What This Earth Loses

"Sheep may safely graze" photo by shetland-sheep.org

 

We lost another silkie hen today. Nicholas said it looked as if she went to sleep beside the grain pan, but she was cold when he touched her. That is four out of six; a friend thinks, as I do, that there was something wrong genetically with that clutch. We will see if the two survivors make it through the winter. I don’t blame the breeder. It may have been something new for her, too, especially if there had been some inbreeding. Suddenly a double recessive fault can show up. I had wanted the silkies for both breeding and brooding, but if these two survive, they will not be bred.

Nicholas was melancholy about it all day, and I was subdued as well. I’ve lost a lot of young animals over the shepherding years, and I’ve lost others to storms, old age, illness and predators. It’s the way it goes on the farm. We do the best we can, but there are so many factors of uncertainty that we can never do it all perfectly.

This is what I find reassuring: The Great Creator of this universe did not intend to lose any of His creation. While the molecules and atoms of our substance go back to whence they came, the life He puts into all His creatures will return to Him. While as Christians we believe that we humans, made in His image, will have a sense of Being in life after death, we can also be assured that the wee creatures are loved by Him and are of Him. C.S. Lewis wrote of this – that the animals we called friends, who were loved by us, will have their Being in the Creator, too. So when we lose these sweet little friends, and even when the life of a farm animal is sacrificed to feed us, God is watching over them, and takes back the essence of their being.

At the last day, when our Lord shall stand upon this earth, and make it over to the perfection God intended – the new heaven above, and the new earth under our feet – all that we have known and loved, companion animals, farm animals and even the trees and flowers that enriched our lives, will be there, too.

I hope this is a comfort to others as it is to me.

"Peaceable Kingdom" by Edward Hicks

A leopard with a harmless kid lay down

And not one savage beast was seen to frown

The wolf did with the lamb can dwell in peace

His grim carnivorous nature there did cease

The lion with the fatling fawn did move

And a little child was leading them in love
Long ago there was a young painter

Who had a dream that every creature came

And stood assembled by his side

And he painted the sight that had sweetened his night

For the one hundred times before he died

A kid lion and a snake and a child

Wide-eyed and formal and smiling like the sun had stopped

And time had ceased to move

And the wolf and the lamb

Came and ate from his hand

And a man-child was leading them in love
Friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the old painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these
I find myself adrift these days

An endless maze of ends and ways

And worlds seem so crazy to be here

But look away look away

Back or forward from today

To the visions of either fools or seers
Oh my friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the old painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these
Such a beautiful place

Full of joy full of grace

It was bathed in a saintly yellow light

To what learning to know that such things can’t be so

He could only believe that they might
Oh my friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the old painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these
Friend have you seen all the lines and the spaces

The colors that the young painter sees

In the peaceable kingdom that shines in the faces

Of people from more gentle times than these

(Lyrics by Billy Gilman; I would have posted the link, but the publisher’s site was quite awkward and horrible with advertising things like gambling, quite out of keeping with The Quaker Painter, Edward Hicks. So, Billy, I apologize, and I hope you understand.)

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.

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

Which Bonnet?

My bonnet

This is the bonnet I usually wear – it is custom-made, a Mennonite style bonnet with a deeper brim. I consider this an investment piece of headgear; it was a bit expensive, but I anticipate that I won’t have to buy another one.

My second best bonnet

 This is also a Mennonite bonnet, of a different type. It does not extend past my forehead, and is more practical for driving. It really hugs the head. I’ve seen this style worn by Mennonite women in Ontario; some do drive cars as well as buggies, and this bonnet does not obscure one’s side vision.

Amish women in full bonnets, old postcard

 This image of Amish women at market is probably fifty or more years old. Their bonnets fully cover their heads and shade their faces, a practical consideration when one is outdoors most of the time.

Old Order Amish boonet

 

Anish Old Order bonnet

 Advertised as an Old Order Amish slat bonnet, I think this is mis-identified. It looks more like a variation on the traditional bonnet. Perhaps the seller is confused because it is not an Old Order Lancaster bonnet, which has scallops at the back of the brim.

Old slat bonnet

 

I would call this a slat bonnet. I’m not certain of its age; it may be Amish or Quaker. A slat bonnet is less formal, and is meant for outdoor work. It shades the face completely and protects the neck. Black is not the best colour for a work bonnet, as it tends to heat the head in the sun. Wearing a slat bonnet is described as “having a mailbox on your head.” It severely restricts side vision and hearing. I wear mine for yard work and in the garden, but it is not a good choice for driving or even street wear!

Popular Quakers

Quaker woman, ambrotype 1860s

This is what Quaker women looked like late in the nineteenth century.  Plain Quakers were still part of the American social and cultural landscape, and were high profile as a community. We are all familiar with the image of William Penn on the cereal box. Quakers stood for purity, honesty, and a good product. They held a place in popular imagination much as the Amish do today.

Quaker Coffee illustration

She’s a lovely lass, isn’t she?  Quaker girls were once popular advertising images. They made products look wholesome. They apparently also had some kind of romantic appeal.

From "A Quaker Down in Quaker Town"

 It was a song popular in 1916 – “There’s A Quaker Down in Quaker Town.” The lyrics are the usual uninspired drivel of popular sheet music of that era – “Old William Penn, please pardon me/One of your sons I want to be/You love your Quakers and I love one too/That’s why I’m strong for you.” The backstory is that this Broadway composer/singer/actor has fallen in love with a sweet girl in Philadelphia, and he’ll have to convert in order to woo her. The Quaker in popular imagination exemplified sweet innoncence and natural beauty.  Although those heels are pretty hot stuff. I had a pair of shoes like that about twenty years ago.

We think of the “Quaker” on the oatmeal label as The Quaker of Quaker Oats, which wasn’t started by Quakers. Other Quaker characters were part of the marketing strategy.

"Quaker babies" promotional card 1890s

William Penn doesn’t appear just on the oatmeal drumbox either, and I could be sure that Quakers really didn’t associate the founder of Pennsylvania with this product.

Old Quaker Whiskey bottle

Manufactured by Schenley Distillers, makers of many proprietary brands of rotgut,I doubt if this was marketed to (mostly) teetotalling Quakers. Was the Pennesque character supposed to represent purity?

A hundred plus years later, we see the Amish used in the same marketing strategy. They represent a past age, a time of innocence. We assume that their reputation for honesty and simple living is reflected in products associated with them. We expect to see value for our money from Amish products, which was probably part of the marketing strategy behind the “Quaker” products. Quality, purity, honesty, value.

And quaint sells. Nostalgia sells, as if we could recapture lost innocence and a simple way of life by purchasing a product; as if we can really identify with people who have chosen a way of life based on the Bible merely by picking the right label.