Being a Steward

Feeling immensely frustrated yesterday, I wrote the mother of all rants, liberally peppered with biblical texts to back my argument, expressing my general exasperation and indignation about the way Some People Behave.

My principal point was that nobody should ask others to bear burdens they are unwilling to bear themselves, nobody should judge the behavior of others. If you don’t like what other people are doing, don’t do it yourself then. If you think the Bible should be applied scrupulously, apply it in your own life – and while you’re at it, remember that the Bible says do not judge, be gentle and tolerant and forbearing, be gracious and kind, don’t point the finger at other people. All you have to do is stop criticizing what others are doing and get on with it in your own life.

Happily, before I posted this, I read it through, thought 'Oh, right, I see,' and therefore deleted it.

The Lord laughed a lot, said ‘Gotcha!’ and here we are today, the page unscorched by my generalized outrage of yesterday.

But I am thinking about it. ‘Tis grist to my mill, see. And what it did is remind me that God has very excitingly given me an area of responsibility, a garden to weed, a Kingdom outreach post to mind, a Kingdom business to run – my own life.

What I am here for is to build the Peaceable Kingdom. Time and again I come back to this poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, which I totally love.

Today I am thinking especially of these two lines:
“I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.”

It’s a reminder to me that the Peaceable Kingdom is not a citadel being built for me and the people I like, for me and the people who agree with me. Shockingly, it’s not even my personal Kingdom. It does actually belong to the King; it’s His idea, His project, and we play it by His rules.

And He says, ‘All people.’ He says, ‘I love all people – even the ones who are so stratospherically objectionable to you, honey. Love ’em all – no, I mean it; even them. Here’s a trowel, sweetheart, come on, let’s get to it. Let’s keep building. And let’s start the day with a song.’

I love the Lord! I love the Peaceable Kingdom – and I tell you what; you pay no attention to what anybody says, whoever you are there is room for you. No, really, there is.

Oh and PS. In yesterday's mail I also got the nightie I have been waiting for from King's Daughters and O my darlings I tell you - these are the nighties they will be wearing in Heaven! Maybe even the men! So though I have an uneasy suspicion Plain Christians might not normally be posting photographs of themselves in their night attire on the internet, I uploaded a piccy to show you. I mean, after all, it is completely modest!
'Where will it end?' they ask themselves, shaking their heads sadly...

Minimalist Book Sale

Hello all!

Karol Gajda has brought a bunch of us minimalists together to raise money for Kiva by selling a huge bundle of Minimalist books.

There are numerous titles available, including my work "The Minimalist Cleaning Method."

Also included are works by Meg Wolfe, Josh Becker, Everett Bogue, Tammy Strobel, and others.

This whole bundle will be selling for $27, and Karol is donating the first 24 hours of profit directly to Kiva.

 For more information about the sale, including a list of contributors and titles, please visit this link.

Thinking about being comfortable

This morning, as the light slowly came, I lay in bed thanking God for being so comfortable. I had this soft pillow with a flannelette cover, just the right height for my head. I had a hot water bottle still warm from the night before (the evenings are chilly now) which felt lovely on my feet after I had been out into the garden to pick a sprig of rosemary to make a cup of delicious herb tea.

I have never heard any preacher extolling the virtues of being comfortable. I’ve heard more sermons than I can count challenging us to be uncomfortable, to get out of our comfort zones, assuring us that Jesus came to shake us out of being comfortable and that comfortable Christians are the lukewarm faithful of Laodicea that the Lord will spit out of His mouth. Though when I think about it, I never heard anyone who’d been a hospice chaplain preach that way.

Since my thirties I’ve struggled on and off with what was finally given a tentative diagnosis of fibromyalgia. All my life I’ve struggled with psychosomatic pains – pains in my teeth, pains down my arms and in my shoulders: they go when the stressors ease up. I have bad varicose veins and they can hurt quite severely at times. At the moment I have a frozen shoulder still, though the bursitis has abated. Since middle age I’ve had problems with fluid retention and very painful feet (I think they are telling me I need to lose weight).

It’s wearing, being in pain. Very relentless, and tiring. It leaves you less than your best. It makes it hard to be patient, to be thoughtful and kind, to be unselfish and to be interested in much.

There have been times when my body had simply forgotten what it felt like to be comfortable, to have no pain.

And because my psyche is a bit skew-wiff, there is the constant struggle against anxiety and dodging of depression, the eternal hunt to find a niche in which it is possible to live without becoming ill and overwhelmed. In the course of my life there have been many moments when I have been comfortable – but I prize them, and moments is what they have been.

I love being comfortable. Sitting in the sunshine, or by the sea, or by an open fire, curled up on a sofa or in bed with lots of pillows, warm and cosy. I love it.

I have cared for people whose daily existence offered no possibility of a comfort zone as such. Some of them stick vividly in the memory. The lady whose abdomen daily opened up new wounds as the cancer broke through; the lady who screamed whenever we came into her room in that awful nursing home, as she lay in her sores and oozing diahorrea; and Bernard, my previous husband, frightened as the illness stripped the skin from his mouth and throat and he knew he would die but not how long.

I listen to preachers who speak with scorn of being comfortable, and I wonder whom they know and care for, and what it feels like to be in their bodies and lives. Most of those preachers have been men, and most of them married. They are usually cooked for, cleaned for, do not do their own laundry or grocery shopping. The timbre of their voices is vigorous and convincing as they tell us we are all too comfortable, and that being comfortable is probably a sin. Hmmm.

My daughter Grace looked so tired last Sunday, as her very active toddler enthusiastically set about his weekly exploration of the chapel, dismantling the font and seeing which wires could be unplugged from the organ and climbing in and out of the pulpit. We did our best to keep him cheerful and occupied, but he is a busy child and does not take kindly to sitting still. And whispering? ‘OH WOW!!!’ is his favourite expression at the present time, and the books that hold his attention call for cries of ‘Baaa!’ and ‘Mooooooooo!’, and much snorting, barking and panting, plus the multi-clucking of one who has just laid a very fine egg.

Grace, I think, would have dearly loved a whole night’s sleep – a night that drifted on into morning where you could drowse on peacefully with the curtains still closed as all the world outside went to work, and then someone would bring you a cup of tea when they finally heard you beginning to stir. Her iritis still flares when she is very tired, and her back and hips are still not right from the problems she had in pregnancy when her over-enthusiastic hormones went to town on relaxing her ligaments. She is a breast-feeding peer-supporter and an active member of the National Childbirth Trust, and she goes along to the parenting classes at the Children’s Centre. So she meets lots of mothers with babies and toddlers from all over this town of 80,000 people; and picks up lots of germs. Since Mikey came into the world, his home and ours has hardly been free from a cold or gastric bug long enough to feel ready for the next one. We have one now.

‘Grace!’ (should the preacher say?) ‘It is a sin to be comfortable! The Lord will spit you out of His mouth! Get out of your comfort zone at once!’

Er … right… Where is it?

No. I think being comfortable is a blessing, an immense blessing. I’ve just sent off a pack of non-disposable sanitary towels for those poor ladies in Ethiopia whose husbands beat them because they thought they’d been unfaithful because they caught infections from using tampons fashioned from old newspapers so they could go out to work and help their families struggle out of poverty. I hope my tiny gift makes one woman’s life more comfortable.

This warm autumn morning I lay in bed enjoying the fresh air and the first notes of a blackbird singing through the open window. Eating dairy-free has seen off the fibromyalgia pain. Being able to work from home where I don’t have to stand all day or sit on chairs, but can either be active or sit with my feet up, means my varicose veins don’t give me much trouble. Having my family around me here in Sussex is cheerful and loving and happy. The frozen shoulder has subsided to what you might call a kind of friendly pain. I am worried about my writing deadlines, but just now I am not suicidal, anxious or depressed. I am married to the kindest, dearest man in the whole world.
Warm and peaceful, as the light rose and the bird sang, waking up slow with my hot water bottle and my soft pillow, with no pain anywhere in all my body, I gave thanks from the bottom of my heart for being so very comfortable.

Today, may God bless all parents who are bringing up their children in war zones and on the street, may God bless all patients who will be admitted into hospices for the last stretch of their journey, may God bless all inmates of overcrowded prisons and refugee camps and slums, may God bless street children and AIDS orphans, dalits and prostitutes and outcasts of every kind. May God bless the Archbishop of Canterbury as he wrestles with the hopeless struggle of intolerance in every camp of the divided Church of England. May God bless them, and give them His peace, and may today hold the gift of being more comfortable than they thought it was going to be.

