Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why dress plain?

A lot of folks, ranging from family members to liberal Quakers, from good friends to strangers, ask us why we wear plain clothes. A lot of people ask us if we are Amish. When we tell them we are Conservative Friends, they inevitably ask, “what’s the difference?” So, I’d like to use the farm blog to talk about that aspect of our faith and practice that is related to clothing and lifestyle. Much of it has to do with the Friends testimonies concerning simplicity, equality, integrity, peace, and community. Much of it has to do with the biblical witness. And, as with everything that people do intentionally, why we do what we do has a lot to do with politics, economics, and public witness. Our family wears plain clothing, we farm, and provides ministry to people in a variety of ways because we believe that the life of Jesus is the normative life for those who express faith in the God of Abraham and Sarah. Integral parts of the Hebrew Bible, and much more of the Greek Testament, present the ideal of a community of faith that stands out as a witness to YHWH. The biblical memory of Jesus, and much of the Greek Testament, places a focus on humility as being characteristic of this community, as well as socio-economic choices that eschew the kind of pride that is often related to clothing styles of one fashion or another. Of course, Jesus sets the tone for, and is remembered by the fledgling messianic communities, to emphasize the importance of public witness in standing fast against the persecution of empire and the Yahwist aristocracies of Jerusalem and the Diaspora. So, plain clothing is a testimony to the kind of humility that is perhaps evidenced by individuals in Christ-centered communities who submit to a corporate character, while at the same time promoting an awareness that a people dedicated to God exist in the midst of communities who are not aware that alternatives to the socio-economic standard exist. As a Quaker, I am readily aware that, like early messianics, early Friends were persecuted for their ministry, but continued forward with a very public witness despite persecution. This public witness to Jesus, to peace, and equality, and simple justice, is made all the more obvious when it can be related to a people who can be readily identified as such a people. Many a conversation about the peace testimony, the Underground Railroad, or George Fox have been started because of my plain clothing. Many people also ask about head coverings. The women in our family do not wear head coverings because of the biblical reference found at 1 Corinthians 11. The women in our family, as well as the men, cover our heads as an attempt to humble ourselves before God, but also as a constant reminder that there is a Creator God who is always watching over us. We spend less time worrying about looking attractive to others and more time focused on standing along side of a Creator, who, while sometimes seems hidden, is always finding ways to present the divine self to us. Head coverings, as well as plain clothes, remind us that we must always be humble enough to see God reflected in those placed before us. Our hope is that, when we are humbled appropriately, others will see God reflected in our attitudes, instead of the consumer values that drive so many to spend small fortunes on hair styles and products like makeup that are intended to present us as something more in tune with popular culture than with a pattern that is not of this age. Another concern we have with worldly fashions is the way in which modern clothes are manufactured. We believe that we are taking a visible stand against sweatshop labor by wearing handmade clothing that we pay a fair price for, which is made locally, with American manufactured fabrics. Also, we believe that purchasing clothes at contemporary clothing stores, resale or otherwise, promotes businesses that exploit women especially, and promote sensuality in children and teens that exploits their sense of identity, sexuality, and economic sensibilities. Fashion promotes a contrived sense of individuality, marketing toward those aspects of rebellion, sexuality, or self-marginalizing behaviors that people choose to engage in as a response to their own, and the world’s, brokenness. Many think plain clothes and farming are a simple lifestyle, but really, our lifestyle is very intentional, and is expressly related to our belief that all people are equal, and all beings deserve justice. While there will never be a perfect place to stand in our world, the idea that persons should be judged more by their character and nature than by the clothing they wear is an integral part of plain clothing. Not only do adults suffer undeserved shame and disgrace because of clothes that might not comply with elite standards of society, school children everywhere suffer indignities because they cannot keep up with the changing realities of fashion. Also, fashions are frivolous, and exploit resources as well as promoting waste. They promote a double standard, as many people wear one kind of clothing to work and church, and another kind of clothing to “relax” in. As for farming, we believe that food can be the center of an intentional community, providing the inspiration for people to contribute their own gifts to community in a manner that makes use of distinctive and local resources that enhance a community’s ability to know and depend on one another, and see the ecological and labor imprint that our lifestyles leave upon our own locale and neighbors. A side of beef, pork, chickens and eggs, clothing, heating resources, milk, and labor are all much more costly than the cheap products Americans demand for goods that exploit the cheap labor and resources of other counties. It takes time and resources to produce food, it does not magically appear at Wal-mart. In the economy of the Greek Testament, it took ten peasants to support the lifestyle of one landed elite. It must take many more resources and wage slave production models to support the lifestyle of one American. As such, we wear plain clothing, and engage in an alternative economy as much as we can, in order to promote what we believe are the values that best reflect the character of Jesus and early Christ-centered communities. It is a voluntary public witness to our Quaker testimonies. We hope not to inspire others to dress plain, but to think seriously about the world around them, and develop their own community driven public witness to peace, justice, and the salvific character of Jesus the messiah.


Raye said...


I appreciate your pointing out that it is good to be aware of what we are doing with our lives.

Your post reminded me of the number of "energy slaves" the average American uses. An energy slave is defined on Alternative Energy eMagazine's site as the work done by petroleum or other energy source that is equivalent to the work done by a person.

On average, Americans each have 147 energy slaves, working 24/7 to support our lifestyles. When I first saw that figure some months ago, it momentarily took my breath away, and then immediately I began getting much more serious about paying attention to my choices in clothing, food, and everything else.

Right away I made the connection that fossil energy that I use is not (for all intents and purposes) going to be available to anyone else, now or ever.

It is a long haul to retrain myself from being a 21st century American "princess," to becoming more human, as Jesus Christ calls me to do.

But I am grateful for the teaching, and continue to be amazed at so much that I have taken for granted.

Thanks for your witness, all of you, and continuing encouragement.


ben said...

You really cannot call what you are wearing plain. It is very fancy indeed,for now. I wear shorts and a t-shirt in summer with flip-flops.
Levis in winter. That is plain.
God is not interested in your habits of dress unless there is an underlying problem of pride or control of others or some such.I see that as the case.
Ben Schultz
The Desert Tower

haven said...

Thank you Friend, for your clear and meaningful explanation to all of us about the Spirit in your actions of dressing plainly.

In a Quaker world where so many are convinced Friends, it is good to be reminded of this reasoning, in order that we might all better understand each other.

I am a liberal Friend, and I have for some years wondered why the practice of plain dress and plain speech was dropped from the practice of more liberal Friends. I like the practice myself (and I am learning that many other more liberal Friends do as well) for the way in which it reminds me to remain humble, in the way you described.

I have contemplated adopting these practices for myself, but thus far have not, as it seems in the face of modern society that dressing or speaking plain, when it is not one's tradition, might be regarded more as setting ones' self apart from others than as seeing all as equal, and that does not set well with me.

Still, I remain respectful and grateful for your description here, which reminds me that we are more alike than different, no matter which tradition of Friends we follow.

Mrs. G said...

I agree completely with the cost that other's pay in 3rd world countries for our wasteful habits. I've blogged about it several times and it's nice to read that someone else feels like we do.
Mrs. G

kevin roberts said...

i'm always bemused to see the confusion which some people express with respect to plain dress-- they confuse it with simplicity, and discount it because it doesn't fit that completely separate idea.

if simple was the purpose behind the witness, i'd go naked.

kevin roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.