Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Plain is as Plain does - which is what?

I am really interested in what Magdalena has posted today over at Anglican, Plain, and wanted to respond more fully than I should on her comment thread to some of the points she raises.

Magdalena says: "It looks like we are seeing the leading edge of a Plain revival", and I think she is right. That witnesses with the sense I have had in my heart that if only I will be open about what I believe and how I want to live, companions on the journey will appear.

She writes about the emergence of the yearning for Plain life probably originating in disillusionment with consumerism, cynicism, destruction of the Earth, social chaos and war. These are some of the things that I refer to as 'the reign of Mammon', which I describe as spreading like a caul or slime mould over society - silently, insidiously, progressively.

Magdalena looks at some of the traditional hallmarks of the Plain way - a simple, community-based life that eschews technological advance and is essentially rural. Of the life she and Nicholas are living she says (among other things) this:

"It is what it is; this is a transition stage for us, and with some matters becoming realized, we should be able to move on to a more suitable place for small scale farming and a self-sufficient life.
I think this is where many of us Plainers are headed."

And this is the bit I would like to comment on from my own life.

A couple of years ago I wrote this book which charts some of my own journey into Plain life and sets out the parameters of my beliefs and approach, though those were then and still are now an unfolding journey and a work in progress.

Thirty years back along the trail, I spent a while living without electricity, living in a caravan, living in community, keeping goats and hens and cooking on a woodfire. I dressed in my own take on Plain in long home-made skirts and long-sleeved modest tops. I fought for my children to be born at home (finally made it on the fifth infant), taught them at home for a while, and brought them up to be ethically aware pilgrims, actively engaged on a day-to-day detailed level in working for the justice and peace of human society and the well-being of all creation. In the churches I pastored we left a trail of Fair-Trade stalls, and for twenty years I preached a gospel that remembered the poor and marginalised and the essential inclusion of faithful stewardship of the Earth in our Christian discipleship.

Walking a lonely path which was one almighty struggle, the absence of anyone with the same vision, and the reliance of my family on me to sustain that vision and hold the light, meant that I stumbled and fell more than I stayed upright and kept walking. But overall and through all, I did my (poor) best to keep heading in the direction of Gospel simplicity.

Here is where I have arrived at the present day, in my version of Plain:

1) Simplicity is important. I believe in having few and humble possessions, and those to be ordinary and not ostentatious. No status symbols, nothing to make others jealous or ashamed. My home should be as simply equipped as possible, so that housework is quickly dealt with, allowing the house to reflect the peace and order of Heaven with the minimum expenditure of effort so that I can devote my time to more central endeavours than dusting and polishing paraphernalia. I believe in having an uncluttered schedule so I can be free to respond to God's call on my life and flexible enough to respond to others. As my old teacher Martin Baddeley said: 'Jesus walked, and He stopped. What is the speed of love?' I resolve to live my life at the speed of love.
We do have telly and electricity, but personally I'd be happy to lose the telly tomorrow, and we try to cut right down on what we have in terms of any kind of gadgetry.

2)Building the Peaceable Kingdom is important. I am sickened by war, greed, consumerism and corruption, that are tearing the guts out of human society and the planet we live on. How I invest my resources (time, energy, money) should be for the building of the Peaceable Kingdom, not in support of the rape of the Earth, widening the gap between rich and poor, and preparing for war. I address this in various ways. I keep my life spacious and simple so I can be conscientious in daily working on weeding out the seeds of war from my own heart and life (these can get covered up in a busy life). I try to keep my life so simple that my living costs stay right down, and keep my earnings right down, so that I pay as little in taxes as possible to a government which seems not to share my priorities. By pooling resources and sharing living space and facilities (eg cars) our family as a whole is able to walk this way. We also believe passionately in living vocationally, which is to say that we are here to have a life not a job, if you see what I mean. We do what it takes to help each other so that each one can live and work in occupations that build the Peaceable Kingdom and fulfil who we were meant to be.
In my life, internet connection and computer technology have played a crucial role both in enabling me to work at home and thus support the practice of strengthening and maintaining a strong culture of home and family, and also in allowing me to research Plain life and establish and maintain the fellowship that encourages and strengthens me.

