Thursday, May 31, 2007

Plainness, its not just for librarians anymore

Right from the start, I'll have to apologize to Kim, and Mary, and Betty, and oh so many others. Quakerism is full of Librarians, and they are damn good ones as well! But for the life of me, I can't think of anything more stereotypically plain that the stereotype of the common librarian, or libronus plainiatis? Anyway, there is a point to all of this.

Most Quakers don't wear plain clothes anymore. Plain clothes are decidedly an anomaly amongst the Society. There are many Friends who "dress down" and wear only clothing from resale shops, or go the jeans and sweatshirt route, and feel they are fulfilling the "spirit" of the early Friends insistence on wearing prescribed clothing. That may or may not be true, but it's not the issue of plainness that I want to discuss.

Plainness was an expression, not of Quaker insistence of looking alike so that they could keep people in line (though it might have turned into such an endeavor later). It was an expression of self-denial that reflected the knowledge that Jesus' call to bear one's cross necessarily included the tearing away of those luxuries that could get in the way of discipleship. Quakers practiced self-denial because, like waiting worship, it stripped away the will to be who we aim to be, and not who the living God wants us to be. Waiting worship is self-denial in the sense that we deny ourselves all those comforting rituals and aesthetically pleasing religious practices in favor of a more formidable experience of the Creator. An experience where all the trappings that keep us entertained are stripped away, and whatever it is that we experience is undoubtedly the invitation of the Spirit to know and understand the message that God intends for us to hear.

God's presence is not invoked through the singing of praises or the reciting of creeds. God's presence is constant, and once we deny ourselves of the comfort of religious clutter, we can wait on that ever-present spirit to shape us in the image of the Creator, and not vice-verse. But, you might ask, what does this have to do with clothing?

There are plenty of great reasons why Quakers should dress plain, but I will only focus on the aspect of self-denial. When we practice such self-denial as the wearing of plain clothes entails, we can begin what to learn what it means to be an outcast because we don't wear power ties or bell-bottoms. In fact, once we rid ourselves of adornments, we might know what it is really like to be pre-judged or discriminated against based on first glances. Or, we might finally know what it means to be committed to a public statement, not only against sweatshops and frivolity, but against the machinations of an industry that engage in the manipulation of people's self-image and self-worth, their sexuality (especially), and desire for an expression of an individuality that has left them unable to communicate outside of the fact that they dress in a manner that publishes their lack of self-worth, their acceptance of the degradation of their sexuality, and their willingness to be consumers first and foremost.

And as for the "plain" librarians. Well, the librarians I know are not plain at all. While they certainly don't wear flashy clothing, that is not my point. My point is that they are all obvious expressions of God's lovingkindness for the world, and they are some of the most incredible people to talk with, and to worship with, and to walk through life with. All it took was to develop a relationship that was not based upon uncertain projections of who they would like me to think they are, but who they really turned out to be. Plain clothes are not necessarily a projection of who we are, but who we refuse to be. The affirmative aspect of plain clothing, however, is more edifying. We empty ourselves of insecurities brought on by social standards, and fill ourselves with the identity that will reflect who God wants us to be.

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