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It seems a double handful of friends in various places have decided they are no longer plain. When I ask why the answers range from “My husband/family didn’t like it” to “I was tired of telling people I’m not Amish.” The most honest answer was probably “It was a mistake, I wasn’t meant for this.” I won’t question people’s motives, but I can’t see it myself. Plain is so easy – so low-key – so cheap!
A long time ago I got tired of the mirror. I didn’t want to be the person checking her hair, checking her clothes, checking her make-up. I wasn’t fashion obsessed, but I had the idea that as an artist, my body was a canvas, and I would show the world who I was by what I displayed on it. But instead of having a number of “costumes” that went on easily, so as to get on with the day and serve as a billboard for my creative work, dress became a matter of insecurity.
I was projecting who I wanted to be, not who I was. I was manipulating how people saw me. They didn’t get to know me, they got to know my clothes.
While I am usually in habit now, out on the street, I still dress Plain at home and when I travel anywhere. Do people think I’m Amish? Maybe. Not a bad thing. I don’t do anything that would embarrass an Amish woman or mislead someone about the Amish. (This also reminds me to behave modestly in all things.) And if someone asks me if I am Amish, I say that I am not, and that I belong to a different church. If they are curious enough to ask more questions, it is an opportunity to witness to them, to spread the gospel. Either in habit or Plain dress, I am happy to pray for or with someone if they ask. This is apostolic witness; no Christian should be ashamed of it.
Stay Plain. Become Plain. It means you never fuss with clothes again. The habit is a medieval form of Plain; those in religious orders might consider taking it up if they put it off. Plain is comfortable. It is practical. It is inexpensive. You can have a smaller house because you don’t need extra closet space. It doesn’t go out of fashion. It is easy to sew. Covering means that you don’t worry about hairstyles, grey hair or thinning hair. Plain means you need one mirror in the house. You gain self-confidence. You know how people see you: As a Christian. It is a commitment to a way of life that liberates.
Plain means you stop thinking about yourself as some sort of ornament decorating the world, and become Real. Becoming Real means living in God’s Kingdom, now and always, rather than staying in the illusion that is the world and our insecurities.
I’ve had a number of young women approach me about the following passage from Paul’s Letter to Titus. Titus, a student of Paul, is a bishop appointed to Crete, tasked to appoint others as bishops and priests. He is also to teach the elders so appointed to be devout and trustworthy.
“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness. not false accusers, not given much to wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the words of God be not blasphemed.”
It is quite evident to me, that taken in context (the appointing of elders and overseers), Paul is instructing Titus to ordain both men and women. Those who do not see the passage the same way at least see that elder women were to take some governance of the young people, and especially to tutor and lead by example, so tha the young women would know how to live in a Christian manner.
I readily admit I am counted now amongst the elders, as a woman over 50 years of age. I have been ordained, and I hope that, mostly, I have kept to Paul’s instructions here.
Young wives and mothers come to me, asking if I will be their “Titus 2″ elder. All right. But this is the where it falls apart: they are happy to be instructed, some of them, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they want to do. As long as I cheer them on, and give advice which they could probably reason out for themselves, they are obedient acolytes. But about half of them who have asked for this favour have dropped out of the relationship when I have offered correction instead of accolades.
One young woman described to me how she was led to dress modestly, in skirts, and to wear a head covering. She considered it an act of obedience to scripture, an honour for her husband, and a demonstration of Christian modesty. I encouraged her in this; she was called to it. This lasted a few months, but under pressure from other family members, she abandoned her modesty, bought a pair of jeans (which, sad to say, were too form fitting and, in my opinion, unflattering to boot) and took off her cover, with the excuse that she could be just a good a Christian in jeans and styled hair. When I reproved her for it, reminding her that she had invoked a call from the Lord to be apart from the ways of the world, she replied with a statement like this: “You don’t really understand my faith journey.” Oh, so was she lying to me all those months? Was her sense of vocation to be a modest, head covering Christian woman all a pretense?
Perhaps it was. Perhaps she was looking for approval from others in that, and when the approval from the right sort of people didn’t come with it, she abandoned this notion and went back to worldliness. Maybe that is her excuse – she wasn’t really called, she had selfish reasons for adopting modesty. I can say to her, in that case, we all have selfish reasons. No one’s motivations to follow the Lord are entirely pure. We all put on an act at first, and it is probably necessary. Just as children pretend to be grown-ups in their play in order to learn their adult roles and duties, so new Christians need to “put on an act” even if their heart isn’t in it yet.
