Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Barclay on Apparel

Barclay is brief in his treatment of apparel. Not everyone needs to be clothed alike because that might not suit their bodies or their estate. He had no problem with the master having better clothes than the servant. The key item for him was that the clothing be sober and without superfluity. The clothes should also fit the country and the resources of that country. “So where silk abounds, it may be worn, as well as wool; and were we in those countries, or near unto them, where gold and silver were as common as iron or brass, the one might be used as well as the other.” The iniquity, to him, lies in two things. “First, when from a lust of vanity, and a desire to adorn themselves, men and women, not content with what their condition can bear, or their country easily affords, do stretch to have things, that from their rarity, and the price that's put upon them, seem to be be precious, and so feed their lust the more. Secondly, when man are not content to make a true use of the creation, whether the things be fine or course, and do not satisfy themselves with what need & conveniency calls for, but add thereunto things merely superfluous.” Superfluities include the use of ribbons and lace, painting the face and plaiting the hair.

His reasons for this is that, first of all, the use of clothes came originally from the fall so we should not take pride in that which is the fruit of our iniquity. To do so is a misuse of creation and therefore not lawful to Christians. Secondly, those who adorn themselves with items of no use but decorations show that the purpose of this is either to satisfy their desires or to gratify a vain, proud and ostentatious mind. They would rather beautify their bodies than their souls. Thirdly, Scripture reproves the practice. We should seek not outward adornment but the inward adornment of a meek and quiet spirit.

In his concern for the proper use of creation, I see a germ of what is now termed Earthcare Witness. Even before we get to superfluous decoration, how about the quantity of clothes that we own. Are our closets full of clothes that we don't wear? What is the reason for that? Is there a sentimental attachment? Are there clothes that we think will fit again someday? Are there clothes that represent different aspects of our lives? Does this represent a compartmentalization in our lives? I will be this person with one set of people and someone else with another? The early Quaker idea of an living with integrity involved being the same person to everyone. It was integrating all aspects of our lives and not living in little compartments. One of the implications of simple dress was that you were easily identifiable as a Quaker. Since Quaker ideals were well known, it was easy for anyone, Quaker or not, to see if you were behaving in a way counter to your ideals.

In our mass market world, how much of clothing advertisement and design is based on displaying our status based on the clothes we wear. What are we buying when we buy designer fashions?

It is not necessary to have a large wardrobe to run into issues around clothes. There was a time when I only owned a weeks worth of clothes. It was little enough that when I went to the laundromat, everything fit into one washer. I was living with the woman who is now my wife. One night we were awakened by the smell of smoke and a crackling sound in the wall. When we looked out the window we could see the light flames reflecting on the snow outside. Lynn ran out of the room to see if she could find out where the fire was. When she came back she found me standing stark naked in front of my closet, not moving. What was going through my head at that moment was this. “The whole house is burning and I will be out on the street with only the clothes on my back. I want to make sure I have the right clothes.” It turned out to be a chimney fire. There was no damage to the apartment or any of our belongings. We still laugh about my response to a moment of crisis. But the point is that even though I had only a few clothes, I had invested them with a lot of meaning. It was important that if I have the “right” ones. Why do we invest so much meaning into our garments? It isn't just the fashionistas. Those who practice plain dress are also making a statement with their apparel. Do any of us wear clothes just for modesty and protection from the elements? Is any of this simple?

Even the idea that clothes are suspect because they arose from the Fall, does not tell the whole story. Before God send Adam and Eve from the garden, he made them clothes of animal skins. They were not sent naked into the world but dressed in clothes sewn by the very fingers of God. Can even the lilies of the field claim that?

11 Comments:

Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Yes indeed, I think the lilies might claim just that --

Christ concludes his teaching about the lilies by saying (in Matthew 6:30) that "God so clothes them". And how do we know that God does not use the same fingers to do so?

October 28, 2006 8:49 AM  
Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

As a Quaker nudist...
Okay I am not really a nudist, but the post makes me wonder about self-expression and its place in Quaker life and practice. Some adorn car bumpers, front lawns and even our bodies with cultural and political statements of self-expression. When does self-expression become vanity? When is it spiritual and Spirit led?

October 28, 2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger Rex said...

And how about the walls of our Meeting Houses? I recently acquired a fascinating abstract artwork. It is a simple design: a cicle, made from lightly colored strings stretched across it that create an intreguing pattern. Several weeks ago I leaned it against a blank white wall as my 'visual ministry'. Since we all share our vocal ministry without seeking prior approval, I did it without any consultation, although I do see that visual ministry has a persistant quality that vocal ministry doesn't have. I'm not convinced (yet) that that difference should matter. Anyway I heard no negative comments until this last week when a long-time member (who rarely attends our weekly worship) said that there should be NO images on Quaker walls!
Has anyone else tangled with this issue?

October 29, 2006 8:20 AM  
Blogger Timothy Travis said...

I know that you are in unity with me, and all Friends, in saying that "self expression" as moderns use that term is always vanity. We are not--or should not be--striving to express our "selves"--that crown to be cast at the foot of the cross--but rather that which is of God, that which It has given us to know as the result of the daily renewing of our orientation toward and obedience to the Light.

October 29, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Marshall,
Thank you for answering the simplest question. It is indeed the fingers of God that clothe the lilies of the field. But as Peterson, Rex and Timothy show, the rest of the questions, and the questions raised by the questions, become more complex.

Peterson, Timothy is partly correct. Early Friends would have considered what we call "self-expression" as vanity. They were clear that what we should strive for is "God expression" and not self-expression. That is to say that we should be expressing what God has shown us and is leading us to say.

But I think that the early Friends may have had too simple a conception of this. After all, we are all created in the image of God but we are also each of us unique. So the expressions of God that each of us make will bear not only the universal stamp of God but also the unique stamp of the individual makeing the expression based on that unique mix of history, personality and gifts.

One of the paradoxes of Quaker ministry is that our theory says that we should seek to remove as much as we can of our selve from our ministry so that God can be seen more clearly. At the same time, it requires a strong sense of self to stand in meeting and speak with the implicit claim that these words come from God. Our Quaker heroes were not exactly shrinking violets. George Fox certainly had a strong sense of self.

So one of things about self-expression is where does it happen. The goal of ministry in Meeting for Worship is not self-expression. But that doesn't mean that self-expression in inappropriate elsewhere. For instance, Peterson, your presentation on the Homo-NoMo Halfway house is self-expression. But it also expresses truth and makes it accessable in a way that would not be possible in another form. If I were to eliminate all self-expression postings on this blog would be even more infrequent than they already are. And there would be fewer comments as well.

As for Rex's question about the artwork at Meeting, there are a host of other issues. The purpose of any ministry in Meeting for Worship is to draw the people at the meeting closer to the Light within them, to aid them in experiencing the direct guidance of God in their personal situation. There is a strong preference in the theory of unprogrammed worship for extemporaneous messages on the assumption that the message is influenced in part by what the particular people hearing it need to hear at the time the message is given. Our meeting had quite a controversy a number of years ago when someone brought in a tape recorder and played a pre-recorded song as ministry. I think that bringing in an artwork made by someone else has much in common with that case. I don't know if there is one correct answer to such an issue. But there is much value in wrestling together as a community as to what is appropriate ministry because it provides an opportunity to explore what ministry is, where it comes from, and how a community can encourage and nourish it.

Timothy, I don't know how much you and I agree on. I suspect that there is much. But I don't agree with everything Barclay says. More important than what Barclay's beliefs are what do we believe today and how are those beliefs made visible in our lives. I talk about historical Quaker theology because I think that it is important for our current beliefs to be informed by our traditions. That doesn't mean that they should be adopted as a catechism. The wrestling and seeking together is important because that is a place where we God can enter in and change all of us.

I am very careful about saying what all Friends believe for two reasons. The first is that I have met too many Friends with too wide a range of beliefs to think that there is much that fits that criteria. Secondly, by saying all Friends believe something it implies that anyone who doesn't agree is not a Friend. And again, that is something I am very reluctant to do.

Blessings to all.

Will

October 29, 2006 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Tania said...

Thank you for this post. It has helped me clarify something that's been bothering me recently.

October 29, 2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

I really appreciate the conversation here. This strikes at one of the more significant differences between modern and ancient Friends.

Nowadays we're all about self-expression, self-improvement, it's all about finding ourselves, creating our identities. The results are often pseudo-rebelliousness, conformity in the name of individuality.

Will's comment about Quaker paradoxes is important. I find the self-abnegation is an essential part of my Quaker practice. I often do things I don't want to do (it's one of my personal tests of discernment). The result is something that can look like creativity and which displays a strong sense of self, but this confidence comes from feeling backed and guided by the Holy Spirit and is maintained by prayer and self-questioning. Not everything is dictated in detail and there's plenty of times where my human mind is choosing and creating. But I try to constantly challenge myself whether my work is about celebrating myself or serving the Spirit. I'm sure I make mistakes but that's the goal.

One place of paradox is a sense O have that we most clearly relate to others by telling stories and being particular with our identities--those individual histories and the details of our lives. We become more accessible and can perhaps preach to one another more effectively? I don't have any great theory about this but that's my experience.

October 30, 2006 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Will, I think Timothy is entirely correct, not just partly so, but he has expressed himself here in Quaker jargon and this may be confusing.

And I think a problem that is confusing the discussion here is that the word "self" has more than one possible meaning.

Christ told his disciples, approximately, "If anyone wants to walk in my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake" -- "and the Good News's sake," Mark adds -- "will save it." (Mark 8:34-35; Matthew 16:24-25; Luke 9:23-24)

This teaching, for Christians, is where the challenge to "self" begins; all other Christian ideas about what's wrong with "self" are derived from it, and from the stories in the New Testament that appear to illustrate what it means, although often with some admixture of ideas borrowed from non-Judæo-Christian sources.

When you say that "George Fox certainly had a strong sense of self," I suspect that either you mean something a bit different from the "self" that Christ was referring to, or else you would add that, "Fox denied himself all the same." For, quite certainly, Fox was ready to yield up himself and his all to Christ, pretty much constantly all through his life, after Christ started pulling at his heart.

As for "self-expression", the question becomes, what "self" are we talking about here?

Timothy takes the "self" in the phrase as referring to the "self" Christ calls on us to deny. But others would say that the "self" Christ calls on us to deny, and the "self" that gets expressed in art, are really two different selves -- the former self, the one Christ calls on us to deny, being the one that perishes at our physical death; and the latter one, the one that art expresses, being a simple pipeline that can channel divine inspiration.

October 31, 2006 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for blogging. The posts you have written so far are clear and informative. I am just now learning about Friends. I hope you will continue to write. Each post is a little study; I am grateful.

November 14, 2006 2:54 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Thank you anonymous. Your words of encouragement are particularly welcome to me right now. My wife's grandfather died in the beginning of October and her father died last week. Needless to say, I have not had the time or energy for much posting lately. I hope to get back to it soon. I am glad that you are finding what I have been writing to be useful. One of the things I am trying to provide is a place where people can find out more about Quakerism.

Will

November 14, 2006 10:47 PM  
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