I saw this quotation from Isaac Penington on the Tree of Life Musings blogspot, and loved it. I've altered it to apply to women instead of men - but it may find the hearts of men as well of course - after all, it was a man who said it :0)

Even in the Apostles' days,
Christians were too apt to strive after
a wrong unity and uniformity
in outward practices and observations,
and to judge one another unrighteously
in these matters;
and mark,
it is not the different practice
from one another
that breaks the peace and unity,
but the judging of one another
because of different practice.

For this is the true ground
of love and unity,
not that such a woman walks and does
just as I do,
but because I feel
the same Spirit and Life in her,
and that she walks in her rank,
in her own order,
in her proper way and place
of subjection to that;
and this is far more pleasing to me
than if she walked
just in that track wherein I walk.

Isaac Penington

Aye, I say 'Amen!'

This is a word that would bless the UK Anglican Communion as it struggles with its internal splits and wrangling.

The 4GIVEN ring

I have been married three times.

My first marriage ended when the man who had been my husband for twenty-four years, the father of my children, fell in love with another lady. He and she are both people of faith and principle, and they both struggled hard to do what was morally and biblically right for Christian people, and give each other up. They both believe marriage is for life. But they wanted so much to be together. They have been married about four years now.

After the ending of my first marriage, I waited a year and a day in case my husband might change his mind and come back to me, but he did not. So I laid the matter before the Lord, asking for His guidance in looking for a new partner. I found one instantly. My first husband thought divorce was wrong, as marriage is for life, but he agreed to give me a divorce provided I arranged it all, so I did. I married for a second time. My second husband died fifteen months into our marriage.

I waited again for a year and a day, for mourning, to give myself time: but I did not think that I was called to go through life alone. After that time had gone by, I brought the matter before the Lord, and wrote out a careful, long prayer, explaining exactly and in detail the kind of man I was looking for, and asking for His guidance. Within two weeks I learned that the man who had been my publisher for twenty years found himself sadly single again as his marriage had broken down and his wife moved to live somewhere else.

I think divorce is a failure of our intentions, and a disappointment of our hopes. I think it is a falling-short of what God intends for us, and a betrayal of our calling to be disciples of Jesus. But sometimes it happens, and not everything about a divorce is bad or even necessarily wrong. My first husband’s new wife would have been very sad and lonely without a partner to go through life with her. I am glad she found him, to take care of her as they grow old together.

I was good friends with the man who became my third husband, and after his first wife moved away, it became evident that we were becoming closer friends. He is an honourable man, and wanted to be sure that their marriage truly had ended. They had struggled on for a decade trying to hold things together, because they are both serious people who meant their wedding vows. When he talked with her, saying that he felt the time had come to formalize their parting, she agreed. She expressed relief that it was he and not she who had initiated this severance, affirming that things had come to an end.

So he began the formal legal ending of their marriage, and his relationship with me began to progress.

Then it became apparent to his first wife that this new relationship was beginning. At that point everything changed. She became both angry and distressed, convinced that I was the cause of that marriage ending.

Neither love nor sorrow for the marriage was expressed, but outrage and grief. I think a storm of powerful emotions hard to disentangle plunged her into a maelstrom of suffering. She moved through to a place where she recovered a sense of deep affection for the man to whom she had been married (though she did not express a desire to return to the marriage) but could not bear to set eyes upon me.

At this point I found myself in an intensely awkward position. Having been both divorced and widowed, and had to leave my home three times as a result (family home… new home as a single person… the cottage belonging to my second husband willed to his son) and suffered various other deep losses there is not space to rehearse here, I had become used to endings. Too used to endings, I think. I made a grievous mistake in not giving enough space for second thoughts as this relationship progressed towards marriage. By the time this first wife began to make clear her sense of being deeply, deeply wronged, an emotional commitment had been made. We were not married, but we were an item.

Again and again I urged my new partner to return to the wife from whom he was becoming divorced, if that was what she wanted. He thought it was probably not what she wanted, and knew that for him, even if I had been removed from the equation, such a path would not have been viable. We continued, and we were married. Relational problems persisted with his ex-wife and with his two daughters. They thought that I had behaved very shabbily indeed, done them great wrong, caused them terrible harm. It was a rocky path.

Even after we were married, I remained uneasy. I loved my new husband, and felt a rightness about our togetherness. It felt like a gift of God: but, how could it be? I came back constantly to questioning our new situation, ever making clear that if he felt it right to return, that should be. His position remained the same all through: that he had done his very best but his first marriage had simply come to pieces, long before he and I had formed as a couple. Even if he had wished it, re-instating that relationship would not have been a realistic option.

But my grief and guilt about having done this thing that felt right but did not agree with my faith continued to torment me. I am not against re-marriage for divorced people. I accept that divorce is sometimes something we must see as practical. When my first husband left, I still loved him dearly; it was loving him that made me see I must let him go – our marriage had become a prison to him. Love never imprisons people; it always sets them free. But never had I imagined that I would find myself in a position where the relational content would be too complicated for me to read, or be retrospectively adjusted, or whatever it was that happened, such that I would find myself identified by a group of people as the cause of a marital split. This horrified me, and was the foundational reason for me leaving the ordained ministry. My husband’s ex-wife said that we were disgraceful people who had no right to preach the Gospel: I could not but accept her judgement.

We married four years ago, so this last spring we had been married for three and a half years. In April we went to Spring Harvest, a big Christian gathering. While we were staying there, I was turning this matter over and over in my mind, wondering not so much what I might have done differently as what I could do now to put it right. In a letter I had expressed my horror at having caused sorrow to this lady and done her wrong in misreading the situation, and she had responded graciously. But my conscience could not be at peace.

As I prayed about these things, it seemed to me that the position I found myself in was like that of a person who had stolen something from a shop that had gone out of business. I was left holding something that did not belong to me but I had nowhere to put it back. Leaving my husband would just add more sorrow and destruction and guilt where there was plenty already.

So I said to the Lord God that, as I could not give back this thing that I had stolen, I would give it to Him. I said to Him that I would be willing for whatever He wanted to do with it. If what I had was wrong and He wanted to take it away from me, that would be all right. If He wanted me to have this marriage and keep it, that would be all right too.

The next day, as I wandered about in the market-place of the conference, looking at some of the fair-traded and handmade things and finding out about the charities and their work, I came upon a stall where a lady was selling the silver things she had made. I stopped to look, in case she had suitable things for birthday and Christmas presents. And there I saw this ring, and the Spirit moved in my heart. It was made of silver and had engraved and inlayed with gold upon it the word 4GIVEN.

The lady silversmith had repeats of many of her designs. This particular design she had in two sizes: one that fitted my little finger next to my wedding ring, and one that fitted my husband’s finger to wear with his wedding ring.

We didn’t get that one right. We caused grief and sorrow, to others and to ourselves. We went through a horrible tangle of pain and distress, tormented by guilt and robustly reviled by those who certainly perceived us as very guilty. I think it has changed us permanently. But we are also God’s gift to each other, and we have been forgiven. I believe that.

Plain Christians do not divorce. Somewhere along the way, my karma ran over my dogma and everything came off the rails. I wish it had not been so, but that’s how it is. I guess that’s why forgiveness is necessary.

I would never be accepted into or by a Plain church (Hutterite, Amish, whatever) because of this, and that is a splinter of sadness in my heart. It means that I watch them, but there is a deep gorge between us that I would never be allowed to cross – or, not without betraying and abandoning my husband, and I know that would not be the heart and call of Christ. I can choose the way of a Plain Christian if I like, but I will be debarred from any traditional expression of that. It's a path I must walk alone, unless as time goes on other companions appear on my journey. It does feel lonely.

But I also know that where Jesus is found is that place described in the letter to the Hebrews (13:12-14 NIV):
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

He came there for me and for everyone like me who stumbled and fell and got it dreadfully, damagingly wrong. We find ourselves outside the camp. So He came to be with us. By Him, even if not by our families or the church or the world, we are 4GIVEN.

The 4th movement

Something remarkable happened to me this week. As I was driving to work (before sunrise), I was taken aback by the beauty of the bright gold harvest moon in the sky straight in front of me. A few seconds later, I turned on the radio to our local classical music station, and within a few notes I recognized the piece being played - the lovely Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. That song holds precious memories for me, for its first movement was one of my favorite piano recital pieces as a teenager. Listening to the Moonlight Sonata while watching the gorgeous moon just seemed serendipitous.