The best actors don’t just pretend when they take on a theatrical role; they become that character, and in the best of scripts, each character is an aspect of humanity and human relationships. At first, the actor has to pretend, has to mouth over the lines, and contemplate how to enter the character in order to project the deep reality in the stylized pretense of the play. Baby Christians have to do the same thing, with God’s help. They have to say no to the party, the illicit relationship, the old bad habits, the chatter and cynicism of the world, even when they would much rather hang out with their drinking buddies, have a fling, or lose themselves in the brittle public comedy of daily life. They have to look to a model of Christian behaviour in order to learn what “charity” really means in terms of sacrificing self gladly for the love of God and others.
God doesn’t call us to be just good Christians. He expects us to be the best Christians, or little Christs, that we can be. We grow in faith as we grow in practice of that faith. Part of that practice is modelling behaviour on a mentor; the study of hagiography and iconography is to discover models for Christian living.
The women leaders in Paul’s church were to be exemplars. They were chosen partly on how well they could model that Christian behaviour, which means they were not neophytes. They weren’t just out of their catechism – Christian instruction – but had been living in the way of faith for years. They may have been teaching the catechumens, or students, and were experienced in guiding those young in the faith. I am certain that they did not expect the new disciples of Christ to tell them how it was done.
there is a contractual nature to mentorship. The instructor undertakes to be honest with the student, faithful and devoted to the teaching. The disciple suspends his or her own prejudices and preferences, is willing to let go of preconceived and possibly erroneous attitudes, and is obedient to the way of the mentor. That is usually where the contract falls apart.
I would say that young women, for two generations and maybe three, have had a false self-confidence. I know I had it as a young woman. Promotion of ‘self-esteem’ in our culture gives people a false sense of achievement. We think we know more than we do, that we are smarter than we are, that we can trust our own inner voice to guide us. It is worse than the blind leading the blind – although that is certainly the case with youth culture – it is the blind refusing to have their sight restored, and preferring to wallow in the ditch than walk clear-eyed on the high road.
When someone says to me, “You don’t know my faith journey,” I can state, with a bit of humour, that I indeed know it, because all of us walk that same road. We may be on different stages of it. We each walk the road of faith alone, in a way, but we are never the first over that stretch of ground.
The requirements Paul sets forth as to be achieved by those who will call themselves experienced Christians are fairly straightforward: A serious frame of mind, reliability, faithfulness with other people, great love at heart, action rather than talk; a settled person who practices patience; someone who is satisfied with her or his place, who knows the obligation of obedience. These virtues take diligence. They come by prayer, meditation, and practice.
This is the exchange: True peace at heart rather than false self-esteem; humility rather than hubris; true companionship rather than shallow friendship. Self-esteem is casting but one vote for the best person in the world (me); hubris is faith in one’s self rather than God, a rather sad and desperate form of idolatry; shallow friendship is looking for fellowship that is no more than a mutual admiration and a support for vices.
The Lord chastises those He loves, and sometimes He allows that discipline from the hearts and mouths of people who truly act in our best interest, even if it hurts our feelings.
We had an interesting discussion on the witness of headcovering on facebook. A video was offered for critique; many were impressed with the articulate and honest answers of the women interviewed. But two issues surfaced: I thought that the presentation was amateurish (okay, it is youtube) and hurt the credibility of the statements made; another person wondered why none of the women interviewed had covered for more than three years. All seemed to be converts to a group or church that covered. That may have been the focus of the presentation, but it wasn’t clear.
And in looking for other videos or presentations that promote headcovering, I found quite a bit of material that would leave the reader puzzled or perhaps thinking it was for members of certain faith groups and not others. Those Christian churches that have practiced covering for generations – particularly the Anabaptists and a very few Conservative Quaker meetings that continued – have little to say about it. Where are the testimonies of people who have covered for years, who have mothers and grandmothers who covered? And what about the testimony of women who have covered for many years, without much fanfare?
