“Anne Rice Leaves Christianity”

Don’t get too excited. She’s left the church, not the faith. I don’t know what church she belonged to – if she is fed up with her parish or with the denomination or just the quarrelsome nature of Christians everywhere.

Which is too bad, but, well, we know what she means. I’ve dropped out of the “church” at times because I couldn’t stand the infighting, the politics and the factions. (And I’m not even in the American church!) But we don’t get to quit that easily. I’ve always been drawn back, because I need the sacraments; I need the discipline; I need the correction that we only get in pushing against each other and hearing each other’s words. Just dropping out doesn’t help. When we drop out and think we will spend our Sundays with the Bible and a prayer, we start to drift off into our own little strange heresies, and pretty soon, we quit our practices completely or they are so corrupted that they can hardly be called Christian.

(Oh, so many times as priest when I asked people to please come back to church, they gave me the same old song about God in nature, and sitting outside with a cup of coffee on Sunday morning was enough church for them, God is everywhere, they can say a little prayer for themselves. Inwardly, I said to myself, yeah, that’s pretty lazy, wish I could make the same excuse myself. And that was very judgemental of me, but honestly, it was like they all had the same script. Then some of them would call me when they had a really bad time – major illness, a death in the family, a big loss – and then the pines and the birds weren’t much comfort. They needed help finding their way back to Jesus Christ. So it was a really good thing that I’d kept the “lazy” thought to myself and just smiled and thanked them for their time, because when they needed Christ, I hadn’t thrown up a brick wall in their path.)

So, Anne, watch yourself out there. You were not only a hardcore, bitter atheist, you made fun of Christians. Some of the stunts you pulled were pretty wild. All is forgiven, but just a warning – you are headed back to Bad Company. It’s like an alcoholic who has been dry for years, and drops into the old neighborhood bar just to say hello to some friends – pretty soon, both hands are on the bottle.

I hope your minister, priest or bishop drops by for a chat. When I took leave of absence from the church, CNN did not care and no one wrote it up on a celebrity blog. As a Christian, you just handed nonbelievers and Christ-haters some big ammo. Is that what you meant to do? And if this is a dramatic plea for the church to iron out its differences and start to play nice – it won’t work. Out there, on CNN, you are famous. In the church, you a member of the body of Christ. As are we all.

Modest Brides – 19th century dresses

Susan Weinburg, a friend from Facebook, has some beautiful dresses available, or will make a custom dress for you if what you really want for a modest wedding dress looks like something Scarlett O’Hara might have worn. Her eBay shop is called Oh! Susanna (eBay id:ohsusannah) and she also has a Facebook page under the same name. For those who wish to cover but aren’t prayer cap or hanging veil types, she makes lovely snoods, plain or decorated. I can see a beautiful young woman in one of her dresses, complete with snood, standing with her groom and husband-to-be – what a lovely picture! This is a good choice for those who want something elegant but not immodest, and who aren’t afraid of a hoopskirt!

Hospitality and the Church

Churches just don’t DO hospitality well. They may think they do, but they don’t. Yes, there is coffee hour, and the potluck, and all those fellowship opportunities, like Quilt Club, and Men for Christ, and Youth Group, but that isn’t hospitality either.

Hospitality is about caring, giving and healing. It isn’t friendly chat and shared coffeecake. It goes far beyond that, and right into sacrifice and humility.

What would Jesus Christ NOT do for you?

So go and do likewise. That is hospitality.

Hospitality is more than a handout. It isn’t the food bank, the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter. All of these are aspects of caring, but it isn’t what hospitality is about. It certainly isn’t hospitality when the providers go home each evening to a nice snug home with lots in the refrigerator, and plan their next ski vacation. There’s no sacrifice in that. That’s hospitality as a diversion, a bit of guilt-assuaging.

Could you give everything to Christ? Could you give everything to those in need, knowing that Christ told you to do so?  (Matthew 25:31-46). The poor will always be with us, first because we let them be poor, and second because in them we serve Him who we love.

Hospitality is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan had no obligation to the victim of the robbers; he nonetheless put himself in danger, gave healing medicines, provided for his housing and food, and came back to check on him.

So the question isn’t “What am I obliged to do here?”, but “How much can I help? What is needed?”

The church too often falls into asking just the first question.

Treat every guest as if he were Christ; treat every stranger as a guest. (For some thereby have entertained angels, Paul’s reference to Abraham and the three men who came from the desert.)

