Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
No, it's not the setup for a bad joke, it's a real question. Sometimes the line between a habit and a spiritual discipline is blurry, and over the past couple of years, I've either stumbled or been led into either a discipline or a habit of keeping my head covered almost all the time. Mostly with a baseball cap (or a widebrimmed cloth or straw hat when I'm working outside in the summer--which I do a lot of, as a vegetable farmer), sometimes a bandana, occasionally a kippah (yarmulke) my Jewish wife bought me when we were in Israel together a year ago. This started when I was in college. I was growing my hair out (for the second time, having had long hair throughout my teens), and a hat was the easiest way to keep it out of my face until it got long enough to tuck behind my ears again. Plus, I was working in my college's food-service—every time I showed up to work, I had to have my hair contained, and the "culture" of my workplace encouraged hats rather than hairnets. I would work a two hour shift in the morning, and then end up wearing my hat for the rest of the day because I didn't think to take it off. After a few months, it got to where if I left my dorm room without a hat, I felt naked.
It was a small step for me from "I just don't feel right if I'm bareheaded" to "Covering my head is a spiritual practice," but as soon as I began to think of it that way, I realized I did not know how to practice it faithfully. At first I wanted to make it a way of connecting to the historical Testimony of plain dress (though I wasn't interested in going out and buying broad-brimmed black felt hats--I wanted to practice it with the hats I already wore and found practical), but I realized I didn't know how to wear a hat in a "historically Quaker" way--on a basic "dos and don'ts" level. I knew I wasn't supposed to take off my hat to the king, or to a judge... but what about in meeting for worship? Or when I entered a church as a guest? Or when my wife's grandmother asked me to take off my hat when she took us out to dinner? My fuzzy memory from the Quaker books of my childhood ("Thee, Hannah," "Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin," and all the Obadiah Starbuck picture books) is that 18th Century Quaker men wore their hats to dinner, and wore them to meeting, but took them off when they rose to give ministry... it seemed too complicated to learn from scratch, without a hat-wearing culture or community around me to reinforce the practice.
So I have ended up practicing my accidental discipline of head-covering in a way that is more Jewish than (traditionally) Quaker. I do it because the Jewish tradition is simple and easy to learn: Jewish men are supposed to keep their heads covered (with something) more or less from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. This is based on an understanding that covering the head shows respect for God. Another explanation is that it humbles us by providing a constant reminder that there is something above us. Both of these are reminiscent of feelings I have heard expressed by women who choose to cover. While the idea that covering the head shows respect goes against the historical basis of the testimony against hat-honor (as I understand it, early Friends accepted that doffing the hat was a sign of respect, but felt it was due only to God), I find it compelling--and appealing in the simplicity of its application: God is everywhere, so I honor God at all times by keeping my hat on (instead of having to decide when I am "in the presence of God" and should take my hat off).
I also find the Jewish perspective a refreshing break from what has always seemed to me an illogical double standard, that women honor God by covering their heads, while men honor God by uncovering them. (Although Judaism has its own double standard--lots of them, in fact.)
However, the fact remains that I am not a Jew, I am a Quaker, and 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. I suppose I am specifically looking for other Quaker men who wear hats (either habitually or occasionally) and find it spiritually meaningful, to share their thoughts and practices (when do you keep it on? When do you take it off? When do you think about it? When doesn't it matter?). I'd also like to hear from women who cover--how does my struggle to find meaning and purpose in this practice reflect or contrast with your experience? And what about the "double standard," Friends? Does plain dress mean something entirely different for men than for women? How possible is it to have a shared conversation across those gender lines?
Okay, those are some pretty big questions--probably a bit grandiose for my first post since joining this group. Sorry, my mind is drawn to the big picutre. I'd be content with an answer to the question in the title, though. Or any other responses this brings to mind. Thanks, Friends.
Your post and another post in a different thread seem to have had the same issues. Trying to reason with something that is beyond human understanding. I cover my head because this is what the Lord wants me to do. There is no psychology or biology involved as these sciences were created by humans. Even the scriptures are written by people who were trying to understand the Lord and, while they are a useful tool, the bottom line is that following the Lord goes beyond human reasoning.
Take off your hat when you feel it is right. Caroline
welcome to the difficult world of quaker hats, jeff.
i wear a felt broadbrim in the winter, and an amish-made straw broadbrim in the hot weather. when i worked as a cowhand, i also attached brass grommets to the straw hats so i could run a leather thong through them to hang them down my back when i chased cows or spread manure.
fishing your hat out of a cowpie or the manure spreader is good incentive to modify it somewhat for better retention on your head.
but with respect to retaining it on my head for social reasons, i don't sweat the confusion. i wear my hat most all the time, except when i pray. it's been pointed out that doing it that way was customary during some periods of quaker history. i wasn't around then, so i do it today as a way to distinguish between the forms of respect i show to god, and the forms of respect i show to people. i suppose the reason is the same now as it was then.
