Christians: Stand up for Jesus

As readers know by now, I am shocked and disheartened by recent world events, particularly the violence we see. I’ve said before that we need to work on our own lives to end acceptance of violence. It is all around us; it is the go-to solution when demanding doesn’t work. It happens on the large-scale when 93 people are killed in one day in Oslo, Norway by a man with homemade bombs and some guns. It happens on a small scale everyday whenever a teenager is beaten for being gay, or a parent hits a child in the name of discipline. It happens quietly with racial slurs and jokes. It happens loudly when a political rally is shouted into an angry frenzy over the issues of immigration and second languages.

I would like to see a large scale dayof peace. This would be a demonstration of unity among Christians, in fellowship with those who are not Christians, for the right to live in peace. We Christians need to step forward as world leaders in the matter of peace. We are the people of Peace; we have the promise of Jesus Christ. “My peace I leave with you.” It’s been done, effectively before. The Civil Rights movement in the USA succeeded with peaceful demonstrations and nonviolent resistance. It has happened elsewhere.

I asked friends on facebook if they would support organizing a worldwide Day of Peace. One said, “Only if it isn’t religious.” Another one said, “Demonstrations don’t do any good. We just have to live lives of peace.” The problem with the first statement is that Christians can’t leave their faith out of things. If we do, we are blocking the Holy Spirit from working through us. After all, our Faith is not a philosophy of doing good and living quietly. It is a belief that God Himself is working to change us utterly and thoroughly, and no part of ourselves or our lives can be set aside from that. The problem with the second is that while people may admire it, they have no motivation to try it themselves, because we make it look as if it is entirely personal, a matter of choosing between equal goods. But Christians, if they read the Bible, can see that that is not the case. We aren’t here to fit in. We are here to stand out.

The apostles stood up in the middle of cities and towns and told the people about Jesus, the Christ, the One who saves humanity from itself. They got arrested and beaten for it, often, but they also, in that witness as well as the witness of Christian life, changed people’s hearts. Following Jesus, they opened the path to God for many. Thousands were moved and joined the people of Jesus. And not once did they say to the people that war would work, that might equals right. Early witnesses in the church (Justin, Origen) emphasize the pacifism – the peace witness – of Christians, who would not even fight against those who would take their lives.

So sitting back and living lives of quiet righteousness may not be enough. My fear is that all Christians will be dumped into the category of people who advocate war and violence; the Norwegian who proclaims himself Christian and then kills innocent government employees, passers-by on the street, and most horribly, teenagers trapped at a youth camp; hawks who hold a Bible in one hand and a bundle of cash in the other, simultaneously quoting Deutoronomy and showering so-called defense contractors with money. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are what Christians look like in the public eye. We stand there mute as stones while this goes on.

If you believe that the way of Jesus Christ is the way of Peace, that we need to beat our swords into plowshares, that we need to send our public funds to those who are suffering rather than filling the bank vaults of very wealthy war profiteers, then now is the time. Who would get behind the initiative to have a Day of Peace, initiated by Christians?

It has to be the start of a new movement, to bring the Peace of Christ into the world, as He told us to do. It won’t be a one-time only thing and we get to go back to watching “Die Hard” movies and eating corn chips. It has to be the public proclamation that Christians are here to spread the peace that passes all understanding, the Peace that Jesus Christ left with us.

 

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Hutterite Clothing

Some people say that they find Plain dress too austere – too plain. No colour, no pattern, loose and unbecoming. But there is a traditional Anabaptist group who enjoy colour and pattern.

Hutterite children, from Univ. of Regina

Hutterite women and children wear bright colours, calicos, plaids and prints. Sometimes they wear them all together. When we were out West in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Hutterite women would shop at Walmart or the market, in their distinctive polka-dotted black kerchiefs, wearing long pleated skirts and a matching, short-waisted, long sleeved jacket. (I can’t seem to find any photos of this ensemble.) They liked bright patterned fabrics, and looked very Eastern European. The men and boys wore white shirts, dark jeans, and white or straw cowboy hats. the babies looked like little Russian dolls, all bundled up in bright fabrics and bonnets.

Hutterite family 1588

The women still dress much like this, although the men no longer wear the long jacket, and the sugarloaf hat has disappeared!

