Helicopter Communitarianism and God’s Will

Famous Bollywood actor Kajol attempted to re-enter Bollywood in 2018 with her movie Helicopter Eela. The movie, based on a Gujarati play, Beta, Kaagdo, neither revived the languishing career of Kajol, nor did it register any thump at the box office. However, it highlighted an important thread in the web of relationships—overprotective parenting. The movie is about an overprotective single mother who stalks her own son all the way to becoming a student at his college. What follows is a story of her own self-discovery, revival of her unfulfilled dreams and finally being on the road to pursue them. In one of her post-film interviews, Kajol said that the character of Helicopter Eela was easily relatable because every mother in India is a helicopter mother!

The title Helicopter Eela is taken from the psychological term Helicopter Parenting that refers to paying excessive attention to a child’s needs, experiences and problems. Of course, what is ‘excessive’ may need more explanation. However, helicopter parenting in child psychology is viewed negatively as it creates lack of independence and hinders the child’s decision-making abilities.

Excessive overseeing could be a national phenomenon too, where a helicopter regime may snoop into our food habits and life-style, all the while hallucinating that such strictness and control over its citizens are necessary and even desirable to preserve the traditions and values of the nation. But, let’s leave politics aside! Instead, let me share how this helicopter overseeing can affect Christian ministry.

If our society is so close-knit and community-oriented how can we expect one to make crucial decisions of life from the vantage point of standing detached from other relationships but firm in a vertical relationship between herself and God?

As a young boy who attended a few youth conferences and who has now ministered in more, I have often seen young people asking a traditional question: How do I know God’s will? When asked to further elaborate, they often tell me that the two most crucial junctures when they face the tipping point of the question is the time of selecting a career and choosing a life partner. In hindsight I find this an honest question, but a gullible one.

Let me explain. The questions, what is God’s will and how to find it, almost always, in our youth conferences, are given theological and spiritual answers. They often begin in describing what does the Bible say about God’s will, and that it should be perceived with the help of tools such as prayer, God’s Word and counsel of godly people. This traditional answer has its important place and is very crucial in seeking God, and we dare not undermine it. I also do not aim to unearth here theories related to the term ‘will of God’ with all its theological nuances. However, what I want to point out is the false binary that is often implicit in our answer: the binary of God’s will versus an individual’s will. In other words, we often assume that if one is not following God’s will, it is necessary that she is following her own will. Let me give an example.

Rachel was young and independent. She wanted to become a missionary doctor. But her father thought he knew better. For her parents, being a doctor was important, but not a missionary doctor. They supported her studies and made sure that at least the ‘doctor’ part of her dream is fulfilled. Before she pursues the other half of her dream, she was shown a ‘godly’ boy for marriage. She wanted to seek God’s will in prayer, but her parents said it was a waste of time, since God had anyway appointed parents to reveal His will. They also said that by bringing a godly boy to her, who was also a leader of the church’s worship team, God has already revealed His will. Rachel gave in.

Five years down the line, Rachel’s marriage is broken. The worship leader husband now wants to make Rachel dance to his tunes. Rachel wonders if it was God’s will after all. Could she have waited a bit longer for God to speak? She wants to get out of the marriage, but is sure that divorce is not God’s will. But then she had heard that if she was not following God’s will (which looked evident to her seeing the kind of circumstances she was in), she was following her own will, which amounted to idol worship. The only person to blame in this situation was Rachel herself.

This hypothetical scenario is, sadly, too often true. Such a binary of God’s will versus my will may have its place in a Western context, where a young man or woman is free, expected and trained to live life according to his/her convictions and choices.

I am also aware and wary of the extreme individualism of the West, where individual freedom often leads to corruption of the idea of freedom itself and traps individuals into the silos of self-sufficiency.

This is hardly true in India. Between the binaries of God’s will versus my will, we have community’s expectations, family’s pressures, economic factors, sometimes even caste’s considerations, and then, if there is still space left, the individual’s will. Ignoring all these aspects, as Christian minister, I have often counselled young men and women to seek and follow God’s will, as if that is the choice they have the power to make. If our society is so close-knit and community-oriented how can we expect one to make crucial decisions of life from the vantage point of standing detached from other relationships but firm in a vertical relationship between herself and God? In other words, the more urgent question in our context is not how to find God’s will, but is one free enough to even consider seeking God’s will so as to follow it?

As someone who is both a father and involved in Christian academics, I face this struggle at a different level. Coming from a very traditional Gujarati family (unlike many Westernised Christians), I have often found the role of helicopter community smothering. But in my academic life, I find an overwhelming amount of texts dedicated to repulsion against individualism of the West, and an uncritical adulation of the holistic, community-centred life of the non-western societies. In many circles, to talk about the freedom of an individual is seen as a mimicry of the West, but never a human aspiration. This worries me, and calls me to be constantly on guard against these much-loved generalisations. I am also aware and wary of the extreme individualism of the West, where individual freedom often leads to corruption of the idea of freedom itself and traps individuals into the silos of self-sufficiency.

A brief look at the Bible reveals to me that God is interested in both individuals and communities. Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and later her ministry to her villagers (John 4:1–42), is a testimony of God’s interactions at both individual and communitarian levels. God also punishes both individuals (Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–11) and communities (nation of Israel) when they fall short of God’s standards. He rescues individuals when communities become too powerful (adulterous woman in John 8:1–11), and communities when individuals become autocratic (Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:1–15).

The answer to communicating a godly lifestyle to both individuals and community does not lie in detaching an individual from a community, or posing the two against each other, as the current popular model seems to do. Instead, can both the individuals and the gatekeepers of our societies humbly sit side-by-side to learn what it means to seek God in the most crucial decision-making moments of our lives? If not, our answer will keep creating Rachels who desire to follow God’s will, but are powerless to do so.

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