Why I choose peace over passion

Recently I watched a deeply moving video clip of Elvis Presley in what is widely regarded as the last great moment of his career before he died.  Supposedly this was “unreleased footage” until recent years.  I was a tiny kid when Elvis passed away and I don’t know much about him at all.  But the idea of hidden footage intrigued me, so I watched it.

The four minutes of Elvis singing Unchained Melody were all at once beautiful and heartbreaking.  History tells us that he died tragically only a few months after this performance.  Watching a man who was on top of the world stumble around on stage, obviously high on something, slurring his words and rambling incoherently, was disturbing.  Yet when he opened his mouth and sang, such sheer power and emotion came forth that it resounded in my soul.  Someone was still in there, singing their heart out, to God I believe…a cry from a desperate person in need.  “God, speed your love to me.”  Is it a love song or a cry out to God?  In the case of Elvis, I think the latter.

As a musician myself I have some level of understanding of the melancholy creative personality that tends to characterize artists.  The inspiration of art combined with the buzz of a crowd can produce an amazing high.  That high seems contagious and can fill arenas with people enraptured in music about nothing.  It’s the passion of the moment that has the power to grab a human heart and transport it somewhere, as if magically.  It’s a deeply spiritual thing even if God is not explicitly invited; music by nature is spiritual.

In a broader sense, we tend to respond to the “buzz” of passion and excitement.  I recently sampled a bowl of the new berry flavored Cheerios and it was amazing.  The restaurant has a new menu….the bank has a new promotion…the church has a new program plus those silly flag things out front to cheerlead it.  These aren’t bad things but somewhere in there I see that novelty and thrill are being used as proverbial clickbait to grab as much attention as possible.  When the new style becomes the old style, we all stuff our bell bottoms or hipster jeans in the closet, and then a new style is invented and the cycle starts again.  Was there any substance even at all?

In the midst of all of this I pause.  Was I created to go day to day stimulated by things that will be old news tomorrow?  Old news really is ‘old news’, that is, new things that become old. That seems cheap to me.  It seems to have no nobility or dignity.  I think you and I were made for something better.  The older I get, I’m just not impressed by passion much anymore.

Scripture speaks of these things in a passage from Proverbs that I have been thinking about for the last two decades.  Proverbs 14:30 says “A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.”

What could this mean?  Very simply, I think it means that if you’re a human, it won’t work for you to live on passion.  Passion – insert another similar word there so it fits for you…ambition, emotion, power, drive, thrill…they all suffice.  The point is that without peace and balance, eventually passion will leave you wanting because you weren’t designed to live on the extreme edge, at least not all of the time.

Look at the results of unbridled passion: casual sex brings unwanted babies, a risky loan brings foreclosure, a shaky deal brings bankruptcy, a foolish risk causes injury.  Humans have a built-in redline, a moral conscience, meant to protect us.  Ignore it and we burn too bright too much and we burn out too soon.   Our life, a tragedy; our years, wasted; our bones, rotten, like the Proverb.

Sadly the writer of the very Proverb being discussed, Solomon, was a man very much like our Elvis of modern times.  He had all the fame, all the money, all the power, all the attention he could ever want.  None of it lead to contentedness and he died a mere shadow of the man he began.

While we admire the brightness of people like Elvis and Solomon, we have something to learn from their lives.  Don’t extend yourself too much – boundaries are good.  Seeking the things that bring peace in life is a good thing.  That may mean that you are less rich and less spectacular and much less busy.  But it will likely bring a longer life that’s filled with something far more powerful than passion – that rare, rusty dusty ill-found thing among mankind today called the peace of God.

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