First of all, my wife asked me to go along. Her church has small groups called “V-Groups” who meet every week and, she didn’t want to be the only person there without their significant other. Sikhs invite people of all faiths into their houses of worship (gurdwara, or gurudwara), so I figured going the other way around wouldn’t cause a fuss.
I was a little on edge last night though. Back in May, as a Buddhist, I had a similar discomfort wearing the robes to a homeschool convention where most of the attendees were Christians. Now in September as a Sikh, wearing a turban, how would a Bible study group react to my appearance? Would they think I got lost and showed up at the wrong house?
There were a few glances, no one really stared or whispered (that I know of), but I did feel like a spiritual third wheel. The group leader, Jon, knew what was up because I approached him before the group formed and he reads this blog. As we introduced ourselves last night, I was given the opportunity to explain myself, and asked everyone to not freak out if I look different from month to month. Everyone seemed cool with the idea and I didn’t receive any strange, uncomfortable looks afterward.
But there was something else.
Sure, I’m in a Bible study group, but how am I supposed to participate? After the meeting, I had a chat with Jon and explained to him:
“I was a Christian long before Project Conversion, so I know the answers and the reasons for the philosophy here, but you have to understand that–for September–I think, act, and look like a Sikh. Anything you might ask will be a Sikh answer, and that might not jive well with the discussion.”
To my relief, Jon gets it. He knows I can’t pretend to be a Christian just on Bible study evenings. I let him know that if I don’t seem eager to answer group questions or participate in discussion, that it’s out of respect for the group because I don’t want to steer the dialog from its Christian direction. Jon understood and assured me that any questions given would not be theologically based, but more life-based, which is good for any answer.
My biggest fear in being in a group like that isn’t that I think they will secretly try to convert me. I know better and so do they. My fear is that, while being a Sikh (or anything else), I might answer a question from a Sikh perspective and–however unlikely–plant the smallest grain of doubt into the mind of one of those believers. Let’s face it, my presentation of one of these faiths has lead to a conversion before, so it’s not without precedent. Faith is a precious thing to a person, and I don’t want to cause confusion or turmoil. Jon assured me that he will make sure of everyone’s comfort in the group and that he respects my boundaries.
Truth is, Sikhs in general have a high regard for Jesus. As in many other faiths, Jesus is looked upon as a prophet, one who was “one with God” in character and taught the worship of, contemplation on, and devotion to the One God. Sikhs, who have a long and bloody history of sacrifice in the name of truth and faith, also relate to the sacrifice Jesus made to bring the message of God to mankind. Because God is in all of us, and Jesus (like the gurus) was fully realized with God, his followers truly “saw” God with them in the person of Jesus. And according to Jesus AND the gurus, everyone of us can be the same way. I love common threads.
And oh yeah, Jon also agreed to grow out his beard with me for the month. See? Something as simple as growing a beard brings two people of two faiths together in friendship. Why can we not see this sort of thing in the world? All we need is a common denominator, and it can be as simple as growing a beard.
One more amazing thing happened last night. Remember how none of the adults at the Bible study asked me about the turban (dastar)? If they wondered about what or who I was, they kept it to themselves or their spouses. If we had not made introductions, had my wife not said, “And they probably want to know what’s on your head,” would anyone have asked? I can’t answer that, but I assume no. People are afraid or uncomfortable asking questions for many reasons, but what we don’t realize is that, when we don’t ask questions, we leave room for our ignorance to plant seeds of mistrust and fear.
Not so with little children.
Jon’s son, who will turn three very soon, walked up to me when we picked up our daughters and pointed at my head with a huge smile.
“What’s that on your head?”
I was stunned for a moment and then pointed at the dastar. “This is a turban. I am a Sikh.”
He laughed as if I had just told the best joke ever. “You look funny!”
It took a three-year-old’s guts and curiosity to clear the air in the entire room. He didn’t insult me. He honestly just wanted to know what was there and acknowledged that it was foreign to him. I wasn’t insulted, in fact I laughed with him! How much more peaceful would the world be if we thought like children do, asked questions with a child’s innocent curiosity and purity? We’d suddenly start talking and sharing instead of hording our mistrust and discomfort.
Last night, I saw God in a three-year-old’s eyes…and Waheguru (God, the wonderful teacher, the light that shatters darkness), looked right back at me and winked.