Plain: Practical, Yes. Historic? No.

Everyday Me

It’s a quiet day here, as I am under the damping effects of a minor cold. Colds are slightly more serious for me than most otherwise healthy people. I have an allergy to viruses, and even a cold can cause flare-ups of eczema, hives and angio-edema, the most serious form of that group of allergic reactions. So I am on the couch, coughing and sneezing, waiting for the subcutaneous bump on my forehead to disperse (it usually takes about 24 hours) and doing some on-line reading. I use Google Reader and the tag surfer on WordPress, and this opens up a lot of sites it would take me hours to find on my own.

I don’t have to tell my readers how much misinformation is online about Plain groups like the Amish. People who barely know what Anabaptism is about criticize Amish, Mennonites, and anyone who looks Amish as cultish, needlessly romantic, and anachronistic. The Amish and such Anabaptist groups are not a cult, and don’t come close to a definition of a cult. Most of those misperceptions are based on watching movies and television. Although the Amish follow an ordnung, or code of behaviour, so do most Christians. But most of us in the mainline churches don’t take it seriously; that’s the main difference. Then we sit around in committee meetings at church wondering why so few people care about the church anymore. Our blatant hypocrisy may be the key answer to that question. I could have been accused of this myself a few years ago, and justifiably in some ways. But not in the way most people would think: my divorce and remarriage. That was setting to right situations that had gone horribly, destructively bad. Details aren’t necessary here; but it was the worldliness of other behaviour that was really isolating me from fulfilling God’s intentions for me. I was a clotheshorse and a culture dilettante. I was trying to live with a foot on both sides of the Jordan River. I was called into the Kingdom of God, but I wanted to keep a pied-a-terre in the world.

Practicality is my natural turn of mind. There is nothing baroque about me. “Plain” was, perhaps, easier for me than for others. I think all Christians are called to give up the world as much as possible. We are not to be a frivolous people, and we are always called to a life of sobriety. We are to be considerate, thoughtful, and aware of our place in the Kingdom. We are given joy and even happiness, as long as we do not forget who we are.

I submitted to Plain in dress and way of life. We have occasionally ventured back into some worldly pursuit – television was the worst temptation, when we lived in a place where it was always available – but after a spell, we left that behind. Even in reading secular literature I am always asking myself, “What does this mean to me as a Christian?” We can’t completely avoid interacting with the world and culture, but we are called to do that on His terms, not the world’s.

Giving up a worldly wardrobe was a bit of a wrench at first. Through clothing I told the world who I thought I was. I expected that the world would take me at my word, and it pretty much did. I had a classically proportioned figure and I let the world know that. And as one friend once told me, “You are quite beautiful without make-up, but with it you are stunning.” So I would play up the blue eyes, high cheekbones and cupid’s-bow mouth. I wanted to be admired and desired. But that was making an idol out of my appearance, and that kind of  shallow self-absorption was contrary to my natural self, who didn’t care much for frivolous indulgence.

I missed my fine clothes because costume was a canvas for my projection of my pretensions, a rendering of my view of self-worth. Once gone, and once in sober black and grey dresses and white kapps, I didn’t mind anymore. Without make-up, I was more concerned with my real health issues, rather than being focussed on appearing healthy while disguising the neglect of true health.

I took to Quaker Plain dress quickly and easily. It is comfortable, inexpensive and easy to maintain. It doesn’t go out of style quickly. The Amish had adopted Quaker style when they emigrated to Pennsylvania, and the two Christian denominations seemed to have supported and influenced each other for about a hundred years.

But modern day Plain dress, whether overtly Amish as in an ordnung or Conservative Quaker as it has evolved and been adapted, is not historic. Even a hundred years ago Plain Quakers and the Amish had a more elaborate form of dress, especially among women. Skirts were much longer, in keeping with the expectation in the dominant culture that a modest women doesn’t even show an ankle; aprons were at least in two parts, cape and skirt; many Amish did not use buttons but continued to use straight pins, as some conservative groups do today. Kapps covered more of the head, had wider ties, and were invariably tied under the chin, especially among the Amish.