Hutterite girls, in skirt, blouse and vest (via freeyello)

These may be one-piece dresses made to look like the traditional vest and skirt, always worn over the white blouse.  Each colony – the Hutterites live communally, in groups of about 100-150 – buys a quantity of fabric each year, under the direction of an older woman in charge of the sewing. The families can then choose from the storeroom for new clothes to be sewn. While the men are in charge of the fields, machinery, animals and general business, women take turns at running the kitchen, the sewing room, the school and the gardens. These are all large scale endeavours, as all meals are communal in a common dining room.

Old Magazine Photo of Hutterites, Univ. of Minnesota

Hutterites speak a form of German called Hutterisch. Sometimes families will leave the colony, which while it is considered a disgrace, doesn’t seem to cut them off from contact with their family back home. Many will join Mennonite churches if they choose to live away from the colony. It seems to be a hardship to leave, and learn to live without the support of the community, making decisions about money, furnishings, and even clothing.

Among other Anabaptists, Hutterites are known for their blunt speech and even bawdy, earthy sense of humour. They have some celebrated youth choirs, sharing the Mennonite history of choral harmony.

Amish Economy

Old postcard of Amish kitchen

We might be excused for thinking that “Amish economy” is a result of people who deliberately stay rooted in an agrarian way of life; that the Amish, and other Anabaptists, are thrifty and hard-working from necessity. Those in the Old Orders almost never have education beyond American grade eight. They learn trades and crafts rather than professions.

Amish economy is based on old Anabaptist principles that are about community rather than money. This may seem strange to Americans, whose goals are generally centred on obtaining a comfortable life, with a fair amount of ease and luxury, even if it is not ostentatiously rich. Most modern Westerners admire the rich, and are fascinated by the lifestyle of the wealthy. Vacation resorts make a good deal of money promoting this fantasy. If this attitude was not widespread, there would be no lotteries, no Las Vegas, no People magazine. There are no Amish equivalents to these cultural phenomena.

Yet the Amish and other Old Order groups do not live as asthetes and monks. They are focussed on living a Christian life rather than a comfortable life. Some people are surprised and even shocked when they see an Amish home that has a recliner, a gas stove, and wall decor; they were expecting something more austere and self-denying. But Amish life isn’t about austerity; the self-denial takes other forms, such as a rejection of popular culture and anything that will fragment the family and their own Amish community. Electricity is rejected as being the conduit for radios, television, DVD players and now, the mindless popular entertainment of the internet; but a gas stove and refrigerator (if allowed in that district) are good for the family. The home telephone is rejected as a means for idle chatter and hurtful gossip; yet Amish business people (and some teens during rumspringa) use cell phones to stay in touch. The automobile as a family-owned personal conveyance is rejected, but most Amish will accept or hire a ride when needed for doctors’ appointments, shopping, or long-distance visiting.

I can understand all of this. The telephone is an instrument that spreads petty talk and divides friends; the automobile takes families to distant places where they are apart from community, and encourages young people to stay away from home; and I don’t think I need to say anything more about the unChristian intrusion of commercially produced television and films. The economy of the Amish is “ekkonomia” – management of the household. Early Church bishops and priests were admonished to practice good “ekkonomia” in their communities. The Amish still take that seriously.

There are old Anabaptist principles on what is good work. It must benefit the community. It must allow for parents to be home with their children as much as possible. It is not possible to practice good work if the industry in which one works is destructive. Pacifist Anabaptists would not assemble rifles, or build tanks, or sew military uniforms. They will assemble woodstoves, build RVs and bicycles, and sew coats. They do not like their young people to travel far from home to work, although carpenter groups did travel together.  While most young mothers stay home with their children, others will work in retail or food service as they need to, if it does not interfere with being home with the children at crucial times of the day. (Many Amish women have home-based businesses, as well. This probably comes out of the background of an agrarian culture.)

Some underlying principles of Amish/Anabaptist economy are that the business owner should not earn much more than his workers – one old rule was that the owner should realize no more than four times what he pays the least paid of his employees. The business itself should keep its workers close to home, so that they can return to their families every evening.

