Why do I wear the hat? I am asked this question very often. This article was prompted by response to another “Friend / Quaker”, who also wears his hat daily as a part of their expression of faith. This writing is by no means my complete thought on the subject. But it will give many of you who ask, a clearer idea of why I personally am the man in the hat.
For me, wearing my hat is a very individual purpose. The larger corporate part of all “Friends” wearing a hat seems to have disappeared for the most part, with the passing of time. Many, most Quakers in fact, no longer wear their hat. Still, I wear my hat every day. As a matter of fact, it is my legal identification and I try not to take public pictures without it. Why? Even though, this answer is only for me; maybe my story and experience will perhaps speak to you. Because testifying of the Power that guides me is certainly why I wear it.
I started wearing a hat about 24 years ago, Before I became a convinced “Friend.” I started wearing it in about 1994 but certainly not every day, nor for any resemblance of a faith reason. But I liked it. And it fit my Outdoorsman pursuits, so I wore it a lot. In 1998, when I lost my first wife in a horrific accident; I was bewildered and overwhelmed. As I unexpectedly struggled to finish raising children by myself, There was very little joy in my life anywhere.
But as an active outdoorsman with my own company manufacturing and marketing to outdoor people. I often wore my hat still, to trade-shows. My (now deceased) sister saw me at one of these events, wearing a giant smile ….. and my hat and took a photo of me. She circled the picture and mailed it to me, with the words. “I want to see more of you like this.” Of course My sister Detra meant my big smile, which was rare in those days. But the concept of the hat representing new hope and faith in my life was then born in me.
I began to wear it more and more, with the idea of new meaning, hope and faith to me personally. Having lost everything, I decided there was nothing to keep me from a lifelong interest, in being a minister. So, In 2000, I took off from Florida, with my two children to Pastor a Quaker Church in Tennessee. When I showed up in the hat; They thought, that I thought, that I had to wear the hat, to be a Quaker Minister. It was a humorous happenstance and not by design. Nonetheless, it was funny to them and also to me. But they liked it, I liked it and and everyone in that little town, came to know me by that hat; as the Quaker Preacher.
And what I did in the hat was the very best stuff in life. I dedicated babies in it. I took seniors milk and groceries, when they were shut in. I took them Bread when it was snowing. And visited all over the community year-round, to reheat sermon messages to people who could not get to the meeting, in the hat. If your garden needed digging, I dug it. If your yard needed mowing, I mowed it. Yep, you guessed it; in my hat. Rain or Shine, I wore the hat as I loved God and loved on the local people, as their “Friend.”
As I worked through the rigorous process with the Wilmington Yearly Meeting of becoming a Recorded Friends Minister, I did everything in that hat. It became a symbol of every good thing in my life. I visited folks in the hospital in it. And Buried many wonderful Godly “Friends” wearing it. It became a mark of the Light that guided me. A Friend’s minister really meant to me, being a free and willing servant to God and my fellow-man; as I think we are all called to be.
So for those three years, that is the life I lived. My duty was clear; I was to teach people how to be a Friend to God and to each other. Pretty simple and clearly a good, true “Friends” mission. And yes, the hat came to mean that to me.
But my life changed drastically when, I left the ministry at the end of 2003. With the promise of big money & prestige, I charged like a rhinoceros back into the business world. Suddenly, I was a big muckety, muck Executive, as a National Sales Manager. I told myself I liked this, but didn’t feel it inside. Privately, I ached and longed to do something truer to my call, telling myself I was doing this business stint, to financially be able to better finish raising my children.
At the same time, I tried to resolve the unhealed hurt from losing my wife, but without the comfort of being a full-time Christian servant. So I did this, by burying myself in a liquor bottle. The Business Leadership position proved to be short lived but the foolish pursuit of alcohol abuse was not. This time was a terrible time of personal failure and heartache. And yes, You guessed it. I took the hat off.
After a resulting pit of despondency, which I deeply regret now; I sought help for my alcoholic abuse in 2010 & 2011. As I recovered, you guessed it. I put the hat back on, remembering that it had once meant new hope, new life and all the good things that God could do in my life. And what I could positively do in my life, with His help.
The hat became a firm, renewed part of a stronger, daily personal commitment to live the right way and do the right things. I have worn it every day ever since, for the last 7 years. I never go in public without it.
Getting my driver’s license with it was a challenge at first. If you are not sincerely wearing your hat daily, as a part of your faith; you must take it off for your legal identification. As I explained, it was faith based and could not take it off for a public picture; A wonderful black gentleman asked if he could take over. And helped me fill out the necessary governmental paperwork. As a tear brimmed his eye, I asked if I had offended him. He meaningfully explained that I had not offended him and he wanted to help me. He went on to explain, He wanted to because his relatives had been rescued by Quakers through the underground railroad. What a wonderful experience this was.
That has been 7 years ago and I don’t talk about it the hat, unless sincerely asked. But when people do, I am glad to tell them that “the hat represents the light that guides me” and that this Benevolent Light can also guide them. Many wonderful sharing experiences have resulted, in similar fashion to the above story. It often provides opportunity moments for me to connect with people, about matters of the heart. And these are moments of sharing and caring that would not otherwise have happened.
Simple, clear and plainspoken, I am often able to share faith, because of my hat. (Funny thing, a friend that I had never explained the hat practice to, volunteered in conversation that he could see I wore it; because of “the Light that guides me.” From his meaningful observation, I coined this expression and use it now ).
Publicly, I always wear my hat. If it is a real conviction, (and it is); then it must be regular practice. As such, It is my legal identity. It has become who I am. I choose to live in it. And I will be buried with it. My wife hates it. But she loves me and understands why I wear it, [I think :)].
Do I take it off? Yes. For my wife at the dinner table & whenever I speak publicly (as this represents a moment to me, when I am asking for Divine guidance). And of course, I take it off to teach martial arts; which is another personal passion. (The story of how being a karate teacher ties into my Quaker Peace Testimony is another story, for another time.)
There are other times I take the hat off. But like with every part of my life anymore, I ask for guidance when I do. In worship services, I wear my hat in the building and generally take it off when seated. I only do this, because it is often misunderstood and I do not want attention, to detract from people’s worship focus. As mentioned, I always take it off to stand and speak publicly in meeting or elsewhere.
In the beginning, Quakers wore their hat to indicate that they had a direct line of guidance. Another reason they wore it stemmed from the belief that no man or woman is above nor beneath, another: That all men have equal access to God’s truth. And no church official or pontificated, public leader deserves any more respect, than any other man or woman. Quakers were hung for not taking their hats off in deference to dignitaries and officials.
We are neither above nor beneath other human beings. We are all valuable and worthwhile. None is any more worthwhile. None less worthwhile. I believe in equal value and access to God. And equal treatment for and from all others as a guiding principle. That was certainly, a bedrock belief of Quakerism.
Each one of us can be clear individually about God. And we can, under His guidance and direction, be clear and peaceful with each other. The hat still means this to me, today.
I agree with another Friend’s clear synopsis. “So in short its just a reminder that God is with me always.” I agree.
In conclusion, Why do I wear the hat? In some ways the observance is very public. And some ways, it is very private. But it is always reflective of a personal deep, heartfelt conviction. The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer said, “We worship a God who is there and who does care.” In simple words, the hat is my way of saying and living in this light. If He is present, then all can know Him, and all who know Him can and should show Him. The Hat is my plain-spoken way of showing this belief daily, everywhere I go.