I am inviting all women who cover or who are led to cover to comment, with the goal of compiling those comments and thoughts into some presentation that can be used for teaching about covering. I would like to see input from women who have just started covering, who have covered for a few years (myself included) and who have covered for many years. There are no wrong ideas or opinions in this, and we are not going to argue theology and discipline, just contribute personal experience and guidance. Don’t worry about spelling and grammar; I will straighten that out.
Questions to consider:
Why do you cover? When did you start? Do you belong to a group that covers? How have other people reacted, positively and negatively?
You may include your name and geographic location. If you don’t want to, that’s okay.
What would be the best format for this? A blog post? A webpage? A video (eventually – we do not have the technology right now)? Would you want to refer other people to it if it was presented well? (That depending on my skills and any help that might be volunteered.)
Is there anything else that could be presented that would be helpful?
I am continuing to compile information for any updated post on modest/Plain dressing resources, and welcome more contributions.
I’m sure a number of people wonder why it is that an educated woman like myself would choose to cover. Surely, after seven years of liberal theological education, I would not be so retrograde as to adopt a way of life and dress so – conservative. And conservative, to many moderns, of the worst kind, associated with lack of education, even ignorance. It’s a step backward, even a blow to progressive thought.
I’m not a progressive. I’m more likely post-post-modern. I reject the ephemera of culture.
Paul, in I Corinthians, scolds that church for their innovations in meeting. Perhaps they are trying to incorporate practices from pagan worship; perhaps they are being flamboyant in some way. (One writer, Thomas Cahill, speculates that that there might even be some cross-dressing. I can see his point; some of the Corinthians may have been attracted to a community where the outcasts were accepted. Paul needs to explain to them they have to give up their old ways, though.) Paul tells the men to uncover their heads in worship – could they have been imitating pious Pharisees and draping themselves dramatically in their tallit? Or worse, were some of them wearing women’s shawls to cover elaborately dressed hair? In Corinth, it was probably the latter. And some of the women were cutting their hair short like men, and refusing to cover, as modest women almost always did. Paul emphasizes that the covering is an honour given women (much as Moses veiled his face after meeting with YHWH), probably as a way to admit them into the assembly with the men. If they start throwing off their coverings, what next? Paul knows that men and women mixing in the ecclesia will scandalize the synagogue.
Both men and women are to be modest, plain in dress, and to reject cultural ostentation. They are to dedicate themselves to the way of the Lord, not some worldly way of living.
Christians today certainly struggle with that issue. Who can pick out a group of Christians in the mall, or at a theatre? Most Christians in our culture buy into that culture, literally. We look worldly, act worldly, dress worldly. There is little to say, “We’ve found a better way.” And although Christians invented the word “Charity” to mean inclusion, kindness and generosity to the poor, we are as caught up in the cycle of spending and debt as the rest of society. We have little to give, so millions around the globe are hungry, sick, and desperate.
This is the prophecy of headcovering: Paul had no clue that he was speaking to us. He thought he was trying to get the Corinthians back in line. But his strong words to them, to live as Christ lived – simply, modestly, generously – are words to us. And we need to demonstrate that Way and Paul’s prophecy to the rest of the world. They, including the churches, have lost direction. I hear preaching and see the printed word telling Christians that God will bless them with goods, with worldly prosperity – not with the persecutions and trials that Jesus warned about. Christianity is not a cargo cult.
I am not concerned about proving that God wants women to cover, or that He wants us to be modest and counter-cultural. The teaching of the Bible is that we are to do these things; the reasons haven’t gone away just because we are somehow better educated. Our witness is against the prince of this world and his evil. One of Satan’s lies is that everything has changed, that what was wrong before is right now, because we are moderate, intelligent, enlightened people. God save us from this falsehood, that the dimming of our reason is the same as enlightenment!
It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, old or young, highly educated or barely literate; the Lord has called us all to witness in every place. The world, drifted so far from His Way, needs the sharp surprise of the visual witness - the modest, Plain, simple Christian.
If we walk in His Light, we can see the error of the world. And should we not warn others that they are stumbling in the dark?
I’ve been Plain since 2006, along with my husband. He was naturally plain, I think; even as a child, when his mother, a very good seamstress, would make him fashionable shirts and clothes, he would only wear them to please her, preferring jeans and dark shirts. He was a natural for clergy garb – black pants, black shirt with the funny white plastic tab in the collar. (I absolutely despise those tabs.) He’ll wear the same shirts now, without the insert. Oddly, he always hated belts – the buckles were never plain enough for him, and he’s not shaped well for a belt, anyway. When I switched his trousers to braces buttons, he was well-pleased.
