We aren’t what we wear

logoI recently had an interesting conversation with two young women that I tutor. Members of the Old Colony Mennonites who have been relocating to Canada from Mexico in recent years, they wear traditional dresses and kerchiefs. I’ve been teaching them to read, a skill they didn’t have the opportunity to learn as children. One of their many reasons for wanting to learn to read  is so that they can read the Bible, so we’ve been using a children’s Bible story book as one of our texts.

“Do we have different Bibles or do we just understand it differently?” M asked me after one of our recent sessions. “Our Bible says that we should wear dresses and cover our heads,” she continued. She was clearly referring to the fact that I don’t dress that way.

So what does the Bible actually say?

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” Deuteronomy 22:5

We talked about what that might mean and M was quick to point out that though we might both wear blue jeans, her husband would never wear a top like I was wearing. No one would confuse me with a man because of the way I was dressed!

There was a time, not too long ago, when regardless of what they wore during the week, everyone dressed up to go to church on Sunday morning. Heaven forbid that a woman should wear pants or a man show up without shirt and tie! Thankfully, for many of us, that has changed.

Several years ago, before it became commonplace, I made the very intentional decision to begin wearing blue jeans to church. I don’t wear them every Sunday, but I do make a habit of wearing them quite often.

Why?

There were several young families in our church at the time who were struggling to get their teens to come to church on Sunday mornings. One of the issues of contention was what they wore. The kids rebelled at the idea of having to dress up. It always boggled my mind that anyone would consider one fabric (blue denim) less holy than another and rebel that I am, I felt that if I, sometimes considered a leader in the church, wore jeans, the younger parents might feel more comfortable allowing their kids to do the same.

Who knows? Maybe someday my young Mennonite friends might feel comfortable dressing more casually too. In the meantime, they wear their dresses and I wear my jeans and we have a wonderful time together! After all,

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

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Tomb Sweeping Day

Tomorrow, April 4th, is Qingming Festival in China. Pronounced Chingming and known as Tomb Sweeping Day in English, this is a day to honour dead ancestors by travelling to the family tomb to sweep, clean and place flowers and offerings of food and drink on the grave.

Burning paper that is meant to resemble money in hope that the deceased is not lacking anything, is also a common practice; so common, in fact, that the authorities are urging people to take precautions and not allow fires to get out of control. Apparently, across China, a total of 520 million people visited their ancestors’ tombs during last year’s festival and 200 forest fires were reported during the three day holiday!

This week, we see huge stacks of the gold coloured paper everywhere. Looking something like fancy paper napkins, it’s piled in the marketplace and outside stores waiting for people to purchase it and burn it, sometimes on the graves but not always. Paper burning was also part of the Lantern Festival that took place at the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. That night, as fireworks exploded overhead, bonfires lined the streets outside our building and we already saw a couple of people burning a pile of the paper a couple of evenings ago on the sidewalk directly across the street from where they purchased it.

In addition to remembering dead ancestors, in modern times Qingming has also been seen as a time to pay respects to those who’ve died in incidents considered sensitive in China, incidents such as the Tiananmen Square massacre that took place in Beijing on Tomb Sweeping Day in 1976.

Qingming is celebrated on the 104th day following the Winter Solstice or the 15th day after the Spring Equinox. In addition to being a time of remembrance, it’s also a time to celebrate the coming of spring and in farming communities, it marks the time to begin plowing and seeding. Outdoor pursuits including kite flying are popular Qingming activities. Though spring seems a little late this year, the past couple of days have been the warmest since we arrived in China. The grass is finally starting to turn green and I was delighted to notice tiny buds on one of the trees we passed on our walk this afternoon.

We hope that the beautiful spring weather continues for the next few days as we’re off to Dandong for our three day Tomb Sweeping holiday. Dandong, a 4 hour bus trip north of here, is located just across the Yalu River from North Korea but more about that when we get back!

Dressing like a girl

I’m a blue jeans kind of girl. Perhaps that has something to do with growing up in an era when girls were required to wear skirts to school every day. I took my final year of high school in the Northwest Territories. The only good thing about that was the fact that we were allowed to wear pants to school from the beginning of November to the end of February, a concession to the fact that the school remained open even when the temperature plunged to -50°F (-45°C) or lower! By the time I entered an Alberta classroom as a teacher five years later, dress pants were permitted and during the last few years of my career, Casual Friday had made its way into the schools. Finally I could go to school in blue jeans!

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to spend my retirement working as a seasonal farm labourer but at this time of year, I can be found wearing faded, well worn blue jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt while operating a combine! I often wear dressy jeans to church but at this time of year, after dressing like a farmer all week, I love to dress like a girl on Sunday. That’s when my skirts are most apt to come out of the closet.

I’m especially glad that I chose to dress up for church yesterday. Our local high school has a long standing tradition of holding graduation in mid September. It makes absolutely no sense to me especially considering that this is a farming community where a fall grad invariably falls in the middle of the busy harvest but tradition is tradition and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

The morning after the big celebration, the graduates in our congregation traditionally come to church dressed in their graduation finery and each is presented with a Bible with their name engraved on the cover. They’re sometimes a bit bleary eyed after the festivities of the evening before but it allows all of us an opportunity to share in their special moment.

Yesterday, three young men showed up for church looking much more formal than usual. I was delighted when one of their mothers asked me to pose for a photo with them after the service. It doesn’t seem like very long ago that they were little boys in my Sunday School class & look at them now! Matthew, the one on my right, is studying engineering while Rylun and Jason are apprenticing mechanics.

photo by Michelle Edey

I’m glad I was suitably dressed for the occasion!