I’ve heard the question, “If it were illegal to be Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Today, when in many circles being religious is suspect at best, behaving outwardly in a specific way that indicates you are a religious person takes commitment and courage.
Thomas Ellwood, an Englishman, became a Quaker in the mid-1600’s. Friends then, acting out their faith, wore plain dress, refused the typical hat honor, and used the same you-language for everyone regardless of their social status. Ellwood writes:
“A knot of my old acquaintance [at Oxford], espying me, came to me. One of these was a scholar in his gown, another a surgeon of that city… When they were come up to me, they all saluted me, after the usual manner, putting off their hats and bowing and saying, ‘Your humble Servant, Sir,’ expecting no doubt the same from me. But when they saw me stand still, not moving my cap, nor bowing my knee, they were amazed, and looked first one upon another, then upon me, and then one upon another again for a while, without a word speaking. At length, the surgeon…clapping his hand, in a familiar way, upon my shoulder, and smiling on me, said, ‘What, Tom, a Quaker!’ To which I readily and cheerfully answered, ‘Yes, a Quaker.’ And as the words passed out of my mouth I felt joy spring in my heart, for I rejoiced that I had not been drawn out by them into a compliance with them, and that I had strength and boldness given me to confess myself to be one of that despised people.”
Today I know a few Friends who wear plain clothes, and the men uncut beards. They tell me their appearance is a witness to their faith. It is also a reminder to them of who they seek to be, and it invites others to initiate conversation with them about religious things. Recently a local rabbi explained that he wears a yarmulke for many of the same reasons, as a challenge to himself and a witness to others. And I’ve read that some Muslim women choose to wear headscarves for similar reasons—to witness to their faith and to honor Allah.
I haven’t followed these faithful people yet. I would be satisfied if I just lived out the words of the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
What impact does what you believe have on how you live?
What is the difference between authentic, faithful witness and in-your-face offensiveness?
“Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow your love” (Prayer of St. Francis).
For further reflection:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. . . . Bind [these words] as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (See Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.)
“I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long” (Psalm 145: 2).