I went to the church office today to order a guitar (more on that amazing story some other time), and spent about a half hour or so talking with Ashby – the eyes, ears, and gatekeeper at Imago (a.k.a. the receptionist, the secretary, the director of first impressions, the Pastor’s assistant, etc.). She gave me the grace of her presence and her ears this morning as I talked with her about all of the questions that have been running through my head as a result of what my wife, and by association I, have found ourselves in the middle of.
We talked a lot about the hateful things that have been said to my wife by hate-loving Christians who hate Muslims so deeply that they have websites (multiple websites) devoted to hating Islam and, by default, Muslims. We talked about how those people prove that what Jessey is doing is important – many people, especially Christians, haven’t ‘arrived’ at a point in which they are willing to engage in relationships with Muslims in our communities. We talked about the how the only people we think we might have a reason to be afraid of are Christians who hate Muslims and don’t have a clue what my wife is doing (even when she has been pretty clear about it).
We talked about a blog that was written about how my wife is just another example of white privilege doing more damage than good. How what she is doing is no different than putting on a fat suit or going out on the town in a wheelchair. How it doesn’t really prove anything since the person can take off the fat suit, can walk away from the wheelchair, and can take off the hijab.
Because, it’s not life, it’s only a social experiment.
These points are all quite good points, on the surface. The thing is, though, that what my wife is doing is much bigger than a person wearing a fat suit or riding in a wheelchair in that she has struck a very sensitive nerve in our global culture. That nerve stems from this question: Is there a way for Muslims and Christians to live as neighbors, to choose to be sincere friends, all while acknowledging their differences? There is no other explanation for the amount of attention, some of it quite negative attention, that she has received.
Radio stations in London don’t call working moms in Peoria about their experiment in wearing a fat suit in public.
Reporters in New York don’t call mothers of two in Peoria about how they felt when they were acting like they couldn’t walk.
I started the day by telling my wife that she should ask any other people wanting to ‘do a story on her’ to wait until the end of Lent when she has actually had some time to really live out her 40 Days of Hijab. If her Lenten fast was going to be real, she needs to be able to experience life without people saying, “Hey, aren’t you that girl who is trying to get famous by being white and wearing the hijab?”, or, “Hey, aren’t you that girl from BuzzFeed?”. If it’s not already too late, and she really wants to complete the journey, she needs to keep from being a just a trend. If, by the end of 40 days, someone wants to still hear her story, then she can talk.
Then I talked with my friend Trey, who apparently hadn’t heard much about what my wife is doing (yet). He said that he understood my point completely, but said that he saw a huge opportunity to share the message of love of neighbors, strangers, and enemies on a really big scale. He said that people are going to think bad things about my wife either way, but it might not be the worst thing to let it become something that causes more and more people to think and see differently.
I told him that’s one of the most difficult things we have faced so far: Does my wife, who is already friends with and harbors no personal stereotypes towards Muslims, really have something personally still to learn? Or, on the contrary, is this an open door to shaking American Christians out of there myopia and into real engagement across lines of difference with Muslims in our communities?
We haven’t really come to a conclusion on this yet. There are personal risks on both sides of the decision we make. She will have to continue to ignore people who believe that she just did this in order to get attention, to get her 15 minutes of fame. That couldn’t be further from the truth (she wouldn’t be posting her journal on a free WordPress blog if she was trying to get famous…she also would have thought out a strategy for communicating what she is doing, which, according to the uproar about a comment about makeup, she obviously didn’t have).
This is about helping largely (though often subliminally) racist or at least prejudiced Christians to see Muslim women (and men) as individuals, and not as representations of terrorism, ISIS, or Satan. It’s about putting a human face on an ideology. It’s about seeing the trees that make up a forest, and not just the forest.
It’s not about fame. It’s not about siding with Islam. It’s not about playing with religion. It’s not about articles and news and press.
We sincerely, and completely, love the Muslims that we know, and at least in spirit, all of those we don’t know. We want the Church to do the same.
This may just be our big opportunity to do something about it.