If I were a Christian Quaker, I would be strongly drawn to the tradition of plain dress.
Perhaps it's good that I'm not, in that I don't have to do the difficult work of discernment that I probably would if I were. It does seem to me that plain dress, like all the Quaker testimonies, needs to have its seed in a spiritual leading, and I cannot be sure that my inclination toward it isn't merely personal. Pagans as a group are, after all, awfully taken with costume and theater, and even if I am extremely plain for a Pagan, I can't be entirely sure that part of my attraction to plain dress isn't simply to yet another cool set of threads.
The real issue is probably deeper than that, though. It is my desire to live absolutely, visibly, and identifiably as someone with a peace testimony.
Another of my favorite students is entering the military. He has done early enlistment and will be leaving us at midyear, and he brought me in a picture of himself in his fatigues.
I am thrilled, honestly, with this kid's pride and sense of accomplishment. He has overcome so many obstacles in his life, and his decision to enter the military represents, on a personal level, some wonderful, wonderful things he has cultivated within himself with great struggle: idealism, ambition, a desire to serve others. He is a good, good boy and he has decided he wants to become a good, good man.
I suppose that's startling to hear from a Quaker, but it is the truth as I see it. For this particular young man, the decision to enter the military reflects a level of growth and integrity that I can only honor.
And grieve. I want him to be traveling to foreign lands to feed hungry kids, and build bridges and schools, and serve humanity in the ways of peace. But that is not an option for my student; yes, I'm aware of counter-recruitment efforts and counseling, and they work wonders for lots of kids. But even if they existed at my school, even if I were not the lone voice for peace, none of the initiatives I know of are a good fit for this particular student at this particular time. All I can do is try to slip into one of our 30 second hallway conversations the fact that, should he determine, down the road, that he has a conscientious objection to war, there are people who will work with him to help him leave the military.
The various alternatives to military service will not work for this student.
And the heart of my message is, must be, that I am proud of the way this young man has turned his life around. He hasn't had nearly enough people being proud of him in his life. We, his teachers, are it. And nothing, nothing else is as faithful a service of the Spirit of Peace as I hear it speaking within me as communicating to this young man my deep and real respect for his decisions, deeply though they pain me.
I know what I must say to this young man when he hands me his picture.
And I know that I will place his picture on my altar at home, burn candles for his safety (spiritual and emotional as well as physical) and grieve and grieve and grieve that he will be going off to war.
I want for my opposition to war to be as obvious as my gender. I want it to be so clear and self-evident and beyond question that it is always there, as the subtext, when I am telling this student that I am proud of him. I want him to hear the message of caring from my mouth and to see that in my eyes, and just to know, without my having to distract from the core message of deep respect, that I wish he would find another way. That he would somehow serve peace, not war, with his newfound honor and dignity.
Wearing a peace symbol is a fashion statement. Half my students who wear it support the war. Peace slogans on bumper stickers and buttons and posters strike many as sentiments fit for a greeting card--the notion that anyone takes literally that "there is no way to peace--peace is the way" is something that never crosses most moderns' minds.
It seems to me that only by visibly and consistently placing myself outside modernism and liberalism and political sloganeering will I be able to be the kind of visible beacon for peace I long to be.
I cannot harangue my students into pacifism. I know that is wrong--spiritually wrong, never mind how it might affect my teaching career. I know that it would sabotage the real work of building up spirits that is the heart of public school teaching. Which is my calling, my leading, at least for now.
So I can't do that.
Plain dress: wearing a kerchief or something on my head and wearing a skirt of some kind, while avoiding ostentation in dress... that would do it. Slowly, over time, my school would come to know that my peace testimony, my deepest spiritual convictions, are why I "dress funny". And I would be speaking my testimony faithfully even while silent.
I'm not Christian.
And the other thing that plain dress says, culturally at least, is that here stands a conservative Christian.
So no plain dress. Just a photo on the altar, and a sense of pride.
May all the good gods bring this child home safe in his spirit as well as in his body.
So mote it be.