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.

Post-Paschal Life

Those of us in the “Jerusalem” churches – those churches that derive their calendar and liturgy from the first practices of the church begun under St. James of Jerusalem – get very caught up in Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal celebrations. We get to Easter Week – the octave of Easter, the eight days beginning with Easter Sunday and ending the following Sunday – pretty much overstimulated and exhausted. We are stumbling pilgrims by the time we eat our paschal feast. Although I had no liturgical duties this year, I had many household duties and like the good cellarer I try to be, I felt run off my feet at times.

So the fast is over, the celebratory lamb roasted and the wine drunk; a rich desert tops it off and we finish up the leftovers over the next couple of days. Family gather, people call, it’s something like a wedding with the long church service and the feast after. We had a fair amount of poor health and stressful situations through the end of Lent and in Holy Week, but we made it through with peaceful hearts (mostly) and equanimity.

When I had a parish, I found Lent and Easter so tiring and stressful that I simply could not contemplate feasting on the Sunday. I collapsed after my last Paschal service, in no shape to cook or entertain. I would have some ready-made food and a bottle of wine, land on my couch, nibble and sip a bit through the afternoon, and probably fall asleep before ti was time to get up and feed the sheep.

One of the additional stresses was lambing, which wil fall between March and May, just like Easter. One might wonder why I kept at shepherding, but it was my ground. It kept me from becoming so esoteric and otherworldly that I would not have been able to relate to ordinary people. I tend to be ascetic, austere and intellectual, even though I love athletics and the outdoor life. But it is easier to just sit inside with a book, someone else bringing in the food and firewood. This is not real life – the ivory tower is not the world God created.

Even urban Christians need to get out in the fresh air sometimes. Even if it`s just a few tomato plants on a windowsill or balcony, for heaven`s sake and your own, grow something! Find a park and some free-flowing water and go there. Life is not a brightly lit square with images flashing across it.

The easier pace of the days after Easter remind me a little of the feast to come. Food is plentiful – in theory – since it is spring, things are growing, and we have food from the banquet still in the house. The daily grind lightens as we eat raw and barely cooked vegetables and herbs. (I know this may not apply to the temperate southern hemisphere, but you have your own seasons.) The anxiety of penance and discipline leaves us for a time; our readings and prayers are of thanksgiving and joy.

This will be heaven, and the restored Creation God has promised us. Our sin, our confession, our penance will be subsumed in the great forgiveness of the atonement of Christ. Death will no longer dog our footsteps. We will have nothing to fear – not loss, not famine, not illness and weakness. When He comes to His own, we will be as Him, perfected finally, the flaws burned away. It will always be the Paschal season.

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.

How Long O Lord?

I probably put my foot in my mouth very recently, in a brief discussion about what to expect from a new parish.

“If they are not prepared to do mission,” I said, “then the rector is there just to start shutting it down.”

It sounds, now, as if I have no patience. This is true.

I certainly do not have patience with “keep the homefires burning” churches. They aren’t interested in fulfilling the Great Commisssion; they are interested in maintaining the status quo. And I am so not status quo. I am also so not take-it-easy, get-concensus. I’m not. Just know that.

But can it be changed? I think so; it’s happening all the time. The Holy Spirit is moving through the churches, lighting new fires. It will be up to ministers, priests, and church leaders to fan that flame and feed the fire.

I’ve said previously that the churches must take on mission. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. The church is cool water in the desert, literally as well as figuratively.

Expect this, parish-to-be: I will change things. I will shake things up. I will challenge the status quo.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to give you some new liturgy, introduce a new hymnal or change the hour of worship. I might, but that is the least of my concerns. What I will do is redirect your energy, away from maintaining the building and the structure and into making change in the world, into feeding and healing and clothing and visiting. There’s only one reason for doing that, though.

Jesus told us to. He wasn’t polite about it. It was a commandment: If you follow Me, He said, this is what you will do.

How we do it depends on who we are, where we are and what we have. There’s no formula, no plan, no training course to do this.

We just must do it, and do it now.

If we don’t do these things, all the water of baptism and all the bread and wine on the altar is meaningless. “If you have a quarrel with your brother, leave your offering and go apologize. Then your offering will mean something.” The exploited world has a big quarrel with the exploiters; the have-nots have good reason to demand from the haves. Can we meet Our Lord’s expectations?

There’s no one answer to injustice. Each case is different. But here are my suggestions.

Reduce your consumption by the end of 2010. Sell a car, cut your driving, grow some food or shop locally. Buy nothing new unless you absolutely must. Stay out of shopping malls and big box stores. Dump your television. (Well, send it to recycling.) Don’t go on a travel vacation; stay home and volunteer at a shelter or food bank or training centre.

Set up a regular time for family and personal prayer and scripture study.

