Gasping for Air

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Every evening, I strap a mask to my face as I get into bed to sleep. The mask that I wear has straps that make indentions on my cheeks. The foam on the plastic liner creates a seal around my mouth and nose, and I must hasten to attach a hose to it so that I don’t suffocate. 

Sound strange? It’s my normal. This is how I sleep.

It’s called CPAP therapy, which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and I’ve been sleeping with the help of a machine for the last several years. I suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea. That is, my small airways become obstructed when I sleep. My snoring becomes dramatic. And worst of all, I stop breathing…many, many times an hour. 

Doctors tell me that this is not good.

The machine that I fire up as I lay me down to sleep each night pushes air—like a vacuum cleaner on reverse—into my airways to keep them open as I rest. And believe it or not, this inelegant solution works. I sleep more soundly. I wake feeling more rested. I have more energy throughout the day and my health is better than it would be otherwise. It’s true, though. I do look like I’m on life-support while I’m dreaming.

Just prior to this evening ritual, however, my mind is racing. With the loss of my daily activities my head spins with reflections and worries from the day. When I’m able to stop ruminating on the circumstances, conversations, encounters, joys, and sorrows from the day, I begin to problem-solve the next day. Yes, the Braves game earlier was a good distraction, and spending time with my family is always good medicine. But it’s those in-between times that become consumed with mental work. As you are fully aware, the worries of the past and anxieties for the future are both unproductive and soul-sucking. 

It’s the gift of sleep that saves me from the endless laps my mind is trying to make. Surrender and slumber, even if they are accompanied by an oxygen-blowing black box, are what provide me with the sabbath I need to rest and recover. Without these hours of daily cessation, I would be certifiably unwell. 

As you probably know, our Jewish cousins were instructed to create a worldview that embraced this idea of Sabbath. Yes, God commanded His people to practice Sabbath each week by sacrificing work and productivity to rest as God Himself had rested in creation. But Sabbath-keeping is more than just a weekly occurrence. Our bodies and souls require daily doses of Sabbath. For the ancient Jewish community that Christ was born into, the new day—that is tomorrow—did not occur at the stroke of midnight or with first light at dawn. No, the new day began with the setting of the sun and the arrival of the stars. 

The implications for this diurnal rhythm are far-reaching. Tomorrowdoesn’t begin in the morning. Tomorrowbegins each evening. According to the culture established by the people of the Old Testament, we start our day at night and with inactivity. The first act of the new day is sleep. We begin our new day with rest, with sleep, with dreams.

I love this idea of letting God have first crack at our days. When each day comes to a close, the very first thing that we do is to allow God to work on our behalf. As much as we might wish it was so, we cannot accomplish our to-do lists in our sleep. In sleeping, we surrender to a kind of death and un-being that is an act of trust in a God who will at some point wake us up. God has arranged sleep to be a place of recovery and renewal. God gets the first fruits of the new day. Our new day begins after God has been at work for a good 7 or 8 hours before we can muck it up. 

I have come to believe that my inability to draw my own breath overnight to be a faithful reminder that I am fully dependent on God to have life and to live it according to His direction. Just as I need a machine to fill my lungs with breath each evening, I require God’s breath—literally God’s Spirit—to fill me, also. It’s strange to consider that God is working for good while I do nothing but surrender my spirit, soul, mind, and body to Him. Truly, sleep is an act of trust. 

In this way, the passage from Lamentations makes more sense:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” -Lamentations 3:22-23

God’s mercies are new every morning because God has been at work long before we’ve ever had the chance to punch the clock. The ebb and flow of our days all point to God’s faithfulness to us. Our work in the daytime, therefore, becomes our response to the work that God was doing while we slept. 

May the Spirit of God fill the collapsing airways of our souls so that we can find rest, renewal and purpose in Him.

Practicing Soul Friendship

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In ancient Ireland, a soul friend was someone with whom you could…
Share the practical matters of your life.
Reveal your life’s deep joys and sorrows.
Be for someone a sanctuary of trust and unconditional love.

You are invited to strengthen a friendship this fall. Practicing the ancient, Celtic tradition of Anam Cara, or soul friendship, is a way that you can deepen your relationship with someone you already know.

What’s the Plan?

-Participants in the Anam Cara Projectwill identify someone with whom they would like to strengthen a friendship.