Today’s typical Plain dress is simpler in construction, and shorter. Aprons may still consist of two parts, but are much shorter and use less fabric. Only a handful of Old Orders bother with the open front cape and the innumerable straight pins to hold clothing closed. (And the pins aren’t that bad to use once the wearer gets accustomed to it. I have rarely pricked myself pinning on a dress or apron. I went to safety pins and snaps because my husband became wary of all the straight pins. A lost straight pin is much easier to replace than a lost button, too.) The kapp can be a very light, almost transparent confection that sits gloriously on the wearer’s glossy, swept up hair, or it can be the cupped and pleated style that covers the head from the ears back. It is practical because it keeps the loose ends of hair under control, and I don’t often have to redo my bun and kapp unless I have been caught out in a gale.

As for footwear – shoes have become as much a status statement in Western civilization as an expensive automobile or an exotic vacation. Shoes are a bit of poshness that most women can covet and even express. The more ridiculous the shoe in material and height, the greater the status. Stiletto heels say exactly the same thing as footbinding did in imperialist China. Just like displaying long, painted fingernails, the wearer is saying, “I don’t have to work, walk or do anything for myself.” This is where feminism failed us. Instead of being about equal rights under the law for women, it devolved into “Do what you want.”  So how can anyone take women seriously if women act frivolously just because, well, they can? We as women object to men being lifelong adolescents, concerned with sex, fun and drinking. Why do we accept the same sort of role for ourselves, and worse, put ourselves in fetishistic, impractical outfits to do the same stupid things?

I am liberated by Plain dress and Plain life. I am not chained to a credit card anymore. I am always suitably dressed for any occasion, assuming I am not covered with flour, goat hair or garden mud. And if I have become disheveled in doing my real work, I can easily change into a fresh apron. I don’t have to choose special undergarments on which to hang my tight, skin-exposing clothes, and I am not in four-inch high hobbles.

Yes, I dress Plain as a statement of Christian witness, but part of that witness is that I am no longer a slave to the hell-driven commodification from Madison Avenue. Not only has Jesus Christ given me spiritual freedom, following His way has freed me from the anxiety and wasted energy of fashion and status.

Kapp, Kerchief, Covering

We had an interesting discussion on the witness of headcovering on facebook. A video was offered for critique; many were impressed with the articulate and honest answers of the women interviewed. But two issues surfaced: I thought that the presentation was amateurish (okay, it is youtube) and hurt the credibility of the statements made; another person wondered why none of the women interviewed had covered for more than three years. All seemed to be converts to a group or church that covered. That may have been the focus of the presentation, but it wasn’t clear.

And in looking for other videos or presentations that promote headcovering, I found quite a bit of material that would leave the reader puzzled or perhaps thinking it was for members of certain faith groups and not others. Those Christian churches that have practiced covering for generations – particularly the Anabaptists and a very few Conservative Quaker meetings that continued – have little to say about it. Where are the testimonies of people who have covered for years, who have mothers and grandmothers who covered? And what about the testimony of women who have covered for many years, without much fanfare?

I am inviting all women who cover or who are led to cover to comment, with the goal of compiling those comments and thoughts into some presentation that can be used for teaching about covering.  I would like to see input from women who have just started covering, who have covered for a few years (myself included) and who have covered for many years. There are no wrong ideas or opinions in this, and we are not going to argue theology and discipline, just contribute personal experience and guidance.  Don’t worry about spelling and grammar; I will straighten that out.

Questions to consider:

Why do you cover? When did you start? Do you belong to a group that covers? How have other people reacted, positively and negatively?

You may include your name and geographic location. If you don’t want to, that’s okay.

What would be the best format for this? A blog post? A webpage? A video (eventually – we do not have the technology right now)? Would you want to refer other people to it if it was presented well? (That depending on my skills and any help that might be volunteered.)

Is there anything else that could be presented that would be helpful?

I am continuing to compile information for any updated post on modest/Plain dressing resources, and welcome more contributions.

Back to the Land

Now that we are confirmed in moving back to the Maritimes, and we have a place to go, the reality of planning is setting in. I’ve known many homesteaders over the years, some living quite successfully on small acreages, others failing bit by bit, year by year. Realistic planning is the key to starting well.