For those of you who are non-musicians, the Moonlight Sonata is a piece played solely on the piano and consists of 3 movements, or parts. The first movement has always been relaxing to me, even though, in its minor key, some folks find it a bit sad. It has a wonderfully soothing rhythm that is steady, varies little in volume or style - almost like a lullaby. As I kept driving, watching the moon, and listening to the first movement, the moon was stable in the sky and stayed in front of me, bright and clear.

Then the second movement started, and immediately the moon became playful with me, following the cues of the music. It appeared on the left, then it appeared on the right, then just around the bend, it was on the left again. The music of the second part of Moonlight Sonata picks up the tempo, frolicking a bit and bringing in some changes. You're aware you've turned a page, something is different, and the quiet lullaby is over.

Then came the third movement. I remember that I tried valiantly several times to learn to play that third movement, but it was just too difficult. It starts at 90 miles an hour and never lets up, fingers flying everywhere on the keys, and oh, my, is it loud! Banging, clanging, pulsating, and just when you think it's over, it starts up again, going every which way. It makes your heart race just to listen to it. By this time in my commute, I had turned a different direction on a rural road thick with trees, and most of the time I lost sight of the moon totally.

Then all of a sudden, with a few loud chords, it was over. Silence. Beethoven chose not to balance his sonata with a nice quiet fourth movement after the noisy third movement. The frantic race is over, and there is no cool-down time.

Then it hit me: I'm living the Moonlight Sonata. My life started out as a lullaby, a familiar, secure feeling of love and acceptance, my wonderful childhood. The second movement started when I became an adolescent/teenager. Life became a little more complicated, still fun, but insecurities and changes made their debut, and the ubiquitous teenage worries about appearance, grades, and other self-esteem issues made that time a bit more stressful. The third movement, my adult years, came in with a bang, as I got married at 19 to an active alcoholic, started working, had two children, and tried to pay bills. Even when Ed got sober, things didn't magically calm down, as he entered the ministry and it was another round of stress and changes which threw me for a loop. For the whole third movement of my life, I never was sure if I was banging on the low keys or slapping the high keys - life was everywhere at once, providing me with incredibly uplifting moments and other times hitting me in the face with anxiety and worry. Even after we moved to Maine, as the saying goes, "good" stress can be just as hard on you as "bad" stress. Both kids got married, grandchildren started coming, and we had a very difficult time selling our house, financially and emotionally. The third movement was the roller coaster of movements!

Then it occurred to me that I am now in the fourth movement of my life. My sonata didn't end with those loud chords when we finally downsized and moved to our little house in the country. It just started a new part, a quieter, more peaceful part, and I am composing it every day by the choices I make. I am realizing that the more I choose to honor my priorities and fill my hours with meaning, the more harmonious the music becomes. If I react to situations with anger and frustration, the more dissonant the music becomes.

I've heard people talk about the idea that we write our own stories, the books of our lives. I think I prefer to say I'm writing my own sonata. It's got a lot of sad music, happy music, and everything in between. I'm in the fourth movement, and I'm not finished yet!

Plain is as Plain does - which is what?

I am really interested in what Magdalena has posted today over at Anglican, Plain, and wanted to respond more fully than I should on her comment thread to some of the points she raises.

Magdalena says: "It looks like we are seeing the leading edge of a Plain revival", and I think she is right. That witnesses with the sense I have had in my heart that if only I will be open about what I believe and how I want to live, companions on the journey will appear.

She writes about the emergence of the yearning for Plain life probably originating in disillusionment with consumerism, cynicism, destruction of the Earth, social chaos and war. These are some of the things that I refer to as 'the reign of Mammon', which I describe as spreading like a caul or slime mould over society - silently, insidiously, progressively.

Magdalena looks at some of the traditional hallmarks of the Plain way - a simple, community-based life that eschews technological advance and is essentially rural. Of the life she and Nicholas are living she says (among other things) this:

"It is what it is; this is a transition stage for us, and with some matters becoming realized, we should be able to move on to a more suitable place for small scale farming and a self-sufficient life.
I think this is where many of us Plainers are headed."

And this is the bit I would like to comment on from my own life.

A couple of years ago I wrote this book which charts some of my own journey into Plain life and sets out the parameters of my beliefs and approach, though those were then and still are now an unfolding journey and a work in progress.

Thirty years back along the trail, I spent a while living without electricity, living in a caravan, living in community, keeping goats and hens and cooking on a woodfire. I dressed in my own take on Plain in long home-made skirts and long-sleeved modest tops. I fought for my children to be born at home (finally made it on the fifth infant), taught them at home for a while, and brought them up to be ethically aware pilgrims, actively engaged on a day-to-day detailed level in working for the justice and peace of human society and the well-being of all creation. In the churches I pastored we left a trail of Fair-Trade stalls, and for twenty years I preached a gospel that remembered the poor and marginalised and the essential inclusion of faithful stewardship of the Earth in our Christian discipleship.

Walking a lonely path which was one almighty struggle, the absence of anyone with the same vision, and the reliance of my family on me to sustain that vision and hold the light, meant that I stumbled and fell more than I stayed upright and kept walking. But overall and through all, I did my (poor) best to keep heading in the direction of Gospel simplicity.

Here is where I have arrived at the present day, in my version of Plain:

1) Simplicity is important. I believe in having few and humble possessions, and those to be ordinary and not ostentatious. No status symbols, nothing to make others jealous or ashamed. My home should be as simply equipped as possible, so that housework is quickly dealt with, allowing the house to reflect the peace and order of Heaven with the minimum expenditure of effort so that I can devote my time to more central endeavours than dusting and polishing paraphernalia. I believe in having an uncluttered schedule so I can be free to respond to God's call on my life and flexible enough to respond to others. As my old teacher Martin Baddeley said: 'Jesus walked, and He stopped. What is the speed of love?' I resolve to live my life at the speed of love.
We do have telly and electricity, but personally I'd be happy to lose the telly tomorrow, and we try to cut right down on what we have in terms of any kind of gadgetry.

2)Building the Peaceable Kingdom is important. I am sickened by war, greed, consumerism and corruption, that are tearing the guts out of human society and the planet we live on. How I invest my resources (time, energy, money) should be for the building of the Peaceable Kingdom, not in support of the rape of the Earth, widening the gap between rich and poor, and preparing for war. I address this in various ways. I keep my life spacious and simple so I can be conscientious in daily working on weeding out the seeds of war from my own heart and life (these can get covered up in a busy life). I try to keep my life so simple that my living costs stay right down, and keep my earnings right down, so that I pay as little in taxes as possible to a government which seems not to share my priorities. By pooling resources and sharing living space and facilities (eg cars) our family as a whole is able to walk this way. We also believe passionately in living vocationally, which is to say that we are here to have a life not a job, if you see what I mean. We do what it takes to help each other so that each one can live and work in occupations that build the Peaceable Kingdom and fulfil who we were meant to be.
In my life, internet connection and computer technology have played a crucial role both in enabling me to work at home and thus support the practice of strengthening and maintaining a strong culture of home and family, and also in allowing me to research Plain life and establish and maintain the fellowship that encourages and strengthens me.

3)Biblical faith is important. By that I mean not fundamentalist and literalist interpretation of the Bible, but authentically living by the light of the Scriptures, studying them, loving them, looking deeply into them, trying to understand the directions and principles I find there and then build the bridge connecting eternal heavenly truth with present day-to-day earthly reality. I regard myself as the property of Jesus, and I try to live in ways that honestly reflect the heart of the Lord I serve. Part of this biblical faith is entering into an actual encounter and relationship with the living God, and meeting and knowing the risen Lord Jesus who has come to abide in our hearts by His Spirit and teach us His wisdom Himself. He is our light, and He will not fail us.

4) Personal holiness is important. That means conducting myself in such a way that the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness faithfulness, self-control) will be manifest in my life and be the principle menas by which I preach the Gospel. Maintaining a discipline of prayer is part of this. Maintaining a discipline of quietness is part of this: seeking silence and solitude, and learning how to hold the light of silence steady in my heart's core whatever is going down all round about me. And Plain dress (or my version of it) is part of this (see what I've written on this in the side-pane on the right). Though I love monochrome garb and Quaker greys etc, my beloved loathes them, and as he is not keen on Plain dress anyway the compromise is Plain (modest, dresses, headcovering, fashion-free, no make-up or jewellery, long hair, flat shoes, mostly solid colour) but in bright, cheerful colours, for his happiness.

