The Two Kingdoms

Born in a poor man's house, not a palace

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!

A serious Christian, my husband Nicholas

When We Became Plain

We’ve been publically Plain for more than four years now. It was a very easy step for us, but the consequences were great, and no one expected it of two middle-aged Anglican priests. My husband, Nicholas, had lived in southern Ontario for quite a while, and often encountered Amish and Old Order Mennonite as he travelled around the province in his work. He openly admired them, the simple, Christian way of life, the lack of materialism. He adopted some of that simplicity in his life, although it wasn’t that obvious. Anglican priests, for the most part, dress quite simply. Black is the colour. That’s about it. Black shirt with white collar insert to look like clergy, black jeans or trousers, a plain black jacket or sweater. Yes, I know Anglican clergy, male and female, who are veritable peacocks. (You know who you are.) Most of us, though, keep to the simple and narrow way – it’s easier and it hides the coffee stains, which are an occupational hazard.

I, on the other hand, had closets of clothes. My daily dress was basic black, with some grey for variety. Off-duty, once out of overalls and denim jackets (raising sheep limits one’s wardrobe, too) I had dresses of fanciful shape and hue, and shoes, shoes, shoes. I had designer clothes. Oh, yes, tasteful designer clothes in those timeless styles, but cashmere, expensive wool, silk. Poor Nicholas was more than a bit intimidated by my high style when we met. (I wore designer jeans, a silk blouse and a suede cowboy hat. He was wearing an ugly plaid shirt and khakis – it just screamed “priest out of uniform.”)

Once we were together, and I had winnowed the chaff from the grain, wardrobe-wise, I was motivated to go one step further. Nicholas gave me his copy of Scott Savage’s The Plain Reader. I was home at last. Within a few days, I was down to two dresses, a skirt and blouse, and boots. I kept my black wool coat and made my first prayer kapp, thanks to Shepherd’s Hill.

But why?

It wasn’t mere Amish-enthrallment, motivated by romantic novel covers. I had known Mennonites and liked them, and had felt a bit of a tug to get Plain, but didn’t follow through. Anglicans aren’t Plain, I reasoned. No one will understand, people will hate it, I will look silly.

So I put that impulse aside. Little did I realize at the time that the hounds of heaven were on my heels.

Nicholas and I talked it over. It was a new life for us. We were already rural people, living a very simple life. It seemed practical, but it seemed more than that. We were making a break from the worldly past, and we were eager to show it. In Plain dress, with kapp and sturdy boots, I felt armored for the battle. I was ready. I was under the shelter of the heavenly hand.

That was the fulfillment of my search. I once said, “If only we could go out into the world, and take the monastery with us!”  I meant that we need to carry peace and mercy with us, sheltered by God. We move in this world, but we are not of it. We live in His Kingdom, here on earth. We are not citizens of the world of commerce and trade, just sojourners eager to return Home.

I went through many permutations of Plain, from nearly monastic to what I wear now, a Quakerly cape dress or jumper and a white or black kapp, and a very Plain Mennonite bonnet. I have made myself a slat bonnet, and those who know me as the most Austere of Austere Plain will be surprised to hear that today I bought two print fabrics for summer dresses, by Nicholas’s advice.

Nicholas looks the same as he has for four years or more: black shoes or workboots, black or blue jeans, black braces, Plain cotton shirt in white, beige, blue or black. He does have one madder red shirt he calls “orange” and thinks way too flash. He wears a black felt hat in winter, a plain straw hat in summer, doesn’t cut his hair and wears a full beard. He was wearing the Brethren chin beard, but his low vision now prevents him from shaving properly, and his beard and mustache have filled in. His winter jacket is his old peacoat, which he has had for many, many years. He’s a handsome man and I am blessed to have him by my side.

That’s us, Plain.

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.

Plain Sewing for Men

I haven’t had to sew for Nicholas. He is quite satisfied with jeans, blue and black, and simple shirts. Almost everything he has was bought at thrift stores. That it was really cheap and it fits him is what he likes the best about it. He never wears a sports coat or a suit, and the last tie he had was used to wrap up an old futon going to the tip. The only sewing I do for him is mending – buttons, rips, and remaking a pair of stretched out braces. (I intend to make a good pair as soon as I can find all the necessary hardware.)

