Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: status

Plain clothes

Clothing as a status symbol is not a new thing. In fact, a few hundred years ago there were laws to define what clothes a person could wear to fit his status in society. These were called sumptuary laws, and they made it possible to instantly discern whether a person was a priest, a bishop, a duke, a knight or a a peasant. There was a moral, or religious, impulse behind these laws, a desire to avoid costly or showy clothing. However, those at the top of the heap could wear many of the things forbidden to the lower classes. Silk and purple dye, for example, were forbidden to most people.

Along with this came certain rules of conduct. If a man met someone of higher status on the street he had to remove his hat. He could address his equals, and those of lesser status, as thee or thou, but those of higher status had to be addressed with the more respectful “you”.

By the time the Quakers came along in the 17th century, the sumptuary laws were no longer on the books in England, but people’s attitudes about maintaining the prerogatives of their status had not changed. The Quakers decided they would all wear the same cut of clothing, whatever their trade or civil status. They declared they would not remove their hat for any man, and adopted a broad-brimmed style to emphasize the point. They also refused to address anyone as “you.”

Towards the end of the 17th century, Jacob Amman, the spiritual leader of the Mennonites in Alsace, decided the Mennonites had slipped too far into following the fashions of the world. He imposed strict rules about the cut of clothes, more or less settling on the Alsatian peasant style. This brought about a separation from the Mennonites in Switzerland and Amman’s group became known as Amish.

Many Quakers and Amish emigrated to Pennsylvania and the similarity in outlook led to them becoming known as “the plain people.” Quakers have dropped the plain clothes, but there are now a bewildering variety of “plain” Mennonite and Amish groups, each with their own set of rules governing what cut of clothes they may wear. The differences between groups are often quite minor, but they are strictly enforced.

In 1697, shortly after the Amish division, Gerhard Roosen, an aged Mennonite elder of Hamburg, Germany, wrote the following words to those involved:

“I am sincerely grieved that you have been so disturbed by those who think highly of themselves, and make laws of things that are not upheld in the Gospel. Had it been specified in the apostolic letters how or wherewith a believer should be clothed, or whether he should go in this or that country, and this were disobeyed, then these had something of which to speak; but it is more contrary to the Gospel to affix one’s conscience to a pattern of hats, clothes, stockings, shoes, or the hair of the head (Colossians 2:14-18), or make a distinction in which country one lives; and then, for one to undertake the enforcement of such regulations by punishing with the ban all who will not accept them, and to expel from the church as leaven all those who do not wish to avoid those thus punished, though neither the Lord Jesus in His Gospel, or His holy apostles have bound us to external things, nor have deemed it expedient to provide such regulations and laws. I agree with what the apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 2 (verse 16) that the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is not obtained “in meat or in drink” nor in this or that in the form or pattern of clothing, to which external things our Saviour does not oblige us.

“I hold that it is becoming to adapt the manner of dress to the current customs of one’s environments; but it is reasonable that we abstain from luxuries, pride, and carnal worldly lusts (1 John 2, verses 16, 17), not immediately adopting the latest style of fashionable clothing; which is certainly something to be reproved, but when it has come into common use then it is honourable to follow in such common apparel, and to walk in humility.

“The Holy Scripture must be our ruling standard; to this we must yield, not running before it, but following, and that not untimely, but with care, fear, and regret; for it is a dangerous venture to step into the judgment of God and bind that which is not bound in heaven.”

Advertisements

The Lonely Ache of Popularity

Bill was tall, fair, handsome, sensitive. He was also the Eighth Grade football hero ‒ the one who scored the goals and carried the home team to victory. Girls in the top two grades were openly–or secretly–nuts about him.

Like Grace, the girl who lived down the street from him. She was a nobody, shy and plain, but she dreamed big. If only Bill would like her! She saw him taking her to the school dance and the looks on the other girls’ faces as she walked in the door on Bill’s arm. Their jaws would drop and their eyes would turn green with envy. Standing next to Bill she’d really shine; everyone would know that she must be something special if Bill liked her.

