Plain 'ol absurdity
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 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 and Anabaptist testimonies. 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 and Brethren preacher, I am readily aware that, like early messianics, early radical reformers 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 witness, the Underground Railroad, or George Fox and Heifer International 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 alongside 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.