Bring people to Christ / Leave them there

It’s one of those quotes we fre­quent­ly hear: that George Fox said a minister’s job was “to bring peo­ple to Christ, and to leave them there.” But when I go to Google, I only find sec­ond­hand ref­er­ences, sand­wiched in quote marks but nev­er sourced. It turns up most fre­quent­ly in the works of British Friend William Pol­lard, who used it as kind of a catch phrase in his talks on “An Old Fash­ioned Quak­erism” from 1889. Sus­pi­cious­ly miss­ing is any search result from the jour­nal or epistles of Fox him­self. It’s pos­si­ble Pol­lard has para­phrased some­thing from Fox into a speech-friendly short­hand that Google miss­es, but it’s also pos­si­ble it’s one of those passed-down Fox myths like Penn’s sword.

London Yearly Meeting, 1865.
Lon­don Year­ly Meet­ing, 1865.

So in mod­ern fash­ion, I posed the ques­tion to the Face­book hive mind. After great dis­cus­sions, I’m going to call this a half-truth. On the Face­book thread, Allis­tair Lomax shared a Fox epistle that con­vinces me the founder of Friends would have agreed with the basic con­cept:

I’m guess­ing it is para­phrase of a por­tion of Fox’s from epistle 308, 1674. Fox wrote “You know the man­ner of my life, the best part of thir­ty years since I went forth and for­sook all things. I sought not myself. I sought you and his glo­ry that sent me. When I turned you to him that is able to save you, I left you to him.”

Mark Wutka shared quo­ta­tions from Stephen Grel­let and William Williams which have con­vince me that it describes the “two step dance” of con­vince­ment for ear­ly Friends:

From Stephen Grel­let: “I have endeav­oured to lead this peo­ple to the Lord and to his Spir­it, and there is is safe to leave them.” And this from William Williams: “To per­suade peo­ple to seek the Lord, and to be faith­ful to his word, the inspo­ken words of the heart, is what we ought to do; and then leave them to be direct­ed by the inward feel­ings of the mind;”

The two-step image comes from Ange­la York Crane’s com­ment:

So it’s a two step dance. First, that who we are and how we live and speak turns oth­ers to the Lord, and sec­ond, that we trust enough to leave them there.

But: as a pithy catch phrase direct­ly attrib­ut­ed to Fox it’s anoth­er myth. It per­haps bor­rowed some images from a mid-19th cen­tu­ry talk by Charles Spur­geon on George Fox, but came togeth­er in the 1870s as a cen­tral catch phrase of British reformer Friend William Pol­lard. Pol­lard is a fas­ci­nat­ing fig­ure in his own right, an ear­ly pro­po­nent of mod­ern lib­er­al­ism in a Lon­don Year­ly Meet­ing that was then large­ly evan­gel­i­cal and mis­sion­ary. Even his pam­phlet and book titles were telling, includ­ing Prim­i­tive Chris­tian­i­ty Revived and A Rea­son­able Faith. He had an agen­da and this phrase was a key for­mu­la­tion of his argu­ment and vision.

He is hard­ly the first or last Friend to have lift­ed an inci­den­tal phrase or con­cept of George Fox’s and given it the weight of a mod­ern tenet (“That of God” springs to mind). More inter­est­ing to me is that Pollard’s work was fre­quent­ly reprint­ed and ref­er­enced in Friends Intel­li­gencer, the Amer­i­can Hick­site pub­li­ca­tion (and pre­de­ces­sor of Friends Jour­nal), at a time when Lon­don Friends didn’t rec­og­nize Hick­sites as legit­i­mate Quak­ers. His vision of an “Old Fash­ioned Quak­erism” rein­cor­po­rat­ed qui­etism and sought to bring British Friends back to a two-step con­vince­ment prac­tice. It paved the way for the trans­for­ma­tion of British Quak­erism fol­low­ing the trans­for­ma­tion­al 1895 Man­ches­ter Con­fer­ence and gave Amer­i­can Friends inter­est­ed in mod­ern lib­er­al philo­soph­i­cal ide­als a blue­print for incor­po­rat­ing them into a Quak­er frame­work.

The phrase “bring peo­ple to Christ/leave them there” is a com­pelling image that has lived on in the 130 or so odd years since its coinage. I sus­pect it is still used much as Pol­lard intend­ed: as a qui­etist brak­ing sys­tem for top-down mis­sion­ary pro­grams. It’s a great con­cept. Only our tes­ti­mony in truth now requires that we intro­duce it, “As William Pol­lard said, a Quak­er minister’s job is to…”

And for those won­der­ing, yes, I have just ordered Pollard’s Old Fash­ioned Quak­erism via Vin­tage Quak­er Books. He seems like some­thing of a kin­dred spir­it and I want to learn more.