Alas for Grace. Debbie moved in and worked her way up the pecking order; by Grade Eight she was the head of our football team’s cheerleader group. Pretty, popular, pushy — she claimed Bill and grabbed every chance to be near him. Grace was left alone with her dreams and longings. Last I heard she was still single, but she went on to get her pilot’s license and live a life of adventure a lot of us never expected.

So how did Bill himself feel about all of this adoration? Do guys know when girls want them for an ornament, a trophy won in the cat fights? Do they sense that if they didn’t have the looks and status, the car and the cash, the popular girls wouldn’t give them a second thought? And does that tick them off, or are they just happy to be used for awhile–and to use? After all, don’t they see themselves looking good, too, with the prettiest girl on their arm?

The teachers wanted Bill as football star, the girls wanted him as a status symbol, likely his parents were proud of what their son had accomplished. But our thoughts were so ME-centred. Did any of us really CARE about HIM? A few years later Bill committed suicide.

The vicious rivalry in teen circles tears a lot of young people to shreds. Lesser lights want to stand beside the brighter ones, girl or boy, so the glow reflects well on them. But there’s only so much room in that glow, others are pushed aside. They often go off in a corner and seethe, knowing they’ll never be in the limelight.

I feel sympathy for girls who live with this torture. Then, to add to the mix, if there are abuse issues in your past, you grow up under that cloud – stamped as an UNDESIRABLE. Been there; done that.

I Just Don’t Fit In

Getting married and having a family don’t change the peer pressure, just redefine it. THEIR husbands have bigger salaries; THEY probably have cushy jobs, too; THEY have THEIR homes decked out by Martha Stewart; THEIR toddlers by Osh-Kosh; THEIR teens by Alfred Sung. THEIR kids are into everything culture &/or sports, rapidly being molded into the snobs and jocks of future high schools.

As long as you have one eye on THEM – the unidentifiable and ever-unmatchable THEM – you’ll always feel outclassed. THEY always have their act together; THEY are so far ahead in the game of Life because THEY know all the unspoken rules. YOU are the odd duck, the square peg in a round hole. The one with horrible secrets no one should ever find out.

But ask yourself, What if I really were popular? Would I really like being there as a prop in others’ productions? Would I be able to live with myself if I crushed others to get to the top? And what would I have to do to stay there? Some of the most talented people have admitted in later life how they lived with the dread someone would discover they were just a fake.

I believe every person on the planet at times thinks, “I just don’t fit in,” even on a level playing field. Then try changing cultures. For those like myself who have come from a “trailer trash” non-Christian upbringing and are now trying to fit into a conservative Christian circle, thoughts like “I’ll never be fit in” can overwhelm us and sink our ship. We need a solid rock to stand on.

Bonked By Another Diamond From Heaven

One time I was brooding over the way I was brought up and how my own family has such a different culture than my Christian brothers and sisters. I wanted so much to be like “everybody else” but I felt so different in the way I said and did things, the values I was taught, etc. The prospect of “fitting in” looked pretty bleak right at that moment ‒ and the devil was probably gloating as he tossed more jabs of “you’ll never make it here.”

Then the Lord spoke to me in this complete sentence: “The more you try to be like everybody else, the more you will realize how different you are. The more you try to be yourself, the more you will realize how much like everybody else you are.”

Can it really be that simple? I can just be myself? Like a shaft of Heaven’s purest light, this thought banished my dark musings, gave me direction and courage again. I was able to accept myself for what I was and trust that I could still fit in anywhere the Lord wanted me to be.

God is so good; He delights in setting us free from chains that drag us down. He showed me that there is MUCH more to life than becoming like — and liked by — Everyone. Actually the issue isn’t “fitting in”; it’s all about being an obedient and useful child of God. It’s putting OTHERS before our own ego.

Think of all the people in history who, single-handedly, have accomplished a lot of good in our world. Look around and you will see things you can do to ease someone else’s pain. There are people teetering on the brink of despair that could still be pulled back by a sincere friend – before they become another suicide statistic. You CAN make a difference. But not if you’re focussed on how “everyone else” looks at ME.

-Christine Goodnough

(This is a slightly revised version of an article Chris posted on “Christine’s Collection” about two years ago.)

 

%d bloggers like this: