My first introduction to religious zealotry was through Jesus Christ Superstar, which will surprise exactly no one who has known me longer than 5 five minutes. In our high school production, a female portrayed the part as Simone Zealotes, which was just all kinds of awesome, but to me Simon has been and always will be Larry Marshal. His Black Church vocals and the masterful choreography always communicated to me the depth of passion and belief Simon had for Jesus. Sure, his theology was wrong; Zealots often believe that if they draw enough blood, God will respond. It is like a twisted take on Field of Dreams: “If you spill it, He will come.” But my initial feelings about zealotry were positive.
Once I got to college and started seriously studied religion, I began to understand the damaging impact zealots can wring; women can lose their autonomy and agency; outsiders can be targeted for persecution and violence; human rights can be abridged or nullified; education can be skewed or denied. Religious zealotry is rarely good, at least as it manifests in public. And this makes sense because religious zealotry draws attention to itself. Religious zealousness draws attention to God and the work that God can do through servants. Servants who work for God without having to push their beliefs on others; servants who give of themselves, even to those they may not like personally, but love because it is what God commands. What God offers. What God is.
And so I have found myself, since returning from Baltimore, on fucking fire for God. I can’t quite elucidate it proximately, so I resort to that most guttural of words to model the intensity of my faith right now. I am in love with Jesus; I yearn to live into the fullness of who God fashioned me to be, to do so with humility and gratitude, erasing as much as possible the false Aaron that I have constructed through the impermanent things of life. At moments I can feel myself tapping into something almost completely outside of myself, as though I am aligning my energy with that of God, feeling the vastness of incarnation and the smallness of experience. In fleeting whispers, I hear the voice of Creation connecting me with the moment the light burst forth, setting into motion the miraculous birth of all that is, known and unknown, and all who have, do, and will live, until the fullness of time falls in upon itself and what we know is transformed into that which is promised. A cessation of suffering. The elimination of evil. The end that is also the beginning.
This zealousness can become zealotry, if I let it. If I feed my ego and do work for my own glory, the love I feel inside my heart will be a love of ego. It will be a love of what is manufactured. Impermanent. I pray that my zeal remain, and this is self-serving as well. I like how it feels when I am close to God, when I am focused on Jesus. It is like a controlled mania. I feel the energy but not the impetuousness. But I want the zeal to remain because it reminds me of what I am called to do: to serve, just as Jesus served. To preach the gospel at all times, but to only use words when necessary. To be.