To The Woman Wearing The Burqa

Dear Woman Wearing The Burqa (or, in this case, a Niqab),

I saw you today while visiting a living history museum. You were walking hand-in-hand with your two daughters and you were beautiful. I’m sorry if I stared, but you captivated my imagination. I stupidly marveled over how the fabric hung loose over your frame. You had such pretty eyes…

It occurred to me to check the faces of my three children walking along beside me. You were ahead of us and I wanted to make sure they weren’t staring. They didn’t even seem to notice. My littlest, two years old, saw you. Or she saw your beautiful little girls, I don’t know, but she didn’t seem surprised.

It isn’t often that we see a woman dressed in such cultural clothing here in Indiana. Sure, we have Muslims in hajibs, but rarely women completely concealed except for their eyes. We have Amish and Mennonites, I suppose, but people have grown used to seeing them. At first I thought, “She doesn’t have to dress that way here. We’re free!” And it hit me…we are free. That is why you can wear that with courage and strength. I wondered if you’re happy and instantly felt guilty for it. Can someone tell that I am happy simply by observing what I am wearing? Were my jeans and flips flips and tank top a sign of oppression or religious bondage of some sort? Or what about the woman that worked for the museum—a woman with the mid-western mark of holiness: long skirt and long hair, face free of make-up? Was she happy? Was she oppressed? Was she in religious bondage?

And what a silly notion, right?

This is the land of the free, supposedly built on religious freedom. We should welcome all people who decide to hold to their cultural and religious beliefs in such a way that stands them apart from the majority. That’s what we are proud of…isn’t it?

But then I noticed other people staring and turning all the way around to watch you after you passed them. My blood began to boil. A girl around eleven or twelve years old gasped as you drew near and covered her mouth with her hands. I was mortified. When you were behind her, she circled back to the adult women that accompanied her. I heard her ask why you were dressed that way. The oldest woman in the group rolled her eyes and spat out, “She’s a Muslim. Muslims aren’t allowed to show anything but their eyes.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to tell her that she was wrong…but I didn’t. I just let her pass, looking back at you as you kept your daughters close to your side. My heart swelled with pride for your strength and courage. How often did people gasp and stare as you passed them today? How many people asked you rude questions or told you that you didn’t have to dress like that if you didn’t want to? How many people asked you where you were from?

I didn’t enjoy the rest of my afternoon. It wasn’t your fault. I couldn’t stop thinking about how wretched we as a free society have become. A group of school children with girls in hajibs passed another school group. The boys pointed and stared. One boy asked, "Where are those people from?" Here...they're from here, I wanted to say.

We champion this nation because we think it was built on freedom and equality for all people—freedom to worship and live as we please. But it isn’t. Well, it is…so long as you live and worship like the biggest portion of us. We are judgmental and we are passing that judgement on to our children—teaching them to fear that which is different than us. We are sowing seeds to reap a harvest of bullies ruled by fear. We must stop. We must be more careful.

And I am so sorry.

You were beautiful, darling lady. You were positively beautiful. I don’t know your story, but I hope it is a wonderful story and adventurous journey. I admire your courage to walk with your head held high in a society so different and cold towards those unlike them. I wish you were my friend. I would love to know who you are…

And if you don’t want to wear the burqa, I hope the day comes when you can dress how you wish with your head held high. Don’t ever look down…



Note: The woman was wearing something more commonly known as a niqab which is often worn by women of the Wahhabism Islam faith. They wear this attire in urban areas, such as Hamilton County, Indiana. And that's pretty awesome. For many of these woman, it's a sign of incredible beauty--a queen wearing her crown. For others, it is a sign of oppression. But let us take into account what we as an American (free) society do to oppress our own women and keep them from complete equality before we judge to harshly those of another religion. Let us remember how we overly sexualize the woman's body and objectify her. We are not better.