the key for me is this: if a human being asks me to take my hat off to eat dinner with them because they were raised that way and hats make them uncomfortable at the table, i'll generally take the hat off when i eat dinner with them. if they don't care, i'll leave it on. it's just a hat, after all.
however: if the human being wants me to take off my hat because it's a sign of deference for them or their position in society, then i keep it on my head, and they can deal with it. i won't use my hat as an acknowledgement of somebody's elevated position in human society-- i'll speak politely and treat them courteously, but i reserve taking off my hat as a sign of respect for god. it's an easy distinction, and the reasons for doing it today are exactly the same as they were 350 years ago. under god, we're all equal, all alike. all of us deserve identical respect and courtesy, but none of us deserve more than someone else because of some human status thing.
this means that i get into trouble in courtrooms, and so i try to avoid them. but in a courtroom i'm already in trouble before they notice the hat, because i won't stand up when a judge enters the courtroom either. in other social settings, i'm perfectly happy to take my hat off, so long as it won't be interpreted as an indication of the sort of social stratigraphy that weird clothing customs like that come out of.
for me the issue is why people want my hat off my head. is it for a driver's license picture? sure, i'll take it off. as part of the employee dress code for a hardware store i choose to work at? sure. when i sit in the back row of a baptist worship service? no. when i stand in front of a judge? not then either.
when you make these types of concessions for god, you will be presented with dilemmas that you didn't have to deal with before. if you're faithful to them, your measure will increase, and you will be presented with more difficult choices to make. as time goes on, you will understand more of when they are important and when they might not be. and your spiritual growth will continue.
it's just one of those things you have to do, you know. keep it as light as you can, and laugh at the absurdity with people. but the hat is a line that i won't let people cross. until that point, i don't take it too seriously.
In Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism, he talks about the Quaker men only removing their hats to minister and to pray. (P. 143 in my copy.) One observation I can offer of current Quaker habit of the plain Friends in Ohio is that the men remove their hat even when someone else prays in meeting, but not when someone else offers ministry. There is sometimes a pause and then a small flurry of activity when they realize that someone is praying during worship rather than delivering ministry.
I take my hat off when I pray, or in corporate prayer (as in a meeting.) Other than that, I can't say that I feel moved one way or the other. I don't find, for instance, any value in keeping my hat on in a courtroom when I would usually take it off in a schoolroom. Neither of these carries any weight for me. I guess I tend to take my hat off indoors because I see it as outdoors wear, just as I would take off a jacket or fold up an umbrella. Since social customs have changed so much ( no one tips their hat to a lady any more, or to someone of a higher social status), some of the old Quaker testimony regarding hat honor just no longer applies IMO.
That being said, anyone who genuinely feels called by some leading of the Spirit to wear or not wear their hat under certain circumstances would receive no criticism from me. I would only suggest that perhaps this would be a good use of a clearness committee. The first Quakers learned these things together as a community, and it behooves us to make us of the community to help move on into the world as we know it.
my own experience regarding the possibly outdated nature of the earlier friends's testimonies regarding clothing indicates to me that the original reasons often still apply, in spite of the intervening centuries.
for instance, it is still very much expected in american courtrooms to take one's hat off as a sign of social deference to a judge. if you try to keep it on, you may be ejected from the court by the bailiff or the the judge may threaten you with a citation for contempt. this is identical to the situation for which friends were legally punished in the 17th century. many social customs have changed, but this is not one of them.
should a friend choose to remove his hat in the presence of another because he feels the testimony is not important to him, then he should do as he is led. but i believe that it is important to point out that doing so reflects a change in friends's values, not a change in the reasons for the original testimony.
a simple test of the matter is to ask a few judges what their response would be should they encounter a citizen in their courtroom who refused to remove his hat (or to remain seated when the bailiff orders "everybody rise . . ." as the judge steps into the room.) some judges swing one way, others swing another.
crossing the wrong one the wrong way can be costly.
I have worn a plain hat for most of my adult life. It identifies me with other plain Christians. I never use it as an instrument of belligerence or insubordination; if other men remove (or should remove) their headgear, I remove mine.
I never wear my hat in prayer. Since meeting for worship is in its entirety an act of prayer for me, I never wear my hat in meeting.
Incidentally, I have saved myself from many cracks on the head (on the farm) by wearing my hat; it often gives a second or two warning when I will be at risk.
I have been a plain-dressed Christian for most of my adult life, and I speak from this experience.
Men wearing their hats in worship, except during times of prayer, did not originate with the Friends. It was a Puritan custom!
As I stated earlier, the entire meeting for worship is for me an occasion for prayer, so wearing a hat would be quite out of order.
I do not think wearing one's hat should be a gesture of belligerence. Be respectful of others!
Why do I wear the hat?
For me, wearing my hat is a very individual purpose. The larger corporate part of all "Friends" wearing a hat seems to have disappeared for the most part, with the passing of time. I guess my answer may be of value to you, because I still wear my hat every day. Even though, I am sure my answer is only for me; maybe my story and experience can perhaps speak to you.