Trust, direct revelation and church teachings

A respon­se to  a post by Jess East­er on Quak­erQuak­er, “My Quak­er Rela­tion­ship with Jesus“:

It’s not anti-Christian to say you have doubts about your rela­tion­ship with Jesus. It’s per­fect­ly human. Most of us would get bogged down in the intel­lec­tu­al­ism if we tried to map out a pre­cise God/Christ rela­tion­ship. One thing I’ve always liked about Friends is our rad­i­cal hon­esty in this regards. A priest in a strict­ly ortho­dox litur­gi­cal tra­di­tion is expect­ed to preach on top­ics on which they have no direct divine expe­ri­ence and to base their words on church teach­ings. When a Friend ris­es in min­istry they are expect­ed to be speak from a moment of direct rev­e­la­tion.

We also have church teach­ings of course. Robert Bar­clay is our go-to guy on many the­o­log­i­cal mat­ters, and cer­tain jour­nals have become all-but-canonized on the way we under­stand our­selves and our tra­di­tion. It’s just that this second-hand knowl­edge needs to be pre­sent­ed as such and kept out of the actu­al wor­ship time. As my Quak­er jour­ney has pro­gressed, I’ve direct­ly expe­ri­enced more and more open­ings that con­firm the tenets of tra­di­tion­al Quak­er Chris­tian­i­ty. That’s built my trust.

I’m now will­ing to give the ben­e­fit of the doubt to beliefs that I haven’t myself expe­ri­enced. If some­one like William Penn says he’s had a direct rev­e­la­tion about a par­tic­u­lar issue, I’ll trust his account. I know that in those cas­es where we had sim­i­lar open­ings, our spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences have matched. I won’t min­is­ter about what he’s said. I won’t get defen­sive about a point of doc­trine. I’ll just let myself open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that even the more intel­lec­tu­al­ly out­landish parts of ortho­dox Chris­tian doc­trine just might be true.

It’s tempt­ing to go to “holy” sites to expect some spe­cial rev­e­la­tion. In her post, Jess reports feel­ing a sense of feel­ing “bored and indif­fer­ent” when vis­it­ing the West­ern Wall and the Gar­den of Geth­se­mane. I think this is per­fect­ly nor­mal. There’s the sto­ry of the Quak­er min­is­ter trav­el­ing through the Amer­i­can colonies with a local Friend as guide. They come to a cross­roads and the local Friend points to tree stump and proud­ly pro­claims that George Fox him­self tied his horse to that tree when it was alive. The trav­el­ing min­is­ter dis­mounts his horse and walks to the stump. He stands there silent­ly for awhile and walks back to his trav­el­ing com­pan­ion with a sober look. The local is excit­ed and asks him what he saw. The trav­el­ing min­is­ter replied: I looked into the face of idol­a­try.

The Holy Spir­it is not con­fined or enshrined in any place – be it the West­ern Wall, the gild­ed steepled church or the tree George Fox sat under. Jesus’ death tore the Tem­ple shroud in two and His spir­it is with us always, even when it’s hard to feel or see. I think the bore­dom we expe­ri­ence in “holy” sites or with “holy” peo­ple is often  a teach­ing gift – a guid­ance to look else­where for Spir­i­tu­al truth.

Max Carter talk on introducing the Bible to younger Friends

Max Carter gave the Bible Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends this past week­end at Moorestown (NJ) Friends Meet­ing. Max is a long-time edu­ca­tor and cur­rent­ly heads the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram at Guil­ford Col­lege, a pro­gram that has pro­duced a num­ber of active twenty-something Friends in recent years. The Bible Asso­ci­a­tion is one of those great Philadel­phia relics that some­how sur­vived a cou­ple of cen­turies of upheavals and still plugs along with a mis­sion more-or-less craft­ed at it’s found­ing in the ear­ly 1800s: it dis­trib­utes free Bibles to Friends, Friends schools and any First Day School class that might answer their inquiries.

Max’s pro­gram at Guil­ford is one of the recip­i­ents of the Bible Association’s efforts and he began by jok­ing that his sole qual­i­fi­ca­tion for speak­ing at their annu­al meet­ing was that he was one of their more active cus­tomers.

