As soon as I looked at the program, I realized what day it was. I also realized that I would not be going forward to get ashes. Even before the pastor started talking about how this was "an outward manifestation of faith," I had worked out that this was the kind of sacrament that as a Quaker, I should not participate in (Quakers also do not take communion or have water baptisms; the idea is that all of life is sacramental or holy). So as everyone went forward, I stayed in my seat, the lone Quaker in the sanctuary with no ashes on my forehead.
In the convergent Friends workshop at Ben Lomond, one of the things we spent a lot of time on was the idea of how to be plain in the modern world. We talked about how some Friends choose to wear plain clothes and made a list of ways that we could be plain. Suggestions included only eating fair trade chocolate, taking an internet sabbath once a week, giving away the clothes we don't really need, and many other ideas.
One Friend commented that although she feels that many of these things are good ideas, she doesn't feel led to do them. As we were talking, I realized that what drew me to the idea of plain dress was the fact that people notice the Friends who wear those clothes and ask them why they dress that way.
I don't wear clothing with writing on it, but that is more about me not wanting to be a billboard or give others a reason to stare at my chest than it is about my Quaker values. I do not feel called to aprons and long skirts. But I wonder what I am doing in my life that makes people ask why. Does my life speak louder than the things I wear?
In the Ash Wednesday service, the pastor quoted Isaiah 58 and suggested that one of the sins we should be thinking about during Lent is the sin of taking more of the earth's resources than our fair share. If she is right that this is a sin, and I think she is, then we all have a lot of repenting to do.
At the same time, I don't want Quakers to start patting ourselves on the back for our conservation efforts. Last week, Timothy wrote a post on Quakers and sin that made me laugh out loud when he said,
Far too many of us are pretty darned self-satisfied and believe that the only transformation that needs to happen is that others need to vote for liberal Democrats, recycle more and listen to NPR. Oh, and lately, drive a Toyota Pious cheerfully across the earth in a socially responsible way that looks out for that of God in everyone.A lot of the ideas we came up with in our plain discussion are really good ideas. And if we all did them, it would probably make the world a better place. But our task as Friends is not to be the best liberal democrats we can be. As I was reminded last weekend, we are supposed to listen to God and live up to the light we are given. The real question is, what is God calling us to do?