The Danger of a Single Story: The Case of The Woman at the Well Part 1

Negerian author and storyteller, Chimamanda Adichie, in her now famed, TEDtalks lecture, warns of the danger of a single story. She speaks of how she found and validated her authentic cultural voice – a voice so often drowned out by dominant culture – by those who are powerful and who control the vehicles that get stories told.

Today, I want to echo the warnings of Adichie through the narrative of the “Woman at the Well.” This is an all-to-familiar story. You might have heard many sermons about this woman. A woman assumed to have been morally bankrupt. A woman mocked and scorned and in need of redemption.

John chapter 4 recounts the encounter between this woman (who had no name – no identity but being called a Samaritan) and Jesus:

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

There are a few assumptions we make of this woman with no name:

  1. She was a morally loose woman
  2. She was an unbeliever
  3. She was ignorant

We have formed our opinions of this woman without even getting to know and understand her. Perhaps the many sermons that we have heard about her, have prevented us from seeing who she really is (from the passage itself). Perhaps, we have assigned judgment because she was Samaritan. Perhaps we have carried to the passage the prejudice of some Jews against Samaritans (being considered dogs). But does the passage itself assume that this woman was loose? Yes, Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband…” But what does that mean? Was Jesus confronting the woman about immorality or was he reaching out to her in a very intimate way that others have failed to get to know her.

Presumably, she was a loner. The time she came to fetch water was way pass the time the other women would have come. It was midday and the sun would be scotching. The other women would have come by 6:00 a.m. She knew at 12 noon, she’d be there alone – so she thought. But Jesus had need to go through Samaria. He met her there and sought to know her and introduce her to the world beyond the single story. Who really is this no name woman who has been through SIX (6) men?… I can hear the tongues beginning to wag. I can almost hear the opinions we form, as we sit in our bible studies, about this woman who has been through FIVE divorces. But before we got there, did we stop to understand this woman’s context outside of the Judeo-focal lenses through which we view her (a Samaritan)? As a woman in her time, she did not have the autonomy to divorce her husbands. It was the men who held the power to divorce by simply saying, “I divorce you! I divorce you!” But why? Why would they want to divorce her? Was she unable to give them children? The passage never mentioned if she had children. This would be an important bit of information that John would omit. What did Jesus mean when He told her that the man she is living with now is not even her own? Did he leave her too? Have we ever taken the time to sit and ask sister girlfriend at the well what were her hopes and aspirations and expectations of each relationship she entered? Or… are we busy going about our business only to return (like the disciples) and find this woman (in conversation with Jesus) about whom we have assumed many things (often all bad) and thinking that, that is who she really is?

In part two we will take a deeper look at this woman as we further explore the danger of a single story. I hope the next time we are tempted to believe something negative about someone that we pause to try to understand more about that person in an effort to build authentic relationships.

You may view Chimamanda Adichie’s video below

Watch What You Sing: ‘Praise and Worship’ Songs that are Unsound!

1 Corinthians 14:12-18 says:

12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. 13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer,[d] say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Specifically, the passage deals with the issue of loudly speaking out in tongues in the corporate worship setting, which Paul seems to indicate is unprofitable. But point makes a deeper point that is often lost on many. He argues that the corporate worship experience should be instructive. There MUST be edification, for that is the end of the corporate experience.

Often, within the corporate worship experience, there seems to be an unfortunate focus on; veneration of; and desire that is geared towards emotionalism. There is a place for the expression of emotion in worship but emotions are not what worship is about. Worship/’worthship’ is about appropriating God’s worth. It is about coming into knowledge of who God is (God’s Character/attributes) and what God does and how we must respond as a consequence.

Unfortunately, many of the songs we sing in “church” help us to hold false understandings about God, ourselves and how we must respond to God and others in light of our reflection upon God. Perhaps before further engaging this issue we should pause to reflect together on what is Christian and/or Gospel music.

Christian music is music that show the way of Christ: the way of love; justice; truth; unity peace and salvation. This way is only apprehended through the teaching of scripture and anything outside this teaching, though it may mention Jesus or God cannot be considered Christian/Gospel music. Gospel means Good News. Simply match that definition against many of the songs that fall under that genre and we realize that many of them give no good news.

The issue of appropriate worship is always one of contention. And we recognise that it will cause some discomfort:

1. Because it sometimes calls for us to admit to ourselves and even more frighteningly so to our membership that we have been wrong.

2. Because old habits are difficult to break

3. Because we have traditionally made worship to be about the worshiper when, in truth, worship is ALWAYS about the audience of one – God.