-Participants will attend an afternoon retreat on Sunday, September 8that Lake Junaluska Conference Center. Lunch will be provided, and participants will learn how to practice Anam Cara by strengthening a friendship. 

-Pairs of friends will commit to spending an hour with each other once a week for 6 weeks. Pairs can meet in person or arrange to talk on the phone. 

-The pastor will schedule a brief conversation with each participant at the conclusion of the project to discuss their experience. 

How do I participate?

-Identify someone with whom you’d like to deepen a friendship. This is most likely someone you already know and may very well be a close friend! The friend you invite to practice Anam Cara with does not have to be a member of our church, or even reside here locally.

-Make plans to attend the afternoon retreat on September 8. The friend with whom you are going to practice soul friendship with is encouraged to attend! There is no cost for the event. 

-Commit to practicing Anam Cara with your friend for one hour a week for six weeks. 

-Let Pastor Jeff know that you are interested by completing the sign-up form at this link: https://forms.gle/uTu8dM6WVvuhhUJJ8

Why?

Anam Cara, or soul friendships, are relationships that are marked by high commitment levels, mutuality, and reciprocity. The individuals who practice this type of friendship become Christ to one another; hearing concerns, sharing joys, and modeling unconditional love. In life, and along the way, God provides us companions to walk alongside us. By sharing our lives with one another, our faith is deepened and our perspective on life begins to change. We recognize that we are not alone, and that Christ is coming up alongside us as we travel together. Having an Anam Cara is good for the friends who walk side by side. But even better, Anam Cara is how we can best be church to one another. 

Be church with us this fall as we walk along the path together. 

Wise in My Own Eyes

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“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.” Proverbs 3:5-8 

But what if I prefer to be wise in my own eyes?  

According to this passage from Proverbs, the angst-filled, shoulder-tensed, scowl-faced, bewildered expressions of my past will likely continue. 

The Scripture discourages us from trusting our own take on things. Instead, the writer directs us to do three things: Fear God, turn away from evil, and trust God’s work in all things.  

The word in Hebrew that we translate as ‘acknowledge’ has a deeper meaning than we might ordinarily ascribe to it. To acknowledge God in all our ways means to know and to notice God in each of life’s circumstances. It means to realize that God is present, and is working for good! The proverb is begging its readers to observe that God is walking beside them. 

This awareness of God’s presence not only changes the destination, but also makes the journey that much better. The force of the statement that “God will make straight our paths” is that God will smooth the way forward and make it right.  

And when we choose to trust God by forsaking evil and looking for God’s presence in all things, “it will be a healing for our flesh and a refreshment for our bodies.” Trusting God brings healing; healing for our bodies and healing for our relationships.  

We choose to trust God because our own vision is limited. Our eyes do not see clearly. Our eyesight is clouded by fear and self-interest. When we are wise in our own eyes, the way ahead is ruinous and filled with pain. 

God wants us to choose the path of healing and refreshment.  

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Fill us with your presence so that we can trust you more fully and love you more dearly. Amen.

In Pursuit of a Child-Like Faith

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“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child 
will never enter it.” 
Luke 18:17  

Wednesdays are my day.  

This summer, Wednesdays are the day that I get to give Rev. Carol a break and tell the children at our Summer Explorers Camp stories from the Bible. Each day of our camp, our children get to hear about God’s love to them in Jesus Christ. 

I have each of the groups for 30 minutes. They file in through the piano side door and occupy the first few pews of the sanctuary. Situated in front of the communion table, I always take a moment at the beginning to talk about why we gather in the sanctuary. I tell them how the room that they are in tells the story of God’s love. I remind them of the stories that our windows tell. I tell them about what we do in worship and how we strive to give God our full attention. I tell them about the songs that we sing, and the prayers that we pray, and the scripture that we explore. I don’t hold back. I tell them about the baptisms that we have witnessed, and the weddings that we have celebrated, and the funerals at which we have sought consolation. The children listen carefully. They ask excellent questions.  

“Why do you preach from up there?” 

“Why does an organ sound like that?” 

“Where do they place the coffin?” 

“Why do people kiss at weddings?” 

“Why does the table have those words on it: ‘Do This in Remembrance of Me?”  

“Why is your hair turning gray, Pastor Jeff?” 

The kids don’t miss much. The older children light up when I ask for feedback on the Bible story. The youngest like it when I bring my puppet friend to help with our time together. Other children enjoy ‘call and response’ activities during the story.  

