‘Speak softly, the world will listen. Go slowly, the world will wait’.
I can’t remember who gave me those words, or who first said them, but they have blessed me over many years, and I think they are true.
Thinking of them now, they also recall to my mind the words of my teacher Martin Baddeley, who said, with reference to the story of the Canaanite woman: ‘Jesus walked, and He stopped. What is the speed of love?’
Slow… soft-spoken… humble… gentle… quiet… kind… These adjectives all belong to the Plain way: and a person is not Plain, no matter how she or he may be dressed, unless these words describe his or her life and character.
Die Stille im Lande is how the Amish are sometimes described: the quiet folk of the Earth.
In his breathtakingly lovely book of photographs, Amish Odyssey, Bill Coleman tells of a conversation he had with an Amish school teacher:
One day during recess I said to her, ‘I have never ever heard these children raise their voices, at any hour of school. In or schools you can hear the kids from a mile away. Why not here? They’re playing games, but they’re quiet.’ She said, ‘Well, did you ever hear an Amish adult raise his voice?’
Recently I came across two contrasting examples of teaching the Gospel. One, to my mind, sits easy with the Plain way, the other does not.
I find that teaching lingers with me, like a taste in my mouth. A favourite treat of mine – a luxury because they’re expensive – is a Bendicks Bittermint. Mmmmm… If I have one, I like to enjoy the taste lingering on in my mouth for a while after the sweet is all gone.
By contrast, back in the summer, we bought some Chinese baby pinenuts. Normally I love pinenuts, but eating only a few of this sort can give a bitter, metallic after-taste that lingers for days – or even weeks for some people. Apparently Chinese people like the taste. I must be made differently! I gave the remains of the packet to the wild birds, and never bought any again.
These two examples of teaching I came across were, for me, like Bendicks Bittermints and Chinese baby pinenuts.
To take the Bittermints first.
I followed a link a friend posted on Facebook that led me to discover this beautiful soul, Elder Paisios, and his wise and gentle teaching. Here’s another page of his – the one my friend originally linked to.
Elder Paisios drinks from the same well as the Plain Christian. He walks with a love for all creatures and a reverence for the living Earth. He is humble and gentle in his attitudes, forbearing and respectful towards his fellow human beings. His quietness and simplicity hold up for us a kindly lantern drawing us to Christ’s Peaceable Kingdom. His words and life and example are a blessing to me, and the taste and fragrance of them lingered on long after I left his web pages behind.
The very same day, another friend on Facebook posted links to a teaching series about headcovering. I followed one of them. I’ll tell you about it first, and you can decide whether or not you are curious to hear it – it’s a YouTube video.
I was attracted to the link because the opening screen picture showed a choir of women (Old Order Mennonites maybe?) singing. It’s title was Chrsitian Headcovering. I thought it would be a lovely video, with singing, and maybe teaching from gentle and peaceful women (like Anna Cory or Mercy Hoyt), so I started the video.
It turned out to be a series of photographs accompanying a soundtrack of a male teacher talking about – well, Satan mostly.
Satan was what he started with. The first word on the video was 'Satan'. The preacher spoke a lot about Satan and demons, much more than he said about God. He spoke about the point of view of demons and of Satan. He said that Satan opposes the headcovering and Satan will attack the headcovering and spoke of demons lashing out at headcoverings. He spoke about Godly men in his church trying to 'work with a sister' in deliverance, trying to put a covering on her head, and said the demons in the woman would lash out in anger and try to throw the covering away. He explained that this is because the headcovering supports God’s order but, listening to him, I did wonder if he had been dealing with some very angry ladies and not with demons at all.. He went on to say that destructive forces in the Western church are attributable to three things: women ‘getting out from under’ the authority of their husbands, women teaching and preaching in church, and women abandoning the practice of headcovering. I don't think he meant me to form this impression, but I came away with the feeling that he thought women were responsible for everything that had gone wrong. And his recommendation to correct this state of affairs was naturally enough, that women should ‘get back under’ the authority of their husbands, stop teaching and preaching in church and cover their heads.
But actually, that wasn’t enough. He said – and repeated, and I think he enjoyed it – that if the women did go back to headcovering, then they would become ‘sitting ducks’. Satan was going to attack them, and they would be sitting ducks. The reason? Firstly because Satan hated them and their headcoverings, secondly because covering their heads and refraining from teaching in church and ‘getting back under’ the authority of their husbands because that was their upbringing and culture, or because they were following the example of their mothers or obeying what they had been told, was not good enough. The only thing that would protect them from Satan who hated them and would be attacking them was if they did these things out of their own strong personal conviction. You can listen to the video here if you'd like to.
Well, you reading this may be saying ‘Hallelujah! Sock it to ’em! Go, preacher!’
Me? I hid from my newsfeed the friend who is posting the series of videos.
His words lingered with a bitter, metallic aftertaste like those Chinese baby pinenuts. His hard, strident voice and talk of Satan and demons and attacking and lashing out spoke to me, indeed they did; but what I heard was ‘Satan’ and ‘women’ linked strongly together: whether he meant it or not, the impression I formed was that this man hates women. I found him disturbing, and I will never intentionally listen to anything he has to say again.
Plain women cover their heads, and they are gentle and humble. But the same can be said of Plain men.
Plain women have a servant heart; so do Plain men.
And as for teaching and preaching in church, well – the more I hear and see of the possible ways to take, the more attractive I find the Quaker way, in which nobody is exalted as a preacher or teacher, but the meeting gathers in silence and it is the Spirit who speaks; through anybody.
At around the same time I came across these two examples of teaching, I also came across a headcovering Christian lady on Facebook. As she was friends with 15 of my friends, I went to have a look at her profile to see who she was. I find people’s photos can tell you a lot about them. This lady had photos, but not many. Prominently featured among the ones she had were pictures of her car, and of a piece of cardboard. Both the cardboard and the windows of her car bore huge messages – the cardboard one was homemade but I think she must have gone to the trouble of having the stick-on sheets for the car windows printed. What do you think they said? ‘Smile, God loves you’? ‘God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved’? No, nothing like that. They were messages to say that every person who has married a divorced person is an adulterer. What kind of a woman wants to drive around with that, above every other thing in the world or the Bible she might have chosen, plastered all over her car?
It is my faith that we are sent here to help Christ build His Peaceable Kingdom; and every word or action of gentleness and humility puts another part of that great dream into place. Words of hate and attack and blame and Satan and condemnation do not build the Peaceable Kingdom. They hurt people, they foster fear and distrust, they hinder the formation of love. They are like the disciples in their anxiety and over-zealousness, who tried to stop the little children from reaching Jesus. People are only little children inside, even the worst of them. It is men like Elder Paisios who have what it takes to lead them home.
Strident, loud, harsh, insistent – these adjectives do not belong to the Plain way.
What you would like to see in the world – speak about that. Speak about lovingkindness and goodness, speak about faith and healing, speak about forgiveness and friendship and trust and peace. Let the rest fall away. Let it go. It doesn’t belong to you, it’s not the Plain Way.
Be a Bendicks Bittermint, and leave the Chinese baby pinenuts out for the wild birds.
I wondered whether I ought simply not to post this, if it is my belief that we should speak what is gentle and kind and refrain from the rest. I have made some judgements and criticisms here, after all. In the end I decided I would. Friends and relatives of mine see what appears on my Facebook wall, and they may believe that I associate myself with all the ideas other friends or even other women who practice Christian headcovering have posted. So I wanted to say here that, for me, the Plain way is not a statement about gender relationship, and it has nothing at all to do with Satan or demons or lashing out; it is about building the Peaceable Kingdom, and walking in paths of humility, quietness, understanding and prayer and goodness. It is about approaching the world with love. This takes strength, and it is not accomplished without trouble. But it is neither angry nor strident; it is a quiet way.