Many of the stu­dents going through Max’s pro­gram grew up in the big­ger East Coast year­ly meet­ings. In the­se set­tings, being an involved Quak­er teen means reg­u­lar­ly going to camps like Catoct­in and Onas, doing the FGC Gath­er­ing every year and hav­ing a par­ent on an impor­tant year­ly meet­ing com­mit­tee. “Quak­er” is a speci­fic group of friends and a set of guide­li­nes about how to live in this sub­cul­ture. Know­ing the rules to Wink and being able to craft a sug­ges­tive ques­tion for Great Wind Blows is more impor­tant than even rudi­men­ta­ry Bible lit­er­a­cy, let alone Barclay’s Cat­e­chism. The knowl­edge of George Fox rarely extends much past the song (“with his shag­gy shag­gy locks”). So there’s a real cul­ture shock when they show up in Max’s class and he hands them a Bible. “I’ve nev­er touched one of the­se before” and “Why do we have to use this?” are non-uncommon respons­es.

None of this sur­prised me, of course. I’ve led high school work­shops at Gath­er­ing and for year­ly meet­ing teens. Great kids, all of them, but most of them have been real­ly short­changed in the con­text of their faith. The Guil­ford pro­gram is a good intro­duc­tion (“we grad­u­ate more Quak­ers than we bring in” was how Max put it) but do we real­ly want them to wait so long? And to have so rel­a­tive­ly few get this chance. Where’s the bal­ance between let­ting them choose for them­selves and giv­ing them the infor­ma­tion on which to make a choice?

There was a sort of built-in irony to the scene. Most of the thirty-five or so atten­dees at the Moorestown talk were half-a-century old­er than the stu­dents Max was pro­fil­ing. I pret­ty safe to say I was the youngest per­son there. It doesn’t seem healthy to have such sep­a­rat­ed worlds. 

Con­ver­gent Friends

Max did talk for a few min­utes about Con­ver­gent Friends. I think we’ve shak­en hands a few times but he didn’t rec­og­nize me so it was a rare fly-on-wall oppor­tu­ni­ty to see firsthand how we’re described. It was pos­i­tive (we “bear watch­ing!”) but there were a few minor mis-perceptions. The most wor­ri­some is that we’re a group of young adult Friends. At 42, I’ve grad­u­at­ed from even the most expan­sive def­i­n­i­tion of YAF and so have many of the oth­er Con­ver­gent Friends (on a Face­book thread LizOpp made the mis­take of list­ed all of the old­er Con­ver­gent Friends and touched off a lit­tle mock out­rage – I’m going to steer clear of that mis­take!). After the talk one atten­dee (a New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship reg­u­lar) came up and said that she had been think­ing of going to the “New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” work­shop C Wess Daniels and I are co-leading next May but had second-thoughts hear­ing that CF’s were young adults. “That’s the first I’ve heard that” she said; “me too!” I replied and encour­aged her to come. We def­i­nite­ly need to con­tin­ue to talk about how C.F. rep­re­sents an atti­tude and includes many who were doing the work long before Robin Mohr‘s Octo­ber 2006 Friends Jour­nal arti­cle brought it to wider atten­tion.

Tech­niques for Teach­ing the Bible and Quak­erism

The most use­ful part of Max’s talk was the end, where he shared what he thought were lessons of the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram. He

  • Demys­ti­fy the Bible: a great per­cent­age of incom­ing stu­dents to the QLSP had nev­er touched it so it seemed for­eign;
  • Make it fun: he has a newslet­ter column called “Con­cor­dance Capers” that digs into the deriva­tion of pop cul­ture ref­er­ences of Bib­li­cal phras­es; he often shows Mon­ty Python’s “The Life of Bri­an” at the end of the class.
  • Make it rel­e­vant: Give inter­est­ed stu­dents the tools and guid­ance to start read­ing it.
  • Show the geneal­o­gy: Start with the parts that are most obvi­ous­ly Quak­er: John and the inner Light, the Ser­mon on the Mount, etc.
  • Con­tem­po­rary exam­ples: Link to con­tem­po­rary groups that are liv­ing a rad­i­cal Chris­tian wit­ness today. This past semes­ter they talked about the New Monas­tic move­ment, for exam­ple and they’ve pro­filed the Sim­ple Way and Atlanta’s Open Door.
  • The Bible as human con­di­tion: how is the Bible a sto­ry that we can be a part of, an inspi­ra­tion rather than a lit­er­al­ist author­i­ty.