When  strangers enter your church, what do you do? Turn around, stare and check them out? Do you whisper, “Who are they? Does anyone know them?” Or does the usher show them a suitable place to sit, as honoured guests? Does anyone sit with them to guide them through the service and hymns? Are they greeted by many after the service, and invited to share refreshments, a meal at home, their story? Or do you leave that up to the greeters and the pastor?

Do you plan shared meals with the people who visit the food bank and the soup kitchen? If you do, is it condescending, or is it a genuine desire to get to know them, and they you? Would you invite them to church on Sunday, and greet them if they come?

Hospitality toward each other is also part of the Christian requirement. Pastors and priests often suffer from the neglect of their parishes and churches. They are given barely adequate housing that just meets the denominational standards, or a housing allowance too small to provide a good home.  The manse gets neglected, goes unpainted, isn’t refurbished but once every twenty years, and has appliances that were cast-offs from someone’s remodelling project. There isn’t family hospitality extended, and clergy and their families are often isolated in their own communities, ignored by their own parishioners. They don’t know who to call on if they are sick or have an emergency. They pay for services that most families give each other freely, such as babysitting, dogminding, or gardening.

I was blessed in a parish that treated me like a member of the family. My rectory was well-kept and very comfortable, even if small and unpretentious, which suited me. The parish members would cook for me, help with my animals, and welcomed me into their homes often. I so miss them! If I were to retire somewhere soon, that would be the place.

Our priest or pastor is an elder in our church family. It isn’t a healthy family that works against its own elders, or undermines their authority, or refuses to help them when in need. In a family we would call that dysfunctional. How we treat others says a lot about our relationship with Christ. Do we serve Him in others, or are we serving ourselves, and therefore never serving Him?

Modest Brides, Modest Women, The Best of Hospitality

I don’t think we can expect young women (and some older ones) to suddenly decide that they are modest after all, just because they are getting married. “Raise them up in the way that they should go.”  And if we, their elders, have not given them much of an example (and I shake my head when I think of my past) then why do we demand it now? So, physician, heal thyself!

To me it is more than a matter of physical modesty; an expensive stylish outfit that shows no leg below the knee or doesn’t accentuate the bosom, paired with gold jewelry, a flattering haircut and a bit of colour to hide the grey, is still not saying to the world that a Christian woman is standing before them. Of course, the Plainest of Plain dresses, the severest of headcovering, and a sharp temper with a rough tongue doesn’t either. Modest, simple, headcovering dress and a meek temperment tell the world that thee is a Christian!

I know many will disagree with that, that they don’t think headcovering is required, that it is oppressive and outdated. I say it is back in date, even if it dropped out for a while. The world needs the Christian witness more than ever, and if we do not make that witness, if we are not living martyrs to the ways of the world, then we are not listening to what the world needs, which is the Way of Christ. We are called to be prophets of a different sort, living out our faith by example rather than words.

Nor is it enough to marry in a modest dress, live modestly and covered, and never give of our hearts. Marriage is more than the binding of two into one and the establishment of a household. It is also living out the mission of the little family church that you have become. Marriage is a mission to the world. It is a way to show how God loves us, how Jesus saves us. It is a place of extravagant hospitality in the humblest of settings.

This does not mean that the wedding reception has to be an extravagant waste of money and resources, the most expensive of everything in order to impress one’s friends. The party can be quite modest in budget, and simple in taste, while providing the guests with a wonderful time of food and fellowship.  It can be as simple as cheese, fruit and lemonade, a barbecue of burgers and sausage and salads, or a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and juice. The wedding cake should be good cake, and if it is homemade, all the better, without the over-the-top decorations of the expensive cakes we see on television. (Not that I don’t love seeing the artistic creations, but what used to be ordered only on the corporate level for huge business parties is now expected at little suburban weddings.)

That’s the beginning of family hospitality. I don’t believe in head tables, special wines for the wedding party, or the horrid habit of numbering the tables for the buffet line. Have two buffets set up or have waiters, or keep the meal so simple that there is not a backup at the buffet. The food should be well-prepared, and most multi-item buffets just don’t meet that standard. It used to be a custom in some places for the wedding attendants or the bride’s family to serve the tables, and special aprons were made by the bride for that purpose.

And that’s just the beginning. Christian hospitality is not about entertaining friends and family every Sunday, though.  It goes well beyond that. The new family – this little church – has a mission in the world, to serve the hungry, provide for the needy, to reach out and love as Christ has loved us.  Activity in outreach, the food bank, the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter, or raising money for and even serving in mission beyond our own walls is part of the Christian family life. We will have no trouble practicing modesty if that is the mission we fulfill, because we will have little time for mirror gazing and contemplation of our own desires.