He hates suits. When he’s had to wear one, especially if it means a tie, he looks like a dressed-up bear. He rolls his arms forward and leans out of the tie. He no longer has either.
My journey to Plain is well-documented here; I don’t need to recapitulate. I’ve survived the hostility from friends and family, and in some cases, I’m still waiting for some people to come mend their side of the fence. Those that don’t like it can go on not liking it; I’m done defending myself because for Heaven’s sake, I have done nothing wrong in this.
Should others become Plain? Only if called. When the call is felt, it is inescapable. I was probably called from childhood. I loved Plain people, Quakers and Amish. I loved nuns in traditional habits. I thought our Baptist ministers in their suits and coloured ties were real peacocks compared to the Catholic and Anglican priests! (I’ve since met some really flamboyant dressers, and have toned down my opinions.)
We do need to think about Plain when we are called. It will be a long, hard meditation, with a lot of wavering. It isn’t vanity to take pains with Plain when we start. It took me a couple of years to refine what I needed to do. Some of it is pragmatic – the stiff caps instead of soft caps, the length of skirts, the choices of colours. (My husband is partially blind for the last year and more; I’ve switched to brighter colours so he can see me more easily.)
Dressing in the morning is now more than undies, jeans and a pullover. I have to consciously think of how the clothes go on, and remember why I am doing it. Long dresses, some of them cotton, require shifts and such underneath, and an apron (or some such) over for modesty. (I have a lot to be modest about,which I used to flaunt, or at least emphasize. I’m not ashamed of it, but it isn’t what I need to present first to the world.) Priests of the high church party used to have cards outlining the prayers they were to say as they put on their ecclesial garments, a practice derived late in the 19th century from the vesting prayers of the Orthodox Church, which are ancient. I have used both, although when alone my vesting prayers were along the lines of “Please, God, don’t let me say anything stupid out there, and keep me from tripping over my cassock again.”
In the church, I was plain at the altar. I wore cassock and surplice (a really long one that looked like a nightie; it subbed as an angel costume) and black stole, known as a tippet. This is also called a preaching stole. I very rarely wore coloured stoles, an alb or a chasuble – the round garment that signifies the prist who is celebrating the communion. Some priests wear their university hood with cassock and surplice and stole. I was taught to wear one or the other, hood or stole. I’ve lost my hood, and I doubt if I will replace it. It says to the people, I think, “I’m smarter than you.” There were times I would get called out of the vestry, not get back in, and start the service in just cassock. I sometimes said the service in street clothes. Everyone there knew who I was and what I did, why did I need special clothes?
Things I like about Plain: I don’t send mixed messages. I don’t look rich, or sexy, or trying to look younger than I am. People ask me questions in a friendly way. Sometimes I have amusing encounters with people who guess all the wrong things about me (except that I am rich, sexy or young.) I can make my own clothes and ear them for years without anyone wodnering why I’m out of style. My shoes are comfortable. I get to wear aprons.
It is an easy vocation, now that I’ve done it for quite a while. It is a blessing.
From the beginning of His time on earth, Jesus Christ rejected the power and privileges of this world. The Magi, expecting a king as foretold in the prophecies and by the splendour in the heavens, went to the palace to find Him. He wasn’t there. He was in a poor carpenter’s one-room house.
He never owned a house of His own. He didn’t settle down and raise a family. He was questioned by the authorities concerning all that He did, and He answered in authority, although He was penniless and homeless. He said it Himself: My kingdom is not of this world.
So whose world is this? Not meaning the Earth – for all of Creation is His – but the “world” of power and gain and privilege – which means private law. The world is the world of money and things bought and sold, of profit and anxiety. It is the world of wanting more, of grasping. It is the world of competition. It is Satan’s world for now.
We have to live in this world to some extent. Christ gave us the Commission to go forth, preach, prophesy and baptize. We are the good news, even if some want to shoot the messenger. We can’t live entirely out of the world, unless we are called to a kind of special ministry in that – but even the hermit monk is called to pray for those in the world.
We aren’t to fall in love with the world. We are not to accept its standards. We still live in the other Kingdom, even if we move through this present one.
