Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The last couple of days I’ve been squarely in the middle of an lengthy academic debate. Each argument is full of so many arcane terms that making it through it is painful. Truthfully, it gives me a headache. Recognizing that, I understand why Quakers placed such an emphasis on speaking plainly and with Truth. Specious arguments sound good, but they collapse after enough careful analysis.
Matthew’s Gospel addresses the lack of humility and mistaken priorities common to the time, and perhaps ours?
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
I may have always been a Quaker writer in the way I phrased my thoughts. My father impressed upon me the economy of words and a compelling desire to get immediately to the point. I wish I could show others that their conversation is predicated upon mistaken motives and ego-driven intentions. Identifying the futility of what to them is the most impressive-sounding, footnoted, fourteen-page polemic ever constructed is only wasted time.
As Friends, we can rely upon an economy of language, one that is easily comprehensible to others, but not dull. The books, essays, and memoirs I enjoy reading these days never forget to broaden their audience while preserving the power of the written word. Academic discourse continues onward in its own self-limited universe. I’ve stopped trying to engage certain speakers, because I have learned that they cannot and will not understand. I seek to convey ideas for all, but they do not and likely will not.
What follows next in the Gospel of Matthew is the first telling of the Lord’s Prayer, a perfect encapsulation of Christian faith in which every single word packs a punch. Though it could have been written by a Quaker, I know it influenced several for similar reasons. Where do we use economy of words in our own lives?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come, your will be done,on earth, as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.
I am very much feeling like I am struggling against the tide at the moment. I am feeling led to plain dress and have been for about 6 months or more, but have great difficulties explaining it to family and friends.
I hope we all know there’s no standard for plain dress among 21st century Friends. We are, to a great extent, on our own. We can’t tell each other what to do, but we can learn from each other. So, in the absence of clear direction, I want to talk about some guidelines that have been helpful for me.
I would like to find a way of understanding and practicing this "accidental discipline" that is somehow specifically Quaker. It need not be in keeping with historical Friends' practice; I would just like it to connect in my own heart and mind more clearly with my Quaker beliefs and values.
My daughter has been changing drastically over the last year. She was a beautiful college student with a 4.0, journalism awards, passionate about the world’s injustices (an over-achiever). Within the last 4 months she’s lost 60 lbs.- is a skeleton, using narcotics, stripping, dropped out of school, quit her job, and is furiously angry at everyone, especially God. I knew something was horribly wrong, and the more I tried to help her, the more she pulled away.
As her world crumbled I found myself also more angry at the world than I had ever been. We’d already suffered through cocaine addiction with her brother and to watch her in the thralls of the evils of this world was too much to bare. I’d been searching for a church, a faith, that felt real and true - I desperately, passionately loved God and wanted to worship Him with reverence and awe. He’s held me up through every heartbreak and struggle of my life and helped me to grow from each experience, teaching me personally along the way.
I was also being led to plainer dress (after dressing modestly and now wearing a headcovering). The more I learned about the Friends beliefs the more I felt like I’d found a ‘home’. When a particularly bad event would happen I found myself turning to Quaker reading - advices and queries, or testimonies, and found such comfort. I would go on websites that sold plain clothing and headcoverings and even just the images would make me feel better - like there was goodness, peace, and simplicity there. I’d been wearing veils I’d made, but felt like maybe I should change to a kapp, and finally ordered a beautiful one.
Three days ago my daughter finally told me that she’d been molested by a family member when she was very young. It explained so much. My world was shattered. I had been molested by my uncle when I was around 10, and knowing that she’d experienced the one thing I had always feared most for my children, and that it would haunt her the rest of her life, I found myself tormented all over again.
Yesterday my kapp arrived in the mail. The day had been filled with crying and sickness and heartache, inability to literally breathe at times. Finally at the end of the night I opened up the package. The white material was much softer than I had envisioned, light and almost silky feeling…the detailed stitching and pleats, ruffles and ties… it was a thing of simplicity and beauty. And suddenly I felt peace wash over me, and I felt God’s immense mercy and love, and grace, upon my head. I knew He was holding me tight, and also my little girl, wherever she was, out there in the world.
So I am being led to plain dress, to this peculiar way of being and life, for many reasons, but now I have felt it’s effects personally and powerfully. I can’t explain it, but of the many things it means to me, it is also a source of security and safety and great comfort.
A few years ago, my sister gave me a bright red coat for Christmas. I love it and I frequently get compliments when I wear it. At the time, I was feeling led to stop trying to be invisible and to let my light shine. Wearing my red coat is one of the ways I remind myself to do that.
I know that it might be easy for critics to point out that in chosing religious dress I am merely repeating my own past. It may be so....but now I am doing so consciously. I don't sneer at people for taking my dress as the reality anymore.
If you take a moment to tell us about your personal philosophy, submit a picture and tell us where you’re from, we’ll compile it into a page called “Modern Quakers and Clothing”, and… viola! We’re in a real conversation.
So now I understand why I have been feeling obligated to have a ready explanation for my appearance - because it is unheard of in my world to do something like this because you are following your heart, let alone following the leading of Jesus, unless you can then "explain" it - in terms of theology, or the rules of your denomination, or whatever.
I was struck by the commonality of the experience of trying to change, as adults, the image we project to the public (and maybe to ourselves!). It challenges me to think about the concept of "self-image", what is that, and why does it seem to stand in the way of what we feel we are led to do?
I have vacillated my entire life between my call to gospel ministry and gay pop culture. And then, this weekend, I was hit by the holy spirit in meeting... I need the hedge. There are places that I can't and won't go if I am plain. There are activities that I can't and won't do if I am plain. And there are people in my world who can't and won't accept me because I am plain. Friends, that is a good thing.
I dress "modern Plain" still but I like music like some Lady GaGa and such. I'm a big fan of action movies from the 80s until now, and really enjoy watching tv.When I was a fundie you had a person telling you what was worldly and what wasn't. I am kind of lost with what is "worldly". Is it on a personal level different for everyone?