A Reminder

I always take Sunday (First Day) as a sabbath from the computer. It gives me some time to recharge my batteries and not run my mind busily! I keep First Day as a work sabbath in general – no big Sunday dinners, no laundry, no sewing or other projects.

Am I Doing the Right Thing?

This little ministry on line seems to have stalled. Maybe it’s summer, maybe it’s the overwhelming nature of the internet, with too many choices and too little time. While the Plain and Modest community grows, there doesn’t seem to be much happening here at Anglican, Plain. Partly it’s me – I don’t have much computer time for research and in-depth writing.

It seems like so much has stalled in my life. I want to get back into parish ministry, but still haven’t heard from my bishop. I am living a suburban lifestyle while having a rural heart. Even Nicholas’s pension problems are ongoing and I can’t get doctors and agencies to move any faster.

I am discouraged. Maybe I need a break, maybe it’s middle-age. But I am trying not to force issues, push too hard, and DO something when doing nothing is the best way. (Note that other people’s seemingly helpful advice and “pushing” me into action caused things to get worse or did no good at all, so I am feeling skeptical about advice and even my own so-called common sense.) I expect that what I need to do is shut up, and listen to God. (If I can find the time between the kitchen work and reassembling the vaccuum cleaner so I can do the rugs before the real estate agent comes.)

Friday, Food Waste

I let the refrigerator stocks run low this week. That meant that I had used up a lot of the vegetables we bought last week. At this time of year, meat goes straight to the freezer, if it isn’t going to be used within twelve hours. I had made a good, spicy vegetable soup that incorporated frozen vegetables and herbs in the freezer, and served it with homemade bread twice this week. I have just a couple of frozen meals yet in the freezer, and I expect to use them in the next week.

One thing I haven’t done is made stock from the old turkey carcasses in the freezer. It’s about time, or time to toss them. Frozen stock or broth keeps well, better than its original meat or bones. I’ve been a bit lazy about this – it’s the whole planning issue, getting the frozen bags upstairs, into the big kettle, herbing and spicing it, and simmering it down. The worst part for me is disposing of the remains. This time I am just going to strain out the broth and toss whatever is too big to pass through the colander. I really should do it on a Saturday since the trash is picked up on Sunday night.

We have much less trash than we used to. Eight months ago, it was a full bin plus a bag on the curb and both recycling boxes. Now it’s maybe a bag and one box; there’s a little more this week since some old paper is going out. I’m pleased with this. Not only is the food waste almost nil, but the trash is more than halved in volume. My personal goal is zero waste, no trash bin, and almost no recycling – which is much harder to do.

My newest project is to find or develop a no-plastic freezer container. Some people use glass jars, but this is a temporary solution, since the jar will have air space, making it no more effective than the little plastic boxes. My parents, years ago, used to freeze blanched vegetables in a coated cardboard container, rather like a Chinese take-out box. Does anyone know if these are available?

Modest Brides – Virtue is Not Suspended for One Day!

“Just this once,” was my occasional plea to my mother when I was young, when I wanted to get a ride to a friend’s house, stay up late, or wear a dress she considered entirely wrong for a Christian girl. She rarely gave in. Mom knew that “just once” would become “just once again” and pretty soon the floodgates were open because if it was right “just once” it meant it must be right all the time.

Modesty does not get suspended for a wedding day. The bridal shop may be luxurious, the sales associate just like a best friend, the dresses beguiling in their flattering elegance – but modesty is always expected for a Christian.

We guard the image of God that is us. “In His likeness He made them, male and female.” A woman is just as much “like” God as a man is. We are not lesser beings in His eyes, we are never merchandise on display, or objects to be admired like art. We are in His image, the holiest of icons.

That image of God needs to be honoured and not desecrated by being stared at and commented on by every non-believer that passes. “Holy things are for the holy,” is a common phrase used at the Lord’s Supper, and we who keep an orthodox view of the communion sacrament are careful to honour God’s presence with us as we receive the bread and wine. Some churches have the practice of taking the blessed bread and wine left from the altar and locking it up in a tabernacle or ambry, coverd with a curtain, a veiled place of protection. Yet these priests may not honour the very image of God before them and in themselves! Modesty, therefore, is more than a puritan attitude to prevent people from thinking about sex (people think about sex anyway) but a way of honouring God in Creation, by caring for God’s image.