Amish men at a horse auction in the 1950s

Gellasenheit is the Amish concept of self-surrender, of standing humbly before God, of not trying to rise above one’s neighbours and friends. It is the reason for the Ordnung, the way of life of that community. “Gellasenheit” is avoiding self-idolatry, or of being too pleased with oneself, of staying away from anything that smells of status seeking and privilege. It isn’t false humility; if one is good at doing something that benefits the community, then one should do it. Those who practice gellasenheit, though, will not draw attention to what they have done; they will not boast or risk the criticism of the group for putting oneself forward.

It is also an Anabaptist principle to be sufficiently independent financially, of being able to carry one’s own weight in the community. Those who cannot because of disability, age or circumstances can be assured that they will receive the care they need. Being financially solvent, free of debt, and able to earn a living wage and provide sufficiently for family and neighbours in need are the goals of the Amish householder. Amish and Mennonites are always quietly rasing funds for those who are suffering. Collections are taken door to door, auctions held, thrift stores run, to benefit “the least of these.” Because the churches are either held in houses, or at most are small, low maintenance structures among some of the Mennonites, and the clergy, for the msost part, serve without stipend, monies raised within the church can be used for the benefit of the needy. “Charity begins at home” is often misquoted to justify keeping church funds within the  immediate community rather than disperse them in the wider church-world; the Amish more typically exemplify this saying in its truer sense, that one learns to love and care for others first within one’s home group. (The charitable work of the larger Mennonite/Amish community benefits many worldwide, not just in their own home states, and not just among the followers of their particular kind of faith.)

This outreach is also part of the Amish/Mennonite witness of non-violence, “to do good and not evil.”  The Amish witness is of the “two kingdoms” – a Christian cannot serve both God and Mammon (money, worldliness). The Christian lives first in God’s kingdom, and is only of necessity in the world. In 1530, an early Anabaptist, John of Leyden, wrote, “A believer’s church should be a community of faith that practiced mutual aid.” That is, the faithful were to care for one another, and as Christ admonished his followers, to care for the stranger as oneself, exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Church is truly not “every man for himself” but “every man for each other.”

For further reading online: www.religionomics.com; www.reformedreader.org.

Witness: To Peace

Quaker, 1866

As we discussed Plain dress recently, I think a number of us offered all the usual reasons for it – conformity to Biblical precepts, practicality, denial of self. These are all good personal reasons for Plain dress; I say it is my Christian witness. When people look at me, they know they have seen a Christian. But couldn’t I do that with a cross necklace, a modest skirt and blouse, a kerchief instead of a prayer cap? I could wear a t-shirt even, with Bible verses and great fish graphics. Christian. I could wear my clerics – Christian.

But as I thought about it I was inspired: my Plain witness is a Witness to Peace. I am a Peacemaker.

The Quakers are, throughout their whole Plain history, notable Peacemakers. The Anabaptists who followed Menno Simons were pacifists. that white prayer kapp, apron and long blue dress say “Peace be with thee.”

My husband’s beard and long hair, as well as his Plain coat and hat, are symbols of Peace. The early priests in the apostolic church grew out their beards and hair as a way to disassociate themselves from the Roman Empire, whose male citizens were shaven and shorn, a symbol that they were eligible to join the army.

Most people know about the Amish mostly from popular fiction like the movie “Witness.” The witness is a young Amish boy, but the “Witness” is the Amish witness to Peace throughout the movie, over against the kill-or-be-killed ethic of the corrupt police force that the protagonist works within.

The white kapp and the black bonnet, the beard and the broad-brimmed hat, are symbols that we, Nicholas and I, are dedicated to that same Witness. We live that non-violence, and we let people know that. We are witnesses – and hostages – to Peace.

Quaker woman with bonnet, ca. 1890

Plain Dressed Men

Someone asked recently how men can dress Plain, as to be distinguished from some guy in jeans and a blue shirt. Plain as a conviction of a Christian witness is a powerful statement. Plain attire is as much an identiification factor as a Franciscan’s brown robe or a priest’s white collar. I’ve found some images to help those who are Plain outside traditional Plain communities.