3)Biblical faith is important. By that I mean not fundamentalist and literalist interpretation of the Bible, but authentically living by the light of the Scriptures, studying them, loving them, looking deeply into them, trying to understand the directions and principles I find there and then build the bridge connecting eternal heavenly truth with present day-to-day earthly reality. I regard myself as the property of Jesus, and I try to live in ways that honestly reflect the heart of the Lord I serve. Part of this biblical faith is entering into an actual encounter and relationship with the living God, and meeting and knowing the risen Lord Jesus who has come to abide in our hearts by His Spirit and teach us His wisdom Himself. He is our light, and He will not fail us.

4) Personal holiness is important. That means conducting myself in such a way that the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness faithfulness, self-control) will be manifest in my life and be the principle menas by which I preach the Gospel. Maintaining a discipline of prayer is part of this. Maintaining a discipline of quietness is part of this: seeking silence and solitude, and learning how to hold the light of silence steady in my heart's core whatever is going down all round about me. And Plain dress (or my version of it) is part of this (see what I've written on this in the side-pane on the right). Though I love monochrome garb and Quaker greys etc, my beloved loathes them, and as he is not keen on Plain dress anyway the compromise is Plain (modest, dresses, headcovering, fashion-free, no make-up or jewellery, long hair, flat shoes, mostly solid colour) but in bright, cheerful colours, for his happiness.

5) The homespun life is important. Prizing and promoting what is homemade and handmade - growing veggies and baking pies and bread and making our own Christmas presents and chopping wood and creating a garden. Home birth, home schooling - all of that. Eating and taking and praying together, and developing more skills than pressing the buttons on the washing machine and the computer.

6) Lowliness is important. This is almost the same as simplicity, but not identical. A humble life: being able to laugh at myself, going by foot or public transport or, if I have to have a car, a small and ordinary one. Choosing second-hand and a bit shabby, being content to be overlooked and unheard and invisible, being happy with the company of the marginalised and forgotten and the poor.

The one place where I part company with the traditional communities of Plain people is that I believe in inclusive church. I believe in holding the strength of the faith within me - I believe that 'judgement is mine, saith the Lord'. Telling people what type of bonnet strings they should wear, or who can or should or should not or must not remove facial hair and which bit of it, is not the sort of thing I came here to get involved in. I believe that 'the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life'.

Thanks for getting me thinking, Magdalena!


Ganeida said...

Ember: I will go over & read Magdalena's thoughts as well but I did want to comment here first ~ mostly about dress colour. I am personally very fond of blue & white & seeing you in your lovely blue dress with white prayer cap & apron always lifts my heart. It is so peaceful & simple. The drabber colours depress me ~ practical & utilitarian they may be but they gloom my soul.

I do think there is a movement away from the mainstream. I feel God is calling his people out, to be set apart, to be holy ~ well, He's always done that but there seems to be a real shift in some quarters to honour that calling ~ for which I am very grateful.

There is something in other quarters that is rediscovering the Jewish roots of Christianity & what this means for us & how we should apply it ~ which I also think is linked to core bible principles: faith, worship, family, community. For me it all ties together. How has God called us? What does He require of us? How do I live that out?

The t.v could go now for all of me but I am rather fond of my computer. It's where my friends live. lol

Lots of lovely thoughts to meditate on as I go about my day. Ta. ☺

Lynda said...

You have said what I think and feel so well, that I am just going to put a link to this post on my blog :o)

Thankyou for helping and guiding me back on The Path.

Ember said...

Hi Ganeida - yes, I felt blue was the way to go for striking a happy medium between peaceful Plain and the jewel colours Badger likes.

Hi Lynda - glad that struck a chord with you!


MarilynAnn said...

I read somewhere that underneath their burkas, veils and other modest muslim dress, and also in the privacy of their homes, many women in Saudi Arabia and other countries wear very fashionable and sexy garments.

This may be a compromise you have already thought of but do not consider appropriate for blog content! LOL :)

There is a biblical justification for this as well. St Paul Corinthians+7&version=NIV says husbands and wives should not deprive each other....I am sure this applies to clothing as well as the physical act.

I feel that it is not a good witness to impose our own beliefs on others and try to force them to conform to our ways. I feel this goes against the idea of 'attraction not promotion'.

So I am a bit wary of anything that seems to cross the boundaries here, although they are not always clear and you and your husband seem to have reached agreement on it all.

I do quite a lot of things my husband does not agree with or share! But I also do things to accommodate his views. He hates dyed hair and hair products, eg gel. I like these. I am currently having a big stress over my hairstyle partly because of these restrictions.

Anyway, apologies if this is an unwanted comment, feel free not to post it!

Ember said...

:0) Hi Marilyn!

