Hammonton 2017 Fourth of July

We didn’t see much of the Ham­mon­ton Fourth of July parade this year because once again the kids were in the bike parade por­tion (all except Fran­cis, who had a bad melt­down in the morn­ing and stayed home with mom).

The bike parade was again spon­sored by Toy Mar­ket, the inde­pen­dent toy store in town (sup­pli­er of much of our household’s San­ta deliv­ery). They had a table full of red, white, and blue bunting that we could apply to the bikes. We all had a lot of fun.

Notes for next year: a tan­dem exten­sion on a adult bike looked like fun and then 7-yo Gre­go­ry will be a good age for this (we should dig ours out from the back of the garage). Also: the parade has a dog con­tin­gent so maybe a much-calmer Fran­cis will be able to be part of that next year (we’re due to pick up the ser­vice dog in 12 days!, eeek!!!)

My Experiments with Plainness

[See also: Resources on Quak­er Plain­ness]

This was a post I sent to the “Pearl” email list, which con­sists of mem­bers of the 2002 FGC Gath­er­ing work­shop led by Lloyd Lee Wil­son of North Car­oli­na Year­ly Meet­ing (Con­ser­v­a­tive). Eighth Month 20, 2002


I thought I’d share some of my jour­ney in plain-ness since Gath­er­ing. There’s two parts to plain dress: sim­plic­i­ty and plain-ness.

The most impor­tant part of the sim­plic­i­ty work has been sim­pli­fy­ing my wardrobe. It’s incred­i­ble how many clothes I have. I sus­pect I have a lot few­er than most Amer­i­cans but there’s still tons, and nev­er enough room in the clos­ets & dressers (I do have small clos­ets but still!). I’d like to get all my clothes into one or two dress­er draw­ers and donate the rest to char­i­ty. Two pairs of pants, a cou­ple of shirts, a few days worth of socks and under­gar­ments. This requires that I wash every­thing fre­quent­ly which means I hand-wash things but that’s okay. The point is to not wor­ry or think about what I’m going to wear every morn­ing. I’ve been to a wed­ding and a funer­al since I start­ed going plain and it was nice not hav­ing to fret about what to wear.

I also appre­ci­ate using less resources up by hav­ing few­er clothes. It’s hard to get away from prod­ucts that don’t have some neg­a­tive side effects (sup­port of oil indus­try, spilling of chem­i­cal wastes into streams, killing of ani­mals for hide, exploita­tion of peo­ple con­struct­ing the clothes at hor­ri­ble wages & con­di­tions). I try my best to bal­ance these con­cerns but the best way is to reduce the use.

These moti­va­tions are simple-ness rather than plain-ness. But I am try­ing to be plain too. For men it’s pret­ty easy. My most com­mon cloth­ing since Gath­er­ing has been black pants, shoes and sus­penders, and the com­bo seems to look pret­ty plain. There’s no his­toric authen­tic­i­ty. The pants are Levi-Dockers which I already own, the shoes non-leather ones from Pay­less, also already owned. The only pur­chase was sus­penders from Sears. I bought black over­alls too. My Dock­ers were vic­tims of a minor bike acci­dent last week (my scraped knee & elbow are heal­ing well, thank you, and my bike is fine) and I’m replac­ing them with thick­er pants that will hold up bet­ter to repeat­ed wash­ing & use. There’s irony in this, cer­tain­ly. If I were being just sim­ple, I’d wear out all the pants I have – despite their col­or – rather than buy new ones. I’d be wear­ing some bright & wacky pants, that’s for sure! But irony is part of any wit­ness, espe­cial­ly in the begin­ning when there’s some lifestyle shift­ing that needs to hap­pen. As a per­son liv­ing in the world I’m bound to have con­tra­dic­tions: they help me to not take myself too seri­ous­ly and I try to accept them with grace and good humor.

