My friend was wondering what zeal is and if it’s actually a positive or negative characteristic. I thought it was positive, but…

Yesterday, I was dying. (I’m saying that in the way you say that when you’re sick and miserable, not actually dying. I’m perfectly healthy today. Anyway.) I had gotten vaccinated the day before. Now. I usually keep things like this pretty close to the vest, only disclosing to my closest friends. The vision for my life is to build bridges and make relationships and that requires me to refrain from taking many firm “political” stands, which this has unfortunately become. I do from time to time, but I do not do it lightly. This is not a “political” statement for me, in fact, it fits into that life vision category. Being unvaccinated (I had actually gotten COVID earlier in the pandemic, so it wasn’t exactly a safety issue as much as a designation issue) was keeping me from certain people/relationships/spaces and, like I said, I can’t have that.

But we’re close friends, right? So I had a rough reaction to the shots, and yesterday I was sore and hurting from head to toe and while I laid on my couch trying not to move any part of me, I watched tv. A documentary I watched was called City Of Joel, and it was about a religious/political conflict in New York between a growing group of Orthodox Hasidic Jews and the rest of the town. The Jewish people were zealous about their religion and their families and the rest were zealous about their families and their community. Both were operating, on some level at least, like so many, from fear. Fear of persecution, fear of difference, fear of losing. And I thought of how many times the zealous have crossed very damaging lines into violence.

My son is studying the Salem witch trials in school – just wait until he gets to the crusades. We are zealous about our politicians, vaccination status, mask stances, positions on abortion & homosexuality, sports teams, religion, anything. Our deeply held beliefs create wildly different responses. Sometimes that zeal causes us to take a meal to our neighbor, sometimes it causes us to riot or pull triggers on our weapons of evangelism.

My friend put it this way – “How zealous must we be…Do we cut off ears? Or love like Jesus?” What a great question. He was referring to the moment where Peter pulled a sword and cut off a Roman soldier’s ear in defense of Jesus, who rebuked him and put it right back on his head. Obviously, we would say zeal in loving the way Jesus did is the right answer, but how quickly does that get misguided? Peter thought he was not only loving like Jesus, he was loving the real, flesh and blood Jesus. He was wrong.

I know physical violence isn’t the answer ever, and that’s easy to tell, but there are many other different kinds of violence. We manipulate each other through judgment, though withholding, through condescension, through gift-giving, through affection and on and on. That’s violence, too.

I wonder how many of the worst atrocities in human history were planted (at least originally, in the seed stage) by what we could consider positive motivations. Someone I know is so angry that I’ve been vaccinated that I have been effectively excised from his/her life. This anger started (hopefully) from a deep concern for my well being and became emotional violence.

I think so much of what we are feeling now in the culture is very similar. I desperately want you to vote my way, believe what I believe, listen to/read what I listen to/read because I think it’s the best thing for you. I think it will bring you enlightenment or happiness, because I think that’s what it has brought me. I know that is also a little condescending, but it stems from the simple fact that we want the best for those we care about. (Now, sometimes that’s not from where it stems – sometimes it’s to be right or powerful or to win. I’m not talking about that, that’s just insecurity and inadequacy.) I get off the path when I take offense to the fact that you don’t do/want what I offer and respond out of that offense.

So my friend asked this question. 1. I think we’re supposed to be completely overcome by love (for God and each other) that it has to come out. And 2. It sure takes a lot of careful wisdom to figure out how it comes out. This is the tricky part, isn’t it? I’m not certain about too much but I am positive it doesn’t happen with our hands in fists, grasping tightly to our scared, arrogant, fragile egos. It only happens with my hand holding yours, walking each other home.