Looking at Quakers today…

I was feeling a bit lonely and isolated here in the city. We had our first snowfall, and it was a wet, heavy snow that took out quite a lot of the forest canopy of the Forest City. While Nicholas and I walked over to the seminary, we saw many broken, forlorn trees, mostly maple, shorn of their upper branches, and we thought, “Look at all the free firewood!” We do not have a woodstove, a chain saw, or a truck in running order, but that’s just what we thought simultaneously. Thee can take die stille out of der lande, but we still know good hardwood when we see it lying in huge chunks on the sidewalk. We may be the only country people in the city, because no one is taking advantage of an obvious gift from God.

We are the only Plain people I know here. I never see a prayer cap except on the rare Sixth Days we might get to a farmers’ market. So I did what thee may do when lonely and far from home: I looked at “family” photos. The Conservative Quakers have a lovely website that focuses on their get-togethers, and they have many photos of the beautiful meeting houses, museums, and events. Go through the “Quaker Jane” website for an easy link.

It was so heartening to see other Plain people dressed in a variety of ways, but obviously Quaker Plain! Prayer caps, aprons, long dresses, bonnets, men in braces and straw hats. I admit, I long for a Plain community at hand, rather than at a distance.

We wait upon the Light of Christ to shine upon the path we will take.

Mirrors: the Proof of Vanity

I don’t like mirrors. Before anyone who knows what I look like jumps in with “But you’re so pretty! You should be friends with the mirror!” Let’s just say this is not about my beauty, or lack thereof, or my perception of that state of aesthetics. My mother said things like “Beauty is as beauty does.” And she was probably right. Thee cannot be beautiful outwardly with an inner ugliness of spirit and heart. Thee may paint a pretty face, but eventually the mask will fall.

Babies like mirrors. Small children are fascinated by their own image, and the image of Mommy and Daddy, and the image of the room backward, and the room upside down, and the dog, and the trees outside…It’s a childish thing to like mirrors. It is, in a way, an innocent fascination with the way things are, and how they can be changed by perception. Of course, budgies are fascinated with mirrors, too, sometimes loving the bird on the other side of the window, and sometimes hating it. Budgies aren’t very smart.

I used to have that ambivalent relationship with the mirror many women have. I couldn’t avoid the thing. I didn’t want to look, but look I did, every opportunity, always checking to see if the mask had slipped, if I was out of uniform in some way, if the “me” I wanted the world to see was still there. I made excuses about the mirrors – that appearances are important – for other people – that I didn’t want to look ridiculous with hair, lipstick, dress out of order. But the truth was that I both doted on and loathed the blue eyes and full mouth, the strong chin and straight brown hair. It was a pure case of vanity. Not megalomania, a worship of the idol in the glass, but that peculiar state of sin that adores the image while still despising its imperfections. It is refusal to accept what God has made, and holding up Divine Creation to the standards of Sin. And the harder I tried to control it, the more it demanded.

I would clear out the closet, and hide the flattering clothes elsewhere. I would throw out the make-up and hair ornaments. I would purposely dress myself in black, severe clothes and flat shoes. This did not work. My heart was still vain, and I was just trying to lie to myself and God about it. In very little time, I would be buying foolish clothes, foolish face paint, foolish shoes and hair decorations. I had boxes of jewelry, “tasteful” certainly, but still ornaments to improve on God’s hand.

And I never got rid of the mirrors. Mirrors are important. They tell us who we are, don’t they?

Of course not. Mirrors tell us what mask we put on, what face we give to the world today, what lie we are telling.

Plain was a major heart-change for me. I prayed over it. I was moved to change my life drastically, including how I appeared to the world. I knew that I was being called to a different place in my spirit, a place of calm, peace and resting in God. It was a call to an inner monasticism, even if my body had to move in the World to serve the Light of Christ. I wanted a way to take that monasticism with me, an expression of the sanctuary.