This is a terrible tension in which to live. The world is beguiling. Pleasure is its promise, even though it doesn’t really deliver it. Holding that tension can destroy Christians if they wander too far from the Way of Christ.
I’m going to try to put this in words that aren’t too Christiany. The world is a harsh, terrible place. The marketplace is a a monster looking for victims. It is not a place for Christians, because we have to keep our hearts open, honest and loving. We can’t toughen up or we will miss the opportunities God sends us to help others.
This is not our kingdom, either.
I live in this tension every day. I can’t ever put off being who I am. I can’t imagine it anymore. Leave the house in jeans and my hair down, with no protection on my head? I would feel as if I were thrown into the Coliseum. I can’t go shopping all day in the mall, buying with a credit card. I would know I was out of place, and I don’t have a credit card and never will again. And what is it I need there? Ninety-eight percent of everything in the shops is trash. It is useless, it is wasteful. It will be replaced by something else in a few weeks. I can list the things I believe I will need in the next year, and none of it would be purchased in a mall. The mall, online shopping, catalogs and big box stores exist to sell worldly people things of this world.
Politicians, even though they may claim to have our interests at heart, are of this world. They owe favours to the people with money, and they have to pay them back or they won’t have campaign money next time around. Politics and government support people who want to make lots of money, who charge outrageous amounts to the taxpayer for roads, hospitals, transportation, communication and even the food we eat drugs we use. These people like luxury, like to have pots of money set aside. Money is how they keep score.
All right, I don’t get that. I have no use for huge, expensive houses or power boats or planes, or even for fine wine and food. I can’t tell the difference between the $15 VQA from Niagara and the $100 chateau-bottled vintage. I like sausage and kraut. I’m not tempted in that direction.
But if I were…as I was when I was young…I still hope I would know that it is not the life for Christians. I don’t have the right to more than my own fair share of the earth’s resources, no matter how much money I have. I don’t have the right to make a huge profit off the needs and wants of others. I have the right to a fair exchange of goods of value – so I’d better be able to do something useful. God has put me in the world for a reason, and it is to preach Christ, crucified – and risen.
So I do believe in being separated from the world, as much as I can with a good conscience. I show my separateness by the way I dress, in clothes that are not only modest but distinct. Plain is deliberately historic; it is deliberately unornamented. These tie us to Christians of the past, and make us recognizable as such in our culture. As global homogenization continues, we are noticably different. We choose a way of life that is in reference to the ways of our ancestors (always a prophetic cry to Israel in the scriptures – to return to the ways of the fathers) and is one of less impact on the environment. We buy much less; we provide for ourselves as much as we can.
As a Christian, it is not just a matter of looking different and acting different. (Teenages have been doing that for generations.) If we dress Plain and live simply just because we are fascinated by the Amish, the novelty will wear off and we will tire of the game. I practice Plain life because it is my calling, my discipline and my sacrifice to God.
It is my calling, my vocation. I am called to live out my faith in a particular way, and Plain is part of that. It is my discipline because it keeps me faithful and mindful of the way of Jesus Christ. It is my sacrifice to God because I have given up the things of the world that pleased me most. My prayerful goal is to strip off the layers of worldiness from my personality and my soul, to be outwardly what God has told me inwardly.
How is this life in the Kingdom of God lived? It’s the simple way of living, the deliberate modesty and covering. It is daily prayer and Bible study. It is refusing to do things that other people take for granted – recreational shopping, enhancing one’s appearance, going to casinos. It is also something deeper than that. I mentioned credit cards; I am opposed to borrowing money for high interest rates. This just impoverishes people and drives up the real cost of goods. We have to pay taxes and buy car insurance, but I won’t buy life insurance. We will accept charitable help when we must, because stubborn pride and starving to death can go hand in hand. We will be collecting the disability insurance Nicholas had through his Canadian pension; he paid into it for many years and there really isn’t anway to opt of it if one is working in Canada.
We will not sue other Christians – and I’ve never had an opportunity to bring a suit against anyone else. We are admonished in scripture to take our case before the bodyof Christ and not to the civil courts. The legal system is of this world; it sets people in adversity against each other. I could have sued the church when my employment was unjustly terminated, according to a lawyer we consulted. I chose not to, for more than one reason, but primarily because it is not Biblical. I could not see any possibility of reconciliation with the church if I brought a lawsuit. We are still not completely reconciled; I pray for it everyday. I have asked for forgiveness and reconciliation, and it is not resolved yet, after five years. But we are also admonished to be patient in our petitions.