Brides represent the Church Universal, the great establishment of God’s presence in our midst, the body of Christ. Can there by a greater responsibility? The chaste, pure bride is a model of the church as it approaches her love and master, Jesus Christ. The groom stands in His place to receive Her, and the two become one. It is a little passion play of the great divine love. Jesus expects His bride, the Church, to come before Him confessed and forgiven, united with Him in prayer and the love-feast of communion. Should a bride enacting this moment come before her love and husband like a woman who does not respect the image of God in herself and in him? A revealed body does not represent the quiet intimacy of life in Christ; it is worldly, vain, and self-worshipping.

Modesty is not suspended for the wedding day. It is emphasized. It can be the moment when a young woman who has been worldly and immodest, following the ways of fashion and keeping up with her friends, can publically make a change. 

The wedding is the beginning of a new life in God with a partner. Every household formed in His name is a little church in itself, growing in faith, and with the blessing of the Lord, in number. It is a light in the wilderness, an example to those who are seeking.

Modest Brides: Vintage Dresses

Women were more modest a few decades (and centuries) ago. Well, not always – the flappers of the twenties with short skirts and bobbed hair; the late Victorian lowcut dress, the Empire style we know from Jane Austen’s day – there have been different standards in different eras. Christian women of the most devout ideals, though, have always been expected to follow rules of modesty even when the rules of fashion were open to interpretation. My grandmothers wore skirts below the knee in the twenties and never bobbed their hair; my Victorian ancestresses, as far as I can tell, wore dresses buttoned up to the neck, covered with aprons. Before that, not many of them spoke English (or wrote anything down) so my guess is that they wore the modest chemise, bodice, full skirt and apron of their native Celtic lands. We were not fashionable people!

Modest brides look to the past for inspiration in a time of immodesty. Even the low-bosomed dresses of the fin de siecle and the Empire days can be modified to cover above the collarbone. Skirts were generally full, with lots of underpinnings and layers to keep fabric from clinging.

Gramma’s gown might be what a modest bride is looking to wear, but even fabric that is only fifty years old can be distressed, rotted, or otherwise unwearable. I learned a lot about textiles and old dresses when I was a museum curator. How fabric is stored makes a big difference in how long it lasts. Ideally, fabrics are stored flat, without creases, in a cool and dry environment. Sun, heat, metal hangers, cedar chests and mold can do as much damage as moths and small children playing dress-up. The other disappointment for a bride hoping to wear an heirloom dress might be how small that vintage dress is. Some mid-twentieth century gowns may be in a size 12 or larger, but before that, it was a rare bride who was over five feet tall and weighed more than a hundred pounds. Some wedding dresses made before the American Civil War will fit ten year old girls now.

Old gowns are hard to let out. The stitching line may be weak, the fabric starting to tear along the stress points. Matching fabric may be impossible, especially with gowns made before the nineteen-sixties. Losing fifteen pounds to get into a small dress might seem feasible, but shrinking three inches in height is not. Bones at shoulders, hips and rib don’t get any smaller.

So that’s the first thing to consider when buying a vintage gown – will it fit without alterations? The second thing to consider is whether the dress is or can be made wearable, with any missing pieces such as fasteners replaced. Missing lace can be replaced – often it got re-used. Hooks and eyes and buttons can be found to match. Swaths cut out of the skirt would be nigh imposible to replace. Third, can a distressed fabric be reinforced? This is what museums sometimes do with display pieces – matching backing fabric is let into shoulders or waists to hold the old stitches together. This can be done even with pieces to be worn.

But a dress that is too small is just that – light cottons, linens and wool will stretch to some extent, but heavy fabrics such as damask and brocade simply do not give at all. Brides in past eras would compress bosom and waist to ridiculous measurements, which is unhealthy and so foreign to modern women that the idea of a tight-laced corset (i.e. Scarlett O’Hara) sounds like torture. It is.

There are some wonderful vintage vendors on line. Even if a bride doesn’t expect to buy a vintage dress, they are worth looking at for ideas. These are my favourites:

Antique Dress (http://www.antiquedress.com) has dresses of all eras for sale from mid-US$400 on up! They have an excellent photo gallery if a bride is looking for inspiration.

Bobby Dene’s Vintage Clothes has a good selection of wedding dresses,w ith nice photos and descriptions, and prices from US$300 up. (http://www.bobbydene.com).

