My convincement as a Quaker has garnered several responses from family and friends. Well, friends anyway. My family has been silent; if they think or wonder about it at all, I suspect my Quakerism has been mentally filed away with my other odd behaviors over the years: successive tattoos, work as a community sex educator, funky haircuts, various college degrees, marrying-divorcing-marrying-divorcing the same man, acquiring innumerable cats/dog/birds, etc. Lots of etc. Of course, I could be wrong and my family just doesn’t care or *gasp and feelings of complete betrayal* they don’t read my blog, or they’re waiting for my internal weather vane to shift, at which time I’ll shave my head, drape myself in some tasteful sheets, and declare I’m a Buddhist. I don’t think that’s going to happen,* but if any relatives want to chime in about this whole thing, I’d welcome it.
Friends and colleagues, now, have had some things to say. Several have asked me if I became a Quaker because I own a quaker parrot, Zeke.
They are joking, I hope, because otherwise the comment is a bit insulting. Actually, I think the link between Quakers and quaker parrots is drabness — Quakers were known in the past to dress in a limited color palette, including a lot of gray; quaker parrots, also called monk parakeets, are drab colored when compared to the riotous plumage of most other South American parrots — hence the association with Quakers or monks. At any rate, I can guarantee that the link between Quakers and quaker parrots is NOT an ethic of nonviolence; Zeke uses that pointy beak to great and bloody effect at times and I have the scars (yes, real scars) to prove it.
Other friends have said, “Quakers — aren’t they like the Amish?” Well, yes and no. The two came from different religious movements, the Amish being Anabaptists, a movement which originated in Europe in the 16th century; Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, grew out of English religious reformation during the time of Cromwell in the 17th century.** Quakers and the various Anabaptist sects, including Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, Hutterites, and some others are known as the historic peace churches because of their ethic of nonviolence and conscientious objector status often invoked during war time. So that’s one similarity. Another is the refusal to take oaths, on the basis that one should be telling the truth all the time anyway. The other big similarity is — or rather, was — clothing. Old Order Amish continue to be recognizable by their plain, old-fashioned clothing; Quakers in the 18th and 19th centuries dressed plainly, eschewing bright colors and current fashions, but did not adopt the uniform sort of appearance of the Amish and some other religious groups.
Plain dress has evidently been an issue of contention among Quakers since the beginning of the movement. When plain dress was first proposed, Margaret Fell, the “mother of Quakerism,” called it “a silly poor gospel.” Later, rich Quakers were criticized for wearing clothing that was plainly cut, but made of the finest materials. Today, most Quakers seem to dress for use rather than fashion. Many strive to avoid clothing made by sweatshop labor and/or depend on a smaller amount of clothing, so that fashion and expense don’t become the center of the wardrobe and the wardrobe, therefore, a center of one’s life. There are young Quakers who are wearing the plain dress of an earlier time, including bonnets and Amish-type hair coverings for women. They do receive some criticism from other Quakers, along the lines that 1) wearing such conspicuous clothing draws as much attention, and can spring from the same self-centered gratification, as being ultra-fashionable, and 2) that head coverings and dresses-only for women symbolize the second-class status and religiously-imposed subjection that so many women, including Quakers such as Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, worked so hard to overcome.*** On the other hand, if these young people truly feel led by God or the light within to dress in such a manner, most other Quakers will accept it and them. They know their own God-business best, just as I feel I do for me.
Now, those who know me IRL may be wondering how I’m dealing with the idea of a limited, less fashionable wardrobe and presenting a modest appearance, given that
- I have a BS and MS in Clothing and Textiles and used to teach fashion merchandising and history of costume and I adore fabric and clothing just on general purposes;
- I have lots of jewelry, BIG jewelry, earrings and rocky, knobby necklaces and sterling silver cuff bracelets that one could use to signal passing jets;
- I’ve spent a significant portion of my waking hours in search of the perfect pair of jeans.
Well, it’s come in steps. Returning to grad school at midlife, with the associated poverty and weight gain,**** and living in the middle of nowhere reduced my idea what makes up a necessary wardrobe a couple of years ago (I’m 6′ tall — I can’t buy my clothes at places like Target — and the nearest Target is 60 miles away anyway). I don’t dye my graying, dishwater blond hair any more (although I still sigh when I see a particularly rich shade of red on someone else. Sigh.). I wear jewelry to teach, on the principle that it helps attract my students’ magpie attention (and yes, just because I like the jewelry), but I don’t wear as much at once, nor do I work to acquire or make more jewelry, an avarice that used to take up a fair portion of my time.
So yeah. I’m a Quaker, but not because I own a quaker, and I dress more plainly, but I’m not going to trade my jeans for a skirt or my 2005 Scion in for a buggy (although I always wanted a horse….). I do a fair amount of religious reading, but I still read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, too. I’ve come to truly dislike playing violent computer games (which I used to love), but I just used some tax return $$ to order the complete seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
And now, I’m off to pick up dog crap in the back yard. You know how many religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, stress humility? Nothing like dog crap, a soiled bird cage, and two litter boxes to remind me that I live to serve.
*I flirted with Buddhism ages ago, sillies, pre-blog. A wonderful religion/philosophy, and nicely in tune with Quakerism, as it turns out. But no Christ, a sticking point for me.
**That does mean that the thinking/thinkers that created Anabaptism pre-existed and were probably familiar to George Fox, the founder of Quakerism.
***Yes, I fall into this camp.
****I’ve struggled with weight and body image all my life, dieting down to WAY too skinny several times. Now, I’m comfortable and, by Hollywood standards, fat, which is to say, not quite medically obese, but baby, I ain’t thin.