Oh sure. Sometimes, they get a bit squirrelly. One child can’t stop playing with his neighbor’s shoe. Another seems fascinated by the shiny floors. Two small boys who look nothing like brothers have their arms around each other like they are family.  

But overwhelmingly, they give the Bible stories their attention. And to tell you a secret, it repeatedly takes my breath away. Their eyes grow large as they hear the ancient stories of our faith. Their earnest expressions reveal that they are giving all of their heart and soul to the moment. The innocent, gentle engagement with which they attend to God’s Word is startling. I wish you could see it.  

The children’s presence in Bible story time convinces me of three things: 

1.) The work that we do with our children is of the utmost importance. We pass on the faith to future generations by telling them the Good News of God’s great love.  

2.) Our children have a knack for being able to cut to the heart of the matter in their honest responses to God’s truth. 

3.) God wishes for us all to have this child-like quality in our faith. 

Jesus tells us, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  

I’m convicted by Jesus’s words, and I wonder if I bring the same enthusiastic, pure, and utterly faithful attitude to worship and the studying of God’s Word. If not, how do I reclaim it? How do I become more child-like in my dependence upon God? How do I drop my jaded, cynical worldview in favor of a hermeneutic of trust?  

I’m not sure, truly.  

But for me, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with our children is a good reminder of the kind of spirit that He wishes to renew within me. 

Worship in the High Lands

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Sunday looks like it will be a good day to beat the heat. Yes, it’s time to gain some elevation. 

On Sunday afternoon, you are invited to have a worship experience up at Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Trust me, it will be cooler there than down in the valley.  

We’re not looking to simply escape the sweltering heat of the valley, though it will be nice to experience some natural air conditioning. We’re headed to a thin place so that we can worship God in a location that has natural power. In June, we gathered by the banks of Deep Creek to experience worship by the water. And in August, we will venture to another thin place—a forest glen up at Pinnacle Point Park.  

Mountain tops have long been considered to be thin places for a variety of reasons. Thin places are locations where the membrane between this world and the next is thin.  In addition to the beauty that high places typically afford, the ancient Celts considered mountain tops to be the closest one could get to heaven without leaving this world. High lands have long served as places of retreat and refuge for people who needed to be quiet. Their ecosystems are often unfamiliar and other-worldly. The craggy outposts feature gale-force expressions of God’s divine breath. Mountain tops are both visible and yet often inaccessible. These attributes work together to transform high lands into sacred spaces. Just as our ancient forefathers and mothers have taught us, worship outdoors can be a powerful experience.  

No, in retreating to these thin places it is neither nature nor creation that we worship. We venture to the water’s edge and to the forest glens because these places change us when we are there. These thin places cause us to be thin; that is, accessible to a God who wants to break into our lives. It’s not the rocks, trees or views that we worship. It is God that we are seeking. And our God wishes to be found. 

But we often don’t wish to be found, do we? We resist God’s revelation by turning away from the source of our strength. We choose to drink from cups that promise quick relief rather than to drink from the living water that God offers us in Christ Jesus. We fill our heads and our hearts with noise and distractions because we cannot bear to hear the truth in God’s still, small voice. Sometimes, we don’t feel like having an encounter with God.  

So, we choose a change of scenery. We remind ourselves that God is the author of creation and that we, too, have been created with the same care and creativity that He employed with the design of the towering balsam trees and the evocative sunsets. Being in nature can better help us to be more natural and authentic ourselves. When we retreat to places of beauty and power, God can reveal Himself to us in sublime and surprising ways. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway makes the inaccessible accessible. The highlands that we occupy will perch us high above that which often drags us down. I hope you’ll choose to join us as we worship God there together.  

Join us at the parking area at Waterrock Knob (milepost 541) at 5:00 PM this Sunday afternoon, July 14. We will worship together first, and then you’ll be free to hike, have a picnic, or take in the sunset at your leisure.

Ordinary Time

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Welcome to Ordinary Time.  

(Whatever that is.) 

According to the Church calendar that helps to organize and direct the worship life of the Church Universal, there are several seasons in a year. The new year begins not on January 1, but rather with the first Sunday of Advent. To commemorate this four-week period, the Church uses the color purple in its liturgical kaleidoscope.  

Following Advent, the season of Christmas--identified by the color white--lasts for 12 days.  