Ran­dom Thoughts:

A cou­ple of thoughts have been churn­ing through my head since the talk: one is how to scale this up. How could we have more of this kind of work hap­pen­ing at the local year­ly meet­ing lev­el and start with younger Friends: mid­dle school or high school­ers? And what about bring­ing con­vinced Friends on board? Most QLSP stu­dents are born Quak­er and come from prominent-enough fam­i­lies to get meet­ing let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to enter the pro­gram. Grad­u­ates of the QLSP are fun­neled into var­i­ous Quak­er posi­tions the­se days, leav­ing out con­vinced Friends (like me and like most of the cen­tral Con­ver­gent Friends fig­ures). I talked about this divide a lot back in the 1990s when I was try­ing to pull togeth­er the mostly-convinced Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meet­ing young adult com­mu­ni­ty with the mostly-birthright offi­cial year­ly meet­ing YAF group. I was con­vinced then and am even more con­vinced now that no renewal will hap­pen unless we can get the­se com­ple­men­tary per­spec­tives and energies work­ing togeth­er.

PS: Due to a con­flict between Feed­burn­er and Dis­qus, some of com­ments are here (Wess and Lizopp), here (Robin M) and here (Chris M). I think I’ve fixed it so that this odd spread won’t hap­pen again.


PPS: Max emailed on 2/10/10 to say that many QLSPers are first gen­er­a­tion or con­vinced them­selves. He says that quite a few came to Guil­ford as non-Quakers (“think­ing we had “gone the way of the T-Rex”) and came in by con­vince­ment. Cool!

Quaker video outreach, a talk with Raye Hodgson

An inter­view with Raye, a mem­ber of Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive who serves on their Elec­tron­ic Out­reach Com­mit­tee. You can also watch it on Quak­erQuak­er: Quak­er Video and Elec­tron­ic Out­reach.

Raye: Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing holds our year­ly meet­ing in Bar­nesville Ohio – some peo­ple know us as those Bar­nesville folks. We have an elec­tron­ic Out­reach Com­mit­tee and that includes the over­sight and min­istry asso­ci­at­ed with our web­site. We spend time think­ing about how to open up to peo­ple who might be inter­est­ed in Friends’ ways and might want to know more about us whether or not they’ve ever read the Jour­nal of George Fox. We’re try­ing to expand our wit­ness, if you will.

One of the ques­tions that has come up in this elec­tron­ic out­reach group is: what types of com­mu­ni­ca­tion or video are use­ful for some­one to get to know us but also respect­ful of the fact that we do wor­ship and that wor­ship is a spir­i­tu­al­ly inti­mate time. We’re try­ing to bridge and deal with respect­ing the wor­ship­pers, the Friends them­selves, to not put on a per­for­mance and yet to try to com­mu­ni­cate what it is that is edi­fy­ing in prac­tice and wor­ship.

Mar­t­in: How do you give new­com­ers a taste of Quak­ers with­out direct­ing it too much? If you just have that silent emp­ty box it’s hard for new­com­ers to know what should be fill­ing that box.

Raye: One of the things Friends have done for hun­dreds of years is to pub­lish, to keep jour­nals and to share that. But that’s not all there is to the Friends expe­ri­ence. There are those qui­et times and those moments of min­istry that we believe are Spirit-inspired. Many of us wish we could give peo­ple a lit­tle taste of that because that doesn’t show up in a lot of pub­lished writ­ings. That spon­ta­neous and time­ly, and at times prophet­ic, wit­ness that we see in our Meet­ings. We have con­sid­ered dig­i­tal video as a way to do that.

Mar­t­in: I love the video pos­si­bil­i­ties here. Video can be a way of reach­ing out to more peo­ple.

Raye: It’s not just any­thing that can be writ­ten. Cer­tain­ly the writ­ings that have been pub­lished are very help­ful in get­ting some sort of a glim­mer of where we have been, or in some cas­es where we are head­ed or where we are. But there is noth­ing like that expe­ri­ence of being with Friends in meet­ing. It doesn’t always hap­pen but there are the­se moments called a cov­ered meet­ing or a gath­ered meet­ing where every­body seems to be in the same place spir­i­tu­al­ly and when seems to be mes­sages and gifts com­ing through peo­ple. That’s dif­fi­cult to get across.

We’re hop­ing that with video we can dis­cuss the­se kinds of things after the fact. We don’t want to turn it into a spec­ta­tor sport or per­for­mance.

Mar­t­in: Authen­tic­i­ty is a key part of the Quak­er mes­sage. You’re not prac­tic­ing what you’re going to say for First Day or Sun­day. You’re sit­ting there and wait­ing for that imme­di­ate spir­it to come upon you.

