The Objects of Our Passions

What are you passionate about?  I got a kick out of watching the recent FIFA World Cup (pun intended). I mean, here I am living in the Southland mecca of college football, with a local NFL team to boot (pun again), and I thought I knew what passionate fandom is all about.  There’s no doubt that I’ve experienced my share of “American football” delirium, sitting with other zealous fans in National Championship games, and NFL playoff games, including a Super Bowl.  I’ve screamed and hollered with the best of them, and maybe even shed a tear or two along the way when my team lost. But as great as the passion for football is here, it pales in comparison to the passion I witnessed for the world’s “beautiful game.”

Frenzied Celebrations

It started for me with the thrilling draw between Portugal and Spain, and proceeded through a number of matches that went into extra-time, including an unusual number decided by penalty kicks.  While the singing and chanting of costume-wearing fans in the stadiums was boisterous, loud and non-stop, there was an exponential leap to a deafening roar when a player scored a decisive goal. And as cool and amazing as that was to watch, I waited eagerly for the camera feed to display the reactions of citizens in “watch parties” in various city plazas around the world.  They might not have made the journey to the live match, but the explosion of frenzied celebration by the vast throngs in those plazas when their national team scored or won was breathtaking.

Full Riot Gear

A few years back, I got to attend a big, international soccer match overseas, watching Fiorentina host their bitter rival Juventus in Italy’s Serie A.  Upon entering the jam-packed stadium and looking for our seats, it became immediately apparent that trying to sit where assigned was a fool’s errand.  All sections on the home side were filled with standing, singing fans, including the aisles, and no one was willing to move to assist you in identifying your row or seat. We could only go to a fringe area down low, with an obstructed view of the pitch – “relegated,” if you will.  I noticed one section across the stadium which was also jammed, but surrounded by completely empty sections on either side.  It turned out those were the visiting Juventus fans, and the empty sections on either side were a buffer for their protection. Well, I began to understand why, as heavily favored Juventus scored early and often on their way to a blow-out win. The home crowd was not deterred, and continued singing, throwing drinks and even lighting flares! In the stands!! As we exited the stadium before match end, I noticed those sections around the Juventus fans were no longer empty; a black perimeter of police, in full riot gear, had surrounded them in order to safely escort them from the stadium.  I used to think walking through the north end zone of a Monday Night Football game filled with rapid and well-lubricated Steeler fans was slightly creepy and even a little bit dangerous, but in comparison to European soccer fans, that was mere child’s play.

Passion for What Lasts

While passion for one’s team, or a game, is all fine and good, I still ask myself on a deeper level “What am I passionate about?”  It’s a worthy inquiry for us all, lest we find too late that our passions were wholly spent on that which is of no lasting significance.  In Psalm 63, David beautifully expresses his passion for his Creator:

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.     (Psalm 63:1-4)

Such passion is not always boisterous, and is often experienced most profoundly in a quiet place — here, David was writing from the desert. But passion for the God who made us reveals the innate and deep longings of our beings.  And it causes us to see that life may be good — be it experienced in jubilant stadiums and plazas, parched and lonely desert places, or anywhere in between — but being loved by God is even better.