I grew up Mennonite, but that is not why I cover my head. In fact, I did not grow up wearing a head covering. I was raised in the modern Mennonite church. We had cars, video games, movies, fashionable clothes…all the “normal” aspects of modern life. Yet, we also benefited from a rich heritage of community, a legacy of non-resistance and a history of scriptural obedience. Most of us had grandfathers or great uncles who had built roads rather than fight in wars. Most of us had cousins or second cousins in common, and most of our grandmothers covered their heads. So, unlike most Christians today, I was aware from a very young age that 1 Corinthians 11 instructs Christian women to wear a head-covering or “symbol of authority” on their heads. I also knew the reasons that my mother’s generation had largely left the practice behind.
At age 19 I began a new spiritual journey in the Church of Christ. While studying in Quito, Ecuador, I met a group of missionaries who showed and taught me discipleship in a way that I had never seen before. I was baptized into Christ (Galations 3:27) with a passionate resolve to follow Him without “picking and choosing” what I would accept and obey and what I would not. My life radically changed from that day. I left behind a life of half-truths, gossip, self-indulgence and impurity. I embraced the mission of making disciples of Jesus with great zeal.
Shortly after my baptism, a childhood friend asked me in all sincerity, “If you are following the Bible literally, why don’t you wear a head covering?” I was unsettled, but accepted the “it was cultural” reasoning of a sister in the church. The question receded to the back of my mind for another three years. I was now back home and finishing my degree at the University of Virginia. A thoughtful campus ministry leader introduced me to the writings of David Bercot and his research on the earliest Christians (scrollpublishing.com). I found kinship with these ancient Christians in the non-resistance of my Mennonite upbringing and in the teachings on baptism and salvation that I had discovered in the Church of Christ. I was convicted to the core, though, about the worldliness of my life–especially the entertainment to which I exposed myself and the immodesty of my attire. I also began to reconsider the question of head covering. In fact, as a 22-year-old, single college student, I made what felt like a monumental decision to cover my head. It lasted about two weeks. The combination of criticism from sisters in the church and feeling like an absolute weirdo on campus crumbled my resolve. Paul’s word “women” could be translated “wives,” I conveniently reasoned. I’ll consider this again after I am married.
I am ashamed to say that I did not consider the question again until I had been married for about five years. At that point God began to convict my husband and I about area after area in our lives that were too much “conformed to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). We stopped watching TV and most movies because of the violent and impure content. Step-by-step I began to change the way that I dressed. One Sunday about a year into this process, moved by an excellent communion message, I determined to hold nothing back in this area. If I looked “frumpy,” that was a small thing compared to what Jesus had done for me. I also did an extensive personal study on holiness that led me to the conclusion that the call to be “separate” and unlike the world in the New Testament far outweighs the questionable modern teaching of being “like the world in order to win the world.” Having surrendered my vanity, I was finally ready to study the question of head covering in earnest.
I read all that I could get my hands on about early Christian practice. I read articles “for” and “against.” I read numerous “cultural” arguments, and found that none of them was substantiated by historical evidence. They all seemed to be conjecture based on a pre-determined conclusion that covering is not for today. I looked at pictures of head coverings throughout the centuries and considered the motives behind its very recent disappearance. I prayed for discernment and talked with Christian sisters. I discussed all of these things with my patient husband. I read 1 Corinthians 11 over and over–considering its reasoning and message. I thought about the spiritual power behind symbol-rich physical acts–baptism, communion, marriage…I finally concluded that, although I was not certain that there was no cultural component to the command, I was also not certain that there was. I could see great benefit in wearing a “symbol of authority” on my head. Bottom line, I determined, if I am going to err, I would rather err on the side of obedience than disobedience–of zeal than self-indulgence.
That was seven years ago. I smile to myself thinking of the journey that has followed that decision–all the scarves and kerchiefs I have tried searching for something “not too weird” (Garlands of Grace has been very helpful in that department). The times when I have felt ridiculous and alone. The studies and re-studies making sure that I “really needed to do this.” And then the peace. The joy in realizing that when I separated myself from the expectations of fashion, I was freed from much of the insecurity that surrounds the desire to “fit in.” Perhaps people still look at me funny when I go out, but, truthfully, I don’t really care! I try not to be unnecessarily strange, but fitting in with current styles and measuring up to magazine photos have left my radar screen thanks, in part, to head covering. I love how there are always “fringe benefits” when I stop arguing with God and simply obey.