Although we are welcome and encouraged to raise food and animals on our little patch, I am not rushing into this. Some steps have to happen first. We have to set the money aside for animal shelter and fencing. We have to get the garden area opened by plow. We have to arrange for organic fertilizer – which is fairly easy in that neck of the woods, since there are several beef and sheep farmers. And I am not feeding animals over the winter who won’t produce anything until next year! The advantage of getting layers and milkers cheap right now is offset by the expense of them eating their heads off with no production for months. Sellers are anxious to move their extra stock in the fall, but I can’t make it cost out this year. Since the only outbuilding on the property is an old garage, we need to see if that will be adequate for shelter if some box stalls are built in it. Right now, we have agreed to let the vehicles stored in it stay rather than inconvenience the landlords, who are generous, Christian people – a great blessing!

The house is heated by oil or baseboard electric heaters, which is the only downside to the rental. We are all right with being a bit cold this winter; Plain people wear a lot of clothes anyway, and we will be snug in sweaters and comforters when we aren’t outside working. I don’t see an easy switch back to wood, since the house hasn’t had a woodburning unit in decades. I know I want a Pioneer Maid stove for cooking, heat and hot water; how to do this is the big question.

The house is two bedrooms, plus a small room as an ante-chamber to one of the bedrooms, just the right size for the grandbaby’s crib. There is a good-sized back entry room, heated, so I have a place to sew and spin and keep the dog. The kitchen is large. The living room is pleasantly situated to look out toward the woods that border the river bank. There are two bathrooms, one with a washer and dryer, an unexpected convenience. I will use the washer through the winter this year, and switch back to my laundry tubs in good weather. There is a clothesline already, and I always travel with lines, as well, if I need more room for drying. The dryer won’t get used much, except for real emergencies. I have my wooden clotheshorse for indoor drying.

Our plan is to stay home most of the time. I will buy groceries in bulk, and since we have two long fasts before summer, beans and potatoes will figure in the menus a lot. I intend to get a secondhand freezer, not too old, and bargain for meat in quantity. Since we will be mostly vegetarian, I doubt if we will use more than one pound of meat a week. Using about fifty pounds of meat a year isn’t much, and it may prove out to be less. I could quite possibly cut that in half, if we keep the strict fasts, which are twice a week, every week, with advent and lent about a month each, and the two short fasts of two weeks in June and August. The fasts are not only meat free but dairy free. The strict fasts exclude fats most days.

I have patterns for all our clothes but men’s trousers. Jeans are still very cheap in the thrift shops, and our winter clothes should go another year or more. Unless I find good dark wool on sale, I doubt if I will get my cloak made this winter, but my cloth coat will do. We are fine for shoes except for muddin’ boots. I have fabric for dresses, bloomers, nightgowns and patch quilts so I have plenty to do on days at home. Nicholas is looking forward to time outdoors with the dog, planning for next year, moving a bit of snow in the driveway, and generally helping around the house.

For being at home is a big factor in homesteading. Some people have to take outside jobs to get the mortgage paid for a few years, but we are hoping that selling produce, wool, lambs and maybe preserves will cover what extra cash we need. We want to live simply and to work together day by day. It’s a form of Christian discipline as well as a social protest against greed and worldliness. Maybe if some of us put on the brakes of this runaway cart we call modern life, the rest of the world will slow down and see the light.

Quaker Struggles

My sympathy is with my Conservative Quaker friends. And I hope they have some sympathy for their Anglican friends as well. We are all struggling with issues concerning church discipline, and sometimes the debate becomes battle, which is so unChristian.

Issues they are struggling with that we don’t have to address much: modernity and paganism.

Issues we struggle with that they don’t have to address much: Ordained women and new liturgies.

I have a question for Quakers who are not Christian: how does that work? If we are waiting on the Holy Spirit, doesn’t that imply some sort of belief in the Christian trinity – God the Father, Creator; God the Son, Redeemer; God the Holy Spirit, Sustainer. Not three gods, but one God, in three persons. (I won’t venture into that too deeply to avoid the heresy of modalism. Just read the Athanasian Creed, which is the best explanation of what the nature of the Trinity is.)

Still, waiting for the Holy Spirit implies a belief in that Spirit, a Christian doctrine. God sends His Spirit to inform, lead and refresh us. We are strengthened in His Spirit. Jesus told us about the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. How can a Quaker sit in meeting, waiting on the Spirit, when that Quaker doesn’t believe in the Spirit?

