Suspenders, stomachaches, and the articulation of leadings

About a month ago, I started giving away clothing by the bag-load. A few days ago, I cut the collars off of three solid-color, long sleeve shirts. Whenever I find a ride to my local Goodwill, I'm buying suspenders and switching from jeans to black pants.

It feels so rightly-ordered for me to be going plain. But when someone asks me to explain this leading, I have terrible difficulty describing it to them.

I have been able to articulate some of the reasons why I feel led to plain dress. I want to have a constant reminder of the fact that God is the most important thing in my life. I want to explore how my behavior changes (or doesn't change) when I am wearing clothes that are a visible expression of my faith. I want to be more faithfully simple. I want to use the Earth's resources well, open up conversations about faith, Quakerism, and consumer culture, and keep my vanity in check.

Sometimes when people ask me about my clothes, I am able to articulate those things well, and sometimes I am not, but it always feels vaguely incomplete, and I falter in answering the harder questions people pose to me: Why traditional plain dress, instead of jeans and a t-shirt? Shouldn't the awareness of God come from inside, not outside? What specific testimony(ies) of Quakerism are you witnessing to? Why banded collars? Why suspenders?

I feel like the most honest answer I could possibly give is this: It feels right. My old clothes feel inauthentic. When I tried to put on a striped, collared shirt this morning, I got a stomacheache and began to tremble, and when I took it off and put on a plain shirt with the collar removed, it went away.

In essence, people (I myself being one) are asking the question, "Why are you led to plain dress?" when the question that most needs asking is simply, "Are you led to plain dress?"

I really believe I am.

The word articulation has two distinct meanings: effectively communicating ideas through speech, and the state of two parts being joined together in such a way as to allow for motion by each (as in a joint in the body). Perhaps, then, to "articulate" a leading in the truest sense of the word is to become joined together, God and the person being led, the person being led and the person to whom they are describing the leading. God moves within us, prompting us to further movement in faithfulness to whatever leadings we experience. We move in others by faithfully recounting our experience, and hope that it prompts some movement in their own heart and soul. This connection, this articulation, only facilitates movement when it is relaxed, flexible, and strong. So in moving out into the world with a new (for me) witness, perhaps what I most need to remember is how to be a good joint.

I don't necessarily need to be able to describe the Quaker history of plain dress, or the theological implications of the banded collar- though if I find myself speaking to those things, that's fine. What it is most important for me to be able to say, I think, is, "I am plain because I feel that this is what God wants of me right now."

Many times, a leading takes shape as an outward expression of an inward belief or testimony. At other times, however, the truest worth of a leading is in pure faithfulness. If God asks me to stand on my head, I may not be able to explain it to myself or others, but- I can only hope- there I will be, upside-down. If suspenders are what God requires of me right now, my best hope and greatest ambition can only be to be a faithful wearer of suspenders, and rejoice every morning when I shoulder (pun tragically intended) what I am given as mine.

There is no calling greater than faithfulness, even, perhaps especially, when we do not understand why.


Blogger Liz Opp said...

This post has such deep resonance for me, Kody, I cannot even describe it.

Thanks for thy faithfulness. It is not unnoticed.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

P.S. If Way opens, I would love to have some time with you at Gathering...

8:41 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Kody,
I still have in mind making a little video about how to take a collar off a shirt but it looks like you're already at it! I'm not sure leadings that don't hurt anyone need always be rationally justified. They can be felt. There's lessons in just testing it. We'll have to get a picture at Gathering, hmm?!?

PS: I was at Camp Onas yesterday on a staff retreat. I went down to the barn where we played volleyball and gave a little prayer of thanks for the simple fellowship of that afternoon (Onas was the site of last year's youth ministry conference for those who don't know).

8:02 AM  
Blogger Kody Gabriel said...

You should definitely make that video. I just cut mine off with scissors and they look fine, but a little ragged.

Thinking of that afternoon (that whole weekend, really) still fills me with the most incredible sense of peace. I'm so glad you were able to offer up some thanks for that blessing.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Hi Kody,
Thank you for sharing that. It will be interesting to hear your experiences of how people react to you as time goes by. I have heard two plain Friends say that total strangers frequently open up to them and share all sorts of things. I would be interested to know if that starts happening to you as well.

One thing that does trouble me a bit when I think about the plain dress is the idea of actually taking a collar off a shirt. It seems kinda wasteful to me, and if you ever take the shirt to goodwill, it won't be as useful to people. I'm not saying this to criticize what you are doing, I am just hoping you could give me a better understanding.
With love,

2:35 PM  
Blogger Kody Gabriel said...

Mm, yes, I feel you on that concern. I tried to figure out some use for my poor cut-off collars, but could not. However, since I'm only doing this to three shirts, I don't feel as bad. Also, I'm done growing (yay for 5 feet, 8 inches!), so I will most likely wear these shirts until they wear out, rather than at some point giving them away. A lot of times I found that I was giving away clothes to Goodwill because I'd bought something I wasn't really going to wear, or styles changed and I didn't really like it anymore. With a drastically limited wardrobe, I can't see that happening after going plain.

It's only a one-time deal, as well- in the future if I need a new shirt I'll buy a plain shirt with a banded collar.

Does that speak to your question?

2:47 PM  
Blogger david said...

Guess who has a website now? Gohn Brothers

7:48 PM  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Yes, Kody, I think that speaks to my question. I guess if you plan to wear the shirts until they are unwearable, the collars aren't really wasted. Maybe I am just over-thinking things. One plain Friend I met has a tailor remove his collars. He says that since at first, it took a little while for him to get across what he wanted, but now that she has done several, she charges him less and gets it done faster. Another Friend just does it himself.

Thanks for mentioning banded collars, I had to google to see what you were talking about, I'm very fashion ignorant. It is wonderful that you are following your leading!
With love,

8:50 PM  
Blogger earthfreak said...


That's awesome! it sounds like you are really being faithful.

I really like what you say about articulation - some of those ideas have scurried around my brain half formed for a while, but I've never heard them, well, articulated so well!

I, too, am interested to hear what this new path brings forth.

I worry that I may be one of those guilty of asking "why?" rather than "is it truly led?" - I think that some of us are trying to get to that question - to ask what you know about the leading, in order to "test" it - but perhaps you didn't ask for help testing it, and, even if you did, logical justification isnt' necessarily the best way to test a leading.

(I am currently watching old "Joan of Arcadia" episodes and love it. Almost nothing God tells her to do is something she can figure out the logical reason for ahead of time - she simply has to trust and do. It's corny, I suppose, but I find it perhaps the best portrayal of God I've seen on TV)

I cut the collar and sleeves off an old oxford shirt of my dad's when I was in college, and it was my favorite summer shirt for a long time. I applaud you for modifying something you already had rather than running out to buy a new "plain" wardrobe!


3:43 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi again Kody,
I should make that video, every time I find a commercially-produced banded collar shirt it's immediately discontinued (when we meet next we should swap vendors we've found).

6:01 PM  
Blogger Zoe said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Zoe said...

Way to go! I'm so glad (even though this is a bit belated) you've taken the first steps toward Plainess.

10:49 PM  
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Blogger Ezra said...

this was so wonderful to read! thank you for sharing.

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