The older I get, the more I look forward to summer, and this summer especially. It’s been several years since I’ve been to the state fair, and there’s something I’ve always wanted to do there, but never have, which is to visit the Pentecostal tent just inside the front gate. Slowing down as I approach, studying their posters, looking confused, then saying, “Just who is this Jesus you speak of?” I feel so sorry for those people. No one talks with them. They step out, brochure in hand, smiling, and people scowl and hurry by. No one who spends their vacation trying to save the rest of us from hell should be dismissed with such contempt. I believe they’re wrong about hell, but I know they believe it and admire their desire to help those they believe to be fallen. We should all care so much for people we don’t know. Plus, I’d much rather have them at the state fair than in Congress.

I was fascinated with Pentecostals as a child, and could spot them a mile away, the men in polyester black pants and white shirts, the women with their hair piled high. It was a sort of a religious uniform, which I didn’t find unusual since I had grown up around priests in robes and nuns in habits and had seen Native American medicine men in TV Westerns, bedecked in feathers and paint. And once my father took me to Shapiro’s Delicatessen and I saw Jewish men with their yarmulkes, so I knew religious people sometimes dressed differently.

This was confirmed when I became a Quaker and learned early Friends wore distinctive garb–dull-colored, spare, and featureless clothing. We were called “a peculiar people,” because of our appearance, which after awhile we took pride in, and what had been a freely chosen expression of simplicity became a required standard by which we which we were judged and consequently judged others.

We Friends, when considering our spiritual ancestors, have much to be grateful for, but there are also moments that give us pause, that cause us to wonder what in the world early Friends were thinking, so today I want to talk about the Quaker dress code, and the inherent risk of judging the quality of one’s spirituality by their attire. Just this week I saw a video clip of a conservative pastor in North Carolina who was railing against the God Bless the USA Bible, which made me think well of him, but then he launched into an attack on casual clothing, condemning those in his congregation who didn’t wear suits and dresses to church, which made me think he was a little crazy, or as my cousin used to say, “that the cheese had slid off his cracker.” I don’t think the Great NuFlexne Spirit of the Infinite, Impenetrable Cosmos spends much time thinking about fashion. But it’s clear we humans do, given our tendency to equate faithfulness with attire, a still common practice in many religions. Hijabs and burqas for Muslim women; dresses and head-coverings for Amish women; cassocks and robes for Christian clergy, turbans for Sikhs.

I once spoke at an Episcopalian Church and was asked to wear a robe but told them it was against my religion. Sometimes our religion isn’t so much about what we wear, but what we decline to wear.

An Episcopalian women said to me afterwards, “You looked naked up there to me.”

I said, “I hope that was a pleasant experience for you.”

It’s ironic that early Friends placed such an emphasis on outward appearance, since in every other way, we prized the inward and spiritual aspects of life, as opposed to the outward and physical. We taught, and still do, that true baptism is an inward purification, accomplished by the embrace of Spirit, not an outward cleansing, accomplished by water. We taught, and still do, that holy communion wasn’t the ritual consumption of bread and wine, but rather the inward communion with God in sacred silence. But then, when it came to clothing, we did an about face and said, “Nevertheless, we think it best to have a uniform. Women, no ruffles on your dresses, no bright color in your clothing, no make-up or jewelry. Men, no lapels on your jackets. And purchase a black, broad rimmed hat. Buttons should be plain. Shoes simple, preferably Birkenstocks. All clothing dark and plain.”

For the best part of two centuries we punished or excluded Friends who failed to meet our exacting standards. Once we start despising, once we start snubbing, those who are just a little different, there’ll be no end to it.

There’ll always be one too many buttons, one too many fresh opinions, one too many original thoughts. First, we are told what to wear, then we are told what to think. Have you noticed the plethora of red hats lately?

In the past month, I’ve had the occasion to hook up with two people I grew up with but hadn’t seen in decades. One of them, a man, was very popular when we were kids. Accomplished athlete. Grew up to own his own business and make a lot of money. Still has a full head of hair and is fit and well-dressed. Looks like a million dollars. He sent me an invitation to be his Facebook friend, so I accepted it, clicked on his page, and came face to face with a litany of racist ugly posts about immigrants and college protestors and trans people. It was nasty, nauseating stuff. I don’t know how people can carry that kind of poison around inside them.

The other person I connected with was a woman I also knew growing up but hadn’t seen since graduation. She was back in town cleaning out her parent’s house after their passing. When we were young, this woman was homely, so no one ever paid her a bit of attention, which I remember and felt bad about, so when I bumped into her I made it a point to learn all I could about her, about what she’d been doing in the past 45 years, and I was so deeply moved by her kindness and intelligence and the life she’d put together for herself and her family. I sat there listening to her, thinking to myself, “How could I have not seen how lovely she truly was?”

Look deeply, Friends. Look deeply and look beyond. It isn’t the clothing that reveals the person. It isn’t the uniform. I have learned, as I know you have too, that more often than not, saints are found in rags, not robes.