I started wearing a hat about 24 years ago, Before I became a convinced Friend. I started wearing it in about 1994 but certainly not every day, nor for any resemblance of a faith reason. In 1998, when I lost my first wife; I was bewildered and overwhelmed. As I unexpectedly struggled to finish raising children by myself, There was very little joy in my life.
But as an active outdoorsman with my own company manufacturing and marketing to outdoor people. I often wore my hat to trade-shows. My (now deceased) sister saw me at one of these shows, wearing a giant smile and my hat. She circled the picture and mailed it to me, with the words. "I want to see more of you like this." Of course My sister Detra meant my rare smile. But the concept of the hat representing new hope and faith in my life was born in me. I began to wear it more and more, with the idea of it meaning new hope and faith to me.
In 2000, I took off from Florida, with my two children to Pastor a Quaker Church in Tennessee. When I showed up in the hat; They thought, that I thought that I had to wear the hat, to be a Quaker Minister. It was funny to them and also to me. But they liked it and everyone in that little town, came to know me by that hat, that I was the Quaker minister.
I dedicated babies in it. I took seniors milk and groceries, when they were shut in. I took them Bread when it was snowing. And I reheated messages in homes of people who could not get to meeting, year-round, in the hat. If your garden needed digging or your yard needed mowing, I did it. Yep, you guessed it; in my hat. Rain or Shine, I wore the hat.
As I worked through the rigorous process with the Yearly Meeting of becoming a Recorded Friends Minister, I did everything in that hat. It became a symbol of every good thing in my life. I visited folks in the hospital in it and buried many wonderful Godly "Friends" wearing it. It became a mark of the Light that guided me. A Friend's minister really meant, being their servant for me; as I think we are all called to be.
My duty then was clear; I was to teach people how to be a Friend to God and to each other. Pretty simple and clearly a good, true "Friends" mission. And yes, the hat came to mean that to me.
I left the ministry at the end of 2003 with the promise of big money & I charged like a rhinoceros into a big muckety, muck Executive position as a National Sales Manager. At the same time, I tried to resolve the unhealed hurt from losing my wife, by burying myself in a liquor bottle. The position was short lived but the foolish alcoholism was not. This time was a terrible time of failure and heartache. And yes, You guessed it. I took the hat off during this time.
After a pit of despondency, of which I deeply regret now; I sought help for my alcoholic abuse in 2010 & 2011. As I recovered, you guessed it. I put the hat back on, remembering that it had once meant new hope, new life and all the good things that God could do in my life. It became a renewed part of a stronger, daily personal commitment to live the right way and do the right things.
I have worn it every day ever since. I never go in public without it. Getting my driver's license with it was a challenge at first. As I explained it was faith based and could not take it off for a public picture. A wonderful black gentleman asked if he could take over and helped me fill out the necessary paperwork. As a tear brimmed his eye, he explained that he wanted to help me; because his relatives had been rescued by Quakers through the underground railroad. What a wonderful experience this was.
That has been 7 years ago and I don't talk about it, unless sincerely asked. But when people do, I am glad to tell them that "the hat represents the light that guides me" and that it can also guide them. Many wonderful sharing experiences have resulted. It often provides moments for me to connect with people about matters of the heart. Simple, clear and plainspoken, I am often able to share faith, because of it. (Funny thing, a friend that I had not explained the hat practice to, volunteered in conversation that he could see I wore it; because of "the Light that guides me." From this friend's meaningful observation, I get this expression and use it now ).
Publicly, I always wear it. If it is a real conviction, (and it is); then it must be a regular practice. It is my legal identity. It has become who I am. I will be buried with it. My wife hates it. But she loves me and understands it (I think).
Do I take it off? Yes. For my wife at the dinner table & whenever I speak (asking for guidance). There are other times also. But like with every part of my life anymore, I ask for guidance.
In worship services, I wear my hat in the building and generally take it off when I am seated. I only do this, because it is so misunderstood and I do not want attention on me, to detract from people's worship focus. I always take it off to stand and speak publicly in meeting or elsewhere.
In the beginning, Quakers wore the hat to indicate that they had a direct line of guidance. And that no man or woman was above nor beneath, another. That all men had equal access to God's truth. And no church official or pontificated, public leader deserved any more respect, than any other man or woman. We are neither above nor beneath others. We are all valuable and worthwhile. None is any more worthwhile. None less worthwhile. Equal value and access to God. And equal treatment for and from all others as a principle. That was a bedrock belief of Quakerism. We could be clear individually about God. And we could, under His guidance be clear and peaceful with each other. The hat still means this to me.
I agree with another Friend's clear synopsis. "So in short its just a reminder that God is with me always."
Why do I wear the hat? In some ways the observance is very public. And some ways, it is very private. But it is always reflective of a deep, personal, heartfelt conviction.