Immediately thereafter, the season of Epiphany (green) begins and continues until Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent (purple). Of all the commemorations that the Church has practiced throughout its history, Lent--or the time of preparation for Christ’s Passion--was the first season that the early church celebrated.  

The season of Easter begins on Easter Sunday and lasts for six weeks. The color white makes a return in our sanctuaries as it is the symbol of power and triumph.  

Pentecost, which recognizes the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the birth of the Church, is a day rather than a season. As it symbolizes fire and the Holy Spirit, red is the liturgical color that is used on that particular Sunday.  

Finally, as identified by the color green which suggests growth, Ordinary Time commences and reaches its conclusion in late November on Christ the King Sunday. Clocking in at 6 months, it is by far the longest season in the church calendar. The green stole on our pulpit signifies that our journey through Ordinary Time has just begun. 

So, once again, welcome to Ordinary Time.  

In sharing what would become a most-familiar passage, the author of Ecclesiastes waxes philosophically about time: 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die; 
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal; 
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
a time to seek, and a time to lose; 
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
a time to tear, and a time to sew; 
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
a time to love, and a time to hate; 
a time for war, and a time for peace.” 

In truth, I’ve never found these words to be particularly comforting, save for the familiar song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which was written by Pete Seeger and later popularized by the Byrds in the 1960s. I don’t like to imagine that there should be a time for breaking down, mourning, dying, refraining from embracing, or hating. It must be noted, however, that the author is not intending to be prescriptive in his or her statements, but rather descriptive.  

This is a true word: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Whether we like it or not, our world exposes us to a variety of times and seasons; many of which we do not wish for or invite. This notion can be comforting in that it helps us to know that time—and the circumstances and seasons that we experience—does in fact ‘turn’ and that nothing lasts forever.  

To be alive means to take our ‘turn’ through different times; namely, birth and growth, loss and grief, fertility and barrenness, decline and release. The longer we live, the more seasons we experience. The more ‘turns’ we take.  

One of the rich blessings of being church together is that we get to share time together. Church provides us with a family who will go through the different seasons of life with us. These brothers and sisters in Christ commit themselves to celebrate with us in good times and will mourn alongside us during times of loss and tragedy. In this way, God is able to transform the times that we are experiencing into seasons of redemption regardless of the circumstances.  

The time we experience, and the lives that we live, are anything but Ordinary. We know this. God’s presence with us, however, can make the time we measure extraOrdinary by redeeming it for good.  

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Photo credit to thirdrva.org 

Ten Things You May Not Know About Our Vacation Bible School

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10.) The First Baptist Church of Sylva hasn’t hosted its own Vacation Bible School in over a decade. 

9.) For the last ten years, our church has partnered with other churches from downtown Sylva to provide a Vacation Bible School experience to the community at Bridge Park. 

 8.) Representatives of each participating church gather months in advance to begin their planning. This year, our first meeting was in February. 

7.) A curriculum is selected that unites our churches in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to children and youth. We strive to find lesson plans that are rooted in strong Bible stories with a clear message of God’s love and mercy in Jesus. 

6.) For the first time, our 1st Explorers Ministry’s Summer Explorers Camp includes the week of Vacation Bible School in its summer lineup. 

5.) Several ministers from local churches participate in Vacation Bible School each day. For many years running, Blake Daniel—the pastor at First Presbyterian—and I have led the opening and closing sessions together. Kelly Brown is the longtime coordinator of our community VBS, and our church’s staff members have always been leaders with the children. This year, and including our Summer Explorers Staff, our church has 17 staff members actively involved in the leadership of VBS.  

 4.) Volunteers from our church have cheerfully and faithfully taken the lead each year in setting up the tents, chairs, tables, and projector screens each morning of VBS in the park. They are finished before many of us have had our first cup of coffee. Additionally, volunteers from our church make sure children are checked in and registered. At the conclusion of camp each day, this same crew returns to pack everything up and stores the supplies at their own homes.  

3.) Typically, 55-70 children are present for VBS on the first day of camp. By the week’s end, that number typically grows to 75-100. This year, we had 160 children and youth present on the first day of camp. 

2.) For most of its tenure, our church has hosted the closing ceremony and lunch in our Mission and Fellowship Center. Volunteers from our church have helped to provide the meal and to provide hospitality. We typically are able to pay for the meal expense through an offering that we take up after our final program. All VBS expenses are shared by the partnering churches. This year’s closing ceremony will be at the Methodist Church at noon on Friday, June 15.  