But what if you want to make some traditional, or simply styled men’s clothing? Maybe you are a wife or mother sewing for the men, or a man who wants to run up some inexpensive clothes for himself. (I come from a family where the men knew how to use a sewing machine – and a good skill it is!)

The best choice is Friends Patterns (http://friendspatterns.net) for a range of Plain garments. They have patterns for broadfall trousers, fly front pants, a vest, a Hutterite cap (usually worn by boys), a placket shirt, a more traditional “coat” shirt (like a dress shirt), a Wamus dress jacket, a Mutze frock coat and work clothes like overalls, coveralls, and a farm jacket. This covers just about every need a Plain man should have. They also have boys’ sizes. My experience is that their patterns are high quality and meant to hold up for years. If your man doesn’t change sizes much, you may be set for life.

Candle on the Hill (http://www.candleonthehill.net/store/catalog) carries boys’ patterns for simple, modest clothing. They have a few Friend’s Patterns in stock.

Folkwear Patterns(http://folkwear.com)  has a a number of men’s styles that might be adaptable to Plain life: The Drover’s Coat 9137; various ethnic shirts (212 frontier shirts, 102 cheesemaker’s smock, 116 Shirts of Russia and Ukraine, 221 English smock, 148 Black Forest Smock, 202 Victorian shirt, 204 boatman’s shirt) and a “vintage vest” pattern, 222. Some big fabric stores carry Folkwear patterns, but I would expect to have to mail order them.

For those who don’t want to mail order patterns, although I believe the Friend’s patterns are worth the effort, there are some commercial patterns that can be adapted. Butterick has two costume patterns that might be adapted for shirts and jackets, 4486, which is a laced placket shirt – the lacing could be removed and buttons used; and 3072, a pattern I have used to make a Swedish men’s costume. It has a placket shirt, a vest and a frock coat of Colonial style, along with knee pants. Please note that most men’s costume patterns have pull-on, elastic waist pants – meant for an evening of dress-up, not all day use. You will either have to add a fly front or have a very disgruntled man on your hands. I’d just give the costume pants a bye, or use them for pajama pants. (Even then, men want a fly front.)

McCall’s has some patterns that might be useful. There’s a simple buttoned vest pattern (8285, for men and women.) Under costumes, there is a pirate’s costume that includes a laced placket shirt and a very simple vest. Again, forget the trousers. But for a more formal but Plain suit that would not require a tie, I like the look of the Civil War uniform, 4745. There is a single-breasted tunic jacket and button fly trousers that are more than basic costume pieces. Made in black or dark grey, with plain buttons, it would be nice for a wedding or Sunday, without looking costumey or like a uniform.

Simplicity  has some useful men’s and boys’ patterns. Pattern 2741 is a simple shirt and vest, also sized for women. For the rugged fella, there’s a husky/big and tall pattern for men and boys for shirts and vests (4975). If you are inclined to make trousers, Simplicity has 4760, shirts and pants for men and boys. One (7030) includes a shirt, vest and suspenders (braces) sized for men and boys. In costumes, Simplicity has a men’s caped coat (2517) which may not look so Plain, but is very practical – the cape sheds water and keeps the coat from getting soaked. Make it in wool. I like the looks of 2895, a Western style pattern, to make a frock coat, shirt and vest in men’s sizes. If a man wanted a more medieval or peasant type shirt for comfort, there’s 3519, which has dropped shoulders and a placket front.

Men’s clothing may take a little longer to make because of all the fitting, but it is worth the effort, considering that men wear their clothes for years. My grandmother made pants, shirts and suits for men all her life; my grandfather and uncle were quite well-dressed! And I wonder if some of their Pendleton wool shirts, made by Nana, are still being worn!

The No-Plastics Challenge – Personal Care

It seems that everything we use to enhance our physical well-being is made of or contained in plastic. Shampoos, liquid soaps, toothbrushes, combs, hair brushes – all are plastic or contained in plastic or wrapped in plastic.

