Returning to testimonies eight years later
In July we shared a number of articles from past years’ issues of Friends Journal on our email and social media. We had a fresh round of lively conversation around Eric Moon’s “Categorically Not the Testimonies” from the June 2013 issue and are sharing some of these new responses. We invite you all to visit our website at Friendsjournal.og and leave comments as so led. We are all enriched by the robust discussions on Quaker thought and life that appear there.
I first encountered the SPICE acronym relatively recently, as the Liberal Quaker tradition I was born into only got as far as naming a few testimonies as significant. This article was helpful for directing my attention back to the loose practices I grew up with. I do think the SPICE category has some value as a means of simply explaining choices I am called to make to non-Quaker friends whose curiosity doesn’t extend to a long sermon about inner callings, egalitarian ramifications, and the natural outcome of following Quakerly thought patterns to their practical conclusions. I mostly interact with non-Quakers in daily life, and find the simplified testimonies useful in this context. Among other Quakers, I would expect a deeper, more wordy explanation of motivating testimonies!
Las Vegas, Nev.
I am new to the Quakers and what drew me in was my experience of their unconditional inclusion of the human condition: the Light resides in all of us no matter what our condition or circumstance.
I don’t have a problem with categories; I just don’t want to be limited by them. Categories can be slippery. I am totally dependent on the age pension and as a result my life is rather simple. I’m grateful that our collective taxes contribute to my care in old age. This is great when all is going well but when I am unable to pay a medical fee, simplicity rapidly slips into poverty, justice into injustice, and dignity into indignity.
In the midst of this experience I accept that I am unconditionally loved. I am more than my current circumstance and united with a suffering humanity striving to be one.
This article arrives by a different route at a conclusion I’ve made myself. The analogy with the large organisms we do not recognize as such reminds me of an analogy I’ve been holding in mind for some time: the relationship of the vine to the fruit. Too often we see fruit as a product in a display, not as the product of the tree or vine that produced them. Many religious traditions (including, frankly, many early Friends) have gotten very hung up in theology about that vine. As a nontheist, I emphasize the question: “Does this fruit come from something, or does it just exist on its own?”
The virtues embodied in Howard Brinton’s formulation are not specific to Quakers anymore; they permeate liberal thought today. What we Friends have to offer is a history of connecting those virtues to a specific sense of the Divine and how it works through people.
As a child, my grandfather was the first to expose me to the Quaker belief. I was around 10 years old and, as I sat on the hard, wooden benches in the Horsham (Pa.) Meetinghouse outside of Philadelphia, squirming through the silence, I was quite bored. My grandfather had been a career naval officer and his final assignment was to command the Willow Grove Naval Air Base, one of the largest inland navy bases in the world. But, when World War II started, he resigned in protest of the war. The idea that my grandfather had the strength of belief to give up his lifelong vocation for something he believed was morally wrong stayed with me. I have returned to that path and now call myself a Quaker.
What I think Eric Moon fails to understand is that we are all on a path. And all journeys on paths start with a first step. And even the consideration of taking that first step starts with a spark of inspiration.
As I occasionally discuss with my friends who are not Quaker, I usually start with, as Eric called it, the bumper sticker. For him to insinuate that that is where many are stuck to me is a little insulting. Even if it was where we are stuck, is that not better than having no simple moral guideline at all?
Finally, I truly hope that someone seeing this website for the first time and reading that does not get the wrong impression of what Quakerism is about.
Donna Harper Keyes
Silver City, N.M.
I believe early Quakers only embraced theology as a means to soften the blow about the hypocrisy of Christianity. How else do you get arrested for blasphemy if not for the fact that you are accused of being a nonbeliever. As a Quaker it is more important to live the testimonies than to define them. If you continue to participate in the system that disenfranchises nature and peoples of all ethnicities then you are probably not living the testimonies. How much of an obstructionist are you willing to be? Is the risk to your level of comfort too high? So be it.
There is much more to Quakerism than the watered down simplification of “SPICE.” I think if “SPICE” is to be used, it should always be in quotation marks, because it is a newfangled thing certainly not found in the Quakerism of my upbringing and was certainly unknown to my many Quaker forebears, yet is being promulgated as our creed. In my experience, a creed is anathema to our tradition. Let’s dig deeper folks, and broaden our spiritual experiences, not limit them.
Lydia Valentine Wexler
This is not how I look at Quaker testimonies. I don’t see them as historic artifacts. I don’t see them as boxes. I see them as overall guidelines for how to live life today.
They have an enormous amount of overlap with each other. Simplicity, equality, community, and stewardship are all intertwined. If we all lived that way, it would certainly promote peace.