the Western culture, the selfish concern for money--can wear you down.

Suddenly you realize that you have to pay back your student loans you borrowed pursuing your love of art.

You realize that getting married and living with the love of your life means making your decisions as a team, having to compromise some things, and probably settling down in one place.

You have kids and love them dearly and want to give them the best life possible, so you start savings funds: you get a job that pays you the money you need even if the corporation's philosophy doesn't fit the one you espoused.

You realize that you've changed. You've played the game. And though you never wanted to, you are now one of the large capitalist pigs you had spent the days of your youth protesting.

This is precisely the progression of passion that the Edukators encounter. Through a series of mishaps, the group ends up hiding out in the mountains in Bavaria with one of the "rich men" they had attacked. In spending a week together, this man who has played the game, who makes $3.4 million Euros a year, tells them of his days back with the revolutionaries, reading Marx, smoking dope, and experiencing "free love." He knows that young passion all too well, and knows what it feels like when it fades, when you wake up in the morning and realize that you are the bourgeois you once protested.

The movie takes interesting twists and turns, so I'm not going to spoil it for you, but this idea of passion is what I want to discuss.

It's easy to get fired up about a cause.

To stay fired up is harder.

It's easy to hold up a sign for a day, to write an impassioned paper, to switch your buying habits for a couple of days.

To keep going, to sustain that movement forward, especially when it's a kind of "side project" is harder still.

It's easy to say, "yeah, we should love and care for the poor!" every day.

To believe it wholeheartedly is the hardest of all.

This is why I believe social justice to be one of the hardest things to maintain, why so many nonprofits start up and fail in the same year, why we're not hearing about Haiti anymore, and why the earthquake in Chile was greeted with a shrug. Why, after 9/11, we were so patriotic, so impassioned, so willing to reign in our culture, to be more modest, more careful, more loving...and also why now we seem to be back to the way we were. Why I see my friends switch from one cause to another like trying on clothes.

Passion is a sly mistress, and one that is not so trustworthy.

If you are relying only on your personal passion for an issue, your anger and rage at an injustice, your fight will not last long. All three of the Edukators are angry, enraged at the injustice that a rich man can wantonly ruin a young girl's life, that the system we work within is so broken that it crushes people under its great wheels. But when they're faced with problems, with things that threaten them, they make poor decisions, they run, they put themselves in dangerous situations.

Running on passion is like running on fumes - it sustains just long enough for you to make it to the next distraction.

Running on passion terrifies me.

The idea that, when I get older, and have a steady job, and am making enough money to pay the bills and (hopefully) have a husband and possibly kids, that I could lose my passion, that I could start justifying things...well, that's a very real possibility. And it scares me because I don't ever want to lose my passion for the disenfranchised, for the broken, for the poor, for the hurting. But it is, unfortunately, a reality that faces us 20-something, new to the real world, bright eyed, idealists.

The one thing I've learned so far is that your anger will fade. You will get desensitized to the issue. Like adjusting to living with bars on my windows here in Waco, you get to the point where you don't even notice it anymore. The trick is, before you get to that point where you don't notice the suffering, to turn your passion into conviction.

It's easy to inflame a passion because it's surface level. Now, I may be working with a definition of passion that you, my readers, are unfamiliar with - basically, what I mean by "passion" is that outrage, that initial emotional response that gets at the pathos of the issue, that responds with deep emotional love for one's neighbor. That's swell - one should always start off in passion because passion is what motivates us to change in the first place. There are times and places for outrage, but if one attempts to sustain a social justice career merely on anger, it will not last long.

A career sustained on love, however, love that extends out of a deep conviction of should and ought, not "feel like it" - that, my friends, is long lasting.

Let's redefine love. Love has become far too fluffy, far too dependent on how I feel today. Love is not that which is fleeting, it is not that sad pity that makes you hand the homeless man a dollar, it is not that anger that envelopes a discussion of white people sitting around and talking about the system.

Love is that motivation that says, "Even though I am late for this meeting, I will make sure that you have some food." It is that conviction that says, "I will vote in a way that helps alleviate the suffering around me, and not which saves me money." It is that deep, rumbling passion that never leaves us, that is always in the back of our mind saying each morning, "How will you respond to me today?"

There is a reason the Gospel message talks of loving your neighbor, and not of getting outraged on their behalf. There is a reason that Jesus only showed anger a couple of times, and was a loving servant to his friends hundreds of times. There is a reason that Paul, the apostle, tells us to look to love others first and foremost. There is a reason that James says that faith will develop into works, because once one has taken deep, gracious love and turned it into a conviction, it is impossible not to respond.

The Edukators were running on passion. Seeing the possibility of the future terrified them, and for a time it terrified me. But instead of choosing to trust in my outrage, in realizing that my passion may not always inflame others to act, instead of reacting emotionally to everything and relying on that to sustain me, I choose instead to act in the conviction that love can and will change things.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. - Romans 12:9
Note: in the above picture, the painting on the wall reads, in German, "Every heart is a revolutionary cell."

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