The Roots of Our Lifestyles


“Live simply so that others may simply live.” Variations on this aphorism appear in multiple articles in this issue on Quaker Lifestyles.  The phrase appears on bumpers throughout meetinghouse parking lots.

Being a curious person, I decided to track down the saying. Google results are rather predictably scattershot. Depending on whom who you believe, it was coined by bell hooks, Mother Teresa, Aristotle, Elizabeth Ann Seton, or Mohandas Gandhi (on the Internet pretty much every pithy quote is eventually attributed to Gandhi).

From the April 15, 1978 issue of Friends Journal.

Fortunately the prolific American etymologist Barry Popik turned his attention to “Live simply so that others may simply live”  and traced it to a Franciscan order that ran a peace center in Milwaukee in 1974. He also followed its outward progression but must not have had access to Friends Journal archives. A short news piece in these pages shows that bumper stickers with the phrase were being sold by Friends at Goose Creek Meeting in Lincoln, Virginia, starting in 1976. Franciscans might have coined the phrase but Friends sent it across the country at 55 miles per hour.

It’s a beautiful sentiment for Friends. What does it mean to live simply? How do we combine conflicting paths of simplicity? How do we make sure our actions don’t just feed our egos but instead really helping others to live?


Here, in this issue, are some remarkable stories of Friends who have taken up the challenge of these queries. They all consciously build on past decades of Quaker experiments to create lives that are consciously simple, inherently just, and filled with community.

But what’s also remarkable is the evolving depth of our experience. There are no “Five steps to live simply” here—no feel-good strategies that don’t particularly help others. These stories are about digging roots.

Sometimes literally digging roots: Craig Jensen’s story starts off the issue. He and his wife felt a call to the land. They now farm the New Hampshire property that housed The Meeting School for over 50 years. They have helped build a community that lives and works together in the gardens and houses on the property.

Marcelle Martin has put down roots across many communities in a search for a lifestyle that combines simple living and community while freeing her for Quaker ministry. From North Philadelphia to Richmond, Indiana, to Chester, Pennsylvania, the peripatetic course of her travels has helped bridge some of these far-flung communities.

Lynn Fitz-Hugh urges Friends to more widely adopt one of the few personal lifestyle options that does actually have an outsized effect on the health of the planet’s climate. She argues the case of vegetarianism with humility, and acknowledges the layers of guilt that can make this a fraught subject. I’m glad she also shares her own shifting adherence, as it shows the human and family dynamics of diet changes.

The big-picture view here comes from Philip Harnden. He punctures some bubbles but for a worthy cause: how can we merge simple living practices with collective work for wider systemic change?

It is in this query, I think, that the spirituality of the personal merges with the activism of the political. One of the hallmarks of our religious community is the balance between individual and group, between spiritual and earthly. What Quaker lifestyles have you been led to adopt?
In Friendship,
Martin Kelley

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