The Danger of a Single Story: The Case of The Woman at the Well (Part 2)

…As we continue to examine and transform our judgements of others – the danger of monolithic narratives, we take a closer look at the woman at the well – a woman maligned and scorned. Her reputation had been sullied by many a preacher. The sermons that I have heard about this woman shed no light on this woman at the well, except framed her as a woman who was not “well”. And without taking the time to know her (as Jesus did), I accepted that single story I had heard about her and approached her (in John 4) with all those preconceived ideas. I could not sit with her and engage her and get to understand her because I already “knew” her story and was blinded to anything else I may discover about this woman…But she triumphed. Her voice resounded above the noise for a chance to tell her own story – to write her own script – to interrupt the narrative that re-presents her as a loose, ignorant, insecure infidel.

You see, she was no ordinary woman. She was not insecure neither was she afraid to have a conversation with a man – a Jewish man. Perhaps by now, she had come to understand that she needed to be strong enough to stand for herself because the men in her life previously, had all abandoned her. She begins a conversation with Jesus about “WORSHIP” & “RELATIONSHIP”….

9 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])

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?

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.”

 

In the conversation with Jesus, the woman, who had been assigned no real identity except that she was Samaritan and consequently, less than a Jew, reveals a few things about herself:

  1. She confronts Jesus about the prejudice that exists amongst Jews, against Samaritans and amongst men, against women. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” She asked, incredulously. She brings to the surface, the ethnic and familial tensions that existed between Jews & Gentiles – distant cousins who were worshipping the same God, yet couldn’t get along. She was no simpleton. She could situate the tension and began to interrogate Jesus’ motives. Of-course, Jesus demonstrated his difference . The affirms that which sets him apart in the response he gave (but I digress… this post is focusing on the woman).
  2. She asserts her equality, as a Samaritan, with the Jews by Tracing her lineage back to Jacob/Israel. Implicit in her question to Jesus’ offering of living water is also the statement of their heritage (“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?”). “What then makes me inferior?” Being a descendant of Jacob, she would have also known Jacob/Israel’s God – a reality that runs counter to the narrative than we have heard of her in sermons. But she has never been presented as such.
  3. Thirdly, this woman exposes something in her conversation with Jesus that we so often miss: (Authentic) Relationship as worship/ Worship as (authentic) Relationship. Often, we look at worship as simply an exercise in giving homage and adoration to God. How often do we consider the conflicts that exists among us in our faith communities; the walls of differentiation that we have erected to appear superior, while others are made to feel excluded? Is that part of our reflection as we seek to worship and bring honour to God? “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Even as we worship, how do we deal with those conflicts caused by perceptions of each other, forms, days and place of worship? “What is important in worshipping?” She wanted to know. Revealing the heart of a “True Worshipper”; not a harlot as some would have supposed; not a woman whose preoccupation was about pilfering somebody’s husband. NO! She wanted to understand what worship would please The Almighty God.

Now, according to John 4:4, Jesus had to go through Samaria. Not out of necessity but out of providence. There he would encounter a woman whose heart was towards worship. Who had been carrying the burden of a broken relationship between distant cousins (Jews & Samaritans). Who needed to hear the affirmation that despite all the other things (albeit misinterpreted) that were going on in her life; that despite failed dreams and aspirations; a sullied reputation, that she was and is a WORTHY worshipper!

So often we use sound-bites of people’s lives to define them. We make judgements of others without even getting to know them beyond the rumours and we keep those walls of differentiation up. How are we expected to have a fruitful worship community when relationships are deformed by the monolithic narratives we choose to hold of others? How do we encourage and provoke each other to grow and worship in spirit and in truth if we continue to compromise our relationships by holding on to parts of people’s stories, while refusing to unearth the rest that is beautiful and full of potential?

In the wake of the reconciliation of such relationship (between Jewish Jesus and that Samaritan woman, whose name I wish I knew), the woman left to tell other Samaritans to come and be reconciled with their Jewish cousin.. “Come see a man” . There may be no true worship without first building authentic relationships. I learned this from the woman at the well because I dared to see beyond a single story.

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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.