5) The homespun life is important. Prizing and promoting what is homemade and handmade - growing veggies and baking pies and bread and making our own Christmas presents and chopping wood and creating a garden. Home birth, home schooling - all of that. Eating and taking and praying together, and developing more skills than pressing the buttons on the washing machine and the computer.

6) Lowliness is important. This is almost the same as simplicity, but not identical. A humble life: being able to laugh at myself, going by foot or public transport or, if I have to have a car, a small and ordinary one. Choosing second-hand and a bit shabby, being content to be overlooked and unheard and invisible, being happy with the company of the marginalised and forgotten and the poor.

The one place where I part company with the traditional communities of Plain people is that I believe in inclusive church. I believe in holding the strength of the faith within me - I believe that 'judgement is mine, saith the Lord'. Telling people what type of bonnet strings they should wear, or who can or should or should not or must not remove facial hair and which bit of it, is not the sort of thing I came here to get involved in. I believe that 'the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life'.

Thanks for getting me thinking, Magdalena!

Girlie Alert

Hey Kindred - there are some ladies that need our help.

Check out these blog posts at Larksong and Titus Home.

Sewing some kits to send is the real deal - solidarity and all that - but at the mo I am so pushed for time I have sent for some ready made ones from Earthwise to make up a kit with some panties and send on.

There's an email address for further info on both blogspots, so I'll give them here to as the ladies are clearly happy to publish it on the web to get this project organised.

For info from Titus Home, you mail Sarah at:

For info (patterns, shipping addresses etc) from Larksong you mail:

i-Plain and the Colour Red

In my foray into the great Plain, I have come across two puzzles. Here they are:

1) Why don’t Plain women wear red?
2) Is it just me that finds a happy synthesis with Plain life and the World Wide Web?

The red thing is quick to tackle. I am forming an impression that Plain dressing Christians have a problem with red. I have looked carefully at a lot of photos, and noticed that (apart from black), Plain women wear burgundy, blue (including eye-watering shades of electric blue), violet, green, yellow and pink – but not orange or red.

I am hazarding guesses. I think red is classed as ‘gaudy’; not sober enough, too worldly. I think red has associations with prostitution and adultery in the ever-feverish religious imagination (Rehab’s scarlet cord in Joshua Ch 1-7; Scarlet Women, The Scarlet Letter, etc).

Breaking news, if this is the case. God, who make poppies and robins and sunsets and Scarlet Pimpernels and tomatoes and chilli peppers and rose-hips and holly berries and red roses and rosy apples and rosy cheeks…

…does … not… agree…

I have a red head-covering in my Plain stash. It is for cheerfulness.

On to Puzzle No 2.

I am guessing that the Amish and others who abstain from internet connection do so because they fear it will undermine community and increase worldliness.

I guess it could. Anyone who sits down at a computer has the option to explore pornographic sites and dubious chat rooms, or be so absorbed into virtual unreality as to become disconnected from church and family life. I guess by now all of us know someone who dashed off on an adulterous affair with some wildly unsuitable individual encountered online. Where there is opportunity, danger lurks for the bored, the naïve, the unwary and the discontented.

But there’s another side to the internet. Here in the UK, the Conservative Quakers are so few and so scattered that they are nurtured under the wing of the Ohio Yearly Meeting. Their members are in London, Derbyshire, Cambridge, the West Country and even Finland! They meet on Skype; and without it they would not meet at all.

Just about everything (not quite all) I have found out about Plain life I discovered first online. There is a Bruderhof (Hutterian-Brethren-that-was) community near me, but as I and my husband have both been divorced and our ex-partners are still living, we could not be part of that, though we can still be friends with them. Here, there are no Amish, Conservative Mennonites, Hutterites or Conservative Quakers. There are some Brethren, but they won’t even shake my hand, so holy unto the Lord are they.

I did try a couple of years back to join an online Plain dress group, but they refused me admission.

It would be a lonely old journey without the internet, would it not!

Here I have found understanding, encouragement, good fellowship and fellow-travellers.

The internet allows me to work at home to my own schedule, and so supports my family life. It allows me to source events and products that accord with my ethical value system, and to discover and support projects like this and initiatives like this.

The internet (like cell-phone text messaging) is quiet and non-intrusive, allowing me to send a message that waits courteously for a convenient time, unlike the telephone that jangles imperiously, insisting on an answer now, and giving no space for cautious and considered responses. The internet allows group participation in instant messaging or group email exchanges, which letters do not except in the clunkiest ways.

I believe in family, in community, in solidarity and non-duality: but I am not suspicious or wary of originality and individuality.

While those on one side of the globe cry out for help and the internet lets us hear them, I am satisfied that God has not gone offline; He is here with us on the internet too. While the robin-redbreast still sings in the holly bush, I am satisfied that the good Lord looks on red and calls it good; it can brighten up my wardrobe as well as my garden.

There is space in the life I call Plain and the Quiet Way I am walking for the world wide web and the colour scarlet; and I thank God for them both.

The precious gift of the Quiet Way

"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."
(1 Corinthians 14:33-35 NIV)

When I was a young woman - in my twenties and thirties, I struggled over these words of St Paul. They seemed unjust and outrageous, hard to swallow.

Scholars of the Bible with a balanced and moderate approach explained that this text didn't mean women could not do a reading or preach a sermon or give a testimony or lead worship; it meant they were to respect the sacred hour and not sit chatting to their neighbours in the gathering during the time of worship.

That made sense to me. I had been to enough school assemblies in support of my children to have seen (and be shocked by) parents, mainly mothers, chattering loudly while young schoolchildren showed them a better example and sat quietly.

Even a week ago at worship, I found myself doing the same. I sat with a friend with whom I need to fix a date to meet, but in front of me sat a lady I needed also to speak with, who I knew would depart quickly at close of worship, as she relies on a lift home from others
So during the time that the people were receiving the sacrament, and then during the singing of the post-Communion hymn, I fixed up with my friend a time to meet during the week, so I would be free at close of worship to speak with the other lady.
'This is exactly the kind of thing St Paul was talking about,' I thought, even as I went ahead and did it. Mea culpa!

A few years ago I first heard the call in my heart to Plain dress at the same time as I was sorting out what to do about my ordained status as a minister. As I've said before often here, I had all sorts of reasons why I felt it inappropriate for me to continue as a minister, so I withdrew from that and went to Quaker meeting while I was living in Aylesbury (I know I'm going over old ground here, but you know how it is with blog posts - there's always someone turns up who hasn't read what you wrote before and wonders what you're talking about if you don't lay the ground again).

A peripheral rif running for me at that time was a sense of relief about this text from the writings of St Paul. I did not come out of ordained ministry because of it; but coming out of ordained ministry did mean my choices no longer ran in diametric opposition to it. I no longer had a public role in worship, but could sit quietly, just as the Bible said. I love the Bible. It feels good when my life comes to heel beside the principles it shows us to live by.

At that time of re-thinking, I was dressing Plain, and then as now my attire was speaking to me, ministering peace to my heart. When I first put on that garb, I felt as though I was entering something that fitted me exacly: I remember writing to Daina at The Kings Daughters and telling her these were the dresses I had been waiting for all my life. I didn't understand at the time about the cost of dressing Plain, that it rouses turbulent forces and brings conflict as well as peace; I hadn't grasped the extent to which it is a sign of contradiction and I hadn't comprehended how far-flung is the reign of Mammon. So when the kick-back came I was not prepared, and I withdrew from the practice of Plain dress, with sharp sorrow, feeling that I was being unreasonable and eccentric in choosing it. When I left it, its influence left me too. The discipling and admonishing and guiding it brings, stopped. I don't understand this. How can one's clothes speak? I am just telling you what I have experienced.

I tried all manner of ways to dress that I thought might be 'plain enough'; and they weren't. So I came back to it; and now once again my clothes speak to me.

Once more this text about women in church has returned to the forefront of my mind. I have spoken to the good wardens at Penhurst where I lead retreats, and said that from now retreats I lead should be women-only; and they are comfortable with that.

Reviewing my life, I see that all the times of ugly conflict that have arisen for me have been with authority figures, mainly (but not exclusively) men - and among men, mainly ordained churchmen. This conflict brings no good. It has a toxic harvest. It's like sowing Deadly Nightshade instead of potatoes. There is a way I have been walking that is not submissive, not humble, that lacks the Valley Spirit and has forgotten to be like water seeking the lowliest place, finding its way round the blocks on its journey down to the Sea with no fight, no blame, wearing away the opposition.