Homeless And Okay

Have you thought about the ministry of Jesus lately? I mean, seriously stopped and thought about what He did and how He did it? Have you noticed that He was on the outskirts of the established religion of the time? Jesus trained as a carpenter, not a rabbi or religious scholar. None of his friends were religious leaders, but fisherman, businessmen and even a doctor. He didn’t have a building where He gathered the people to speak to them. He didn’t even have a home of His own or wealth of any kind. The only collection He took up was five fish and five loaves from a little boy, and to be honest, that wasn’t even Him that collected them, but His disciples. And what did He do with that meager collection? He multiplied it and returned it to the people who had traveled to hear Him speak…

And let’s talk a little about how Jesus spoke to the people. Why were multitudes traveling to hear Him in the first place? What was so different about Him that their tabernacles and rabbis didn’t offer? Freedom. Love. Grace. Hope. Future. And here’s the most important thing: Jesus spoke in a way that made every man, woman, and child deeply loved and valued. He showed them that they were all equally loved in God’s eyes, despite their place in society. He revealed to them how very special they were to The Father. He redeemed those that society had cast out.

This is what I am thinking deeply about this morning because I am not sitting in a church anywhere. My children are playing video games and eating doughnuts. My son is wrapped up in a blanket on the couch lost in some robot game, his fingers sticky. My eldest is still in her bed, long legs splayed and caught up on the bed above her as she watches a show dangling half upside down. My youngest is drinking lemonade and standing in nothing but a diaper. Her hair is a wild mess and tangled badly. They’re not in a children’s program anywhere…

And for a moment, it is really easy for me to listen to the fear whisper to me that I am failing my children. I’m screwing up. I am not teaching them about Jesus…

No. I am not. Not at this very second, at least.

I’m sitting here drinking lukewarm coffee and trying to figure out what to do. I’m wrestling with myself, wrestling with the fear of failing, worrying that I am making incredibly huge mistakes. We’ve always served in churches in the 16 years that we have been married. And at the moment, we’re not in a church at all and I really don’t want to go back.

Now, I want to explain quickly that I deeply love the pastors and the families of those in leadership at every church we have ever served in. I am not angry at them. I hope they are always my friends because I value who they are and honor the way they are giving their lives in service. Just because I can not longer serve beside them does not mean they failed me. It just means that I wasn’t the right person for the job they needed done. It just means that my personality and drive didn’t match up. This is on me, not them. These churches were are wonderful churches! Especially the last one. The last one…man!…it felt like a gift just for me when we first attended. I love those folks with all my heart. Make no mistake of that.

But Roger and I…well, if you’ve met us, you know we are just rebels. We are pains in the butt. We kick around at the rules and we have lots of questions. We would rather hang out with the bad boys and smoke cigarettes in the bathroom (I’ve never done that, actually). We would rather share a pint in a public house with some misplaced friends. We want to create weird art and write words that rip out your heart, destroy it, heal it all up, and then shove it back in your chest. We want to kiss your cheek and rumple your hair. We want to dance without knowing how. We want to jump of bridges and burn religious ones. We want to listen to all the rock and roll and read all the “bad” books…

We are free spirits.

That’s how people describe me all the time. I think that’s because they don’t know what label to stick on me.

But it’s us. It’s Roger and I. It wasn’t the church’s fault that we are homeless now.

Yet here we are. I think we will probably stay here. Not because we are angry. Bruised a little, sure. But we are not angry.

And that’s why my coffee is now cold. This is why I’ve been looking at how Jesus lived out his life and ministry this side of heaven. And I kinda have to just shrug and shelf the fear. I’m okay. We are okay. The way we love God and love others is going to be okay. We don’t all have to be in ministry the same way, so long as we are including all people and loving everyone, despite their race, sexual orientation or their individual religion. 

But let us all try very hard to keep the politics and wealth out of it. Let us all try very hard to truly love God and love others with all our heart.

We can all do better.

American Christianity must do better…

I can do better.

I can breathe and not be afraid.

I’m okay.

You’re okay.

And He loves us so very much.

In a little while, I will clean the doughnut mess off of my children and we will worship for a little while. They will be okay too.