Jayma Anne Montgomery
REJECTING FUNDAMENTALISM IN ALL OF ITS FORMS
Updated: Feb 11
The henna was about a week old at this point so the flower in the front was fading. Not wearing my head art in public caused it to fade faster from being covered up most of the time.
I first considered getting henna tattoos several years ago as a way to come to terms with having alopecia. As much as I have projected an attitude of not caring what other people think, I am not impervious to the opinions of those I care about. I also just wasn’t sure I could pull it off well. The more I looked at photos of cancer patients getting henna crowns, the more I was drawn to the beauty of it. I did some research to determine if there was anything inherently un-Christian about it that would make it off-limits for me.
Henna is a beautiful art form that originated in Africa. The Jagua fruit and henna plant combine to make a paste that not only temporarily stains the skin for a few weeks but confers remarkable cooling and healing properties. Like many things with African origins, it has been commandeered by other cultures. Nowadays, most people associate henna with people from India and, by extension, the religion of Hinduism. And so, if you are asked to participate in an Indian wedding then you might get henna for that occasion. People drawn to Eastern mysticism and/or pantheism may embrace henna as a means of expressing the “many or all roads lead to G-d” philosophy.
These are unfortunate associations for the art form. However, learning that the practice in and of itself is not a religious act provided me with great relief. Like any other art form, I can choose to use it to express my faith and glorify the G-d of the Bible. And so, I have come to view this practice as one of many acts of worship. My body is a canvas on which my henna artist displays her creativity. I offer design suggestions and she takes my ideas to a whole new level. She is incredibly talented (as you can see) and I get to be a blessing to her by advertising her talent to the world. Many of the designs are simply beautiful images and patterns with neutral meanings. Some of the art contains overt Christian symbols with direct references to my favorite scriptures: crosses, the tree of Life (Psalm 1:3), the vine, and the branches (John 15:5).
I was taught to fear and distrust pretty much everything that was not overtly Christian. Under this umbrella fell many different things, people, and situations. For example, people who wear black nail polish, have lots of tattoos, or lots of body piercings. Halloween is another example of something I was told to fear and distrust…the devil's holiday. I have previously written about how understanding the Christian roots of Halloween has freed me from fearing and, therefore, annually dreading this occasion. If the original point of Hallows Eve was for believers to stare death and evil in the face and proclaim that they are not afraid of either because the blood of Jesus has overcome it, then that has huge implications for the way I should approach this holiday. If the point of All Saints Day is to remember the lives and contributions of the saints who have gone before us, most Christians have been doing a terrible job of it. None of this information changes the fact that this holiday is extremely commercialized in our modern society with many people, Christians included, using it as an excuse to be excessively morbid and downright gruesome. But it does call to mind the charge on all Christians to embody this life differently than unbelievers.
All of this is to say that I recognize my artistic and style decisions may be off-putting to some other Christians. My own parents and my in-laws may not support some or perhaps most things about this blog or my books. While I hope this is not the case, I’m actually ok with this possibility because I am ultimately striving to please the heart of my heavenly father above anyone else. JR Briggs was right when he said that as some of us more earnestly press into the sacred overlap way of life, we may seem increasingly secular to many Christians and increasingly holy to many secular people. This was certainly the case for the life of Jesus. In fact, people of non-Christian faiths more readily recognize that I am a Christian without me ever calling attention to it. They approach me in the grocery store and in parking lots, intrigued by my personal style. African fashion, henna, and unique styles of jewelry are a point of interest to me that create opportunities for conversations that would not otherwise happen organically. I have been drawn to these things for as long as I can remember but only began dressing this way regularly over the past few years. These individuals are sometimes my patients who open up to me in unexpected and unsolicited ways. Some people who I would never expect outright ask me for prayer. I use these opportunities to affirm their worth in G-d's eyes and to speak life to their ailing bodies.
I need to go on record and say that some things are explicitly anti-Christ. There is no redeeming a satanic pentagram or a swastika. On the other hand, sporting tattoos of flowers, trees, vines, and leaves on my body and placing sticker jewelry on my face is hardly akin to evoking dark spirits. The KKK was known to set crosses on fire as a way to bully and intimidate those whom they opposed. This did not dissuade many Christians of color from their faith in Jesus. The Muslims and Jews who were tortured during the Spanish Inquisition in the name of Christianity likely viewed that same cross as a symbol of great evil at work in the world. My point is, you can read the holy scriptures and keep the holy sacraments quite regularly and still be as far from the heart of Christ as any unchurched heathen. It’s all about where you place true allegiance.
Where fundamentalism attempts to oversimplify inherently complex truths by saying things like: "all of the Bible is literally true," "any American who doesn’t vote Republican can't be a Christian," "anyone who does not celebrate the LGBTQ+ platform is a bigot," and "all people who don't ardently support the Black Lives Matter movement as the only means of obtaining social justice for black people in America is a racist." All of these are untrue statements of good but misguided intentions that have caused far more harm than good. Fundamentalism is an inflexible and fragile worldview that causes you to disengage from real discussions or renders you shattered and embittered when confronted with things that cause cognitive dissonance. I have lived that story and it’s a hard road to come back from.
I am called to dwell comfortably in the land of nuanced opinions and viewpoints. I advocate for the importance of cultural preservation and expression under the supreme authority of G-d’s headship over the multi-ethnic family of His church. If you believe that I am off base and losing the foundation of my Christian faith, then please pray for me. But if it’s just that my style and interests aren’t for you, then it’s ok to just say that without making it an issue of my salvation. One thing I have learned about myself is that when the Lord plainly shows me a way in which my words or actions do not line up with His statutes, I will pivot in a heartbeat. That’s what life in Christ is all about...casting off all the things that separate you from the redeemed human He calls all of us to be and leaning on His word and His community (flawed though it may presently be) to mold you more closely to the image of Christ.