If you google “what are quaker values,” a document from Connecticut Friends School we published on Friendsjournal.org in September 2010 will be a top result. In fact, this page, titled “S-P-I-C-E-S: The Quaker Testimonies,” is consistently among the top three most-visited on our site, with an average of 1,200 views every month. It’s not so surprising that the content came from a Friends school. Friends schools have to communicate their core principles in order to attract prospective families. Listing the SPICES is a nice shortcut to getting there, but it’s not the full answer, of course.
Many Quaker groups have long used the shorthand “Quaker values” as part of their brand, which led us to pose this month’s issue topic: “What are Quaker values anyway?” And in an age where thousands of curious eyeballs are landing on your page looking for answers, it’s worth talking about what we mean when we use this term. How do Friends create meaning from the words of our values and testimonies?
Listing peace, community, and equality as part of your founding mission is a feel-good, head-nodding way to attract followers and customers in a competitive environment. Friends school educator Tom Hoopes explores this “mission–market tension” further in his article “Selling Quakerism” and asks “How do we sell the Quaker ‘brand’ without selling out?” He accepts the challenge and suggests some new ways to more consciously use the unique vocabulary of the Quaker faith.
When we’re done talking about words, what does it look like to actually live out these testimonies in the real world? Emily Weyrauch and Asha Sanaker both agree it requires a lot of effort and intentionality, but it helps to practice in a supportive community. Sanaker recently returned to Quakerism after many years of questioning her own clearness around the peace testimony; she’s now grateful to be a part of community of seekers “who take responsibility for continually investigating the Light and how it can best be lived into the world.” While living in community in a Quaker Voluntary Service house, Weyrauch discovered the value of letting go when she decided to leave behind the uglier parts of herself in order to live in the world more fully and with integrity.
For our fifth annual Student Voices Project, we asked students to consider how Quaker testimonies work in our lives. A generation whose voice is getting louder and more powerful responded with inspirational stories. (The deadline to submit for this year’s project was Monday, February 12, two days before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., whose teenage survivors have led a mass movement for gun control laws.) Baltimore young Friend Lukas Austin speaks to this kind of new empowerment in their feature piece on “Powerful Quakers”: “As long as people remain silent about what distresses them, the problem will continue.”
The student voices this year tell tales of “Quaker values” in motion: learning to center, embracing diversity, understanding peace, struggling with simplicity, marching for stewardship, and fully accepting those who are different from ourselves. Looking at the whole picture, “Quaker values” is simply an entry point. For the people who are searching, I see it as an invitation. And it’s up to Friends to put in the effort and intention to provide a more meaningful answer.