I have switched to all natural locally made soaps. I developed a rather painful rash on my scalp and back from the shampoo I was using, a commercial brand in a big plastic bottle. This has happened before, so I knew the culprit. I had been using a commercial, “mild” bar soap, and couldn’t get near it without sneezing. Again, I knew the problem, as I have had fragrance sensitivities since my bad episode with a penicillin reaction a few years ago. I’ve bought a bar of laundry soap as well, against the time when the very weak scent of the laundry detergent starts to bother me. Right now, we are using a super-concentrated detergent that comes in a container the size of a drugstore cologne bottle. Four little pumps, and the whole load is clean, with almost no fragrance residue. That’s good for now, but sometimes I need a bar soap for the laundry, espcially if I am doing it in washtubs.

Soap is easy. Anyone can make soap. You can find hundreds of books on making soap. Even lye isn’t that hard – rainwater trickled through wood ash. Saponification is a chemical process that turns fats into soap. A chemist could tell you more, that’s about as far as I can get. Your great-grandmother made it from tallow or cooking fats. It is harsh at first, but mellows as it ages and the alkalines dissipate.

I use a bar soap on my hair. It has no artificial fragrance or colourings, and I just work up a lather between my palms, rub it in, rinse it through. ThenI follow with a rosemary vinegar rinse – cider or white vinegar (I only use Heinz because it is not made from petroleum) with dried rosemary steeping in it for a couple of days, filtered into a spray bottle (which is plastic – I’d use a metal one if I had one.) I spray my hair, rinse it out, and spray it again, which is left in. The vinegar smell evaporates as my hair dries. (You can use other herbs -lavender, chamomile, sage or calendula.) The vinegar cuts any soap residue. Vinegar will work in your laundry rinse, too.

Vinegar isn’t hard to make either. It takes a special kind of yeast called mother of vinegar and some clear fruit or vegetable juice. It is a bit like beer or wine making, with a more sober result.

Toothbrushes that aren’t plastic are hard to find. Here are some resources for either recycled toothbrushes or wooden/boar bristle ones:

http://lifeonplasticearth.blogspot.com: Good post on toothbrush alternatives.

http://fakeplasticfish.com : Excellent blog on learning to live plastic free, with stuff on toothbrushes and toothpaste.

To purchase products: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/boutique : Wooden toothbrushes and alternatives, lots of containers and such, wooden hairbrushes. Expensive, but might be worth it. I would get their wooden toothbrushes.

I have a wooden hairbrush, but I think the cushion that holds the boar bristles is a plastic of some sort. I’ve had it for years. In twenty-five years, I’ve had maybe three hairbrushes, all wooden handled, with natural bristles. I’ve only worn out one, and lost the other.

Combs used to be made of wood, metal, bone or even of amber or tortoiseshell. Amber is anti-static, but that would be a bit pricey. Tortoiseshell is considered endangered, although not all turtle species are. Still, who wants to kill the cute little guys just for a comb? Nice wooden combs are still around, and are quite a pretty accessory. My guess is that a good woodworker could make some combs in different sizes and types, polish them up, finish them (tung oil?) and sell them at craft fairs or farmer’s markets. I’d buy one, especially a wide-toothed detangling comb. Mine gets drafted for combing out warp on the loom quite a bit. Bone is up to you; I’m not opposed to it.

Toothpaste comes in plastic based tubes, no way around it. Even Tom’s of Maine has some plastic to it. They will let you return the empty tube for recycling, though. Toothpaste alts are usually made from baking soda, sea salt, and essential oil. I recommend 3/4 baking soda, 1/4 sea salt, and a couple of drops of myrrh or rosmary or sage essential oil. Myrrh is especially healing to mouth ulcers and inflammations. I rinse with a few drops of myrrh tincture in a 1/4 cup of water every night. The myrrh tincture was made by my local pharmacist, but you might be able to find it at an herbalist.

Toothbrush alts, if you simply couldn’t get a soft bristled small-handled brush, are fragrant twigs – sweet birch and licorice root are two old standbys. Chew on the end until it frays out, then rub over the teeth like a brush, no need for toothpaste or water – many people still do this around the world. Simply cut away the frayed bit when it is too worn. Rinse and set to dry just like toothbrush.

