you have to deal with me

Yesterday was the second of the monthly indigenous worship services at Minjalku. I had no idea how much I needed to be part of this.

I know i’m repeating a theme here [it’s my blog, so i’ll do what i want to…], but there are some stories that have such power they should be held in reserve, to be told only by those who live their truth. Listening to Ken Sumner tell the story of the Canaanite woman – the infamous ‘even dogs get to eat the crumbs on the floor’ story – as an indigenous man was one of the most moving and confronting experiences I’ve had for a very long time. I’d never connected that she was an indigenous woman – the Israelites, led by Moses and Joshua, invaded her country and made it their own, centuries before. They brought their story of life in to the country, and for the lifetimes between had refused the original inhabitants access to that story. Jesus did exactly what his ancestors had done: he ignored her, pretended she wasn’t there, and then he told her that what he had wasn’t for her. And she dared to come back at him and claim this story of life for her own.

There’s nothing that quite prepares you to hear a story of being ignored, denied and then granted liberation, as told by someone for whom this is their story.

I’ve read plenty of commentaries and theological explanations of this passage, and many of them have had the same message as what Ken said. But nothing – nothing – comes close to that experience yesterday. And of course it can’t. The rawness of Ken describing the woman’s insistence – of her getting in Jesus’ face and saying, You have to deal with me – as he told her story meant I had no way to hide in self righteous comfort or political correctness, and no opportunity to be conveniently distracted by theories or hypothetical responses. I am on the side of the oppressor – by default, because i’m not on the other side – and i have to actively work against that or else it’s mine by association. I have no choice but to listen to Ken as he looks me in the eye and says, You have to deal with me.

Maybe with stories of faith, we should ask ourselves the question ‘does this story mean everything to me?’, and if not, we should give that disclaimer before using them, and we should name that our response to the story as purely hypothetical… I don’t know, but I do know that I think everyone should have the chance to hear the stories of faith told like that, and I suspect that theology should always have those tellings as their starting point. It’s really a miracle if the rest of us get any of it right.

I’m off to London on Friday for the UK trip. This is the first year where I haven’t been bursting to go. It feels like a distraction from my life at the moment, rather than an integral part. I know, of course, that once I get on the plane I’ll be so very grateful, and I’ll know how much I need it. Just at the moment, though, I feel like I want to be here, finding my feet on this new ground i’m walking; practising looking at the world through another’s eyes.


  1. ben

    Read this in africa… and it really resonates…

    Here “opressor” and “opressed” are not simple, hypotheticals either – I listened to a male shona man argue that opression of women is not cultural, he beleived that culture was “an excuse, a lie, that is used to enshrine male privelege”. His female colleague then argued that oprression of women was cultural.

    Then seeing how my fear of being a white, expert, re-coloniser weighed up with the fact that national governments oppress tribal groups and GLBTI people, not to mention systemic limited access to health care that results in children becoming sex workers…

    I began with a clear idea of “opressor” and “oppressed”.

    And then my brain broke.

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