On Becoming a Quaker

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.
Zekeblog

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.

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11 responses »

  1. You explained that very well! You should take a pic of yourself and your “kids” and post it. I just realized that I haven’t “seen” you in years…and I can’t imagine you without red hair. 😀

  2. I can’t speak for the others, but I think directly commenting on a sibling’s religious, political, relationship or sartorial choices is a suicidal act. The only way to know what I think, would be to be someone else and then you would probably have other things to wonder about. As long as it feels good and doesn’t involve dismembering corpses or embezzling funds from orphans, you don’t have to care what any of us thinks.

  3. Well, I’ve never been fashion conscious. And I absolutely hate to shop for clothes anyway. So that’s not my particular struggle since becoming a convinced Quaker…

    For me, the problem is having patience …especially with my teenage son. And learning not to YELL!!!

    So we all have our particular weaknesses to work on!

  4. o do quaker parents not yell? o i guess that way disqualifies me 🙂 do buddhist parents yell? do hindu parents yell? do pagan parents yell? where do i fit in?!?!

  5. wow, just noticed this was blogged in 2007. . . wonder if anyone wanders around here now. . . i’ll check out 2009 and see where your convincement has taken you

  6. Glad I stumbled across your blog today. I’ve been wondering about the Quaker faith, because it seems I’m being lead in that direction lately. Your blog is very informative, thanks for the input!

  7. My husband and I feel like our ideology best fits that of a Quaker but I love fashion. I see it as self expression and a way to extend your confidence and make others feel more comfortable around you. I believe that taking time to get dressed shows others you care about them, because you wanted to show them your best side; inside and out. I never expect this from others though. I write a fashion blog, which has brought me much joy and community with other women, who for years struggled with self confidence issues and are now proud of who they are and want to bring confidence to others. I see this as a big part of my life. If my husband and I were to become Quaker, would this be a problem? I just see so many similarities in other parts of my life it would be a shame to have this be an issue.

  8. Hi Dana! I’m not the owner of this Sowing Mild Oats log, but thought I’d respond to your question about Quaker clothing with my personal experience 🙂

    10 years ago at my first Quaker wedding, I showed up in drab and reverent clothing. Everyone else was dressed beautifully, colors, fun!

    My sense of Quakerism is that clothing in itself is not ever an issue. It is the thought behind what one is wearing. Your explanation for dressing beautifully is a fine explanation if you ask me ~ in my sense it sounds like you have an artistic eye, and there is truth and beauty there to be celebrated.

    If you were dressing all fancy in order to compete with other people, or to show how wealthy you were, or to intimidate others, then I don’t believe that reasoning would quite fit with most other Quaker thoughts.

    I am part of a very liberal New England Quaker meeting. Most Quaker meetings are very opening and welcoming. All people are welcome to go and sit in Quaker meetings. Quakers are also called “Friends” as in “Religious Society of Friends”. I definitely encourage you to visit a local meeting and see how it feels, ask questions. And if that meeting doesn’t resonate, feel free to try another.

    Anyway, I’m happy to share my experience if you wish. Just ask 🙂 It’s been about 10 years since that first wedding ~~

  9. Hi I have recently found your blog and it is helpful with my discerment about becoming a Quaker. I live in New Bedford Mass and there is a meeting house here downtown. I have been reading all I can about the Quaker faith and like all that. I have been a Buddhist for 22 years and for reasons I am looking for something that is simple

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