Raye: We don’t know when that will hap­pen. There are meet­ings where every­body is very qui­et, where there’s a sense of that spir­it and uni­ty but it may be an out­ward­ly qui­et meet­ing. I have been in meet­ings where some­one stood up and began to sing their mes­sage or a psalm or some­one had a won­der­ful ser­mon that was per­fect for the moment. The­se things hap­pen but we don’t know when they will.

The peace of Christ for those with ears to hear

Over on Quak­er Oats Live, Cherice is fired up about tax­es again and propos­ing a peace wit­ness for next year:

My solu­tion: Quak­ers, Men­non­ites, Brethren, and whomev­er else wants to par­tic­i­pate refus­es to pay war tax­es for a few years, and we suf­fer the con­se­quences. I think we should cam­paign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quak­er meet­ings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. com­mu­ni­ties. What are they going to do – throw us all in jail? May­be. But they can’t do that forever. No one wants to pay their tax­es for a bunch of Quak­ers and oth­er paci­fists to sit in jail for not pay­ing tax­es. It doesn’t make sense.

A com­menter chimes in with a warn­ing about Friends who were hit by heavy tax penalties a quar­ter cen­tu­ry ago. But I know of some­one who didn’t pay tax­es for twen­ty years and recent­ly vol­un­teered the infor­ma­tion to the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. The col­lec­tors were non­cha­lant, polite and sym­pa­thet­ic and set­tled for a very rea­son­able amount. If this friend’s expe­ri­ence is any guide, there’s not much dra­ma to be had in war tax resis­tance. The­se days, Cae­sar doesn’t care much.

What if our wit­ness was direct­ed not at the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment but at our fel­low Chris­tians? We could fol­low Quak­er founder George Fox’s exam­ple and climb the tallest tree we could find (real or metaphor­i­cal) and begin preach­ing the good news that war goes again­st the teach­ings of Jesus. As always, we would be respect­ful and char­i­ta­ble but we could reclaim the strong and clear voic­es of those who have trav­eled before us. If we felt the need for back­up? Well, I under­stand there are twenty-seven or so books to the New Tes­ta­ment sym­pa­thet­ic to our cause. And I have every rea­son to believe that the Inward Christ is still hum­ming our tune and burn­ing bush­es for all who have eyes to see and ears to lis­ten. Just as John Wool­man min­is­tered with his co-religionists about the sin of slav­ery, may­be our job is to min­is­ter to our co-religionists about war.

But who are the­se co-religionist neigh­bors of ours? Twen­ty years of peace orga­niz­ing and Friends orga­niz­ing makes me doubt we could find any large group of “his­toric peace church” mem­bers to join us. We talk big and write pret­ty epistles, but few indi­vid­u­als engage in wit­ness­es that involve any dan­ger of real sac­ri­fice. The way most of our estab­lished bod­ies couldn’t fig­ure out how to respond to a mod­ern day prophet­ic Chris­tian wit­ness in Tom Fox’s kid­nap­ping is the norm. When the IRS threat­ened to put liens on Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing to force resis­tant staffers to pay, the gen­er­al sec­re­tary and clerk said all sorts of sym­pa­thet­ic words of anguish (which they prob­a­bly even meant), then docked the employee’s pay any­way. There have been times when clear-eyed Chris­tians didn’t mind loos­ing their lib­er­ty or prop­er­ty in ser­vice to the gospel. Ear­ly Friends called our emu­la­tion of Christ’s sac­ri­fice the Lamb’s War, but even sev­en years of real war in the ancient land of Baby­lo­nia itself hasn’t brought back the old fire. Our meet­ing­hous­es sit quaint, with own­er­ship deeds untouched, even as we wring our hands won­der­ing why most remain half-empty on First Day morn­ing.

But what about the­se emerg­ing church kids?: all those peo­ple read­ing Shane Clai­borne, mov­ing to neigh­bor­hoods in need, orga­niz­ing into small cells to talk late into the night about prim­i­tive Chris­tian­i­ty? Some of them are actu­al­ly putting down their can­dles and pre­ten­tious jar­gon long enough to read those twenty-seven books. Friends have a lot of accu­mu­lat­ed wis­dom about what it means the prim­i­tive Chris­tian life, even if we’re pret­ty rusty on its actu­al prac­tice. What shape would that wit­ness take and who would join us into that unknown but famil­iar desert? What would our move­ment even be called? And does it mat­ter?