Perhaps in light of those aforementioned points, we can understand why some will take offense to the views (held on the premise of scripture) that this article opines.

In John 4, the Samaritan woman, who has a rich religious tradition and whose heart no doubt might have been in the right place approached Jesus on the topic of worship. Jesus’ response was both direct and instructive. He said that “…True worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth“. Interestingly, the same word for spirit (pneumati) in that context means “MIND”. Because in every other sense, except where spirit clearly means a spirit being who has revealed himself, spirit is seen as a function of the mind, whether it is God’s mind, angel’s mind, or man’s mind. It must be understood that the mind is more than spirit, yet “spirit” can figuratively refer to a person’s mind. So, Jesus basically said to the woman that true worship brings us into understanding. Please note that prior to saying to the woman that true worshipers MUST worship in “spirit and in truth”, Jesus said to her you worship what you do not understand. Our challenge as a church is to take people beyond emotionalism to knowledge/understanding. It is then that true worship happens.

I want to point out a great danger that we hold in “churches”; that song writers are inspired by The Holy Spirit to write what they did and so we should not question their “poetic license” or expressed content. The insinuation that inspiration continues to this day (in a theological sense), allows for no standard of judgment or measuring that which is true. Because if inspiration is as arbitrary as to be left up to a writer’s poetic license, there is , then, no way of verifying inspiration except by taking the writer’s word for it. Inspiration can ONLY be ascribed to scripture (which by the way is demonstrated by the historicity, propheticity and unity of the scripture, written by more than 40 authors, on 4 different continents over a period of more than 1600 years). People are not “inspired” to write songs to worship God. Well, not in the real theological sense of the word, inspired. They must use the inspired Word of God to express authentic worship; worship that is done in spirit (or with understanding/with the mind) and in truth; worship that reflects upon the truth of who God is and about who we are; having begun in perfection in the MIND of God and now having been called into peace with Him.

Here are a list of Songs that we consider unsound:

  1. Create in me a clean heart–  Unlike David, whose reality was that the Holy Spirit came upon him (and others in his era) for service, today the Holy Spirit of promise lives in us and he is not going anywhere and cannot be taken from us (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:22; 4:30). Today we have an abiding promise and hope that the Holy Spirit will dwell with us always and that God will NEVER leave nor forsake us.
  2. We are standing on Holy Ground – The truth is God no longer dwells in temples made of hands or of stones; he lives in us (1 Corinth 3:16; 6:19).
  3. There is a sweet Anointing in the Sanctuary – Ibid
  4. Anointing fall on me – What do we mean when we say this? What do we call “Anointing”? Anointing was the processing of pouring oil on an individual (in the OT) to symbolise his/her ascent to a position (priest, prophet, king). It was not about enablement. The Holy Spirit was always the enablement.
  5. Daniel saw the stone rolling down to Babylon – while Daniel did see a stone.. we cannot, from the text, decide it was white or little
  6. Open the floodgates of Heaven– Let what rain? What does this song say and how does it lead us into knowledge about God?
  7. Welcome Holy Spirit– Where is the Holy Spirit? Where is He coming from? And Welcome where? He lives in us; we are conduits of the Spirit. Wherever He is, we are and vice versa (  Ephesians 1:13-14).
  8. Saturate me With Your Anointing – See 4 above
  9. We fall Down But We Get up – “A saint is Just a sinner who fell down”<— That is an untrue statement about the Saint (The Saint has come into benefits and Identity that is Greater (Romans 5:1-9)
  10. God is watching us from a Distance– This is a Deist (the idea that God created the world and left it to run on its own) perspective. Proverbs 21:1 gives the idea of a God who is involved in the affairs of men
  11. Hallelujah is the Highest Praise– There is no biblical support for this. Period!
  12. “We Three Kings” (Christmas Carol)– The bible never suggests how many wise men there were.
  13. Fire Fire Fire, fire fall on me. Fire never fell on anyone on the day of pentecost…The simile in Acts 2;3 “like fire” is often missed, misunderstood or read simplistically.
  14. When the praises go up the blessings come down : This utilitarian relationship with God does not exist in scripture. There is not even a scripture from which this theological folly can be derived. It makes God reactionary and suggests that God only blesses those who praise him and those who are not blessed (which we often measure by material gains) have gone wrong in their relationship with/praise to God. Job’s friends had that same fallacious idea and they were rebuked by God’s response…
  15. Come Holy Spirit I need thee: He already lives in us. To ask him to come is illogical. You do not invite someone who is already present to come.