First, I got rid of the worldly clothes, and kept very plain dark things. I needed practical clothes that held up under hard work and an active life, that didn’t require strange cleaning methods or frequent renewals of buttons and frills. I needed clothes that when I got up in the morning, I could put on anything in the closet and it would all match.

I was strongly convicted to cover my head. At first I resisted, and resorted to scarves and bandannas, but the traditional prayer cap and bonnet became so obvious to me that within a few weeks I had made some. Rarely have I gone without them since, in over two, almost three years. It is the security of the monastery over my head, the protection of the headship of Christ.

We have one mirror now, the one in the bathroom over the sink. The others are gone, the big wall ones, the little pocket ones. If I am not perfect in my Plainness, it doesn’t matter. God will forgive me.

On Swearing Oaths

We moderns are quite ready and willing to swear oaths, either on entering service in the military or government, or in the court of Law. We swear to uphold the laws of the nation, or protect the common good, or tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Quakers refused to swear oaths. It was something of a hallmark of a Friend, this refusal to put one hand on the Bible, raise the other, and make an oath of loyalty or truthfulness.

I was interested many years ago, in my early teens, I believe, by a story I read of a Quaker woman who was called into court, and astounded the judge by refusing to swear on the Bible. I have no idea now who the author was, or the theme of the story itself, but the narrator’s mother was the woman on the stand, and it was probably my first encounter with Quaker ways, beyond the incidentals of New England living, where there were still active Quaker meetings. I loved the idea of being so outspoken for one’s beliefs, of standing up for the Truth in such a way that one is offended at being asked to make an oath.

For the Quakers follow the Epistle of St. James, Chapter 5, verse 12: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear by heaven or by the earth or use any oaths at all. If thee means ‘yes’ thee must say ‘yes;’ if thee means ‘no,’ say ‘no.’ Otherwise thee makes thyself liable to judgment.” In other words, be honest in all thy words and deeds, and the oath will be unnecessary. One cannot hide behind the oath and colour the intent of one’s words! And why should Christians fear the hand of the law, and assure the court that we mean what we say, and we say what we mean? Be Plain in speech, not just in the formal sense, but in thy meaning itself! Speak clearly and without pretension or vanity, and in the Spirit of Truth.

I am uncomfortable with taking an oath of loyalty, as if I might be tempted to back out if the going got tough. “I will” should be enough, and it unnecessary to say “I vow.” I have taken such oaths, when it was made a contigency of continuing my vocation, but now I think not. If I stand in the presence of God, would I not be terrified to do other than speak truthfully of my intent? But God save me from temptation! for this is not to be said in vanity, but in Truth.

Shalom, shalom, but there is no Shalom…

Today is supposed to be a Quaker protest day for peace according to someone’s blog. I will go along with that. Every day should be a protest day for peace.

“Shalom” is a Hebrew word that means more than “peace” in the English sense. It means completion, wholeness, health, balance. So when the prophet complains that the leaders keep saying, “Enjoy the peace,” they are still not practicing shalom because there is no wholeness, no health for all members of society.

That is certainly true today, this day. We have no peace, no shalom. We have broken our only planet badly and we are dithering around, blaming others, pretending it ain’t so, making excuses, shrugging it off. We have made war on the earth itself and war across the earth. We are fighting for wealth and privilege. And that will not stop until we admit we are wrong and turn to the Lord for help. We can’t fix it by ourselves, and we may be past fixing it at all.

The Anglican Pacifist Fellowship has made the point in this Lambeth year (that’s a big meeting of all Anglican bishops once every decade) that since 1930 the Anglican bishops of the world have made resolutions for peace, and then stood aside while the governments went ahead with warmongering. They lay out the proof quite reasonably; it would be hard to refute it. There is no Shalom. The Jubilee declared by our Lord is violated. It is our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault.