We did not sue the hospital where Nicholas was so badly injured. There was a communications error and a mistake made, but it was not negligence or maliciousness that caused the accident. Suing the hospital would have helped us a lot financially, but it would have brought harm to our neigbours who support that hospital with their taxes. The hospital did a lot to make up for what happened; individual staff members were kind and generous, as were people of the community. They did what they could. I did not want to gain by injuring them.
Yes, people think we are crazy. They think we are religious fanatics. They think we must have guilty consciences and are trying to make up to God for it. But we are reconciled in Christ; we are forgiven and made whole. Nothing crazy about that!
Friends and I recently commented on the question, “Why the Plain witness?” Most of us can say not much more than it is our vocation, an individual call and answer. When the Lord calls, the only answer is “He nai ne,” – “Here am I,” in Hebrew. It is not an answer of confidence, an answer of “Send me, because I am ready to go,” but an answer given trembling in the dark, “Yes, Lord.” What else can one answer?
St. Paul told us to be ready, to be girded in the armour of God; the Lord Jesus tells us that we need to be watchful, to be ready, to be sober, for the master will come quickly and without warning, and we need to go to his side with our lamps lit.
And that may be the Plain witness, to have our lamps lit. We cannot be hidden under a bushel, the world’s measure. We cannot be a city deep in a valley, no beacon or hope to the lost and terrified traveler. We are to be a city on a hill. We are the visible witness – not only to our own faith, but to the life of the world to come.
That is the prophetic witness. We have been called out of the world because the world is not His. The world has gone its own way. What is that world? It is the world of buying and selling, the world of entertainment and idle talk. It is the world of being concerning with one’s own pleasure. It is a world where people are used rather than honoured, where each is after his own and never mind what anyone else needs. That’s the world in which we have to live, but we don’t have to bow down to it. We don’t have to surrender and be assimilated.
Plain is a witness against the exploitation of innocents. Plain is a witness against the carelessness of modern living. Plain is a witness against industrialism and commodification. Plain is a witness against cold-hearted government and fiscal irresponsibility. Plain is a witness against the the world, the flesh and the devil – against greed, selfish pleasure and evil.
That is the prophetic witness of Plain.
There are false prophets - I can think of cults that use modest and plain-type dress to control their followers, but these are not people following Christ; they profess their own way and make themselves gods. They have usurped the style of Christians in order to hide themselves – wolves in sheep’s clothing. But by their works you will know them – secrecy, criminality, exploitation. We are warned that there will be many false prophets and christs as the world careers into self-destruction.
Those who practice modesty of heart are dedicatd to the scripture and to service to the least of God’s children, who are humble and meek and gentle in spirit – these are the true children of God and who walk in the Light. Their prophetic witness is growing.
“Let your light shine before men.”
If are you looking right now to buy some Plain dresses or men`s clothes, I thought I`d let you know that one of my favourite eBay sellers has quite a good stock at reasonable prices. Go to eBay and look up `grannyljt3uca`. She has Plain dresses, capes and aprons, kapps and a couple of bonnets as well as shawls in stock. She also has some men`s suits and trousers, which can be hard to find pre-owned and inexpensive! I noticed that she has a good variety of sizes, and she sells complete outfits of dress, cape and apron, and kapp. I have bought kapps and cape and apron from her (as seen above, although the kapp isn`t visible.) Her prices range from just a few dollars for single items up to $30-$45 for suits and outfits. Some of this you couldn`t sew yourself for that price. (PS: She doesn`t know I`m posting this, so there`s nothing in it for me except to help my friends.)
It looks like we are seeing the leading edge of a Plain revival. The twentieth century left many people stranded spiritually; we moved from an all-encompassing Modern philosophy to a Post-Modern zeitgeist. The Moderns are still in control of most institutions, but those of us outside the mainstream of those same institutions are, from a Post-Modern perspective, looking to the past and lost tradition for a way to follow into the very uncertain future.