The Quiet Way is not compliant with the reign of Mammon, but it has so army or arsenal; it is a resistance movement. St Francis spoke of there being two ways to resist temptation. He said you could either rise up and fight it and overcome it, or you could become so humble and little that you could slip through underneath it. Going under the radar of the reign of Mammon. You didn't have to be strong or resolute to do that; you needed only to be lowly. That appeals to me.

And today, as I was turning this scripture over in my mind again, it came to me for the first time that in this text, if they want it, women have been offered something exceptionally precious and beautiful.

Silence is where we meet with God. Silence is the place in which God speaks. Silence is the context of the most powerful and intense communications. Silence is healing and beautiful. Silence allows truth to emerge in naked form. Silence is the companionable comfortable milieu of old friends who know each other so well that words have become unnecessary. Words must always be partial, but silence is complete.

Yesterday, as I was talking with Grace about the development of her child, my grandson, she said that she had thought when he was born he would be completely himself; but that now she feels he is becoming more himself, stepping more fully into who he really is, as he develops and grows. As we tossed this idea back and forth, she ventured the thought that when a child is born, like the Zen concept of the uncarved block, his potential is complete but not actualised. As he develops, makes choices, is shaped by influences, on the one hand his potential can unfurl and be realised but, on the other hand, in pursuing this he leaves behind that, in taking this road he will never explore the other - so as he realises his potential in one aspect he also stunts it in another. He becomes this but not that, and the more choices he makes the deeper but the narrower the channel of his being is cut.

And so it is with words. As soon as we say this, that remains unsaid; as we develop this, that remains unexplored. Only when nothing is said is everything said. Silence alone is replete.

And I realised that in giving to women the gift of silence, the Bible has not, as I first thought, given them nothing (in this community of the Word) but given them everything.

'Look,' my clothes are saying to me: 'look what God has given you!'

Silence has become a present to unwrap, a valuable jewel I thought I could never own, something that costs too much and would belong only ever to other people (like Ogion the Silent in Ursula le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea series).
It is very exciting.

Where I used to see this commandment to silence as a tool of oppression of women by men, an unenlightened condemnation to second-class citizenship, I now have no opinion about that because it doesn't matter to me. Being a second-class citizen will not interfere with seeking the lowliest place, which is the bench where Jesus is sitting. As for being oppressed - I see no mandate for accepting unjust treatment towards women, treating them roughly or making slaves of them or acting against their interests: I see only that the best path of all, the beautiful way, the Quiet Way, the way of silence has been given to women. The dead-ends and non-sequiturs, the half-truths and overstatements, the best-left-unsaid and the open-mouth-and-insert-foot and the whole minefield that comes within the territory of words, have been left to the men to contend with, God bless them.

Here is the scripture again, this time in The Jerusalem Bible, and then a slightly longer passage from The Message:

"As in all the churches of the saints, women are to remain quiet at meetings since they have no permission to speak; they must keep in the background as the Law itself lays it down. If they have any questions to ask, they should ask their husbands at hoime: it does not seem right for a woman to raise her voice at meetings."
(1 Corinthian 14:33-35 The Jerusalem Bible)

"Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God's Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking. Do you—both women and men—imagine that you're a sacred oracle determining what's right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you? If any one of you thinks God has something for you to say or has inspired you to do something, pay close attention to what I have written. This is the way the Master wants it. If you won't play by these rules, God can't use you. Sorry."
(1 Corinthians 14:33-38 The Message)
Advices and queries No 22:

"Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships. Refrain from making prejudiced judgements about the life journeys of others. Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which our discipleship asks of us? Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God."

Musings from today rethought in the light of this wisdom. Some things are best left to morphic field resonance, even when they are true.

Times when I need to rethink the food I eat - if my energy if flagging or I'm putting on weight or triggering the old fibromyalgia - I try to add the positive rather than slap on the negatives. So I think in terms of what's good for me - veggies, whole grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, fresh fruit, olive oil and whatnot - rather than listing a load of thou-shalt-nots (sugar, nightshades, refined and processed foods, bread, tea and yada-yada-yada). Focussing on what works has more mileage than focussing on what doesn't.

And in re-thinking the thoughts of today, what the still small voice says to me is someting like this:
Just do what you have to do; don't criticise those who do differently, don't focus on what you don't believe in or talk about the things it's wrong to do. Direct attention towards what's beautiful and good, and leave the rest to wither where it falls. People get lost following what they shouldn't do - so don't show them the way; shine your light on the path not on the wilderness. No contention, no argument, no criticism, no fight, no blame. Sssh.

Morphic field resonance evangelism and teaching - way to go!!

"Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives,when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes.Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear."

(1 Peter 3:1-6 NIV)

I used to be a Methodist minister. Just a few years ago, I would have been officiating at weddings every Saturday, preaching twice every Sunday, and spent the week leading housegroups, visiting the old and sick, preparing sermons and crafting liturgy, preparing and leading meetings, overseeing the management of church congregations and figuring out what to do about rotting buildings, sorting out fights between church members, listening to people in trouble or distress, sitting with the dying, preparing people for baptism - and now I don't.

I stepped aside from that for a number of reasons, and then took time out to wait on God asking, basically, 'What now?'

At first it was mainly a question of mending after a traumatic decade, but eventually the question of ministry returned. If I was not here to be a Methodist minister, what was I sent here to do and to be? The call to preach and teach the Gospel had by no means gone away, but continued as the spinal cord of my life.

Gradually I began to learn to listen and obey in a new way: walking blind. As the whisper of the Spirit spoke in my heart, I obeyed. The directions came for only one step at a time, so I took each step.

First came the direction to go back to Hastings to my family, for it would be within the context of family and working as a team with them that the next phase of ministry would form.

Next came the direction to buy this shabby and dilapidated old house that has needed so much doing in renovation even to be habitable. As we lived in it and worked on it, the vision grew in conviction that this would be a space of community, of healing and teaching and growing the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom, spreading the word. And even already, so it is proving to be.

Next the call to Plain dress, that I took up two years ago then chickened out of because it felt so embarassing and weird, returned. I didn't understand it, but heard the call 'Do it anyway'. So with much apprehension and violent collywobbles, I did.

Now I am beginning (I think) to catch on to what is happening. It's about morphic field resonance.

When I was teaching and leading, it was as though my words never really went anywhere, they were like water running out into sand. There was one area only where I saw profound and lasting impact in sharing what I believed, and that was with the people I actually lived with, who travelled with me and saw my beliefs in action, and grasped how they made sense. My children grew up strong in faith. My husband Bernard found a living relationship with Jesus and an understanding of the power of the Cross in the last months of his life.

What I have found is that if I tell people about Gospel simplicity and living the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom, or speak much about Jesus who is alive and has come to teach His people Himself, they are inclined to get annoyed and start to raise objections, telling me what's wrong with it and why it can't be done. If they travel along with me they still say those things, but after a while they start to catch on. If I don't lose my nerve or get lonely and bottle out, eventually the message jumps the gap and the cognitive connections begin to be made. Light dawns. A new Gospel activist is born.

This is the phenomenon that Rupert Sheldrake calls morphic resonance, a process by which living beings tune in and turn on to the same frequency, and get the vibe of what is going down in a particular behaviour pattern.

That's why Plain dress works as a form of preaching - with the proviso, that is, that the Plain dressing person is leading a Plain life, and is authentically building the Peaceable Kingdom, walking the way of Gospel Simplicity and authentically following in the path of personal holiness, determinedly disentangling and cleansing her/himself from the slime mould of Mammon spreading like a caul over human society.

As it happens, both St Peter and St Paul recommend the path of quietness - even silence - to women. I don't really understand this, but I am interested in it, especially as I tried preaching and teaching for about twenty-five years and my career as a preacher/teacher was not distinguished by success: not because I preached badly but because, though congregations (mostly) approved of what I said, my words still effected no changes.

Even in the short time since I gave into the still small voice and started to go the Plain way, I have seen changes. Without my having to say anything at all, the morphic field resonance thingy kicks in and, without any explanation being necessary, those around me start to get with the beat. I ask your pardon if this sounds conceited or arrogant; it's not meant to be, I'm just telling you what I've noticed to encourage you in your own endeavours.

This is how George Fox put it:
"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone..."

