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!