Talk to other Christians about how to change things. Organize a food drive or daycare at your church. Raise money for an orphanage in Asia, South America, or Africa. Go door to door collecting unwanted shoes and boots to donate to a homeless shelter. (I know this sounds weird and patronizing, but better that your old Nikes and Hush Puppies get some use before they are completely dried out. Homeless shelters can almost always use good recycled shoes; people without transportation go through them quickly. Call first and ask if they can use them.)

If you change your attitude and how you do things – if you draw closer to the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ sent as our aid and comforter – if you live out the gospel – then many things will change around you. Your family will change. Your neighbours will change. Your church will change. It doesn’t take money, but it wil take prayer, effort and sacrifice.

Apocalypse When

I am not a prophet to predict the end of the world; the Lord will return when it is time. That doesn’t mean there are no hard times ahead; there have always been hard times. We don’t need a 2012scenario for circumstances to get more than difficult. Throughout recent history people who were comfortably complacent found themselves out on the byways, looking for a meal and a pair of shoes. War, weather, geological conditions, politics, fire, religious conflict – anything can happen, and the cozy suburban home is no better than a dank cave, or it’s gone. Burned, confiscated, repossessed, overrun, wiped out.

That should brighten your day. But how can we be prepared if the bad times overwhelm us? Who can stand alone against the darkness?

No one can.

There’s always the survivalist scenario, where a family or very small group hoards and saves, with dried food, seeds, and stock animals enough for three years, deep within a remote gated compound, surrounded by their weapons. They will be a little nation unto themselves, and they will survive. At least until someone bigger, badder and with armament enough to blow them away comes along. Maybe he’ll let them stay on as slaves. Probably not. The biggest baddest guys will not bother stockpiling anything but weapons, and they will spot the family compound from the air, and come clear it out like an anthill.

I’ve heard that scenario so many times. I’m from the isolated North; there’s always some urban refugees burned out on traffic and crime trying to homestead. They convince themselves that they could defend themselves against the potential enemy, but since some of them seem to have trouble dealing with skunks and raccoons, that’s not likely.

To prepare for the potential disaster, we will have to do it together. And we will have to start now, by forming lasting Christian communities that can network and support each other. We will have to be people of peace, and people willing to sacrifice. In simple words, we will have to be the new apostolic church. Instead of fearing and repelling outsiders, we will have to start learning to take them in, to see what it is we do to care for each other. So we will have to make some real effort to care for each other, and get into practice.

I don’t care what denomination or tradition we are in; it can’t matter. We can’t be concerned about polity, power, or the fine points of ritual. The most important concern will be to love each other as Christ first loved us. That means feeding each other, healing each other, carrying each other. It will mean caring for the unbeliever as well as our own faith group. That’s what the apostolic church taught us two millenia ago. It was how they survived.

How do we get started though? I say put down your weapons. Literally, if necessary. (Shame on Christians who pack weapons! Did Jesus do that? No, and don’t give me the sword argument. He meant the scripture and the faith, not steel.) We also need to put down our weapons of rhetoric. Time to stop the arguing, and get to work, because the dam may burst any minute. Time to move to higher ground, and if we can do that in some organized, purposeful way instead of scrambling like scared deer, that would be good.

It is time to rebuild our communities instead of repairing our church buildings. Shore up the walls, slap on a coat of paint, and stop worrying about sound systems, projector screens, and Power Point. The power of the unamplified human voice, backed by faith, scripture and the Holy Spirit was all the Church needed for all its history.

Plant gardens. Open a food bank. Set up a clothing exchange. Organize a daycare centre. Hire a parish nurse. Take meals to the housebound. Build a homeless shelter and a group house for the disabled. We will need all these people if the world as we know it collapses. We will need to have structures of caring and giving in place.

I don’t think this is difficult. I don’t think it is expensive. We need to get our priorities straight.

We will need to free up some money, whether it is redirected income or invested capital. We need to invest our money and energy in people, not in things. maybe the national churches should liquidate assets, pay off ministers’ student loans, and then cut their salaries. (Oh, that would iconoclastic, wouldn’t it?) Maybe parishes and churches should plant gardens on every rectory lawn, to feed the clergy and the poor. Maybe church members should stop buying new cars and taking travel vacations in order to contribute to the real work of the church.

If we don’t start building community now, it will be too late if the crash comes. I don’t think it gets any simpler than that.

Hoarding and Memory

I suppose we all want to save things – we are even encouraged to do so. Organizing systems, closet inserts, storage units – even scrapbooking and archival memento boxes are all about saving. We want to hang onto the past in some way.

I’ve said before that I am notoriously unsentimental. I don’t save things. Saving things that have no purpose makes no sense to me. I have memories in my head, not in a box in the closet. Let’s face it – those scrapbooks and old photo albums will mean nothing if we develop Alzheimer’s syndrome. There will be nothing to connect the artifacts and photographs to.