1.) The Vacation Bible School our community hosts together is one of the best things we do each year.  

Grateful

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Sunday is Pentecost. It is the day when we celebrate the birth of the Church. 

Luke describes the Church’s birthday like this: 

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” 

Jesus’s disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and the era of the Church began. It is a truly breathtaking moment in the narrative of God’s work in the world. In sending the Holy Spirit to transform otherwise unremarkable people, God chose to work through us to share the Good News of Jesus with a world desperate for a good word.  

We know Jesus because of the Church. I think that’s worth celebrating.  

So just as I might offer a word of thanksgiving for a dear friend on their birthday, I’d like to pen a few words of thanksgiving to a God who has given us the gift of our church. 

I thank God for a church that is generous with their resources.  

I thank God for a church that is eager to serve when a need arises. 

I thank God for a church that joyfully provides hospitality after worship each Sunday, and on Wednesday nights. 

I thank God for a church that errs on the side of grace and mercy when it would be easy to judge and condemn. 

I thank God for a church that loves children and delights in providing a place for them to learn about Jesus. 

I thank God for a church that is encouraging and optimistic.  

I thank God for a church that chooses to respond to challenges rather than react.  

I thank God for a church that has a history of honoring and celebrating the role of women in ministry.  

I thank God for grandparents who go out of their way to bring their grandchildren to church. 

I thank God for a church that sets a beautiful table for families who mourn the loss of a loved one. 

I thank God for a church that sings hymns with power and conviction.  

I thank God for a church that texts, emails, Facebook Messages, writes, and calls one another throughout the week. 

I thank God for a church that purchases tickets for a pancake breakfast from our youth and children so that they can attend mission camp this summer.  

I thank God for a church that picks up nails on the playground while workers were replacing our roof. 

I thank God for a church that loves and studies God’s Holy Word.  

I thank God for a church that allows the Holy Spirit to transform them into the hands and feet of Christ.  

But most of all, I’m thankful for each of you who choose to be church together.  

The Memory of River Rocks

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“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  

I am haunted by water.”  

-Normal Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

 I, too, find that I am haunted by water.  

Recently, while walking along Deep Creek just inside our national park, I found myself ruminating on the power of the flowing water and the ancient corridor that it has carved through the mountains. I was particularly drawn to the river rock that paves the riverbed.  

I found myself wanting to identify with the smooth stones. I’d like to have their wisdom. 

Like the rocks in the swift currents of the rivers that are found in our backyards and nearby meadows, we too have been shaped by the torrent and the flood. Life teaches us that this process of erosion shapes us by the flow of life’s events and the many particles that nick us and smooth us.  

Upon closer examination of these rocks you’ll notice that the stones on the river bottom are not jagged and rough, but are pebble-like because of the eons of polish they’ve received. 

I cannot imagine that these ancient, smooth stones can recall the particularities of each sand molecule, or the density of the flowing sediment, or the volume of the grit, and the flow of the water that have worked to shape them over a myriad of millennia. These stones cannot recall each hardship in the crucible of being shaped. But they are undoubtably shaped by them.  

Likewise, when we recall the lives that we have lived – and the bruises, scratches, and pains that we have endured—the wise among us choose the limitations of our memories and do not linger long upon each chip and scratch. The savviest among us do not recall the moments of each tumble and friction. 

The end result remains the same. We are shaped by the water that constantly washes over us.  

The gift of a life well-lived is that there is too much to remember and to recall. Who among us can remember today the pinches, distractions, worries, and anxieties of this day 5 years prior…or 10 years, let alone 20 years, or 50? These small, but admittedly important, moments tend to get washed away. But they do leave a mark. They do “polish” us.   

We belong to an ancient people of faith who are commanded to remember. May we have the wisdom to know that which we should remember and cling to, and that which we should allow to flow away from us with the current.   

Join us by the river immediately following our Church Picnic at the Deep Creek Pavilion for a brief worship service by the water this Sunday, June 2. We’ll be gathering at the pavilion around 4:00 PM and will eat within the hour.   

The Harder Version Is Likely the Original

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It’s a haunting passage that many of us are inclined to rewrite. 

