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5.16.2008

Covered Dish

Here is a reprise of a column about a girl that I consider to be quite invincible. She wears a head covering, a practice among Christians that conveys obedience to authority more often than 'modesty'. A practice that the catholic ladies in my neighborhood practiced in church until very recently. Orthodox Jewish women also cover their heads, as do many of their muslim sisters. It does not speak to my condition, but I was fascinated by this girl.
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So There I was...

In Oklahoma, talking to the future of American womanhood.

That might be a bit sweeping. But Angelina is a very interesting and instructive piece of the future of American womanhood.

I spent the weekend at a regional Quaker women’s retreat. It was an event that intentionally brought together women from the diverse branches of Quakersim. Over the last 350 years Quakerism has suffered the typical number of religious splits. I know of no faith group immune to this process. But there is a convergent movement afoot in Quakerism. It is a rising sensibility that, without the need to cobble together structural re-integration, that we can speak to each other across our divides. We can be in relationship to each other without sacrificing our integrity. Everybody knows that it is easier to talk to total strangers than it is to converse with your own strange cousins, but this is what we try and do at the convergent events. Look our shirt-tail relatives in the eye and listen to them with an open heart. It is good work.

Among Quakers, diversity in the 21st century means that in the room we had women who were fundamentalist Christians and women who identified as Jewish, Buddhist or Non-theist Friends. Interestingly enough you cannot always tell who is who by looking at them. With a few exceptions, the women across the spectrum tend to be middle aged, graying, and sensibly dressed. It is not a real flashy crowd. One thing you do not usually see is head coverings. Quakers mostly gave up the bonnet by the turn of the 20th century. So I was surprised to notice a mother and daughter combo in intentionally modest dresses and a small white headscarf that looked old order Mennonite to me. Among Christian women head coverings of any sort are usually in obedience to the one place where the Apostle Paul recommends that women not cut their hair and wear a head covering in public (1 Corinthians 11). Most Christian churches have interpreted this as a cultural issue pertaining to the Apostles day and not ours, and so have abandoned the practice. When you see it practiced, often, it is part of a general literal interpretation of scripture, and that often entails a certain socially conservative lifestyle. Many 21st century Christian women would associate head coverings with patriarchal oppression. I was curious.

At dinner I got a chance to sit by the daughter. We enjoyed each other’s company, and got a chance to talk several times over the weekend. Angelina is fourteen years old. She lives on a small ranch some 60 miles outside of Austin, Texas. She has five older brothers and two younger sisters. She laughs easily and loudly. She interacts easily with adults. She can politely correct her elders when they are in error. She has the strength of a girl who has survived five older brothers. She is bold, and open, but has none of the coquettish Psuedo-sexuality of many fourteen year olds in our culture. She knows who Brittany Spears is and she so doesn’t care. She is a thing we rarely see anymore; she is fourteen and a girl. She has a full set of girl powers that she hasn’t yet traded in for woman powers. It was refreshing, let me tell you.

She has a Clydesdale/Morgan cross horse. She weighs exactly 100 pounds at the moment but she can fling her saddle onto his back and make him behave. She puts on a pair of pants under her skirt to ride, and admits that the skirt is a bit of a pain at a full gallop, but it is not anything she can’t handle. She studies at home, although she admitted that she sometimes wishes she could go to a regular school. I am sure that she is not home-schooled out of fear of contamination with the wider world, because her family drives 65 miles to attend an unprogrammed liberal Quaker meeting that exposes Angelina to a wide variety of theological perspectives. Angelina is a vegetarian. Her mother is presently eating raw foods only. Her daddy is a commercial airline pilot. Her parents left their Mennonite community because according to Angelina they were “too strict” and asked her parents not to wear wedding rings. Angelina clearly approved of her parents insistence on their liberty. Angelina started wearing her “veil” at the age of eleven. She says she took it freely, out of respect for her father and God. She thinks it is funny that some kids in Texas think she is Muslim or a nun. She doesn’t think that anyone else is particularly wicked for not having their head covered. Angelina is so not oppressed. She doesn’t fit into any boxes. She doesn’t particularly believe in boxes, theological or otherwise. She plans to go to college. She plans to have a full and rich life. I have no doubt that she will.

Angelina gives me hope for a theologically diverse nation. She has the strength to hold on to some absolutes in her life without fear of people who do not agree with those absolutes. She is conservatively and progressively counter-culture at the same time. She is a post-modern throwback. She is not going to isolate. She will not be terrified. She and her covered head will thrive in the 21st century. Let us all learn.


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Comments:
I believe in people who do not fit into boxes. I believe in the girl-power-not-woman-power you are describing. And, though I may not always live up to it, I believe in being open to who people really are, not who I think they are. I am ready to meet and respect and hear Angelina, and I hope for a day when all of us strange cousins can sit still and listen long enough to find out who we all are, beyond our preconceptions!

Thanks for sharing this anecdote.
 
I met Angelina and her mother at SCYM a little more than a year ago. I didn't have the pleasure of getting to know her, but my daughter got to spend sometime with her and the other Junior Young Friends and she really liked her, too.
 
These stories and accounts are wonderful, Peggy. It's the right time for them to be broadcast.

I have put this site on the Quaker blogroll on my blog, Still Life (heather-still-life.blogspot.com) - I hope this is OK.

Heather
 
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