That's morphic field resonance evangelism and teaching: and that, kindred, seems to me to be the way to go! The path of clear quietness, silence that speaks.

Here's that passage from 1 Peter again, this time in The Message:

"Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.
Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as 'my dear husband.' You'll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated."

(1 Peter 3:1-6 The Message)

Just a few seconds

Every night I call my mom in Memphis and have a little chat. Our talk always includes a short summary of our police report. She enjoys this because usually, with our lower crime rate, our police reports are filled with various and sundry items of curiosities instead of murders. People in Maine will call the police for the most unusual reasons. For instance, there was a man a few years ago who called the police to report he was seeing holographic pictures of his nude wife on the side of his garage. (You have to wonder what he was smoking.) Recently there was a couple having sex on the dock, and in the same report, some condoms had been shoplifted. Wonder if there was a connection there. There are also reports of cows, chickens, pigs loose, and the town of Bucksport always has a "suspicious" person or two every week.

Today, however, the newspaper was full of depressing, not funny, news. There were 3 car accidents involving fatalities, one even wiping out a family (dad, mother, 4-year-old daughter). Sometimes the results of excessive speed, sometimes with DUI, but ultimately most of the accidents we read about (including the tragic one this week of the family above) happen because a driver crossed the centerline. All it takes is a few seconds, and your whole life is changed (or even eliminated). It might not even be the person who makes the mistake who is killed; many times innocent people are victims.

I have been grieving for that family (the mother worked at our hospital, although I did not know her). A few seconds of distraction, whether it's texting or turning the head to look at something or trying to kill a wasp in the car or answering the cell phone or changing the radio station or being blinded by the sun - and lives are gone, just like that, in an instant.

I immediately talked to my adult kids and reminded them to stay away from that centerline and to watch oncoming traffic that appears close to the centerline.

But it doesn't have to a life and death situation for a few seconds to alter your life. It only takes a few seconds to say something hurtful that immediately you wish you never said, or to press "send" on that insulting e-mail before you have a chance to think it over, or even to put up that "funny" photo of yourself on Facebook that your future employer will see. Some decisions in life just don't get the rewind opportunity. You may have the ability to handle troubles, financial and otherwise, and you may be able to handle hurt and disappointment and fear, but regret burns itself into your soul and haunts you forever.

It only takes a few seconds.

Harbour and Good Rest

Yesterday was not a good day. Here are some of the things I do on a not-so-good day:

I go across to Ganeida's Knot and read any new posts.

I go across to Just Julie and read any new posts. I specially loved the ones about Edith and Piggeth, and about the little girl in Guatemala, so I looked at them a second time yesterday.

I have a look at Quaker Jane, and delight in Ibbie Penraeth's courage, wisdom, determination and smile. And the adorable Tabitha.

I spend a little while with the Burrell family at Shepherd's Hill, and enjoy the faces of gentle people of Plain faith. I look at the other blogs in the list down in the right-hand pane here, and find inspiration and new things to think about in them all.

I pop across to Anglican, Plain to see what Magdalena's up to. When I went there yesterday, I was inspired by all the sewing and making Magdalena has been doing.

I like buying things other people have made - I so love the dresses Daina at King's Daughters has made me, and the kapps and headcoverings and bonnet I have had from Christian Coverings, Pilgrim Hen's Plain-n-Simple, Sarah Burrell at Tabitha's Legacy and Sowers of Hope - but I also like making things myself.

So this morning, as well as eating a piece of the delicious birthday cake my son-in-law Clay made for Badger's 60th birthday at the weekend (with some soyatoo cream as an indulgent extra!), I made something myself.

My mother is eighty-three now. She is fit and well and active, and has slightly more energy than I do. But I see the seeds of frailty just starting to sprout. It is time to have a room ready in our home so that, whenever she needs it, she knows there is a quiet place here for her to come and stay. A couple of weeks ago we put a beautiful Shaker-style chest of drawers in there for her, and hung a print of one of Hebe's paintings that Rosie had made for us (she has the original). Yesterday the bed arrived for her room, and we set it up and I hung net curtains at the window because it looks onto the street. When we go to visit with her on her birthday, we shall bring back a spare duvet and spare curtains from her home.

And today I made this heart out of card and ribbon to hang on the wall as a blessing.

Not a very complicated thing to put together compared with a dress; but good sometimes to make instead of buy - as Mother Anne Lee said, "Put your hands to work and your hearts to God."

Advices & Queries No 26:
"Do you recognise the needs and gifts of each member of your family and household, not forgetting your own? Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find the peace and refreshment of God's presence."

Clothes with Attitude

In the last few days I have run into a coincidence of situations where someone has tried to psychologically strong-arm me – railroad me into their agenda.

I have tried to stand up for my position without being rude or unkind, but I have come across some dilemmas as well.

I love what Lao Tsu says in the Tao Te Ching about the Valley Spirit – with a humble spirit seeking always the lowest place, flowing like water round the blocks with no fight or blame. I hold in mind that Jesus said that we must ‘turn the other cheek’ if someone hits us on one cheek; that we are to be known for our gentleness and humility. As it says in that passage in Philippians 4 I love so much, ‘Let your forebearance/tolerance/gentleness be known to all.

But last week, when I had to stand up to an arrogant person’s attempts to usurp some ministry I was engaged in, I was intrigued to find how hard it was to stand firm and practice the Valley Spirit at the same time. I felt angry with him, I found the situation exasperating and frustrating, I felt indignant – and I simply could not untangle how I had felt from how I had behaved. I don’t know, even with hindsight, if I was courteous but firm, or if I sounded stroppy and provocative. Odd, isn’t it? I’d have thought it would be easy to tell.

Then, this morning, filling my car at the petrol station (I have a car again now, to my own surprise – the things I was sent here to do asked it of me), the man at the pump ahead of mine, keen to leave in his large vehicle that was boxed in front and back by me and another customer, reversed his car into mine not once but twice! As I stood there! When I started forward and reached out to tap the flat of my hand on the back of his car to alert him to my presence and objection, instead of stopping to apologise he hi-tailed it out of there so fast his tyres screeched. I took his number, and when I went in to pay I verified that CCTV was in operation on the forecourt, then I went down to make a complaint at the police station. I was very, very cross.

He had done only minimal damage to my car – cracked number plate, scuffed bumper paint – and I did not wish to claim for a repair. If he had apologised I should have understood entirely; it’s very difficult to get out of a tight space like that – but, you just wait, don’t you? It’s not a fairground game of Bumper Cars!

It was obvious to the staff at the filling station and the police lady that I was intensely annoyed: but I wasn’t rude about him and didn’t call him any nasty names, just explained that I wanted an officer to go and speak to him simply so that he might come to own the thought that there will be a comeback if you reverse deliberately into someone else’s vehicle then hurry away to prevent them remonstrating or pointing out damage.

The only thing I think I did wrong in the whole affair was that when the police lady asked me for my own number plate (W899GFG) I explained to her how I remember it. I should explain that in the UK our emergency services callout number is 999. So, courtesy of helpful suggestions from my family, my memonic is ‘Wilcock, almost-an-emergency, Good-F***ing-Grief’. The police lady did not smile when I imparted this information to her, and I knew immediately I should not have used that word (though it certainly does help me remember my car registration number!). I am truly sorry about that, and I shall remember and won't do it again. What interests me, though, is that I should not have thought twice about saying it or what she thought of me if I’d been wearing my hair loose and my old jeans-and-T-shirt.

My clothes admonish me!!! Speaking clothes! George Fox said ‘Let your lives preach’. My clothes preach! They are converting me. It’s working!

But I am left with some questions about my responses in general – indignation… exasperation… intense annoyance… frustration…

It has become clear to me that I do not have a state of serenity and equilibrium that allows me to field these ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ with nonchalance.

In addition, what is not clear to me is what the humble and converted soul is supposed to do about bullying and anti-social behavior? How are we supposed to respond? It seems that following it up, and standing in the gap saying ‘Thou shalt not pass!’ is an important part of re-training people in the direction of structuring society after the framework of the Peaceable Kingdom. But I could just be self-righteous and arrogant.


Good morning, friends

I have been intrigued by hearing readings in church meetings from Eugene Peterson's The Message version of the Bible, and recently I have been reading from it in my own quiet times, to give me a fresh perspective on familiar texts.

Today I was looking at the section on public worship in 1 Corinthians 10-14. I found it very illuminating and helpful, and I found Peterson's rendering of what St Paul had to say about women keeping silence and a covered head in church meeting gave me food for thought.