After reacquainting ourselves with the Matthew 15 passage this past Sunday, many of us are still unsure about it. A Gentile, a non-Jew, is in need. Her daughter is possessed with a demon and she has learned that Jesus of Nazareth is nearby. Desperate to get help for her daughter, she cries out to Jesus for help: 

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” 

The Bible tells us that Jesus does not answer her cries. 

Surely, we imagine, Jesus simply didn’t hear her. Jesus wouldn’t willfully ignore someone, would he? But she keeps crying out and the reader grows uneasy. The disciples soon get involved: “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”  

Upon hearing the dismissive action of his followers, Jesus springs into action. He condemns the hard-heartedness of his disciples and praises the woman for her faithfulness. The woman’s daughter is healed, and we move on to another healing story.  

Right? 

Wrong. Jesus does no such thing. In the real version found in the Bible, and not in the fantasy that we might be tempted to craft instead, Jesus doubles down in his annoyance with the woman and tries to shoo her away like a dog. And we, 21st century readers, are stunned and perplexed by Jesus’s very un-Christlike response to a woman who is crying out for mercy. 

The most straightforward reading of this story is unpalatable at best, and flat-out offensive at worst. Jesus doesn’t want to help a non-Jew. He tries to ignore her. When she persists, he likens her to a dog that’s nipping at its master’s heels. 

It’s important to note, however, that the story does have a happy ending. The woman is persistent and clever. Jesus concedes that she has great faith. The woman’s daughter is healed, and Jesus begins to reach out to the Gentiles in future accounts. 

But this story! Goodness gracious. It certainly leaves a bitter taste in our mouths and raises questions about what kind of Jesus we follow. 

Not everyone has been dismayed by this story, though. If you scratch beneath the surface of biblical commentary and scholarship, you’ll find that many think that it’s plausible to downplay the offensive nature of this passage. What is their argument? Many scholars believe that Jesus wasn’t being offensive here. He was simply seeking to test the woman’s faith. By ignoring her, and by seeming to agree with his disciples that she should be sent away, Jesus is trying to test the woman to see what lengths she will go to in order to press her case and get mercy for her daughter. Jesus, some scholars will argue, always intended to heal the woman. He was just seeing if she would play the part of the persistent widow and not give up when she encounters resistance.  

Really? Really. 

Perhaps this is how the story played out. Maybe this is what Jesus intended all along. I suppose that it’s possible that this is what this passage means.  

But does that pass the sniff test?  

I know which version I prefer. I want a story where Jesus is kind, gentle, all-powerful, and hospitable to everyone he meets. I desire a Jesus who is quick to hug and is ever-cheery.  

My Jesus would never want to send someone away. My Jesus would never have a reason to change his mind.” 

The problem presents itself when the text does not support my thinking, or the fantasy that I’ve created for Jesus.  

So, we find ourselves at a crossroads as we seek to make meaning of a difficult text. What are we to do? 

None of this is even remotely new. The broad narrative of Jesus’s life and ministry reveal that even when he was alive, Jesus was misunderstood and confusing to those whom he encountered. Jesus defied people’s expectations for who the Son of God was to be. Of course, centuries of thoughtful reflection and study on the accounts of Jesus in the canonical texts have but deepened some of these questions about who Jesus was. The thousands (yes, thousands) of manuscripts that help to make up our New Testament reveal that scribes and scribblers through the ages frequently sought to soften and domesticate hard passages. The practice of Biblical Textual Criticism helps us to deal responsibly with the ‘differences’ and ‘modifications’ that have been made to the message. One of the rules in textual criticism is to acknowledge that when a passage reads differently among ancient manuscripts, the harder version is probably the original. Thus, the more difficult rendering of a text is the one closest to the truth because we have a tendency to soften the tough stuff and to blunt the edges of things. 

The story of the Canaanite woman, then, becomes a good test-study for us. It’s a hard passage where Jesus doesn’t come off looking like the Jesus we’ve crafted in our heads. We may be tempted to reconstruct the story in such a way that removes the tough elements. In fact, and in all truthfulness, this is our default mode. We read scripture the way we want to read it. Even more compelling, we simply may not read the passages of scripture that we don’t want to hear.  

That’s all well and fine, but it won’t yield much fruit in our lives if we choose to worship a God of our own creation. A manicured god doesn’t require faith. It requires careful stage-crafting and management. The more daring, more faithful posture may be to read and experience God in scripture with our biases openly acknowledged and to leave space for us to be personally challenged. 

Remember, y’all. If Jesus can change his mind, then so can we.