New Blog: Goth in Plain Sight

I have moved. I am now in Iowa City, about to fire up a small mission called The Yoke. I am moving my writing work over to http://www.julieannchristian,wordpress.com, as my life takes a new direction. I am no longer Anglican. I could not resolve issues with my bishop. I am affiliated with the Society of Friends now – The Quakers. I hope you will join me over at my new blog and I explore life and faith as a Plain gothy Christian in a small university city, in the midst of beautiful Amish country.

Witness: To Peace

Quaker, 1866

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quaker woman with bonnet, ca. 1890

Plain – Just Like Granny

"Granny" Daisy Moses

We know her as Granny Clampett, the feisty and wise matriarch of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The character’s name was really Daisy Moses, and I assume she was the widowed Jed Clampett’s mother-in-law. Granny was played by veteran radio comedienne Irene Ryan, who died in 1973.

Ellie Mae, Jed, Granny, Jethro

Granny wore long calico dresses and aprons. She glared at the troubling world over a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. She wore boots, and when she went to bed, she wore a nightcap.

She could cook possum stew and fire up a batch of moonshine or spring tonic. She reigned over the kitchenlike an empress holding court. She took no sass from no young’uns.

I want to be like Granny. And I seem to be going in that direction. What I loved about Granny was that she knew things – how to cook, how to sew, how to make herbal medicines and heal wounds.

And I wonder if you remember this episode:

Granny and Pearl

Granny is churning butter while Pearl does some spring cleaning. (Pearl was “cousin” somehow; and appeared irregularly to visit her son, Jethro Bodine, who lived with the Clampetts.)

But these are also Granny’s household items:

antiques collector and Granny's loom

Yes, that is a floor loom – I don’t recall why it is out in the driveway for this episode. Granny must have been working on some rugs or dish towels while enjoying the California sunshine.

Granny's spinning wheel

I’m not sure what Ellie Mae is doing because she certainly isn’t spinning – it looks like a flax wheel (there’s a distaff) but she doesn’t have any fibre. This scene is one of the many where Jethro and Ellie Mae wonder where the music is coming from – it’s the door bell. Unsophisticated mountaineers, they have never heard of a door bell! Maybe back in Hogjowl Tennessee vistors just yodel from the front porch. (There were times that the “hillbilly” jokes were a little lame.) Ellie Mae will explain to the antiques collector that the wheel, in fact, belongs to Granny. The whole gist of the “comedy” in this episode is that someone wants to collect Granny’s everyday household tools as decorative antiques.

While the hillbilly premise made for some rather pretentious comedy (the doorbell gag, the billiards table used as a dining table, Jed continuing to drive the old Model A truck) the final say would be that the rhubarbs from the Ozarks were, in many ways, smarter and more savvy than the big city bankers and Hollywood stars. I honestly don’t understand why the Clampetts went to Beverly Hills – maybe it was explained in an early episode – but I would think that if hill people did come into a lot of money, they were more likely to move to Nashville or Mobile. I suppose there isn’t any logical explanation for 1960s comedy, though.

But the Clampetts made a big impression on America. And I’ve grown up to be Granny rather than Ellie Mae.

Plain Influences – At Home

My parents liked the style of decor known as “Early American.” They had some really good furniture that they purchased through my grandfather, built in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, and based on Colonial and Early American design.

Moosehead chairs and cabinetmaker

The Moosehead factory was at 97 East Main Street, and my grandparents lived at 94 Summer Street. Dover-Foxcroft is in the “Yankee” part of Maine, south of Mount Katahdin. I grew up north of the mountain, in Caribou, Aroostook County, which is more Canadian.

The Moosehead furniture my parents purchased almost fifty years ago is now at my sister’s house in Bangor, on its third generation of use – and was sold by another generation before that.  I guess it is on its way to heirloom status.

Royal China, "Bucks County"

My parents didn’t hang onto this though, and it is too bad, because I still like these patterns and they are now quite collectable. The one with the yellow background is called Bucks County, and is a rather loose interpretation of Pennsylvania Dutch style. I believe it was sold by the piece at Woolworth’s, one of our local chain department stores. Woolworth’s was one of the old”Five and Dime” stores where one could buy glassware, socks, toys, kitchen items, and sewing notions. My paternal grandmother worked down the street at J.C. Penney’s, a clothier who also had mail order items. My maternal grandmother worked for a time at another five and dime, Newbury’s, in Dover-Foxcroft. She also worked for the grocery stores from time to time, including as a butcher. A&P stores carried this pattern of dishes as a premium.

Royal China, "Colonial Homestead"

Some of it may have been gifts from my grandmother. I had a couple of pieces I bought in an antique shop, but passed them along when we were downsizing the household.  “Colonial Homestead” has images of different domestic scenes of early life in New England.