I’m going to get pagan arguments, aren’t I? That there is a motivating spirit in the universe, or many spirits that wish to speak through and to humanity, that what Christians call the Holy Spirit, the Spiritus Sanctus, is just the Spiritus Mundi, the Spirit of this world. So why are you in a Christian setting if that is what you believe? There are lots of places for pagans, hundreds of groups that meet and have rituals – why clutter up Quaker meeting, where there are people who are waiting to hear from God? If it is because Quakers are people of peace and have organizations in place for social justice, that doesn’t seem fair, to ride their coattails. Go start your own social justice groups and get away from all that “Do as Christ did” Christian sanctimony.

As for nonbelievers – rational humanists – there’s theosophy societies, and the Unitarians. Unhealthy skepticism and outright, stubborn disbelief have no place in a Christian setting. If a meeting is entirely humanist and/or pagan, why are they still Quaker? Quaker, by definition, is Christian. They were Christians when they broke away from the Anglican church and took some of our theology with them. But as we say, “Lex orendi, lex credendi” – the law of prayer is the law of belief. So Anglicans kept their prayer book, composed almost entirely of scripture, as the law of prayer and belief, so we wouldn’t wander off some side road of non-Christian belief and heresy, and forget our God. It’s not a good thing to forget the God of Abrahahm. We get lost in the world, and then suffer the world’s punishment.

One thing Paul taught us in his letters – don’t argue with nonbelievers. Pray for them instead. Don’t keep them in your fellowship as they will sow doubt and dissent. Perhaps our Quaker brothers and sisters need to split their meetings again, leaving the nonbelievers to their own devices, and call the believers back into discipline. Discipline is not punishment or even correction; it is teaching, and following the right way.

Plain Dress November

Plain is as Plain does

I’ve been Plain since 2006, along with my husband. He was naturally plain, I think; even as a child, when his mother, a very good seamstress, would make him fashionable shirts and clothes, he would only wear them to please her, preferring jeans and dark shirts. He was a natural for clergy garb – black pants, black shirt with the funny white plastic tab in the collar. (I absolutely despise those tabs.) He’ll wear the same shirts now, without the insert. Oddly, he always hated belts – the buckles were never plain enough for him, and he’s not shaped well for a belt, anyway. When I switched his trousers to braces buttons, he was well-pleased.

He hates suits. When he’s had to wear one, especially if it means a tie, he looks like a dressed-up bear. He rolls his arms forward and leans out of the tie. He no longer has either.

My journey to Plain is well-documented here; I don’t need to recapitulate. I’ve survived the hostility from friends and family, and in some cases, I’m still waiting for some people to come mend their side of the fence. Those that don’t like it can go on not liking it; I’m done defending myself because for Heaven’s sake, I have done nothing wrong in this.

Should others become Plain? Only if called. When the call is felt, it is inescapable. I was probably called from childhood. I loved Plain people, Quakers and Amish. I loved nuns in traditional habits. I thought our Baptist ministers in their suits and coloured ties were real peacocks compared to the Catholic and Anglican priests! (I’ve since met some really flamboyant dressers, and have toned down my opinions.)

We do need to think about Plain when we are called. It will be a long, hard meditation, with a lot of wavering. It isn’t vanity to take pains with Plain when we start. It took me a couple of years to refine what I needed to do. Some of it is pragmatic – the stiff caps instead of soft caps, the length of skirts, the choices of colours. (My husband is partially blind for the last year and more; I’ve switched to brighter colours so he can see me more easily.)

Dressing in the morning is now more than undies, jeans and a pullover. I have to consciously think of how the clothes go on, and remember why I am doing it. Long dresses, some of them cotton, require shifts and such underneath, and an apron (or some such) over for modesty. (I have a lot to be modest about,which I used to flaunt, or at least emphasize. I’m not ashamed of it, but it isn’t what I need to present first to the world.) Priests of the high church party used to have cards outlining the prayers they were to say as they put on their ecclesial garments, a practice derived late in the 19th century from the vesting prayers of the Orthodox Church, which are ancient. I have used both, although when alone my vesting prayers were along the lines of “Please, God, don’t let me say anything stupid out there, and keep me from tripping over my cassock again.”

