Taking Charge

Published in 1977 by the American Friends Service Committee Simple Living Collective, this book

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has had a profound impact on my life. I had graduated from high school and probably bought it brand spanky new at the bookshop I managed. I’ve dragged this book around through 35 years of life, pulling it off the shelf here and there—to re-read quick passages while a young mother, drinking in longer views and rereads as my children and other changing responsibilities shape-shifted my life. I crafted my outlook on economics, politics and just how one is to live in a society largely based on the queries, analyses and ideas contained in it.

The last portion of the book is devoted to The Shakertown Pledge, which was originated by a group of Friends (Quakers) at a meeting at a retreat center on the site of the restored Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in response to concerns around global poverty/ecological crises. I typed out my own copy on my old Remington typewriter, inserted a signature line and thoughtfully signed it. I’ll type it out again for you to see:

The Shakertown Pledge

 Recognizing that the earth and the fullness thereof is a gift from our gracious God, and that we are call to cherish, nurture, and provide loving stewardship for the earth’s resources.

 And recognizing that life itself is a gift, and a call to responsibility, joy, and celebration.

 I make the following declarations

 1. I declare myself to be a world citizen.

2. I commit myself to lead an ecologically sound life.

3. I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and share my personal wealth with the world’s poor.

4. I commit myself to join with others in reshaping institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which each person has full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.

5. I commit myself to occupational accountability, and in so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.

6. I affirm the gift of my body, and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical well-being.

7. I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others, and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.

8. I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.

9. I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.

The world has changed a lot in many ways since I signed this, but things like income disparity, wasteful and downright hateful treatment of the planet, and First World maldevelopment and consumption are still around. Other voices of the time like John Denver have gone. It doesn’t really seem like this book did much to influence the world to “kick the habit” of consumerism and the hubris that lies at its root.

Still, I think the essential message of the book is the inestimable influence of the individual. When I score myself on the Pledge, I haven’t pushed through any legislation, won any pivotal grants, nor have I been responsible for innovation or reshaped institutions. But I do wear simple clothing, support local farmers and businesses, and spend time rereading this little book for that one more shiny nugget that I can put into service. And maybe that’s okay.

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When it’s all about the dress.

I spent the day at the Great Frederick Fair last Saturday. I actually had gone specifically to see the 4-H alpaca show, which I sadly learned had been rescheduled to the day prior due to the animals being shin deep in water in their stalls because of the preternatural monsoon season we’re having here this fall. Walking around the fairgrounds, I experienced a curious thing.

I’m not entirely used to “the look” I get as a Plain person. Sometimes I get treated extra nice because people figure I”m a poor Amish woman with 17 children, no lights, and a dominating husband. Sometimes I’m mistaken as a re-enactor with the corner on Quaint. Mostly, it’s just a stare and, if accompanied, the whispered comment to their companion as they hurry on their way. This look was different, though. It was a new one.

I live about 100 miles from Lancaster, Pennsylvania–Amish country. Whereas my state is known for its Catholicism, in the western end we have Mennonites, which are another flavor of Plain people, but I don’t see much of them. I’m the only Plain person I know.
The fair, of course, brings with it an astonishing diversity of folks. Carnies, farmers, ranchers, kids…and Amish. I had walked through a building with it’s displays of prize-winning squash to its far door which opened back out to an area of eateries. Right opposite was a large tent filled with Amish ladies serving and waiting on over-the-counter customers. As I descended the steps in my plain dark green dress with it’s long skirt and sleeves, black shoes, and my hair tucked up inside my black kapp, one after the next looked up and offered me not the usual stare, but a kindred recognition of sisterhood.

They know I’m not one of them. My kapp is black; they wore the traditional white heart-shaped version. I’m Quaker, not Amish, but I saw in their faces a certain camaraderie. They understood me as a woman of faith and they know the discipline. They, too, have had hard edges rubbed smooth by it. I can only imagine, too, that sometimes, like me, they hate the dress.

I didn’t choose this “fashion” and if it’s left to me I wouldn’t wear it. I wear it because God wants me to. I’ve wrestled with this literally for years, finally reaching the point where I understand that I’m more peaceful in these clothes. It’s simple to just get up and get a dress and put it on. No matter what “hair day” I’m having, it all goes up into the kapp or scarf neat as a pin.

And, yes, there are moments when I can’t deal with it another day. It’s to be always reminded of God and, just like with even a good husband, sometimes I need a break from him. It’s a full time job and sometimes I just want some annual leave to literally let my hair down.

I have had life-long serious issues with acceptance and approval. I understand that while I’m on speaking terms with this particular curiosity of my personality, it doesn’t serve me. And this style of dress is NOT one I’d recommend for someone that faint of heart, but again, it was not my choice. I guess God knew that I needed to get over that human stuff and see myself as a divine image of him no matter what I’m wearing. For this I thank him. Most of the time.

And so I bless those dear Amish ladies in that food tent, who each have 17 children, no lights and a husband who lords it over her (not true, by the way), for their kind gazes and sweet smiles. Yes, dear sisters, I know. I do know.

Thanks for stopping by.

I’m a 50-something Quaker by convincement who has decided to plunge into this blogging thing in typical Friends style – a day late and a dollar short. I’m a keeper-at-home after a couple of decades of working outside the home and I love it. Most of the time.

One thing I do is hang my clothes out to dry. This can be tricky, depending on the vagaries of Mid-Atlantic weather up here on this mountain I live on but I love the smell of air-dried clothes. It’s also great exercise, bend-and-stretch. You definitely have to have a sense of humor when a freshly washed blouse succumbs to an aerial “evacuation.” And sometimes it’s just drudgery.

One day while I was out there doing my textile meditation when it occurred to me that I do some of my best thinking there. And so Flapping in the Breeze was born. A file folder (yes, the old fashioned kind) was duly named and promptly put into the 2-drawer cabinet that sits here next to me. That’s where it’s been–still empty–for about two years.

So now I’ve joined the electronic diarist crowd. Kind of funny for someone who doesn’t use a clothes dryer.