Olive oil and other light vegetable oils are the original skin softeners. Lanolin is an old emollient, used by the Egyptians, but not everyone likes sheep oil on their skin. (It’s precipitated out of the wool, not rendered out of the animal.) Beeswax and olive oil melted together with some essential oil for fragrance is the oldest cosmetic ever made. I still use it.

As for hair dyes, make-up and other popular beauty products – just don’t. Someday soon they may not be available, so don’t get dependent on them. I never use hair conditioners, they are quite unnecessary if you do not dye your hair or expose it to the sun. Many of these products are made of harsh chemicals, including petroleum. The best way to get over them is to get rid of all your mirrors but one small one for brushing your hair and pinning on your cap.

Men who must shave (and it is far from necessary – Nicholas has given it up completely now, saying he doesn’t need to spend time staring at himself) may need to invest in a straight razor or the old-fashioned drop-in disposable of the King Gillette type, although someday the blades might be hard to find; they are mostly a mail-order product now. Shaving cream and gel are just expensive alternatives to hard shaving soap and a brush.

As for feminine shaving – what do I need to say? Why bother? I’m so completely covered from neck to ankle that no one but my husband knows what is underneath. If the man in your life objects, there are natural beeswax methods for hair removal.

I’ll cover feminine hygiene products at a later date; this is a particularly sensitive topic amongst women!

Less attention to self and more attention to others, a cheerful and good-hearted acceptance of oneself as God made thee, and a life rich in work for the Lord will replace the need for self-adornment.

Acceptance and the Church

As self-identified minorities have clamoured for a voice in government, education, culture and the church, I think some other voices got pushed to the edges and maybe even silenced. Traditional men have been complaining about this for a few years; they once held most of the influence and power, and now they are just a voice amongst many. That is a whole other issue. Should a group that has held power, and not always wisely, take a back seat (or backbench in parliament) and let others have a turn? Should they acknowledge that they need to make room? On the other side of that, they are often the best educated and most experienced, and still control most of the financial assets. How does all of that fit together in a changing world?

But another group that never had much power or influence directly still isn’t at the table. That is traditional women. Despite, in the Anglican Church, the influence and fund-raising ability of the Women’s Auxiliary and Anglican Church Women, traditional women have sat on the sidelines and pretty much still do. (And this despite the remarks about the Women’s Artillery and the Army of Church Women. The rectors of the past were right, that these were the only places where women did have power in the church, and often they wielded it with an iron fist, as far as they could reach.)

Even more than men in suits and ties, we traditional women are seen as archaic, an anachronism in a church and culture that prides itself on moving with the times. The elder women may still be in the parish kitchen in forty year old aprons, but we younger ones (though I am feeling older by the day) sit in the pews, but rarely do we sit on vestry or council. The church doesn’t know what to do with us. They don’t know how to help us find ministry. I am ordained and my traditional dress and manner still cause consternation and hesitation.

Partly the church has accepted the cultural perception of the Plain: that we have little education, are extremely shy, that we will be obstinate and immovable in making decisions. Traditional women are perceived as having no independent thought, and relying on their husband’s opinions for everything. This is despite the facts, that while some Plain people do not have advanced education, they are often self-educated, and Plain people outside the Old Orders may have university degrees; that a peaceful mind and a quiet voice are not necessarily signs of shyness; that we may come from many different backgrounds and have varying opinions from each other as well as from society. My independence and creativity are things my husband found attractive before we married, and he does not try to stifle that. He has always relied on my knowledge, experience and power of logic. While I may defer to him on many matters, (Shall we sell the car? Do we live in this town or the next one over?) he wouldn’t make a decision without taking into account what I think or want. This is just basic respect for another human being; it has nothing to do with power and authority, which are Christ’s.

The church doesn’t know what to do with us, and most don’t know how to begin to learn. Quite often, even though we have attended a church for a period of time, we find we never get to know the other members. They may exchange a few words at coffee hour, but we have never, in the last few years, been invited to a member’s home except as part of a church group. We can’t always invite others to our home, because of living arrangements, but it is indeed the burden on the older members to invite the new ones, not the other way around. This is just part of the general lack of hospitality rampant in the churches; once our strongest feature, we have completely lost a sense of building community. And thus we exclude others when Jesus called us to welcome them in, unconditionally.

So what should the church be doing, to welcome those who are on the edges, to encourage women to have a strong sense of who they are, to include those who just don’t fit the mold?

First, get rid of the mold. Stop being a shill for culture and be the body of Christ.

Second, look for wisdom first in scripture, and then in the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Stop trying to twist these into a modern shape.

Third, stop accomodating money and worldly power. Jesus had neither of these. He told us to stay away from them.

Foruth, stop looking at the outside of people and pray to the Holy Spirit to help us see what is inside.

Fifth, get away from programmes and workshops and books about how to be Church and just go do it. Look seriously at what Christ said, what Christ did, and how the Apostles lived that out. We are probably not going to put on sandals and walk everywhere, preaching the gospel in the marketplace, but it wouldn’t hurt if we did.

Traditional women, you will have to be supportive of each other. Plain or not, you be the welcoming ones: Hospitality is a traditional woman’s ministry. Live out your role in the body if Christ by doing what you do well. Bake, sew, nurse the sick, teach the children, grow produce for the hungry. In the work that is given to us we must be the leaders. Men in suits and women in high heels, no matter how much power and money they carry, will never see us as influenetial or even useful. Elders will have to shepherd the young. So the ACW will need to start recruiting traditional young women and making room for them. Worldly people may have to shut up and listen; insist in a Spirit-filled way that we are hear to be heard.

It is just a beginning. I believe the Lord is leading us to take a seat at the table, not just in the shadows. In our own way, with meekness and humility, we will need to be the voice of the past and the future. Plain has a lot to offer, and we are the ones who bear that tradition.

A Trip to St. Jacobs

While we live in a tourist destination town, it’s not really the sort of place we would visit for leisure. Yes, it’s on the lake, but we are not beach people, not are we motorcycle people, nor are we boutique shopping or fine dining people.  Our idea of a good day out is a farmer’s market, preferably with other Plain people.

St. Jacobs.

It’s a town about two hours away, with a huge farmer’s market, outlet stores, a livestock exchange, and a large, well-stocked TSC. (TSC is mostly farming and barn equipment.) There are boutiques and fine dining in the town, but it was the market we wanted to see.

The drive wasn’t bad, despite rain and Ontario traffic through Kitchener-Waterloo. I like the countryside around there, with its rolling hills, neat farms and lush green everywhere. There are animals on many farms, cattle, horses and some sheep. It looks like our kind of place!

As we came into St. Jacobs, we passed an open buggy with four young men in it, getting wet in the shower.  Some of the men there wear a plain navy blue flat cap for driving, the first time I’ve seen that, instead of the brimmed hat. It makes sense; the cap stays on your head in a breeze even when the driver has both hands occupied. As for the rain – I can tell real country people, because they don’t mind a little water. It dries off quickly enough when a person starts moving around. City people are always trying to get out of rain, or covering their heads with plastic bags, newspapers – anything – in the hopes it won’t soak in and do permanent damage.

(Note that I did not take photos. First, I was driving. Second, I don’t like people to photograph me, so I allow others the same courtesy. Next time, I will get some photos of the market buildings and the horses and buggies at the TSC.)

This is a big farmer’s market. Nicholas tells me it is bigger than the one in Kitchener. It’s the biggest one I’ve ever been to. There are a couple of buildings, one the traditional hall with an upper gallery, with food stalls along the side and back to back down the middle, and craft stalls on the upper gallery.  We hadn’t brought the cooler, so we were limited in what we could buy, but the butchers’ stalls were so tempting. The bakers’ stalls had lots of temptation, but since I bake at home, I didn’t see much use in buying bread and goodies.

The craft stalls were disappointing. Maybe it’s because it’s early in the season, but they didn’t have much that was appealing.  The sort of things I would buy, that I couldn’t make myself, just weren’t there. I need a good butcher’s block cutting board, a small teapot, a drying rack and baskets, but none of that was available. Bright children’s sweaters, hand-dyed yarn, transfer decorated pottery and a bunch of decorative stuff was on display, but really, none of it was plain nor practical. Maybe later in the season there will be more crafters.

A second buiding is the Peddlar’s Village, with cubbyhole stalls, and commerically made goods. We found a new cane for Nicholas, to replace the old four-pronged he’s been using. This is a mottled copper colour, and is segmented with shock cord inside so it can fold down. He is very pleased. I’m less concerned about scratches in the floor now.

We bought pork pies, garlic sausage, and in the produce stalls, lots of vegetables, much of it grown in greenhouses here. Spotting a huge basket of garlic heads, I asked the young Mennonite woman at the stall if it was local. “Argentina,” she said with a smile. “Not very local,” I commented. Produce is either labelled with its origin or the vendor will supply the answer. (I believe this is required by law.) I was impressed by the amount of local produce available because of greenhouse growing. I consider this a hopeful trend. I’d rather see the energy expended to heat and light the greenhouse here, with local jobs, rather than being used to truck food from thousands of miles away, not yet ripe, and gassed to colour it.

It was a good opportunity to see what Ontario Mennonite women are wearing right now. Most wear the three piece dress, but some of the young ones wear the dress with a large waist apron, and no cape. Their caps are black for girls, white for married women. Some wear black ties on their white caps. The caps were all soft and pleated. Some had an elaborate pleated back, which was very pretty, and allowed room for a large bun. Their dresses are often blue or purple, but I saw brown and grey as well. The front seems to be closed with a covered placket rather than a small neck opening with snaps. They wear small calico type prints as well as solid colours, but nothing bright or large patterned. I found their dress to be very attractive.

The most interesting part of observing their dress were the bonnets. Some wore the close fitting black Wenger bonnet, with pleats and other trim, but some had switched to a deep brimmed bonnet in calico, usually purple or lavender with a small dark sprig print on it. The bonnets are quite elaborate with pleats, ruffles and even bows at the back. At a distance, a group of women in purple and lavender cape dresses, with bonnets in the same shades, is quite distinctive. Most wore black aprons over their dresses when working.

The children are dressed much as their parents. Little girls don’t always wear a bonnet, although some had on hoods for the rain, or kerchiefs. I didn’t see a child with a cap. The girls wear a simple dress with a pinafore type apron buttoned up the back. Their hair is usually french-braided. The little boys wear dark blue pants, braces, and plain shirts, with round-crowned straw hats. One little fellow decided that he would make a break for it, having obtained a bottle of chocolate milk from the family picnic table. He dashed off on his tiny shoes, with Dad right behind, scooping him up. The boy couldn’t have been more than a year old, and looked like a miniature of his father, minus the beard.

There ae other Plain dressing groups in the area, possibly Reformed or Brethren. The men wore dark hats and clothes, and were clean-shaven. Some of the dark-bonneted women may have been their wives. It’s hard to tell, since we Plain people often borrow a suitable style across group lines.

Nicholas has been looking for months for a suitable summer hat. Most commercially available straw hats from chain stores don’t appeal to him, with bright headbands, cowboy hat crowns, or too much roll to the brim. I’ve bought a couple over the years we’ve been together, and he has found them uncomfortable or too flashy. He stopped a group of young men, who looked at him nervously, as if they were expecting a reprimand. But all he wanted to know was if there was a vendor at the market selling summer straw hats. No, they said, they got theirs at the TSC. So after we finished our market shopping, we went to the TSC, across the road, and found another group of young men gleefully trying on new hats. (I assume this a ritual antecendent to courting – their hair was also sleekly cut, rather than chopped off at nape and forehead as older married men wear theirs.) We found two suitable hats at a suitable sale price. Nicholas doesn’t need to go courting, but I think he was as pleased as the boys. I found a good corn broom, too – my heart’s desire! TSC also carries a selection of children’s farm-themed toys, and I am contemplating a full barn with fences, animals and bales of hay for Patience’s Christmas gift.

We ate Oktoberfest sausage and headed home. (Getting lost on the way – there’s a lot road construction through Kitchener-Waterloo.) We are planning a trip for next month, but we will be better equipped next time, with a cooler, ice packs, and my packbasket.

Plain, Niqab, Hijab

Quebec wants to ban the wearing of chador and niqab. That is, they want to outlaw women covering their faces.

Most of us are aware that Islamic custom calls for women to be modest, even to the point where they don’t show their faces. Not many Muslim women who live in the West do this. While many practice the headcovering and modesty of hijab, they don’t feel called to cover completely. The government of Quebec, as well as other places, wants to prevent women from covering to the point of anonymity.

Why does the government think they can legislate religious practice and modesty? It’s just none of their business. If I want to go out in public in a hat with a full net veil, are they going to suspect me of plotting sedition? Western women used to veil under certain circumstances – getting married, wearing widow’s weeds (a long black dress, hat and face veil were common until about eighty years ago) and when they travelled in dusty or contagious conditions. A face veil that partially or fully concealed the features was considered fashionable at certain times.

This singling out of Muslim women is nothing but xenophobia. It is prejudice and hostility toward the religious practices of other cultures. There seems to be an assumption that the woman has no choice in this (according to a columnist here in Ontario) and that women do it because their husbands order them to. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam. Not all Islamic women practice hijab or niqab; not all Islamic men wear the beard or head cover. It is an individual choice. Certainly, some husbands may hypocritically order their wives in hijab or niqab while looking thoroughly Westernized themselves, but that is between the couple and maybe their religious community. Matters of family structure are not public matters unless they cross the line into abuse and violence.

My concern is that those of us who cover in other ways are going to be regarded with suspicion and come under scrutiny. We all look alike to some people, we cover too much of our hair and our bodies; there’s nothing to make us look like individuals. Which is the point. My individuality has nothing to do with my attire, my hair colour, or how much face or ankle I show. It has everything to do with being the person God wants me to be.

Traditional and Plain women need to stand up for their Muslim sisters’ right to choose niqab, the chador, the burkha and hijab. Their rights to religious expression and freedom are just as important as ours. If you want tolerance, you must practice tolerance.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

It’s a lot easier to simplify if you are Henry David Thoreau living in a little cabin at Walden Pond, unmarried, no children, a part-time job surveying or doing Dad’s accounting down at the pencil factory. It’s a lot harder to simplify if, like us, you have possessions you now need in another province, money to clear from another country, a two year old to potty-train and the one fully employed priest in the household has to have a wisdom tooth extracted in Holy Week. Oh, and the truck needs to be registered in this province, which means a new inspection certificate since the previous one has now expired.

Did I mention taxes? Yes, taxes.

Some things just have to be done.

They can’t be done simply, they can’t be eliminated. I, for one, am not going to tell Mother Kay that the wisdom tooth will simply have to wait. I’ve had an impacted wisdom tooth and it was so painful that it occupied all the space in the universe.

But, then, having already simplified so much I don’t have to: rearrange someone’s squash lesson, cancel a dinner party, reschedule vacation, or tell the contractor I won’t be available Tuesday for the consultation on the addition to the indoor pool. I won’t be missing any meetings, or disappointing the bridge club. I will simply drive Kay home from the dentist, and pick up the child from the babysitter. The husband will fend for himself. He can even make his own coffee if he must.

I can devote an hour or two to get the truck legalities sorted out, and I’ve already quite simply postponed the trip back East for a week. There are leftovers for supper at least one night this week.

In the meantime, husband will let in the repairman who needs to fix the leak under the sink, and the same repairman can simply handle the front step repair without any further guidance. He knows more about plumbing and masonry than I do, anyway.

I have until the end of April to get the taxes done, and ours are simple. We live simple lives, so simple we don’t have much income.

A young couple we know are concerned about simplifying their lives. They would like to live in an intentional Christian community, having been taken with Shane Claiborne’s writing. I don’t blame them, I am too. But I’m a wee bit older (like older than their parents) and I have some experience in living intentionally.

“It means a change of lifestyle,” I wrote to them. “And everyone has to agree to rules, or it won’t work.”

The change of lifestyle for them will be the loss of recreational shopping, of friends who are not Christian and don’t want to be; and hardest of all, it will probably mean some shock and horror from immediate family. Why would you want to do all this?

Many of us have looked around at the world and we do not like what we see. We see that one cannot follow Christ and live in the world as a worldly person. We may move amongst the worldly, but we have to find ways to go trhough the masses without losing sight of the our Lord. It is not simple. Not at first. At first, when there is so much to give up, it is complex. Our emotions get in the way. Guilt over leaving so much behind can be overwhelming. People we love don’t help us; they judge and even try to hinder us. It would be simpler to give up and turn back.

But that doesn’t work. Turning back, giving up, putting on the three piece suit and tie or the heels and make-up again, will feel so false, so tiresome. We will long for the days of freedom, when we simply followed the way of Jesus Christ.

And how do we do that? Where is that way?

I can say this, simply: You’ll know when you are on the road. You may not know where you are going, but you will know when you get there that it was the right way. It looks different for everyone, even as it looks the same. Simply get started, and go.

Raising Up a Child

God gave parents a huge responsibility. It’s not just that we have to clean, feed, house and tote the children around like luggage, but we must train them in the way they should go. Which can be hard, since often we are not going that way.

I wish now that I had done better for my own. I had a pretty clear picture of what I wanted for them, how I would raise them up in the way they should go, but I gave in to cultural and peer pressure. I wanted an alternative life; I wanted to farm and live without television and worldly culture. I thought it was a good way to bring up children. But it wasn’t long before television, cartoon related toys, and the world in general invaded my organic patch. If I’d had more backbone, I would have resisted. I probably would have run away from the pressure, and done a better job parenting. Hey, sons: Forget the first twenty years, will you, and be good organic farmers, like I meant you to be, okay?

Now, I see the same pattern happening in another generation, perhaps even at a younger age. Why should a twelve-year-old girl be a fashion expert? Who wants to listen to a twelve-year-old tell you what you should be wearing? It gives me the shudders. How narcissistic are we? We seem to need our children to reflect what we want to be, instead of being the people they need us to be. We need to be good, positive, Christian role models, not reflections of television and films.

I am sick to death of the television tie-ins I see on small children. (And some older ones.) No child needs to wear Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger too on her clothes. Clothes are to protect your body from the elements, not give you an identity and ready-to-wear personality. It’s just the start of brand awareness, of expensive taste, of caring more for things than for people.

I know I wear a sort of uniform that identifies me very prominently as a practicing Christian. It may be a kind of “branding” itself, but that is only because the concept of brand identification exists. Otherwise, the black dress, white cape and apron, and prayer cap would be just my clothes, practical things to cover the body for warmth and modesty. Because we now associate personality with dress, other people make assumptions about me and who I am. Someone who has known me for months, seen me in church and gone to a theatre with me asked if I was mennonite. It rather surprised me, because by now, in those contexts, I would expect to be recognized for who and what I am.

Are we trying to mold our children into mini-mes? The answer I get from grandparents and observers of culture is “yes,” but not in the positive, community-oriented way it used to be done. We don’t fit into the culture the way we might want; we are not rock stars or famous actors. We are ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living in ordinary houses. So why do we want Louis Vuitton handbags, Seven jeans, Chanel perfume? Why do we make up our faces and talk and walk as if we were fabulously wealthy and the ordinary rules of life do not apply?

Why do we then impose those impossible false standards on our children? And at the same time, these children are not developing tastes and personalities and individuality; they become clones of the culture.

One of the principal tasks in raising children is to make them accountable to their own conscience, to the community, and to their Lord. Can we do that if their only sense of accountability is to look fashionable, to be an extension of some designer’s ego, or a clown in cartoon dress?

Doomsday scenarios are very popular in contemporary literature and film, and on television. And that seems strange to me, since most of the people who watch television and films are oblivious to the need to learn how to take care of themselves and the earth. They couldn’t hoe a patch of beets without direct supervision; they couldn’t plan a year’s growing season. Designer clothes will not feed you in the midst of a famine. Truth be told, these people are pretty helpless. Do they all think they will be on Ark 4 when the world comes apart? (I just watched 2012, the movie.)

So what are we teaching our children? If we don’t drop out of the whole consumerist culture, we will be teaching them to be dependent, dependent on someone else’s intelligence, labour and taste; we will teach them that they don’t need to have a personality or ethic of their own. And worst of all, we will teach them that God’s way doesn’t matter.