As we gather on First Day for worship, prayer, and communion, perhaps we need to prepare our hearts with confession, not just of personal sin, but of the corporate sin we tolerate from our governments. We need to pray: “Lord, forgive us our hard-heartedness, our lack of compassion, our willful ignorance of the needs of the poor. Forgive us for giving permission for war. Help us to end all war, defeat poverty, and nurture your children. Help us to restore creation, so that when thou dost return, we will be found to be worthy stewards.”

Confess, repent, be made whole. Thee has a responsibility for shalom, even if it is only the shalom of thy heart.

Ants, Grasshoppers, and one last Rant about Squirrels

I took the garden down this morning, picking all the green tomatoes and little peppers left to make into green tomato pickles (see Thoughts for Food later on how this goes!) It’s a bit melancholy to pull the plants, even those still healthy, and toss everything away. But there’s no chance now that new fruit will set, with nights into freezing temperatures (SW Ontario, fairly mild, so northern friends have already done this and seen the first snow.)

Once it’s done, though, it looks so clean and fresh, and with a little raking and mulching, ready for next spring. Not that it was a particularly good garden spot, too many trees, too much flooding from runoff from the roof, and of course, the everlasting squirrels.

Some people, many of us raised in rural families with traditional values, are the ants of society. We anxiously stockpile food through the summer, canning and freezing and maybe dehydrating. We watch the garden with an eye to the future, because we intend for today’s produce to last into next year. This goes beyond mere thriftiness. It may be some deep-seated ancestral memory or brain pattern adaptation or whatever we are calling it these days. Maybe it’s just common sense. Tomatoes and pears do not grow over the winter, so save some for later. Good little ant, storing seeds underground.

Grasshoppers flit about all through the warm months, revelling in the sun and sweet breeze, feasting while the feasting is good. Someone else will have enough set aside, right? There’s always the supermarket…Of course, grasshoppers have a good old time, lay a lot of eggs to winter over, and then die. Ants survive the winter by going deep and allocating food supplies to last until spring. But maybe the ants don’t have much fun.

We can get a little too antish, after all. We’ve got our gardening noses stooped down to the ground, picking out weeds and insects, and never lift our heads to enjoy the sunlight and green canopy above. We scurry our harvest inside, get it put up in jars and laid down in root cellars, and we barely stop long enough to gather a handful of wild strawberries to eat while they are still sun-warm. (You know those U-Pick farms? They must have to figure in a certain weight of produce consumed in the field that never makes it to the scales. I think I should get a discount there – I pick fast, clean, and with industry, never sampling the produce. Ingrained reflex from picking potatoes as a kid – “Get those rows picked up, girls!”)

The Lord decreed the sabbatical year, the Seventh Year. Israel was to let the fields lie fallow, and not even pick the wildings, leaving those for the poor. The people of God were to trust that the Sixth Year harvest would be sufficient for two years. Maybe the sabbatical year was no year of great feasting, but it should be a year of gratitude and extra prayer. The Jubilee Year was a sabbath of sabbaths (seven times seven) and in the Jubilee year not only were the sabbatical precepts called for – slaves freed, debts forgiven – but all land that had passed from its original family was returned. Land was not sold in perpetuity. No one could amass huge estates and pass them on to future generations; the land was redistributed once a generation. That was the idea, anyway. Although decreed by the Lord and no mistake about that, humans worked out ways to get around it. Looking for ways to circumvent the Way of the Lord seems to me to be just saying, “I don’t believe any of that God stuff, anyway.”

Jesus Christ did not free us from the Jubilee. He declared it as perpetual, that the kingdom is realized, and that everything we receive will be directly from the hand of God. (As it always was!) More importantly, debt forgiveness was to be perpetual: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those in debt to us.” Yes, literally “debt” in Greek, literally owing something to someone else. Forgiveness is to be radical, both of real debt and sinful debt. Forgive others, so that the Father in heaven will forgive you. Think of the implications if we tried to live this way!