Saving things for memories is editing the past. Instead of those messy memories and bad feelings you might still have about incidents, family, or places, you can edit them down to just the good parts by judiciously saving only certain items. You can create a sanitized past in your memory books and albums. You can keep only the good times.

I don’t mean that is what always happens. But the temptation to clean up your ugly past (we all have some ugliness back there) is too great for many people. I, who don’t keep many mementos, must actually try to forget things. I can’t just make a book of the pretty times and go over that until the story is rewritten in my head.

I don’t talk about the past much, unless it is with close friends or my spouse. God forgave me my sins and errors a long time ago, and will continue to do so as needed, provided I can ask Him. And that’s up to me. God forgets as He forgives. The Book of Life is full of Life – not sin and error and the death of the soul. The Christian who dies in grace, forgiven of sin, will find that the Book of Life is the Book of Love – God’s love for us.

The past is not important. The present is. This is the house we live in – today. Hoarders and savers are trying to keep up appearances, at least in their own minds. They want to be successful, want to be secure, want to be in control – and doesn’t Jesus tell us not to worry about those things, that our treasure is truly in heaven, not on earth?

And the future is just a fantasy. There is no future. Things will happen, yes, but they will barely be in our control. What we want is rarely what we get. God gives us, when we ask, what is right for us. Rooms full of goods, no matter how much they cost, ever compares to the treasure of the Lord.

Keep your things in perspective – the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed is the name of the Lord.

Food Waste, Wasted Lives

When did we get to be so careless about food? If anything shouts, “Total biological decadence!” it’s food waste. Animals don’t waste food. They eat or leave it for some other creature. (I know, animals that form pantries – squirrels, foxes – sometimes lose their stashes, but usually some other critter finds it and eats it.) It seems so against our nature to waste what we need.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food waste. We throw away at least 30% of our food production, mostly post-consumer. This goes into landfills where it becomes methane – a result of uncontrolled and inefficient decay. We often waste as many calories as we eat. Which means someone didn’t get to eat.

We can blame politics and infrastructure for famines; we can blame poor farming and conservation methods. But we can mostly blame ourselves, for hogging the food and then throwing it away. (Hogs are pretty efficient food converters, so it isn’t a good metaphor.)

But the governments (USA and Canada, pay attention) can get tanks and whole military bases to the Middle East reather quickly; why can” they get food supplies to the Sudan and Haiti? they could if they wanted to put the resources into it. These armies can keep armed civilian populations under some semblance of control; why can’t they control food ditribution so that it is equitable?

If the governments wanted to really wage war on poverty, they wouldn’t put billions of dollars into fighting a war of death.

We can do our part at home. Buy only what we need. Buy it fresh and unprocessed. Use it up, freeze it or give it away.

I am called to make this my cause of faith. I’ve been hungry and undernourished, more thanonce in my adult life. I’ve seen people and worked with them when they have been eating out of the dumpster behind MacDonald’s. I’ve given food to needy families right out of my own freezer and pantry. (And those who answered my calls to provide when I didn’t have enough at home to provide for others – God bless you!)

I’ll have more to say on this, and I’m going to include some links for your pperusal if you are interested,so stay in touch!

Shorn Hair

Well, this question often comes up in the term searches, so I’ll just answer it quickly.

Is cutting your hair in any manner the same as shorn hair?

“Shearing” means to cut something very short. If I shear sheep, I put one blade of the sheep shears against the skin and cut as close as I can without nicking the animal. (I sometimes fail at that, and their lovely white delicate skin gets a nip, which is why there is Blu-Kote.)

“Shorn” is the old past tense of “to shear.” We say “sheared” now, but “shorn” is still correct if archaic.

“Shorn” hair is cut close to the skin, like a man’s military haircut.

Why was this wrong for women? Women were to embody their virtue of being women, as God made them. There may be an implication of peace in this, that women were the guardians of peace in the community. They were protectors of their children and hearth, but were not to fight and risk losing their lives, or their children would not be nursed or fed.

Those who did not go to war did not cut their hair short. Women, priests, Jewish men 2000 years ago; all exempt from military service, and this was indicated by long hair. Orthodox priests in the most traditional churches still do not cut their hair or beards. Some of them achieve impressive masses of locks!

For women, it was also a sign of modesty, that even if she were caught naked, she would be covered by her hair as by a veil or cloak. It suggests that Jewish and Christian women regarded modesty as a virtue missing amongst their pagan neighbours.