The tilt-top table was still popular in New England homes into the twentieth century; I remember examples in older homes. Here it is shown as a chair; if one needed an extra dining table, the back swung down.

This spinning wheel looks very much like the one I own, built around 1880.

I don’t know if the artist who designed this series went to a colonial museum to draft the illustrations, but I suspect he did. He may have gone to Historic Deerfield, a “village” of 11 authentic Colonial houses. (http://historic-deerfield.org.)

Ashley House, Deerfield

Plimouth Plantation is another source for very early Colonial material. (http://www.plimouth.org). We visited Plimouth Plantation and the Mayflower when I was a child, and it was very exciting for me.

Living history at Plimouth, ca. 1627

Some of my ancestors were in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the 1640s, although they were not Puritans (“Pilgrims”). They may have lived much as the settlers at Plimouth did.

I will write more on these topics soon; let me know if you have questions or topics to include.

Plain Dress – Children

Amish children, Lancaster County, old postcard

All the Old Order children I have met dressed Plain. There didn’t seem to be any question about it; they dressed much like their parents, and if anything, their clothes are simpler and plainer. Little girls usually wear a chemise type dress with sleeves, and a overall kind of apron that buttons in the back. Little boys wear pants with suspenders and button front shirts. Infants of both genders wear a longish dress with diapers until they are toilet-trained, which seems to be at an earlier age than Englisch children.  When you are just weary with washing cloth diapers, you are likely to push the toiletting much earlier, especially if you have another in diapers and one more on the way! Most children have the muscle control necessary by two, at the latest; very few won’t by three. It might even be four or five for all night bladder control, but as my family pediatrician used to say, “They never start school in diapers.” I honestly don’t know why parents want to keep buying disposable diapers. They are expensive and a nuisance to dispose! I know that if you don’t have your own washer, it is quite a chore to haul buckets of diapers to a laundry. Still, women did them by hand for many generations.

Amish child's dress and apron ca.1900

Amish girls still wear garments much like these. This outfit was for offer on eBay; the seller’s reserve wasn’t met, so it may still be available. I think he was hoping to get upward of $100 US. Perhaps someone will want this for a collection. But since the style and method of construction is pretty much the same as today, I don’t see anyone spending much for it. Old clothes only have real value when they are connected with a famous person or event. Contrary to what most people think, museums don’t purchase much unless it has an important history and is directly related to the rest of their collection. They are often the sellers of items that are no longer pertinent to their focus, or are being replaced by better examples. Archival storage space is expensive, and for textiles in particular, as they must be held within a certain temperature and humidity range, while being housed in containers that are acid-free and insect proof.

The dress without the apron

I would think that examples of Amish clothing from this time would be rare, as clothes would be handed on to another sibling or cousin, and eventually would end up as rags or patches. I think this cornflower blue quite pretty, but I suspect the original colour was a deeper indigo.

Amish child's dress and pinafore

This is a more recent example, but made of the same basic design.

Winter outerwear, Lancaster County

Both boys and girls wear simple short jackets in winter in Lancaster County. The young man here is wearing a scaled down version of Pa’s black felt hat. Girls might wear black bonnets over their prayer kapps, or a black wool scarf tied kerchief fashion under the chin. This group, apparently siblings, have bright scarves at their necks. They seem to be without mittens or gloves, though.

Englisch barn boots of the black rubber pull-on type seem to be in common use now among Plain people in winter, with socks inside for warmth. Lace-up boots are so cute on little children, but I can imagine when Mama has to get five young children into boots every morning, it could be quite a struggle. I’ve noticed that Old Order children often wear flip-flop sandals in summer and dark or white running shoes the rest of the year. Young men in their teen years wear dark running shoes or workboots, while young women and girls wear Keds in all but the coldest months.

Bright sunbonnets are standard among small girls – parents allow a bit of freedom of choice in the fabric for the summer bonnet, and even older women will wear quite a colourful floral print sunbonnet on weekdays. Bonnets are good sense for children’; they protect the face, neck and the tender scalp of children prone to burn, and there is no risk of adverse reactions as there is to sunscreen. They stay on better than sunhats. Little boys wear wear straw hats much like their fathers. They may be anchored on the youngest with a bit of elastic.

I would say that Plain parents, even if not Amish or Mennonite, should expect their children to dress Plain. The child is obedient to the parent until independent. It might be a struggle to get teenagers who go to public schools to honour this, but I wouldn’t allow much dissension in my own house. (It isn’t an issue, since all the children were away from home when we became intentionally Plain.) I would expect little girls to cover by the age of eight unless parents don’t expect that until baptism or reception as an adult in the church.