What is Modern and Post-Modern? In my context, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, a move in academia, society and politics to a philosophy of Progress and optimism based on human achievement, is the beginning of the Modern era. (Most academics would agree, I think.) Post-Modern (don`t be afraid of this term) is based on experience and philosophy of the twentieth century, when the senseless destruction and chaos of the world wars and other conflicts brought into question the legitimacy of Progress. Its seeds were sown in the Enlightenment itself and in the social protests of the nineteenth century. Widespread genocide and ecological destruction reinforced this philosophy amongst academics and influential thinkers. Post-Modernism asks:
How can we believe what we were taught when those beliefs brought so much destruction -
How can chaos and violent anarchy be Progress -
This is the meta-question that has led many of us to find another way. We want a way that follows the teachings of Christ without the excesses of culture that we now reject, such as materialism and consumerism. The cultural churches – the mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican institutions – seem to be still enmeshed in the dominant, destructive culture. So in the late twentieth century, other ways of faithful living have been explored, rejuvenated and reworked, such as the New Monasticism and the Plain movement.
I can`t speak to the New Monasticism; while we live in an informal community, it is not ordered in any way except that we are all Anglicans and the centre of our week is Sunday attendance and participation at worship. Nicholas and I are very Plain but have accommodated ourselves to the way of living here in the rectory. We have electricity, a vehicle, an internet connection and television. The house is old and not particularly up to date. But we are unable to garden since that would mean the removal of old trees much valued by the neighbourhood, and recycling is not as efficient as I could wish it. I make my own clothes, do some canning and we interact with other Plain people when we have the opportunity. We are trying to maintain our Plain philosophy in a more worldly church community. I don`t see that we have any influence on them at all.
It is what it is; this is a transition stage for us, and with some matters becoming realized, we should be able to move on to a more suitable place for small scale farming and a self-sufficient life.
I think this is where many of us Plainers are headed. While not Anabaptist in profession, we are looking for suitable places to adopt some of the best of Anabaptist and traditional Quaker ways. (I will acknowledge that not all Plain followers are necessarily traditionally Christian; we need to make room for Quakers and others who are more liberal in their theologies.) I hope that as a movement we do not fall into the sectarian errors we have seen in the past. (Formal shunning and the ban, for instance, are inappropriate. We can avoid close association with those whose influence on us is deleterious, but we cannot withdraw from our witness.)
The great irony, of course, is that one of the tools we use to be a Plain community is the internet. Most of us express some concern and even dismay that this is the best we can do, but I doubt if we can give it up without losing community. I would prefer a more traditional form of communication myself. Scott Savage tried this with Plain magazine, but the funding fell short and he could never exceed a certain circulation number due to the printing technologies he used. (I have still not written to Scott as I had planned. He`s been through some rough stuff in the last few years, and I don`t want my concern and curiosity to sound as if I am criticizing him for choices he made.) I envision something more like the Amish Budget, a newsletter with many columns written from many locations, giving the local news and views. But publications are supported by advertising, and no one wants to advertise in a publication for people who reject consumerism; we are not a very good market.
I`m not at all sure we can define ourselves yet. We are Plain, but we have so many expressions of that. We don`t have an ordnung and won`t, since we don`t fall under but one authority as a group, and that is Christ. We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, day by day, question by question, leading by leading. We are drawing on the Anabaptists who have been the living encyclopedia for Plain life, and the traditions of Quakers, monastics and other groups who chose to be isolated from the Modern world. I would prefer that we do not quarrel amongst ourselves – I had enough of that sojourning with the Orthodox and their many cries of `You are not canonical!` (If you have been part of an Orthodox community you know what I mean. The Paedalion is both beacon and cudgel.) This is a weakness in the Anglican church, which will ignore the dissenters until they get tired of the yelping and throw the pups out. (Puritans, Quakers, Methodists and now the Biblical Conservatives, whatever they are going to call themselves.) The Quaker meetings are, in their erudite and polite way, at odds internally all too often.
Let`s keep it simple and courteous. Let`s speak Plain English (not Plain speech, except amongst ourselves) and give the St. Francis sermon – preach with our lives, using words only when necessary.
Here I am in a dress that is neither solid colour nor dark! I ventured into some colour and pattern this summer, in order to get lighter fabrics at the sale prices. Nicholas has picked some of the colours, and they are brighter than I am used to wearing, but they appeal to him with his diminished visual acuity.