So should Christian women cut their hair short? Obviously, I don’t. I don’t cut mine at all. I would say the reasonable interpretation for women who are not bound to a rule or ordnung is that they may trim their hair, they may even cut it fairly short such as shoulder length, but it should always be modest and feminine, and accompanied by appropriate modesty of the body. We are not objects on display, after all; we are honoured members of the body of Christ, daughters of the king, children of God.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

I got asked this question a lot this week: “How many Plain Anglicans are there?” I guesstimated that world-wide we number about five hundred. Now I’m not so sure how good that number is; I probably counted people who aren’t officially Anglican, and some who aren’t officially Plain. It’s not as if we need to sign a confession or a covenant to be Anglican or Plain, but it is a matter of self-identity.

I’ve never been too concerned about whether my friends are Anglican, Plain, or Anglican Plain. How we live in witness to Christ and fulfill His mission in this world is the real issue. Some of us are called to be the visible witneses, to put our sincerity on the line and let people see that Christians can be what they say they are. (Most of the time, or at least without failing some of the time. All have fallen short of the glory of God!) Plain does mean that any hypocrisy will be very visible to the world. We stand for the apostolic Christian faith, the first century church translated to our own day, and when we fall short of the apostolic model, people know it. So we are called to be sincere, to be fully informed, to be mindful, and to pray, pray, pray for help at all times. I certainly do not want to shame my Lord or the others who carry His name.

How to define what it is to be Plain? Our variety of practices is great, yet we are united in faith. We are, mostly, people called through the witness of the Anabaptists and the Quakers, we are convicted of Biblical principles of life, we are generally traditional in lifestyle. We don’t all agree on doctrine or practice; we do agree on the conviction of conscience. I think I work at keeping a balance between open-heartedness and the way of Christ, so that I am not in error and do not accept error from others.

As Christians who are Plain, almost Plain, or just living a life of simplicity and faith, our practices in appearance range from my austere Plain to a feminine simplicity of others, with men who are in the category mostly in the Mennonite or Conservative Quaker mold. Some of are noticably Plain, others less so. Some of us could be identified as belonging to a specific group, others not. It is not a concern for me; we don’t have an ordnung and likely never will.

Are you called to Plain or the simple life? If so, how will that express itself? In your daily life? In your household? In your appearance? If you are a seeker in this mode of faith, be assured that there is love and support along the way. No one expects that you will turn out as a finished product overnight; most of us have worked at our expressions over years!

But welcome; there is room for all.

Giving In

“When in another’s monastery, do not keep your own ordo.” This is an old Russian proverb, meaning something like ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Don’t bring your rules into someone else’s place. They have their own rules; you abide by them.

This does assume that the monastery visited has good rules. Yours are just different, maybe equally good, but it is not proper etiquette to impose them on your hosts. Some of us have had that experience with house guests. They always stay up until 3 a.m.; we go to bed by 10 p.m., and having someone in the next room, listening to music, walking around, cooking a meal even, is disruptive and troubling.

We are now back fulltime in Anglican territory. It’s the old monastery, and we have to conform to its rules. Mostly, that’s not a problem. They are good rules. But there are a few points where I feel I don’t want to change back.

Take the way we keep track of time. I’m not sure why Christians insist on using the old names for the days of the week and the months. I don’t like invoking the Roman and Norse gods every day. I think the Church Universal needs to say First Day, Second Day, and so on, as the Quakers tried to teach them. Months are First Month, Second Month, and on; isn’t this more accurate anyway?

Plain dress makes some people nervous, especially Anglicans, who expect to blend into the world. But that strategy doesn’t seem to be working, does it? We got run over by that world, and we are forgetting rather quickly what it means to be Christians, to be different, to stand up and be counted for Christ. (And He will return to count His sheep – are some of us hiding in wolves’ clothing? Will He say to those who are disguised in worldly dress, “I know you not”?) When we were seminarians, we were told to wear our collars once we were ordained, to not be ashamed of that badge of office. Yet sometimes the world looks upon it as a sign of hypocrisy and privilege, because so many clerics used it as such. The collar doesn’t work for me anymore. It never did. I told my ordaining bishop I didn’t want to wear it, as it is men’s attire. He insisted that I wear it on certain occasions, and those certain occasions equalled just about all my waking hours, except when I was in the barn.

Nicholas rather accidentally removed most of his beard. (His vision and coordination are still poor.) He’s shaved it off, ready for it to grow back. He looks fine without it, and he says that it feels good to have a clean chin. Now, it is his decision to make, and he won’t be less Plain without the beard, as many Mennonite men eschew them. But the “Brethren” beard symbolizes the pacifist stance, the refusal to bear arms, and the turning away from the vanity of the world. Is he ready to give up that statement?

I am no less a Christian if my head is bare, or I am wearing jeans, but my own ordo says that I want to be counted for Christ, I want the world to know that a Christian has come amongst them, that I am no longer literally buying vanity and false beauty.

My Plain ways, my keeping the Plain calendar, my prayer cap and my aprons may embarrass some and convict others, but it is my podvig, sometimes hard to bear, but a joy in Christ.