In the church, I was plain at the altar. I wore cassock and surplice (a really long one that looked like a nightie; it subbed as an angel costume) and black stole, known as a tippet. This is also called a preaching stole. I very rarely wore coloured stoles, an alb or a chasuble – the round garment that signifies the prist who is celebrating the communion. Some priests wear their university hood with cassock and surplice and stole. I was taught to wear one or the other, hood or stole. I’ve lost my hood, and I doubt if I will replace it. It says to the people, I think, “I’m smarter than you.” There were times I would get called out of the vestry, not get back in, and start the service in just cassock. I sometimes said the service in street clothes. Everyone there knew who I was and what I did, why did I need special clothes?

Things I like about Plain: I don’t send mixed messages. I don’t look rich, or sexy, or trying to look younger than I am. People ask me questions in a friendly way. Sometimes I have amusing encounters with people who guess all the wrong things about me (except that I am rich, sexy or young.) I can make my own clothes and ear them for years without anyone wodnering why I’m out of style. My shoes are comfortable. I get to wear aprons.

It is an easy vocation, now that I’ve done it for quite a while. It is a blessing.

The Kitchen Prayer

all things come of thee O Lord

One of the bonuses of living in a rectory is that we have first pick at the church rummage sale. This seems to be a universal bonus for clergy families. The rationale (at least my rationale) is that we can find things that we know are needed by those who can’t afford even to shop rummage sales. I have gathered in children’s clothes, kitchenware, and work clothes for people who needed them from my own churches in the past. We either write a blanket donation check (usually more than the goods were marked) or we tally it up and give the dollar amount.

I had a list; Mother Kay is away and I knew what was needed. Now, some of it is for us, admittedly, but we are so far behind in replacing lost household items that I need a head start.

It was a good bunch of stuff.

Canning jars – quart and two quart, square. The perfect homesteading canning jars. Four boxes. The prize of all rummage sale prizes!

Two winter sweaters, one for each of us, a pile of children and baby clothes for struggling families (including our own) and a new, still-cello-wrapped family Bible for Kay to present to someone. (Clergy have first dibs on all Bibles at church rummage sales. Dear Father John Pearce, now with the Lord, used to pull them off the shelves in thrift shops, walk up to the sales clerk and ask, “How much for these Bibles?” even if they were clearly marked. I don’t think he ever paid for one, because the answer was always, “For you, Father, it’s free.” He gave them away within days. There really is a need and hunger for the Word in this world!)

Two new quilting patterns, and an Amish doll pattern -you know how expensive those are! A pile of Icelandic yarn and knitting needles and patterns. Fabric remnants.

A knife block with two Henckel knives and steel. A beautiful honey pot. A casserole dish and carrier. Two aprons.

And this:

“Lord of all pots and pans and things, since I’ve not time to be

A saint by doing lovely things or watching late with Thee

Or dreaming in the dawnlight or storming heaven’s gates,

make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.

Altough I must have Martha’s hands, I have  a Mary mind,

And when I black the boots and shoes, Thy sandals, Lord, I find.

I think of how they tread the earth, what time I scrub the floor,

Accept this meditation, Lord, I haven’t time for more.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy love, and light it with Thy peace.

Forgive me all my worrying and make my grumbling cease.

Thou who didst love to give men food, in room or by the sea,

Accept this service that I do, I do it unto Thee.”

It is a simple letter-press card, about 5×7, in a plain wooden frame. It is signed “Klara Munkers” and at the bottom is the chi rho, over a large M, flanked by loaves and fishes. I think I have some old prayer cards by this publisher; I will have to see if it is the same emblem. It is dated 1960, so I don’t think I violated any copyrights here.

Need I say that this is how many of us live? We have the daily duty of feeding our families and others, and caring for their well-being in the most mundane of things, such as washing up. We aren’t St. George slaying dragons; we are Brother Lawrence scrubbing pots. Jesus compares the loyal followers to those servants who sit up in the kitchen, waiting for the master, making sure that all is in order for Him, and He then tells us, “What you do for the least of these, you do for Me.”