We had a poor harvest this year, mainly because of rodents. Neighbours think the squirrels are cute little outdoor pets, and encourage them. I see them as devastating tree rats with fluffy tails. They stole new tomatoes and peppers, chewed on plants, uprooted peas and seedlings. I had enough beautiful healthy plants that I should have had jars of tomatoes put up by now. We will probably see a few green tomatoes ripen inside, and the rest made into about two quarts of pickles. We can’t expect to survive the winter on that!

So we will have to trust in the Lord’s favour. Maybe it’s not so hard for us anyway, living in an affluent country that grows more food than its people can use, having neighbors and friends and family to help us if things get tough – as Christians should. But what of those people who don’t have a social safety net, whose own neighbors and family are as destitute as themselves? Aren’t they our neighbors, too? Aren’t they included in the great Jubilee of the Lord?

Yes, they are, and if we wealthy North Americans don’t do something about this soon, we will have a lot to answer for on the Day of Doom. (Doom is the Anglo-Saxon word for Judgement, and don’t forget it!) Are we more concerned with buying peanuts for the backyard squirrels than we are for providing lentils, rice, fruit and clean water to children in sub-Sahara Africa or cyclone devastated India?

Our Lord gave us some pretty clear instructions on how to live in this world; it’s about time to get them out and start following them again.

A Quaker Quote

What excuse can a Christian—a servant of Christ—give for wearing ornaments? Does one wear ornaments and superfluities to please God? If we are living to self, ornaments are understandable, but we cannot serve two masters: if self is on the throne, Christ is not. Why dost thou wear that ring or that necktie, young man, or why those earrings and painted lips, young woman? Please answer the question to thyself in all soberness. What necessity does a Christian have to follow the styles? College and high school students are not shamed to show to what school they belong. Are we ashamed to acknowledge ourselves the followers of Christ? Oh, but we must not be conspicuous, some will say. We cannot let our light shine and remain inconspicuous. We are to be witnesses for Christ, and it is the devil’s doctrine that we must be inconspicuous and must keep still and not speak up for Christ and only show by our lives where we stand. The followers of Christ do not belong to the world—Jesus said so himself: then why would we try to look like the world? Some say the outside does not matter, but both Paul and Peter thought otherwise, and admonished Christian women of their day against the wearing of gold and pearls and costly array. Some people don’t know that these words of caution are in the Bible (I Tim. 2:9 and I Peter 3:3). 

from Kenneth Morse, borrowed from Quaker Jane. Please follow the link to the left under Blogroll to see more excellent Quaker material, old and modern.

What (Christian) Women Want

I am about to make bold statements here. They are not meant to be either feminist or anti-feminist, just my views based on experience and Scripture. Of course, the Scripture is filtered through my Anglican/Quaker/Anabaptist theology, but no one thinks in a vacuum. 

Christian women want to be with Christian men. (This is where we’re going here.) Christian women want Christian men who respect them and treat them as equals in salvation. Anyone can say “I love you” but it isn’t really love unless there is respect and understanding.

There is a dearth of honesty in today’s world. Everything has a spin on it, everything is shaded to cast the best possible light. Christian women want honesty in their relationships. They don’t want men who are posers, or fakes, or egoists. They don’t want someone who will tell them the comforting lie, or make promises they have no intention of keeping. This is disrespect and only harmful in the long run. No one wants to hear “sweet nothings.” We want the honest-to-God truth, about yourself, about ourselves, about the situation. So don’t make up some exotic story about your past, or a tale about where you were last Saturday night. And honesty means just telling the facts. It does not mean harsh statements about others that are really mere opinions.

A man who is secure in himself shouldn’t have to lie. I have to say this about my brutally honest husband: He doesn’t care about impressing anyone or getting his own way. He’ll tell the truth because it is the right thing to do, and let the consequences fall where they may. Some people find him too blunt, but blunt is better than charming if charming means manipulation or colouring the truth.