Mennonite, 1947

The flat black hat (or flat straw hat) is associated with Plain orders. The wide brimmed hat is practical and distinctive. This older man is wearing a placket shirt and a black jacket without lapels. His square beard and lack of mustache indicate that he is Anabaptist and married (or widowed). Why the lack of mustache? Either because the mustache was associated with military rank, or to indicate the setting aside of vanity. My husband has a full beard and mustache, because he finds shaving to be very difficult with his reduced vision, but he prefers the “peace” or “brethren” beard. Some Anabaptist groups have men start their beard when they married, and a few others when they are baptized.

Amish men at barn raising

This old postcard shows young men working at a barn raising. They are wearing “broadfalls” – old-fashioned button fly trousers – with suspenders. I’ve noticed that Amish and Mennonite men have their suspender buttons sewn outside the waist band, the opposite of what I was taught by my tailoring grandmothers, that suspender (or braces) buttons go inside the waist band. They are wearing long-sleeved shirts of the basic Oxford type, with the sleeves rolled up. Most Plain men now wear blue jeans or basic dress cut trousers in a  dark colour. A few groups continue to wear broadfalls.

I would guess these men were photographed at a mud sale, or spring auction. They are more formally dressed in mutze (jacket), dark trousers and the black flat hat. Plain men do not wear neckties or belts, as both are considered indicators of fashion. Plain men used to wear just black boots, but I’ve noticed a number of even older men have taken to wearing workboots, Oxfords, and running shoes, all for practicality. My husband wears workboots, casual Oxfords, or plain black dress oxfords. He used to wear a pair of all black running shoes at work, since he was on his feet all day.

I made this plain black vest, Nicholas’s “Sunday meeting” attire, worn with a white banded collar shirt and black jeans.

Living Plain

Plain in Fredericton

We went to the local Anglican church on Sunday, where I used to be pastor. It’s a great community, and I love seeing our old friends there. Yes, we are the only Plain people there, but I think they are all used to it by now. Nicholas doesn’t look much different than he did before, except for the long hair and the big beard.  I am different, with my covered head, my full dresses and boots. Oh, wait, maybe not. I didn’t cover back then, but the parish usually saw me in cassock and surplice – and boots.

The neighbours aren’t used to it, though. As we disembarked in the parking lot – and at the roadside edge, since we were a bit late, as usual – a couple of vehicles slowed down, and the occupants turned back to look at us. His broad-brimmed black hat, my trim, tied bonnet and black shawl; hey, when did the Amish move to New Denmark? I wave when people stare like that.  There is no reason to be hostile or unfriendly – they are curious, and I want to make a good impression for the next time they see us. And since that might be at the farmer’s market, I want them to have the idea in their heads thart we are open and approachable. And that isn’t just a marketing ploy, because we had a good ministry through the last farmer’s market where we sold. It is not a matter of making a few dollars, but of being witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ.

I know what the questions will be at the market: Are you Amish? Then what are you? Are there many like you? Do you dress like this all the time, or is it a costume just for the market? (No; Plain Anglican; a few; yes, we do, and no, it isn’t.) Because we are mistaken for Amish or Mennonites frequently, and I have no problem with that, we are conscious that we are held to a kind of responsibility by our choice, to avoid behaviour that would shame our Anabaptist brothers and sisters. Around the world, Plain means sober and quiet Christians, whether Anabaptist, Brethren or Quaker. Admittedly, good Christian behaviour isn’t much different, but there are things that a secularly dressed Christian can do without anyone saying, “Hey, did you see that?” Go to rock concerts; have a drink in a bar. We wouldn’t do that, as it would mislead people. (And you may be Plain or modest dressing, and say, “I have no trouble with that!” but that is your own decision. I’m not telling you what to do, just saying what we are comfortable doing.) We avoid loud or aggressive behaviour in public or while driving; I try to be extremely polite and helpful. We try to be the people of peace we are saying we are by our outward appearance.

Our daily life is as Plain as we can make it, with the addition of internet communication. We keep a phone line for emergencies. But we try to live as simply and as honestly as we can. We avoid luxury and ornamentation, as much as possible. We don’t need to show that God has blessed us with material goods, as we believe that excessive possessions are not a blessing, but a tie to the world we want to leave behind.

It’s not a matter of looking Plain, but of being Plain, all the way through.

The Prophecy of Headcovering

freshly washed kapps

 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?