Plain workshop report

10 people came to Tuesday night's Plain workshop at SF Meeting, some new attenders and some longtime members. We read a few excerpts from old and new explanations of what plain living means to different Friends. I talked about how and why early Friends developed their testimonies of plain dress and speech, how they became codified and how they largely disappeared from Quaker life around the turn of the 20th century. I shared my observation that a new wave of plain testimonies is arising today.

The reasons I gave why I think living a Plain life is important are twofold.

One is about living in integrity – living up to the Light we have been given. A Friend has talked about how we suffer when we don’t do the things we believe we ought to – whether that is telling the truth or wearing logo-free clothing or using less of the world’s resources. Any of these could be seen as a sacrifice, but the reports from the field of Friends who have lived into these testimonies say that they feel freer, more joyful, more at peace. I think it’s important that we start living the way God is leading us, so that our pain and sense of hypocrisy stops distracting us when we want to move on to changing the world outside us.

The second is simply about developing the habits of discernment and obedience in what may be trivial matters, of dress or speech, or other external things, that are preparation for more important matters. We need to build up the spiritual muscles we will need for the prophetic witness (next week’s topic) that Friends are rightly called to.

The two cautions I have are related. One is to try to be respectful of the different leadings that people have been given. What may seem like showing off to you may be a cross to bear for someone else. The other is that this conversation is an opportunity for grace and humility. The point is not to set up an external rule to measure other people by. It helps when we can both articulate our leadings and admit to the ways we fall short.

As an exercise, I invited each person to write their own plain manifesto.
“Make notes for yourself of what are the Quakerly plain testimonies you already or wish to practice. What is your definition of plainness? What are your current commitments? What are the criteria you use? Examine what God has to do with it. Where are your growing edges? Write it out. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, or in complete sentences, but take some time to record where you are at this moment in your spiritual journey.”
You can see my original attempt at this exercise in my Robinopedia entry for Plain. It’s a permanent part of my blog’s sidebar as well.

The feedback I received is that people would have liked to talk more about plain speech: is it about more than using “thee”? (Short answer: yes.) Traditionally plain speech included honesty, numbering the days of the week and months of the year, and direct communication. I think there could be a whole day’s retreat devoted to talking about plain speech in a postmodern era, to include these traditional concerns as well as the new movement towards Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings about non-violent communication, examining the media we consume and produce, etc.

As always, there wasn’t enough time for everything we’d have liked to do or say or hear. Heck, I could have talked for the whole hour and a half and not been done. But I restrained myself.

Actually, it’s more like I had to force myself to start. At the beginnng, I nearly chickened out. As in, who am I to teach these people anything? Half of them probably know more about this than me. That kind of thing. But my attempt to leap right into discussion mode didn’t work. So I backed up, went ahead and gave the little lecture I had prepared and things went better from there.

I cited a lot of resources from the QuakerQuaker.org plain page and QuakerJane.com, with some photos culled from QJ, some from blogs and some from The Conservative Friend.org. I am extremely grateful for Martin Kelley’s Quaker Ranter site, which has become a repository of some of the most interesting (and easily accessible) contemporary writing about Quaker plain witness.

Another day, I would like to take more time to look at what commonalities are arising in our current individual leadings towards Plainness or simplicity. What is God trying to tell us about our individual lives and our society? Which of the historical, traditional, Quaker Plain testimonies are important to recover from the dustbin of the modern reformation of Quakerism in the early 20th century?

I’ll close with my favorite quotation about plain living, from Fran Taber:
“It may surprise some of us to hear that the first generation of Friends did not have a testimony for simplicity. They came upon a faith which cut to the root of the way they saw life, radically reorienting it. They saw that all they did must flow directly from what they experienced as true, and that if it did not, both the knowing and the doing became false. In order to keep the knowledge clear and the doing true, they stripped away anything which seemed to get in the way. They called those things superfluities, and it is this radical process of stripping for clear-seeing which we now term simplicity.”

I love this:
Plain = a radical process of stripping for clear-seeing.

Labels: , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


Post a Comment

<< Home