I was walking along the street today when I saw something that made me smile. The street I live on is a cliche, almost a caricature of itself. It prides itself on unpretentiousness till it borders on pretentious, and strains to appear as if it is not trying at all. I’m certain my street is full of middle class socialists, male feminists, and heterosexual gay activists. Not that these things are necessarily oxymoronic (apart from the first perhaps), but nonetheless, enough to make me smirk. It’s a street full of students, hippies, non conformists, musicians, hipsters, druggies and the assorted waifs and strays of society.
Opposite my house is the local school – it’s a girls school, and every morning and afternoon out tumbles a gaggle of pre teens and teenagers – some uncomfortably lanky, some short and puppy fattish, but all with a regulation school skirt rolled up at the waist till it is satisfactorily immodest.
I don’t always pay much attention to them, but today I couldn’t help notice one striding towards me. She was tall and thin, clearly still growing into her growth spurt, face stamped with the type of east african features they like to put on postcards, dressed with the obligatory short skirt…and a hijab. There was no timidity in her walk, no awkwardness – she seemed unaware of the apparent contradiction between her head and her legs.
I know the feeing all too well. I remember 13. Age 13 I was in love with hip hop. I was banned from loving boys till I was 18 (said my parents), so hip hop was a suitable alternative with almost as much credibility, and no chance of pregnancy. I could admire my crushes from afar, but hip hop was close to me, pulsing directly though the earphones of my just about 21st century, non skip CD player that one of my friends had given to me when she had upgraded to mini discs. (Remember mini disc players? They were the one hit wonders of the portable music world).
On Saturday mornings I would head to church, CD player in my bag, waiting till lunch time we would sit and listen to music – one ear plug in my left ear,the other in my friend’s right ear. Saturdays was strictly gospel. Sundays were strictly hip hop. We would burn CD’s with all the latest tracks, and swap them round ‘Oi Chris, can I borrow that bashment mix CD? – yeh, the one with the Busta Rhymes remix’. I had one CD that had everything you ever wanted for the weekend. There was the perfect mix of gospel and hip hop – all on the same CD. Kirk Franklin followed by 50 Cent, followed by Mary Mary, followed by Nas – a selection of high quality music for the cultured teenage palate. I look back now and cover my face in embarrassment. My very own hijab and miniskirt.
It took me some time for the religion of my parents to stop being their religion, and start being my own faith. It took some time for me to find the realness in the rules. I find this walk of faith is possibly the biggest challenge of my life. I can honestly say I am more blessed to have a faith that I have managed to cling on to despite my own failings than any degree or title I will ever hold. My walk is often full of hijabs and miniskirts. I have stood in pulpits and preached on faith whilst being riddled with my own doubts. I have given talks on purity whilst struggling to fight lust in my own life. I have encouraged others while secretly despairing. I have prayed for forgiveness and refused to forgive.
My comfort and hope is this. Just like the teenager I saw in the miniskirt and hijab, I am on a journey. I am in the teenage years of my faith. I am thankful that I can be certain that although God does not excuse my failings, he forgives them. But every teenager must grow up one day. There is a time when, like the apostle says we are to ‘put away childish things’. I am not oblivious to my hypocrisy. There are times when my mistakes and regrets and contradictions pull at me, threatening to cause me to fall completely, but “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’. Phillipians 3:13,14.