My favourite is probably Vintage Textile, a museum curator’s dream. (http://www.vintagetextile.com) They must haunt the auction houses! There are many Victorian and Edwardian style dresses, in collector’s quality. Their gallery does not list size, so the buyer needs to check the individual listings. These are on the high end and meant for collections, although many are described as wearable. Vintage Textile has great accessories and caps, mantles and shawls to make a modern dress more modest and certainly very special. Maybe a bride would rather put her money into an exquisite Kashmir shawl rather than a one-time only fancy white dress. There was one white Edwardian dress that I would gladly have worn if the occasion arose! And the shawls – well, Queen Victoria might have chosen one for a cool evening at Balmoral. They carry a few lace pieces and wedding veils that coudl be adapted to modern dress. Prices are moderate to high, since these are museum quality garments and textiles.

These are my caveats about buying a vintage dress or other textiles: Ask if you can put down a deposit and return the dres if it is not satisfactory, which may mean paying for it, and having the right to return it minus shipping costs within a certain time.

Ask how the piece was measured, especially if it is a dress or fitted garment. Was it measured flat, across the front or back, and the measurement doubled (that is, let’s say, 16″ from seam to seam across the bust, then doubled to  32″.) Or was it measured on a mannequin or model, who filled out the shaped bodice to give a measurement of 32″? Cut and darts can make a difference in how the bust or waist measurement is taken.

If a garment is sized, ask if that is the labelled size in the garment or if it is the equivalent modern size. Sizing varied wildly over the decades; what is a size 12 in one era is a size 8 in another.

Don’t buy shoes or accessories until you have the dress, in order to match the colour more accurately. White doesn’t stay white over the years, and beige can range from yellow to pink. I would try to order the dress to arrive at least one month before the wedding, in case alterations or repairs need to be done, and to find accessories.

Bridesmaids’ dresses should match in style with the brides’ dress, which can be a big consideration if the bride must have that special vintage dress. If the bride is wearing a cream Victorian dress with big picture hat and cathedral train, it looks a bit as if the bridesmaids came to the wrong party if they are in short hot pink jersey.

A vintage dress can be perfect in an older church setting. It can be economical and modest. It will honour the women who went before us to the altar and said, “I will.”

Wedding Reservations

No doubt, weddings are now a major industry. From tacky to elegant, from funky to sophisticated, every bride and groom have some idea of what they want (especially the brides.)

Maybe it started with Queen Victoria’s well-publicized wedding and the cheaper, more available laces and fine fabrics of the nineteenth century. My husband’s family has photos of some very elaborate wedding parties in the early twentieth century (although they were working-class East Enders). My family, Baptist since John Knox, apparently, didn’t have  elaborate weddings until the late 1960s.

I still have major reservations about the royal theme of most weddings. (Yes, I had one, and once that juggernaut got rolling, wished I hadn’t.)

Although I am writing these days about weddings, it is in the hope that we can restore some sanity to this situation. Big weddings and wedding dresses are simply not modest, thoughtful or economical. Weddings were once just part of the church scenery – families gathered, words said, blessings pronounced, there was a dinner party, and husband and wife went off home, happy and scared. Now it is more than being princess for a day – bride is princess for a year or more as she drags family and friends about looking for dresses, accessories, catering, locations. This bossiness and self-centeredness could get to be a very bad habit. This year, it’s the wedding – then the “perfect” house, the perfect job, the perfect wardrobe, glamourous vacations, and overachieving children. Even Christian women get caught up in this, believing that they have to prove God blessed them above others.

What happened to modest hearts, to young people raised to believe that their role in life is to serve others? (For the Son of Man came to serve, not to be served, and we follow Him.) Don’t get started with your children expecting elaborate birthday parties, loads of Christmas gifts, special vacations. Don’t try to compete with the world. We may have to live in it (or we would have no opportunity to witness) but we are not of it.

With all the commercial hype around weddings, even second and third weddings are becoming major productions.  Mature women are trying to get in on the scene, registering for gifts, buying white gowns and veils, inviting hundreds of guests. (Yes, this was my juggernaut, veering out of control as soon as I said the words: “Church wedding.”) Maybe it’s because older women have their own earnings and some stability, and like to prove that maybe they aren’t all that old, after all.  “Hey, I earned it, I can spend it any way I want.”

We’ve lost any sense that the white gown and the veil mean anything outside of spending a lot on a costume. We imagine that we have the resources and privilege of royalty, at least for one day. We imagine that it really is all about us. We’ve lost touch not only with the Christian origins of wedding, but our folk and ethnic customs and their meanings. We let the fashion industry take over one of the most important and intimate days of our lives.