Friday 15 July 2016

On Being Overwhelmed

I wrote this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

It was Harold Wilson who allegedly said that ‘a week is a long time in politics’. In these recent momentous days, it looks as if that should be reduced to five minutes. As David Cameron himself quipped in his final Prime Minister’s Questions, this week alone has seen ‘resignation, nomination, competition, and coronation’.

It’s easy to see why our nation is not at ease. You may feel it yourself, or identify it in friends and colleagues, or see it reflected in your social media feeds. We’re experiencing what theologian David Ford has called ‘multiple overwhelmings’. Whether personally, professionally, or politically, it’s one thing to have a single event that knocks us off our feet; but what if the knocks continue to come thick and fast? Is it any wonder we’re confused, anxious, angry, distrustful, and fearful?

In all this, though, shafts of light manage to break through. I was one of millions who watched the video, courtesy of ITV news, showing a young Portuguese boy consoling a distraught French fan after France’s defeat to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final. It was a touching display of empathy, showing that it’s possible to embrace someone wearing another team’s colours – an embrace in which both are required to yield, the one to the other.

Just as arresting was the picture of a protesting woman taken during civil unrest in Louisiana. The juxtaposition of heavily-clad armed police officers and their apparently hesitant stance with a serenely-poised woman in a long flowing dress is striking. Whatever one’s views of the situation, it’s easy to see why the photo was quickly drawing comparisons with other classic protest images.

Both cases illustrate something of a refusal to be shaped by the prevailing culture, which Christians of all people should understand. Both show that while some ‘overwhelmings’ wound and crush us, others are life-giving and transformative. As David Ford says, the wisest way to cope is ‘not to expect to be in control of everything’, but ‘to live amidst the overwhelmings in a way that lets one of them be the overwhelming that shapes the others’.

What would it look like to be overwhelmed by gratitude? Overwhelmed by generosity? Overwhelmed by a passion for justice? Overwhelmed by a desire to see others thrive, even it comes at our expense? Given the resources available to us in the gospel, what might we be overwhelmed by today?

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