—–

Any­one inter­est­ed in think­ing more on this should start sav­ing up their loose change ($200 com­muters) to come join C Wess Daniels and me this Novem­ber when we lead a work­shop on “The New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” at Pendle Hill near Philadel­phia. Methinks I’m already start­ing to blog about it.

Margaret Fell’s Red Dress (2004)

I wrote this in Eighth Mon­th 2004 for the Plainand­mod­est­dress dis­cus­sion group back when the red dress MacGuffin made it’s appear­ance on that board.

I won­der if it’s not a good time for the Mar­garet Fell sto­ry. She was one of the most impor­tant founders of the Quak­er move­ment, a feisty, out­spo­ken, hard­work­ing and polit­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful ear­ly Friend who lat­er mar­ried George Fox.

The sto­ry goes that one day Mar­garet wore a red dress to Meet­ing. Anoth­er Friend com­plained that it was gaudy. She shot back in a let­ter that it was a “sil­ly poor gospel” to ques­tion her dress. In my branch of Friends, this sto­ry is end­less­ly repeat­ed out of con­text to prove that “plain dress” isn’t real­ly Quak­er. (I haven’t looked up to see if I have the actu­al details cor­rect – I’m telling the apoc­ryphal ver­sion of this tale.)

Before declar­ing her Friend’s com­plaint “sil­ly poor gospel” Mar­garet explains that Friends have set up month­ly, quar­ter­ly and year­ly meet­ing struc­tures in order to dis­ci­pline those walk­ing out of line of the truth. She fol­lows it by say­ing that we should be “cov­ered with God’s eter­nal Spir­it, and clothed with his eter­nal Light.”

It seems real­ly clear here that Mar­garet is using this exchange as a teach­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty to demon­strate the process of gospel order. Indi­vid­u­als are charged with try­ing to fol­low Christ’s com­mands, and we should expect that the­se might lead to all sorts of seemingly-odd appear­ances (even red dress­es!). What mat­ters is NOT the out­ward form of plain dress, but the inward spir­i­tu­al obe­di­ence that it (hope­ful­ly!) mir­rors. Gospel order says it’s the Meeting’s role to double-guess indi­vid­u­als and labor with them and dis­ci­pline them if need be. Indi­vid­u­als enforc­ing a dress code of con­for­mi­ty with snarky com­ments after meet­ing is legal­ism – it’s not gospel order and not prop­er Quak­er process (I would argue it’s a vari­ant of “detrac­tion”).

This con­cern over legal­ism is some­thing that is dis­tinct­ly Quak­er. Oth­er faiths are fine with writ­ten down, clearly-articulated out­ward forms. Look at creeds for exam­ple: it’s con­sid­ered fine for every­one to repeat a set phras­ing of belief, even though we might know or sus­pect that not every­one in church is sign­ing off on all the parts in it as they mut­ter along. Quak­ers are real­ly stick­lers on this and so avoid creeds alto­geth­er. In wor­ship, you should only give min­istry if you are active­ly moved of the Lord to deliv­er it and great care should be given that you don’t “out­run your Guide” or add unnec­es­sary rhetor­i­cal flour­ish­es.

This Plain and Mod­est Dress dis­cus­sion group is  meant for peo­ple of all sorts of reli­gious back­grounds of course. It might be inter­est­ing some time to talk about the dif­fer­ent assump­tions and ratio­nales each of our reli­gious tra­di­tions bring to the plain dress ques­tion. I think this anti-legalism that would dis­tin­guish Friends.

For Friends, I don’t think the point is that we should have a for­mal list of accept­able col­ors – we shouldn’t get too obsessed over the “red or not red” ques­tion. I don’t sus­pect Mar­garet would want us spend­ing too much time work­ing out details of a stan­dard pan-Quaker uni­form. “Legal­ism” is a sil­ly poor gospel for Friends. There’s a great peo­ple to be gath­ered and a lot of work to do. The plain­ness with­in is the fruit of our devo­tion and it can cer­tain­ly shine through any out­ward col­or or fash­ion!

If I lived to see the day when all the Quak­ers were dress­ing alike and gos­sip­ing about how oth­ers were led to clothe them­selves, I’d break out a red dress too! But then, come to think about it, I DO live in a Quak­er world where there’s WAY TOO MUCH con­for­mi­ty in thought and dress and where there’s WAY TOO MUCH idle gos­sip when some­one adopts plain dress. Where I live, sus­penders and broad­falls might as well be a red dress!