The verses that really stood out for me today, 'spoke to my condition' as George Fox might have said, were these:

"Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.
No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.
So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can
." (1 Corinthians 10:11-14)

I also read a little bit in Advice and Queries, which always flies like an arrow of truth straight into my heart; and what I read today was No 2:

"Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ. Are you open to the healing power of God's love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and your daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way."

As I read these words in the early morning today, I was vividly taken back in my mind and imagination to Jordans Meeting House in Buckinghamshire, where I went only once but found such holy peace.

Today, may your path lie beautiful.

The Fair (and Wayne)

This time of year always makes me nostalgic for the Mid-South Fair. I lived all my childhood in Memphis, just blocks from the fair site, and going to the fair in September was one of the highlights of the year for my sister Joy and me. School would usually give us a holiday for the fair with reduced or free tickets, and we could hardly wait to start the walk to the fairgrounds.

Of course, in Memphis, even towards the end of September, it was usually very hot, but that didn't matter to us. As we got nearer the site, we could hear the sounds of the fair - and the smells. The first chore was walking past the farm animals, who were stationed in an arena with a roof but no walls and you had to pass them to get to the good stuff. You'd think, growing up city girls, we would have been fascinated with the animals, but that was not the case. The stink of mature and straw was just a minor inconvenience that we had to endure before we could get to the main attraction - the rides, of course!

Our funds were limited and our fear was infinite, so we stuck to our preferred time-tested relatively low-key favorite rides - ones that were cheap and not too scary - in other words, rides that stayed pretty close to the ground, like the bumper cars and scrambler. Dad took many home movies that showed how much fun we were having laughing and screaming. As a child, I was always fascinated by the Fun House, but that was more expensive to ride, scary in its own way, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I finally was brave enough to try it.

You can't have a fair without the food, though, and I was a sugar addict, so I bypassed the gyros and corn dogs and headed straight for the cotton candy. Our dad absolutely hated to pay for spun sugar. He knew it was bad for the teeth and considered it a total waste of money. But every year at the fair, he relented. Add to that an occasional snow cone, ice cream cone, and Coke, and I was in sugar heaven.

Forget those mysterious trailers with loudspeakers urging us to "see the Gorilla Man" or "feast your eyes upon the Half Human/Half Alligator Boy." We never got to partake of those opportunities. I did enjoy, though, seeing all the pictures of what was inside. Likewise, we didn't have the money to participate in the "win a stuffed animal" booths and other "games of skill," but it was fun walking by and seeing all the various ways you could empty your wallet quickly.

After we were exhausted from rides, or just wanted a break in some air conditioning, we would walk through the crafts building. This I could only appreciate when I was older, in high school. I was a seamstress by then, and I was really interested in the clothes and items that were sewn for all the fair contests. They all made me feel good - the ones with exquisite workmanship gave me inspiration, and the ones with shoddier workmanship made me feel better about my own skills in comparison.

The Mid-South Fair always had a star attraction giving concerts in the Coliseum. As these tickets were extra, of course, from fair admission, our family budget rarely allowed us to add this to the itinerary, but one memorable year, Joy and I got to see the Cowsills! Another year, though, was a real dud. The fair always fell around my birthday, and that year, for some reason, part of my birthday present was our parents giving us both tickets to the star of that year's fair - none other than Mr. Wayne Newton. Now Wayne back then was not the megastar he is today. He was not popular, not cool, and we didn't even like his music. There we were, two teenage girls, sitting in the audience watching Wayne's performance, wishing we were anywhere else. The audience was small, so Wayne didn't exactly have the biggest fan base at the time. To this day, I hope we kept our disappointment hidden from our parents, because it was a very sweet thing for them to do. Now I laugh when I read a ticket to go see Wayne Newton starts at $80 because he is in such demand.

As I grew up and became an adult, the rides no longer interested me. I still enjoyed the food and the fun of just walking around, but my child-like excitement had been replaced with being able to take our own small children to the fair, with the joy of watching them react to the sounds, smells, tastes, and atmosphere of one of my fondest childhood memories.

The children are grown with kids of their own now. I don't go to the fair anymore; Ed and I don't like to get in big crowds these days. But a whiff of cotton candy, a shot of a ferris wheel in a Monk TV episode, an odor of a hay-eating cow, or a picture of Wayne Newton as "The King of Las Vegas," and I am right back there in Memphis, Tennessee, enjoying the glorious, exhilarating, irreplaceable Mid-South Fair.

I'm still alive!

I've been focusing on the other blog as of late, and I have posted a couple of things that may be of interest to readers here.

I wrote a post about why every single parent should be a minimalist, detailing reasons in a frank manner. I wrote about the book Simply Car Free, written by Tammy Strobel and my last post is titled Housing and the Single Parent.

I have figured out something; I have figured out that I am not alone in the fact that I am a single parent, but that I am unusual in how I manage to live and afford to care for my daughter.

I am not alone in the fact that I want to be home more for my kid, and am willing to do what it takes to be not only the best parent that I can be, but to look for ways to control expenses and work from home so that I have to leave my kids as little as possible.

This means using a combination of minimalism, simplicity, frugality and creativity to not only stretch the budget you already have, but to come up with nontraditional income streams. I think it is time I change my focus from generic minimalism, simplicity and frugality to a more specific "how these things help a single parent thrive."

My sister is going to be the main contributor on the frugality blog; she is the crafty one of the two of us and has a gift for making things on a shoestring. I will post there if I have anything really frugal to share and I will post here when I can.

I don't want you to think I ran out on you; I am in the process of simplifying my life and pursuing my dreams, and this process has resulted in a bit of change and the new site, which will be my permanent home.

I copied all of the posts there (except for these new ones) for the sake of posterity; I didn't want to take any chances of losing all of these posts. These new ones will stay here and live or die as they will.

I hope you will come and visit the new blog and say hello. I would love to see you there!

Colossians 3:13 NIV


Open seas, stars I can't read to steer by.

I feel a bit like Columba setting out in his coracle from Ireland, making his way across the sea not knowing what or where home would be.

Following this leading of Plain dress is curious and surprising. I didn't/don't know in what directions I would be taken or whatever destinations I would find.

I have been afraid that actually I may have completely flipped and this is an embarrassing symptom of madness. Even if it is, I still have to do it, because it feels that strong. It has recurred in waves in my life until the accumulation of the wave-swell has amounted to a tide that has taken me out on a new sea. It’s what I have to do. The sense of acute embarrassment at looking different, standing out, attracting attention, which would normally deter me from most things, feels profoundly uncomfortable but I think (if I just stay with it) in time people will simply get used to me and I will become who I am and settle into the new landscape of being. Does that person in the picture look halfway sane to you?

I can hardly bear to contemplate what my mother will think and feel at the sight of me in a prayer cap. She is used to me enveloped in voluminous dresses of one kind or another, since I’ve returned to them like a homing pigeon since I was fifteen. I think my eccentricity has been a trial to her. She bears this with dry kindness, tolerance and dignity. It is not her style.

I dread making the visit that I have been so looking forward to later on this month, to an open evening at a Christian intentional community with Hutterite origins. I can imagine their curiosity and the question marks in their eyes, and it makes me want to run for cover to even think about it.

I have felt intensely guilty as yet again, struggling to find my feet in this powerful undercurrent of the sense of Plain calling, I find myself starting again with clothing. This feels (and indeed is) wasteful; but the benefits are worthwhile.

I have agonized over the distinct frumpitude of my appearance, given that descent into middle-age makes me less lovely by the day; I am a married woman, and my husband did not sign up for Plain. This causes me a sense of serious inner wobble. But I still have to do it. I just do.

Those have been the uncomfortable, difficult things. The rest has been good.

When I dress Plain, it’s as though my soul slips into the socket it was made for and settles to a contented state of peace. You know when you’re driving a car and if you’re doing it right the engine runs quiet, without strain? My engine runs quiet in Plain dress.

As I had hoped, it effects recollection: acting as a continual silent reminder of who and what I wanted to be. It changes me. As The Message translation reads in Jeremiah 18:4 "Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot." That feels like what is happening to me. This difference drops into the context of my life like a pebble into a pool: it is making the members of the household different too, as though I had donned a large notice saying FORGET NOT GOD. There is a new tempo, a new rhythm, of Christ-centredness organically emerging in our home, that feels wholesome and good.