Plain dressed families have so many advantages – the clothes do not go out of style, and are usually handmade and sturdier than factory made clothes. There is no question about status or fashion. There is no temptation to push the limits on how mature or “sexy” the clothes make the child. (Although I have heard of Amish girls asking if they can wear a cape dress and adult covering at a younger age than their older sisters, so they can look more mature. It’s rather like my wanting lipstick and pantyhose at twelve, emulating my older cousins.)

Lancaster County, vintage postcard

Note that here, all the children but one are barefoot! The little boy looks as if he has been dressed up for an occasion; this may be a family setting out for church or market. Perhaps the oldest girl has another place to visit or attend, and she put on shoes and hose.

Living Plain

Plain in Fredericton

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Plain as Prophecy

Plain as Prophecy

Friends and I recently commented on the question, “Why the Plain witness?” Most of us can say not much more than it is our vocation, an individual call and answer. When the Lord calls, the only answer is “He nai ne,” – “Here am I,” in Hebrew. It is not an answer of confidence, an answer of “Send me, because I am ready to go,” but an answer given trembling in the dark, “Yes, Lord.” What else can one answer?

St. Paul told us to be ready, to be girded in the armour of God; the Lord Jesus tells us that we need to be watchful, to be ready, to be sober, for the master will come quickly and without warning, and we need to go to his side with our lamps lit.

And that may be the Plain witness, to have our lamps lit. We cannot be hidden under a bushel, the world’s measure. We cannot be a city deep in a valley, no beacon or hope to the lost and terrified traveler. We are to be a city on a hill. We are the visible witness – not only to our own faith, but to the life of the world to come.

That is the prophetic witness. We have been called out of the world because the world is not His. The world has gone its own way. What is that world? It is the world of buying and selling, the world of entertainment and idle talk. It is the world of being concerning with one’s own pleasure. It is a world where people are used rather than honoured, where each is after his own and never mind what anyone else needs. That’s the world in which we have to live, but we don’t have to bow down to it. We don’t have to surrender and be assimilated.

Plain is a witness against the exploitation of innocents. Plain is a witness against the carelessness of modern living. Plain is a witness against industrialism and commodification. Plain is a witness against cold-hearted government and fiscal irresponsibility. Plain is a witness against the the world, the flesh and the devil – against greed, selfish pleasure and evil.

That is the prophetic witness of Plain.

There are false prophets – I can think of cults that use modest and plain-type dress to control their followers, but these are not people following Christ; they profess their own way and make themselves gods. They have usurped the style of Christians in order to hide themselves – wolves in sheep’s clothing. But by their works you will know them – secrecy, criminality, exploitation. We are warned that there will be many false prophets and christs as the world careers into self-destruction.

Those who practice modesty of heart are dedicatd to the scripture and to service to the least of God’s children, who are humble and meek and gentle in spirit – these are the true children of God and who walk in the Light. Their prophetic witness is growing.

“Let your light shine before men.”

All in Moderation

I am judicious in my use of technology, especially this particular medium. I am concerned that I will become merely virtual, and start to lose my commmunication skills in reality. (And there is that stereotype to avoid, of the poorly socialized person living in a parent’s basement, “living” a fantasy life over the ‘net.) Honestly, we don’t socialize much outside the house. I would like to see that change, as we think about and prepare to move into another commmunity in a few weeks’ time.

Yes, with the pension (no matter how little it may be, and it is nowhere near replacing a salary) and my persistent lack of parish work, we are looking to move on into our own home. It will need to be rural, because we will need to grow some of our food; it will need to be cheap (no more than half the pension amount); it will need very low utility expense. Importantly, it needs to be in a community where we would have real neighbours, people we could count on for help, and who would accept what help we can offer when they need it. We are looking for low-level homesteading, as we are not prepared to buy or drive a tractor.

This is my dream house: small, no more than five or six rooms, with a couple of acres at least and a barn. Wood heat and cooking, and thus inexpensive wood fuel. A place for a good sized garden, a cellar or pantry. Some pasture and maybe a few apple trees. Room for a couple of goats, a few sheep, and a dozen chickens. (And a landlord who will not show up and complain about the state of the ‘lawn”, the presence of farm animals, or how well we removed snow – someone who will respect our ability to manage a house and small farm – which is pretty good – and isn’t offended by real rural people with no social pretensions.)

Where? More or less in the temperate region, although I am partial to boreal forest. North, but not tundra north. Near a good church community, which could be Anglican.

When? The end of December, I anticipate.

So we are beginning to look – we would gladly live in New Brunswick again, near a new granddaughter. Nicholas’s health has stabilized, and we do not anticipate any new crisis.

Among other moderations, I am planning on using the internet only three days a week: Second, Fourth, and Sixth Day (Monday, Wednesday and Friday.) Which is what I set out to say, after all. Moderation is a strange virtue in our immoderate world.