But prac­ti­cal­i­ty in dress more impor­tant to me than his­tor­i­cal authen­tic­i­ty. I don’t want to wear a hat since I bike every day and want to keep my head free for the hel­met; it also feels like my doing it would go beyond the line into quaint­ness. The only type of cloth­ing that’s new to my wardrobe is the sus­penders and real­ly they are as prac­ti­cal as a belt, just less com­mon today. A few Civ­il War re-enactment buffs have smil­ing­ly observed that clip-on sus­penders aren’t his­tor­i­cal­ly authen­tic but that’s per­fect­ly okay with me. I also wear col­lars, that’s per­fect­ly okay with me too.

The oth­er thing that I’m clear about is that the com­mand­ment to plain dress is not nec­es­sar­i­ly eter­nal. It is sit­u­a­tion­al, it is part­ly a response to the world and to Quak­er­dom and it does con­scious­ly refer to cer­tain sym­bols. God is what’s eter­nal, and lis­ten­ing to the call of Christ with­in is the real com­mand­ment. If I were in a Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty that demand­ed plain dress, I expect I would feel led to break out the tie-die and bleach and manic-panic hair col­or­ing. Dress is an out­ward form and like all out­ward forms and prac­tices, it can eas­i­ly become a false sacra­ment. If we embrace the form but for­get the source (which I sus­pect lots of Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry Friends did), then it’s time to cause a ruckus.

Every so often Friends need to look around and take stock of the state of the Soci­ety. At the turn of the 20th Cen­tu­ry, they did that. There’s a fas­ci­nat­ing anti-plain dress book from that time that argues that it’s a musty old tra­di­tion that should be swept away in light of the social­ist ecu­meni­cal world of the future. I sus­pect I would have had much sym­pa­thy for the posi­tion at the time, espe­cial­ly if I were in a group of Friends who didn’t have the fire of the Spir­it and wore their old clothes only because their par­ents had and it was expect­ed of Quakers.

Today the sit­u­a­tion is changed. We have many Friends who have blend­ed in so well with mod­ern sub­ur­ban Amer­i­ca that they’re indis­tin­guish­able in spir­it or deed. They don’t want to have com­mit­tee meet­ing on Sat­ur­days or after Meet­ing since that would take up so much time, etc. They’re hap­py being Quak­ers as long as not much is expect­ed and as long as there’s no chal­lenge and no sac­ri­fice required. We also have Friends who think that the peace tes­ti­mo­ny and wit­ness is all there is (con­fus­ing the out­ward form with the source again, in my opin­ion). When a spir­i­tu­al empti­ness sets into a com­mu­ni­ty there are two obvi­ous ways out: 1) bring in the fads of the out­side world (reli­gious revival­ism in the 19 Cen­tu­ry, social­ist ecu­meni­cal­sim in the 20th, Bud­dhism and sweat lodges in the 21st). or 2) re-examine the fire of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions and fig­ure out what babies you threw away with the bath­wa­ter in the last rebel­lion against emp­ty out­ward form.

I think Quak­ers real­ly found some­thing spe­cial 350 years ago, or redis­cov­ered it and that we are con­stant­ly redis­cov­er­ing it. I have felt that power/ I know that there is still one, named Jesus Christ, who can speak to my con­di­tion and that the Spir­it comes to teach the peo­ple direct­ly. I’ll read old jour­nals and put on old clothes to try to under­stand ear­ly Friends’ beliefs. The clothes aren’t impor­tant, I don’t want to give them too much weight. But there is a tra­di­tion of Quak­ers tak­ing on plain dress upon some sort of deep spir­i­tu­al con­vince­ment (it is so much of a cliché of old Quak­er jour­nals that lit­er­ary types clas­si­fy it as part of the essen­tial struc­ture of the jour­nals). I see plain dress as a reminder we give our­selves that we are try­ing to live out­side the world­li­ness of our times and serve the eter­nal. My wit­ness to oth­ers is sim­ply that I think Quak­erism is some­thing to com­mit one­self whol­ly to (yes, I’ll meet on a Sat­ur­day) and that there are some pre­cious gifts in tra­di­tion­al Quak­er faith & prac­tice that could speak to the spir­i­tu­al cri­sis many Friends feel today.

In friend­ship,
Mar­tin Kelley
Atlantic City Area MM, NJ

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