And tonight, having been thinking so intensively about it all, voyaging fearfully into the new, I feel flat and weary. Change is neither exciting nor welcome: I want this new reality very much, but I want it settled in as normal and part of everyday.

To their everlasting credit, in merciful kindness, not one person has asked me ‘why are you wearing that hat?’ or said anything unkind at all. I feel immensely grateful for that.

I have wondered if it is all an appalling dilettante fancy dress fad. I have felt terrible that, a divorced woman married to a divorced man, tumbled uncertainly between different religious groups and currently unsuccessful in my efforts to put down roots in a faith community, my life is only a travesty of what my appearance now stands for – life surrendered to Christ and hidden under God’s sheltering wing. It feels painful to know I do not (and never now can) match up to what I should have been: but even still, I know I have to do this.

It is returning me to a simple, honest, heartfelt sense and practice of faith that I once had but it got tarnished and bent out of shape over the years. It feels so good to find it again, to speak honestly and openly with people about the things of God and the life of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Perseverance. That will be the key.


As I mentioned in July, we recently downsized and traded two cars for one (a Subaru). After about a week of driving the new car, I realized a major difference in it and my old Toyota: On the Toyota, the number right up top center on the speedometer was 60, and in the Subaru, the number in that same position in 80. As I drive mostly highway miles on my commute, I have always been used to seeing the arrow point straight up to 60; now if I go only by the arrow, I would be speeding at 80. I can't just look at the arrow for guidance anymore; I will have to watch the numbers until I get used to the new setup.

I have to continually remind myself the same lesson as I age. For many years, I have gotten relatively comfortable in my own skin. I have understood my limits and my capabilities. I knew how much weight I could lift, how flexible I could be, how fast and far I could walk. After a few years have gone by, though, as I've aged, the speedometer has changed. I'm so used to seeing the arrow at one point, and forget that a few more years on the calendar means trading in for a new, different speedometer, and the same rules no longer apply.

I think that's one of the hardest parts of aging. You get used to your body behaving and responding in a certain way, then one day it fails you. A joint will crunch painfully or your digestive system won't cooperate or your eyes aren't as sharp; even your hair won't behave like it used to. Yet, somehow we assume things will never change, and then when they inevitably do, we prefer to avoid reality and pretend everything is the same. After all, that arrow has been pointing straight up for a long time now; if it's still straight up, everything must be normal and familiar - in other words, nothing has changed. We may even panic. It can't have changed! How can we act/look so old when we still feel so young at heart? I've heard ER tales of baby boomers who were sedentary all week and then on the weekend, participated in a few too many basketball games or tennis matches, because, after all, that's what they used to be able to do, right? Well, their muscles or bones or heart or some other body part didn't think so. It can be disheartening when you realize your body and stamina have deteriorated. My husband Ed said he was totally deflated a few months ago when he caught a glimpse of his 63-year-old thin lower limbs in the mirror and thought, "Oh no! When did I get my Daddy's legs?!"

Alas, with aging, we know that change is inevitable. Just ask the billions of dollars we consumers spend on products which promise to turn back time. Experts tell us to embrace the change. I don't go that far; I think, however, realizing that change has occurred is paramount. You can't be driving 80 mph when you can only handle 60, and you need to be aware that the speedometer you have been used to seeing has shifted its landmarks. You can't assume things based on the past. Every day is a new day with new challenges, every birthday has more to teach us, and every year our bodies remind us that things, they are a'changin'.

The Quiet Way

Today is so beautiful. Blue and white and breezy and joyous.

In the room where I work the sunshine through the skylight windows is dazzlingly bright, and all is much improved by this lovely straw bonnet from Pilgrim Hen, which allows me to work without my eyes screwed up tight against the light.

A happy day.

Something has happened recently that has stirred my heart.

On Facebook I came across an instance of Islamophobia, a propagandist photograph used irresponsibly with the expressed purpose of engendering religious hatred. It succeeded in this objective, and the stream of foul and savage comments that followed it rushed out like a burst sewer pipe.

Now, I have been dismayed by the cruelty of Sharia law. I remember reading about a scribe whose calligraphy was astonishingly beautiful, lovely to behold. He was a man of remarkable talent. But he stole something, so they cut off his hand. He managed to continue working at his art, but once again he was reduced to stealing. So they cut off his other hand. He committed suicide. And who was the gainer by that?

I have been chilled to the marrow by the beheadings, the public hangings, and by the contemplation of a tradition that will practice genital mutilation on girls and will bury people up to the neck then throw rocks at their heads until they die. There is no space in my imagination for any connection whatever between such behaviour and peace or human goodness.

But to whip up hatred against all Muslims because of the atrocities of some of them is not right. It is not so long since righteous Christians tortured their brethren on the rack and burned them alive over doctrinal disagreements. It is not so very long since in London seven senior Carthusian monks were hung by the neck til half-dead, then taken down, then had their genitals cut off, then were sliced open and their internal organs pulled out, then their arms and legs and heads were cut off. This was done because they would not renounce their Catholic faith in support of Henry VIII's political manoeuvrings to secure the divorce from his wife that the Pope would not grant him. Would we have Catholics spew out venom and hatred against us Protestants because that had been done?

There is no need to go back in history either. Enough abuse and sexual abuse of children can be heaped at the door of the Church to make people hate all of us forever, and enough bigotry and violence - verbal, physical and psychological to make people turn away from the Church in contempt, dismissing us as ignorant, primitive savages using human fears and insecurities as the tool of our agenda of domination.

But if there can be no end to hatred and prejudice, there can be no future for the human race. Compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, understanding, and willingness to differentiate between one individual and another instead of lumping all together as one category - this is not only good, it is intelligent; not only intelligent but necessary. Or the eventual bloodbath must finish us all. For who stands guiltless? Whose life is free of shame? Who can be held responsible for no cruelty, no malice, no violence?

In the media they talk of 'innocent bystanders'. What are they? I have never met one.

As I have contemplated these things I have seen that the cruel reign of Mammon has grown like a caul across human hearts beyond number. Prejudice, sloth, lust, avarice, envy, greed, indifference: these have become the hallmarks of our day - people are proud of them, manufacturers promote them in advocacy of their products!. 'The car/dress/jewellery/vacuum cleaner/house that will fill your friend with jealousy'. Great :0\

It is time to be in earnest about building the Peaceable Kingdom.

I am no activist. I am timid, shy and withdrawn. I dread confrontation and cannot organise events and people have never listened to me. I have no gift to persuade; I am not a natural leader.

But I can choose what is good as I bump along the bottom in the small and ordinary ways where my feet walk. I can choose gentleness, fairmindedness, loyalty, kindness, mercy and friendliness. I can choose to give people a chance and to encourage them. Even if I never do anything important or significance, my unimportant insignificance can paint in the details of peace.

For a long time now I have longed for my dream, The Quiet Way, to become reality. I dream of a group of people who love the Lord Jesus, not a new denomination in the Church but made up of people of any denomination, to walk together in fellowship, meeting to pray and encourage one another, dressing Plain as a witness to what they believe, to covenant together to build the Peaceable Kingdom.

And the still small voice is saying to me, 'Now is the time'. So, The Quiet Way has begun. I would make a website for it, but I don't really know how, so I'm going instead to make another blogspot that you can reach from here, setting out the principles and practice of The Quiet Way.

I am praying for God who is calling me to this (and this is not a thing I say lightly or readily, I am not one of those who hears the Divine voice telling her to write scraps of sentimental doggerel and eat rice krispies rather than weetabix for breakfast) to send me, to begin with, four other sisters who will do this with me. For I am afraid of the ridicule and the loneliness. Because of the history of psychiatric illness in my family, I am afraid that I am mad and this is religious mania. But the witness in my heart says: 'No. Persevere. God wills it.' So even mad, lonely and ridiculed, this is what I will do.

You who read hear, when you think of me, send up a swift little arrow prayer to the throne of grace, 'Please may she have four Plain-dressing sisters to walk with her in the Quiet Way, building the Peaceable Kingdom'. And God reward you for that.

The Plain Dress is for visibility and a witness, a sign in the world. And it is not for withdrawal or prudishness or disapproval or archaic expression of gender differences. It is for a sign of a life surrendered to the Kingdom of Christ and wanting no part in the Slime-mould of Mammon, to live in simplicity and humility, on the side of every human being and on the side of creation, in detail working steadily towards making our homes a sanctuary where people are healed and find hope, and making our lives into lights shining for justice, for freedom, for joy.