Rebuilding and Finding the Colour

‘Express yourself, it’s one-on-one … love’s got the world in motion and I know what we can do’ (New Order, World in Motion)

‘Find the colour, sight, and sound / a new exposure comes around / Anaesthetic for the mind / Hear the voice that soothes away the pain’ (Feeder, Find the Colour)

‘Therefore, console one another and build up each other individually, just as you are doing.’ (St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Summer and Winter Tunes

The recent changing of the seasons leads me to believe that it is now safe to bring up the subject of the delayed Euro 2020 finals again. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if England had held on for the win against Italy: the scenes which would have ensued in English cities; how Luke Shaw would now be a national hero; how thirty plus twenty-five years of hurt might have been alleviated. My dreams of playing football or running internationally may be long gone but to help keep my body in one piece, most evenings before going to bed, I spend fifteen minutes stretching, rolling, and listening to an eclectic range of music. In those heady few days of expectation, I remember listening to many of the England major tournament songs as part of the process, but it was the words of England’s 1990 – the year before I was born – World Cup song, World in Motion, which particularly struck a chord with me one evening – specifically the repeated exhortation: ‘Express yourself, it’s one-on-one’. Allow me to explain.

There have been times over the last eighteen months where Covid regulations have meant that we have been forced to express ourselves one-on-one more than usual. Perhaps, if you’re anything like me, you initially found that quite liberating. I have good memories of being able to see close friends in-person one-on-one and enjoying the deep conversation and free expression that we could have after relative confinement. Yet, sometimes it has felt exhausting, as we have tried to return to our busy lives once more, although even now more spread out. Even if we are no longer restricted to gathering one-on-one, building community still requires more thought and effort than it did previously. I think many of us realise full well that we are in a period of rebuilding that will take considerable time.

Last week, another song came to me. Recently, during said stretching routine, I have been listening to some new songs from one of my all-time favourite groups, Feeder. One morning on waking up, the melodious tune of a much older Feeder song from 2002 – incidentally, before some of my cross-country teammates were born – resounded in my ears: ‘Find the colour, sight and sound / a new exposure comes around / anaesthetic for the mind / hear the voice that soothes away the pain’.

It suddenly occurred to me that as we rebuild, we need to find the colour once more.

The ongoing COP-26 perhaps illustrates this connection: we need to rebuild through sustainable ways of caring for the planet so that we may continue to see all its colours. This is clearly a challenge facing us all. Yet, another challenge facing us all is how we might rebuild our mental health, wellbeing, and resilience after such a tumultuous period, and find colour again. The pandemic has evidently led to increased pressures in this area that has been taking a hold on the West for some time now.

Rebuilding in Thessalonica

In thinking about rebuilding and finding colour, my mind has often turned to the earliest followers of Jesus Christ to whom the apostle Paul wrote letters in Thessalonica, probably around the 50s AD. The Thessalonians had been going through a difficult time where they had experienced affliction for defying cultural norms and giving their allegiance to Jesus. Moreover, there had been unexpected deaths within their community[1] which meant that they required some assurance about their loved ones. Paul memorably offered them a consoling vision about what will happen at the return of the resurrected Jesus: those who had died believing in Jesus would be raised first, and then those who were still around would be also taken up by Jesus, and they would be all together with Jesus forever (1 Thess 4:13-18).

This was the first stage in the rebuilding process. The second stage involved preparation and developing the right perspective for this day of the Lord (1 Thess 5:1-10). Importantly, such a perspective was to be developed within the community and this would involve a healthy balancing of emotions within it (1 Thess 5:14). After the consoling vision, Paul had written: ‘console one another with these words’ (1 Thess 4:18). Yet, after his reflections on the day of the Lord, he adds another element: ‘console one another and build each other up individually, just as you are doing’ (1 Thess 5:11).

If you’ll indulge me to delve into some minor technicalities with the original Greek here, the difference between ‘console one another’ and ‘build each other up individually’ is significant. The reflexive pronoun that can be translated ‘one another’ (Greek: ἀλλήλους; allēlous) is relatively common, but the ‘each other … individually’ part is much rarer. In Greek, this expression is εἷς τὸν ἕνα (heis ton hena) – literally translated ‘one the one’, but which might be better rendered ‘one-on-one’.

Hopefully you can see now why New Order’s classic – ‘express yourself, it’s one-on-one’ – resonated with me when compared with Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: ‘build each other up individually’ or ‘build up one-on-one’.

Rebuilding and Finding the Colour Then and Now

I have recently set out on a fourth decade. I don’t want to dwell too much on the past here; but suffice to say that at times, the last decade was humbling and involved some stripping away of relative self-assurance and narrow-mindedness. In many ways, it was a decade of rebuilding with seasons of seeking and often – although practically never instantly – finding colour amid darkness. I’m sure others can relate to this and may even share my hope for the next decade that we shall see rebuilding and colour: particularly in the area of emotional health.

I speak as one relatively untrained in this area and I know there are many different approaches within it. Nevertheless, I believe that Paul’s words still offer us something profound as we think about emotional health. There is value for consoling in larger communities and sharing our emotions corporately, but there is also significant value in edifying and being edified in smaller contexts, and even one-on-one. In fact, many matters of the mind are perhaps more helpfully expressed in smaller contexts.[2] Having been helped by a few people in such contexts over the last decade, I would say that they are a more fertile place for rebuilding through honest and intimate expression.[3]

What gave Paul the confidence to exhort the earliest followers of Jesus to console one another and build each other up (one-on-one)? I think it was because he had found the colour. Through the revelation (Gal 1:12, 1:16) from Jesus Christ that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, a new exposure had come around for Paul. The love of Christ had set his world in a different motion: he now felt a calling to share this news with as many non-Jews, like the Thessalonians, as possible. He heard a voice that he knew would soothe away the pain of those who had limited hope in the face of death.

Yet in another later revelation (2 Cor 12:1-10), Paul was humbled: the Lord revealed some colours, but these were only partial. The lasting effect of this revelation was a greater awareness of the darkness amid the colour. For Paul, this took the form of a deliberately undefined thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7) that went with him throughout the rest of his ministry. Generations of believers after him who have experienced their own thorns have been able to relate this experience and use it to rely on the power of God to rebuild in weakness.

On this side of Christ’s return, there is a calling to rebuild and find colour in community; but it might not always be straightforward. Following Jesus does not mean immunity from darkness, destabilising events, and even depression. Paul knew that full well. Nevertheless, today as in Paul’s day, it is the love of Christ which has set the world in motion, does not abandon us, and enables what we can do. By continuing to stand in Him, often with the help of community, we can trust that we have His Spirit in us and we can express ourselves corporately and one-on-one.

That’s what I started to learn and understand last decade and take into this one. [4]

[1] Whether these deaths were a result of the affliction or not is still debated.

[2] I realise that such community and help can be very hard for many to access; it is sadly regularly reported that the waiting times to see psychological professionals are longer than they have ever been.

[3] This was certainly true in Paul’s day. The ancient moral philosophers – to whom, I believe, Paul can fruitfully be compared – saw one-on-one environments as the place to challenge and rebuke, which can be a part of rebuilding. I particularly recommend Abraham Malherbe’s scholarly work here, notably his commentary on 1 (and 2) Thessalonians, which continues to be used and taken in fruitful directions.

[4] My dear friend and colleague, Dingjian (James) Xie, shared with me a wonderful quote from Confucius (The Analects, Wei Zheng 4): ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.’ I’m not sure what this means for someone whose mind is still bent on learning at thirty; but I love the edifying image of standing firm at thirty.


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