When we fail in our daily work, when we put off the ordinary but necessary tasks because we have so many more interesting and exciting things to do, we fail our Lord. He gave us our families and neighbours in trust, to care for them as He cares for us. I’m not saying to be rigid and obsessive, but an attitude of “housework isn’t important” or “cooking is for those who like to do it” fails others. It is an honour to do these things, to care for the children of God. He don’t need to be heroes, we don’t need to be important. We don’t need praise and recognition – we have His approval and thanks already.

The Cost of Shelter – Where is Your Palace?

no palace for the King of kings

Have any of you been looking for housing lately? We expect to move into our own place at the beginning of the year, but where? And how much will it be? It looks as if everything is way more than we can afford!

Now, I’m not very fussy. If it keeps out the snow and rain, can be heated with a woodfire (safely) and has some form of sanitation and a water source, we’re pretty much okay with that. We would prefer, obviously, a garden, some sheds or barn for animals, a quiet, natural setting. But we have been happy in a nineteen foot travel trailer and a 300 square foot cabin. We don’t need much.

Housing is expensive because it is a valuable commodity. It should be a basic human right – shelter. We live in manufactured mansions while many in the rest of the world live in what barely counts as shelter – it doesn’t keep out the rain, or animals, or thieves. (Yes, thieves steal from the poor all the time – a few dollars, medications, a wedding ring, even food.)

But for the poor, housing and basic shelter are a constant struggle. Nothing will bring me to tears and all-out panic faster than the prospect of being homeless. I find looking for affordable housing to be exhausting, discouraging and frustrating.  We hear things like, “We will need a deposit,” although every place we lived together has been in better condition when we left than when we moved in; “no pets,” although my old sheepdog has neve done damage, barely makes a noise, and I always clean up after herin the yard, and heaven knows, it would break our hearts (hers and mine) to be separated now;  “you’ll have to take it month-to-month, I may want it back for my daughter in three months” or “you’ll have to sign a lease because people move out of here after just a couple of months and I’ll want the whole year’s rent,” which means there is something terribly, terribly wrong.

If I could buy a house it would be cheaper by the month, but even if we can scrape together a down payment, I don’t have a job and we won’t qualify for a mortgage. There are cheap properties in rural areas, perfect for homesteaders like us, but after a year and more of financial disaster due to Nicholas’s stroke, we have no credit.  We don’t have parents to co-sign. My father is the only surviving parent, he is in his eighties, and he is in another country.

One author we like, Ferenc Mate, in his book A Reasonable Life, pointed out that it used to be that when a couple got married, they went out to the edge of the village, everyone helped build a house, and the young people moved in. Land and property weren’t commodities – they were community property. Oh, in the days of feudalism, one had to ask the lord if it was okay to put up your hut or cottage, but likely he’d say yes, because a newly married couple meant soon-to-be-born babies who would grow up to be productive labourers.

Just about everything we see on real estate and housing, home decoration and family life, is geared toward selling us the American dream – the big house, the rooms full of furniture, kitchen heavy with granite countertops and stainless  steel appliances and expensive cookware. But people don’t seem to live in these houses; they merely exist, moving between bed, car and soul-grinding job. They long for escape. So then we see the advert with the father finding the family members scattered in different rooms, all of them connected to a different electronic device. He takes them on a vacation in a motorhome to make them reconnect around the campfire, under the stars.

What?

That house, in this market, must have cost a half-million dollars; everyone is in their own room. They are not talking to each other because they are comfortable in upholstered furniture, passively receiving communication through television and the internet. Is there some reason they can’t build a fire in that fieldstone fireplace in the barn-sized living room, turn off the devices and talk to each other in their own home? A half-million dollar home, filled with tens of thousands of dollars worth of furnishings, and they have to buy an $80,000 furnished, self-propelled dumpster to have a conversation?

All right, I’m serious about this. We are looking for, first of all, community. We want to live among other Christians, we want some self-supporting work, we want to grow our own food. I don’t know yet how much we can pay in rent, or if we could possibly buy something with a low down payment and low monthly payments. We are clean, tidy and skilled. We are quiet. We aren’t perfect. We have the occasional light drink but you would never know it. We are good neighbours. I am used to being called out of bed in the middle of the night because someone is in need of help.

Is it possible? Does the medieval sense of community still exist? Is it possible to recapture the sense of the early church in being Christians together?

We are poor financially, but we are rich in knowledge. Who needs that in their community? Who has room?