Christian women want a man who can do things. Although those of us who are traditional may do most of the work at home, it’s good to know that our partner can cook a simple meal, clean the bathroom and take out the trash. We want a man who is competent at his profession and work, someone who can pull his own weight. And we like to know that he is aware of his abilities, and doesn’t put himself down either from insecurity or false humility. Yes, I like it that my husband can do all the traditional guy things – it is one of the reasons I married him, knowing that we would be compatible in expectations. (You can love a guy to pieces when you first meet him, but if you are a single woman on a farm, in need of a helper to put in fence posts and load hay, Mr. Fascinating may become Mr. Incompetent if he can’t swing a sledgehammer or repair a tractor, and won’t learn. Just telling it like it is.)

Christian women want men who follow Christ. We don’t want a replacement god, or a maybe/maybe not agnostic. We want to be with a Christian man who loves, respects and follows his Lord obediently. This doesn’t mean we have to agree on all points of theology, just that we can agree on which way we are going in our walk with Christ. Sometimes a person will have a conversion experience after marriage, and the partner will suddenly say, “Hey! What’s going on?” And we have to live with the differences – but there has to be a mutuality to that. While obedience to one’s husband is commanded in Scripture, a woman has the right to worship where and how she see fit, without interference or threats from her husband. If the husband refuses to let her go to church, keeps the car from her, or destroys her religious materials, it is time to see a marriage counselor. The husband may set limits on how much of her religion enters into his life, but legally he cannot forbid her to practice her faith. Women who find themselves married to an unbeliever or agnostic should be sensitive about this, though. St. Peter advises us to preach without words, winning over the husband by our modest and faithful way of life. Equally, a husband cannot force his wife into religious practices which she finds unsuitable or un-Christian. I think specifically of cultic practices that may mimic Christianity, such as polygamy, or are introduced from other religions, like purdah – isolation of women. Again, men need to respect the equality of women before God.

Christian women want men who will witness to the faith, who will take a stand against the world when necessary. We want men who will publically say, “I am a Christian,” and follow up with action. We want heroes and witnesses for our partners. We don’t want husbands who put their boss and their job before the family and the church. We want someone who will defend us as Christians.

Yes, we want family men. We want men who want children and see the household as a mansion in the city of God. We want husbands who will be good fathers who love their children the way God loves us, giving all, including his time and attention. We want partners who will pitch in with the laundry when the baby is sick, who will change diapers, who will enjoy the time they have with their children and wife. I’d say we want to see our husbands pick up the little ones and hug them for no good reason but that they are delighted with them. We want fathers in our families who will teach not only the practical stuff, but lead the family in scripture and prayer each day. We want to see our husbands gently discipline the children, correcting them as needed, rather than referring all disciplinary matters to the mother. (And we have to make sure we are doing our share in correcting and nurturing the children, too, never saying “Just you wait till your father gets home!” Nor should we be “too busy” to play with our little ones, leaving the “babysitting” to Dad or older siblings.)

I don’t have to say this, but I’m going to state it outright: We want men who are faithful. We want men who are faithful to us, who don’t let their masculine thoughts stray to someone younger, prettier, thinner or livelier. We want men who are faithful in every way, with their thoughts and imaginations as well as their bodies. It’s too easy for married people to get into the habit of fantasizing about someone more attractive, and maybe acting that out a little. That is called flirting, and married people don’t do it. Period. It makes the partner look unwanted, and gives people the wrong idea. Christian women want men who don’t act on their lustful impulses. We want men who don’t look at pornography in any form, including the salacious television shows and movies available now. And women – you owe it to your husband as a Christian to not act out your fantasies, or encourage your mind to run around. I’ll be blunt about this: Don’t have a secret affair in your head with some handsome actor, or project yourself into a soap opera or romance novel. These are not harmless entertainment, any more than a dirty book or cheesecake magazine is for men. They will make you dissatisfied with your life and your own partner. Find your romance at home with your husband.

Your husband is your husband. Jesus is not your “real” husband. Jesus Christ is your Lord, God, and Saviour. He gave you your husband to stand by your side, to walk with you through life, to be your head just as you are his heart.

Wives, obey your husbands; husbands, love your wives.