It's an interesting journey into Plain, isn't it, when one is making it not as a couple joining a community within one of the established traditions, but as an individual finding a way that expresses a personal set of convictions.

I'd heard the same about Muslim ladies, and I guess that's because the whole matter is for them a gender thing to do with modesty and sexuality, whereas that is only a part of the whole picture in Plain dress, which is part of a holistic response to Gospel simplicity (I know you know this, I'm just prattling).


Michelle-ozark crafter said...

God called me away from how I was dressing a couple years ago. I do wear prints this is true but I still find everything evolving still as I settle into what I believe is what God wants for me. I have no church family or blood family to help so i have found friends of like mine on this old computer. When I read your comment over at Magdelena's, I had to come see what you had to say and very much enjoyed it.

Ember said...

Hey Michelle - nice to see you here! :0)

Joan said...

Hi Ember,
was wondering if you still go the same church? I read a lot here last night, and in fact, read it to my husband who enjoyed it as well, but I didn't see who it is you consider to be your faith community. We have to drive a long way to meet with others we consider our community, but we can't do a whole lot from here. Know what I mean? I hope I put this right ( been going through a lot of sleepness nights with my son and I am very foggy), but many of us are forced to be independent and it is easier not to have the pressure to conform ( it happens in non plain churches, too) and just choose our own type of plain. But then how do we define community? I long for people to be in my face - or at least in the same room!!
joanie W.

Ember said...

Hi Joanie,
My churchgoing history is a bit complex. I was a Methodsit minister for about fifteen years, and a local preacher in the Methodist church for some years before that. Then we have moved house over quite big distances, which has disrupted church membership, and now returned to live in the place where I was once pastor to several churches. I stepped aside from Methodist ministry, and also from my local preacher and membership status during those years, not because of disillusinment with the Methodists, but because of stuff of my own I had to sort out and because the Methodist people were not in the main walking quiet the same path as me, and it seemed not appropriate therefore to be a leader in that church - I would have been imposing on them an ideology that did not reflect the direction tey were choosing to travel.
My husband is an Anglican, so since we moved back here I started going to the Anglican (high, Episcopalian style) church with him. I really love that faith community - they are not Plain but are very accepting of anyone in any form. However this summer I discovered that the little village Methodist chapel with which I had the closest connection, is struggling a bit, so I have more recently divided my time between the Anglican church and the Methodists. I will probably ask to be taken into membership at the Methodist church, but continue to go along to the Anglican church as well. We also have a group meeting in our home which is a lovely fellowship.
However, I do not know one single person who feels the same Plain vocation (including Plain dress) except online. There are some Plain people in my area, but they belong to communities with high and definite barriers - what in my parlance is 'exclusive church'. I would be looking to practice a spirituality more like the Stillwater Meeting of Conservative Quakers in Ohio, that is distinctively and commitedly biblical Christian, but also is inclusive in spirit.
Personally I don't quite fit as a Quaker, in that I do believe in the sacramental power of Baptism and the Eucharist. Everything else about the Quakers rings all my bells!

Joan said...

Hello again Ember,
I can relate to your church history. Not to specifics so much, but in trying to find the place the Lord wants us - and for us that has not been a permanent thing so far. We spent some years going to several types of churches. We live in a tiny town of 800 people, rural, and there is a lot of spiritual darkness here. We have felt it was important to serve this community somehow and we tried with local churches quite a lot, but there simply was not enough searching for Truth going on for us to be of any use. There was too little we could yoke with. There is one church that has not compromised on Truth and we visit it from time to time and keep in touch with most everyone there. I love group meetings in homes - that has really been our "church" so to speak for 7 yrs. But, as my husband says it is more like icing or frosting on the cake and so we have no cake. Some of the group is part of an exclusive church ( was started by those in the exclusive group) and like most people here in America think ( because they can, since they are usually in reach of one of these plain communities), we figured it would be helpful to us to hang around with other plain folks. You have probably seen me "talk" at Magdalena's site about the problems that has caused me in my head. And I consider myself a very strong person. The truth is that conforming comes natural to most of us and we have to fight it if we don't want to conform to the group ( to a point we feel is not good.)we feel drawn to worship with. If we do that, oftentimes we are going to be excluded from things or treated like the perpetual visitor and nothing more. But, oh well. We have to stand for Truth. I look forward to your next post and musings!
May God Bless You

Ember said...

'Truth'... Jesus said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life'; that means Truth is a person to get to know, someone to live and travel with, not a dogma that can be formalised into a checklist.
May your searchings be blest - and you.