My husband, a strapping male, decided long ago that he was not a “ballcap” kind of guy. He began losing his hair in his early 20’s, and decided that he was quite comfortable with himself even though he wasn’t delighted that his sable tresses had hit a recession. So, in our 40’s, after Rob had retired from pastoring a church we planted, we decided to begin riding motorcycles. Robert had ridden a motorcycle since he was a teenager but I had only ridden on the back of my Daddy’s Honda 67′ Dream when I was a small girl. For me, however, riding a motorcycle became a metaphor for overcoming the paralyzing fears that had embattled my psyche since I was a child. So we bought 2 Harley Sportsters, one by one, and began riding recreationally across the beautiful wine country of the Finger Lakes of New York. The “do-rag” became a comfortable piece of fabric for Rob to wear under his motorcycle helmet when riding, and as a protector of his head at other times.
Eventually, Rob became the Chaplain for the “Red Knights,” a riding group of volunteer firemen who continually sponsored poker runs to raise money for childhood burn victims. It was exhilarating riding across the countryside as part of a large, contingency of cycles who were riding for a cause. At every intersection, the group was trained so that the next consecutive cyclists closed down the converging side roads with their bikes in order that our large masses could continue on as a group through red lights and stop signs. I loved the throaty roar of Harleys as we poured through towns and raced over the hills.
Our son would often ride with us on these poker runs, as well, and one day we found ourselves outside a beautiful, historic old Knights of Columbus after completion of the ride, where we were to celebrate with a beer. All three of us extrapolated ourselves from our cycles, stretched mightily, and began removing our helmets. A middle-aged woman, who had been walking down the street recognized my son as a school coworker and approached him with a dazzling smile. “What are you doing with these 2 dirtbags,” she inquired? My son didn’t have time to answer as I chimed in sweetly to say, “These 2 ‘dirtbags’ are his parents.” She didn’t apologize nor did she even look chagrined. She continued on talking to my son for a short time and went along on her way.
About this same time, we began attending a Church in a nearby town. It seemed particularly challenging to find a healthy church in our area but this particular church was recommended by a good friend and seemed to be on the verge of some healthy changes when we began attending. This was when our social experiment began; Rob began to wear his motorcycle do-rags to church. Our hypothesis was a simple one: Would God’s children recognize another child of God or would they reject us because we did not look like them?
Now, motorcycle riding became very mainstream in New York since the early 2000’s and gradually gained huge popularity with couples riding recreationally. Women also obtained their licenses in droves. The stereotypic view of motorcycle riding had gone from the proverbial “Hell’s Angel,” cameo to one of a very middle-class recreational sport. Or so we thought.
We weren’t treated well at this new church. In fact, we were snubbed regularly. Not only would the women not speak to me but when I would greet them cheerfully out in public, they would totally turn their faces away even though I was just inches away. You would often look out across the church and catch one of the professional men eyeing Rob and shaking his head with a look of disgust on his face. They knew that Rob was a pastor but when it was suggested that Rob should be on the Board of Elders, it was strongly suggested that he wasn’t worthy and voted down.
One day, on a warm summer morning we decided to ride to church on our motorcycles. Although my little Sportster had been modified to accommodate my short stature I was still struggling with the weight of it when I made turns. We pulled into the Church parking lot and eased into our shared parking space. However, the turn was so angular for me that I wasn’t able to handle the shift in weight and the motorcycle came down on my left leg. It was painful but I wasn’t injured badly. What was happening around me, however, was a little startling. The parking lot, which had been thriving with the arrival of church members suddenly became vacated and no one came to see if I was alright. In fact, the doors on the minivan next to us, being exited by a family, suddenly slammed and the occupants high-tailed it into the church as fast as they could. This was followed by a second family near us who would not look at me and scurried inside just as fast or faster. I looked at Rob in amazement, dusted myself off, limped inside and smiled as sweetly as I could at each of those individuals who saw my injury but refused to help me.
There were a few loving individuals, however, who looked beyond our motorcycle riding, do-rag wearing, fiendish ways. A group of elderly ladies sat behind us every Sunday and loved on us. They admired every one of Rob’s do-rags and especially “oohed” and “aahed” over the patriotic one he wore on the Fourth of July and the golden crosses he led prayer in. They “got” it and so did several other spirit-led couples.
What insults my sense of justice is this: Men who would risk their lives to run into burning buildings and arrange poker runs to raise money for children who have been severely burned are not “dirt bags.” They are heroes. A few may look rough around the edges but they would gladly lay down their lives for anyone and not give it a moment’s thought. And then there are people like us; people who have been churched their whole lives. If you cannot accept us because we ride motorcycles and my husband wears a little piece of cloth on his head, who can you accept? Can you only accept other middle-class individuals into your “country club” who look like you, talk like you, and take part in activities that you deem acceptable to the Christian walk? Are you even looking at hearts? What if Jesus walked into your midst, would you recognize Him? Well, sure, you say. But would you? The Pharisees of the time didn’t recognize Him.
We had the last laugh. After attending this salty church for 5 years, they finally put out a church directory with the photos of each of their members. If you look under the “G’s,” you will see two people who love God with their whole hearts. The couple you will see is dressed in black and the husband is wearing his most regal leather do-rag. If you ever see them, please hug them and tell them that you “get” it. You recognize that it is the inner heart that God works with and adores, not the outer fabric. After you’ve hugged this couple, go out into the street and look for other “rough” appearances and love on them. Tell them that Jesus loves them and wants to spend eternity with them. Tell them that Jesus laid down His life for their sins, and when it was done, a piece of cloth was ripped in half to signal the sacrifice of all time. And when you’re done spending time with these broken, rough people, realize that you just spent time with the same people that Jesus did. Now that’s true religion.
1 Samuel 16:7
….for the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks out on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
……why does your master eat with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that He said to them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Go and learn what that means for I will have mercy and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”