Human brains are not, for the most part, wired to appreciate and respond positively to a rational argument when that argument contradicts what we believe to be true. This three-minute video explains what I mean:
Does this resonate with you? For me, this feels most true in online spaces, when my overall aversion to conflict is protected by the buffer of cyberspace. I read a comment and I feel my face start to warm. My breath quickens. My heart beats faster and my arms begin to tremble, fingers ready to throw down a brilliantly-framed counter argument so devastating and righteous that only the most willfully ignorant would dare disagree.
Not a very pretty sight. Or a Christ-like one, most would say.
Watching myself engage in this kind of anti-communication and observing it happen all around me (television, social media, the dinner table…) makes me think of other ways that I can barrel through life without allowing something or someone to interrupt my agendas.
My vocational to-do list, which reflects what I think needs to be done, on my timeline. A colleague once called himself a “practical atheist,” meaning that he professed Jesus with his lips, but failed then to release control of his day-to-day activities to the Author and Finisher of all. If we believe Jesus is the beginning, and the end, why do we so often resist giving over the middle to him?
My rule of life might be summed up as: coffee, work, work, work, gym, sleep (i.e. produce, produce, produce). There are no margins in this life for interruptions, for an unexpected visit from my dad in the middle of the day, an invitation from my brother to go out to breakfast, time to wander out into the front yard to chat with the neighbors while our kids play in the afternoon, a quiet few minutes to simply sit in the love and care of the Creator of the universe who knows every hair on my head. A regular part of Jesus’ life was leaving things undone and going away to pray. Can I follow my Savior into a quiet, solitary place where production isn’t the purpose?
And can I change my mind? Can anything interrupt what I believe to be true and right and just? I think it can, and I think Jesus may have modeled this for us, too.
Jesus. Fully human, fully divine. God enfleshed, without sin. Jesus is our Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Friend.
And yet, Jesus doesn’t seem so friendly when he first encounters the Canaanite woman:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
I’ve always found this passage so profoundly disturbing. I love dogs, but I’m not sure Jesus’ comparison of the Canaanite woman to canines was a positive one. When I think about this passage as it relates to the video above, I start to see it in a different light.
What if this passage is Jesus and the Canaanite woman modeling for us what it means to reject de-humanization of others and embrace empathy? How differently the story would read if the Canaanite woman had responded to Jesus’ difficult statement by becoming defensive, angry, or simply walking away? Instead, she generously and winsomely presses into a potential conflict. Jesus allows himself to be physically interrupted by this very different being and by doing so, a moment of transformation is created and the woman’s daughter is healed. Can I be more like the Canaanite woman the next time someone says something hurtful to me? Can I be more like Jesus the next time someone presents me with information that counters my worldview? I pray God grants me the humility to allow for both of these possibilities.
I also plan to take a little action. Ages ago, a friend who is wired like me recommended a book called Practicing Compassion as a tool to pause and learn to love myself and others well. I’ll set aside a few minutes a day this week to begin reading it. It’s time I stopped resisting the shift towards slowness for which my heart longs.
Perhaps there’s something you’ve been resisting that would help you be more physically or psychically interruptible. A change in schedule, elimination of an unhealthy habit, an invitation to something or someone new. Henri Nouwen says that, “The first task of a faith community is to create sacred time and space, when and where we can allow God to reshape our hearts and lives and communities.” How can we help one another do that today, this week, this month, this year
Let’s start with this short meditation.
About the Author
Sarah Withrow King is the author of Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan, 2016) and Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology (Cascade Books, 2016). She spends her days working for Evangelicals for Social Action and CreatureKind, helping Christians put their faith into action. She lives in Eugene with her husband, son, and animal companions and enjoys action movies, black coffee, the daily crossword, and dreaming of her next international journey.