Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Love is at the root

Ok, so I felt somewhat foolish after reading even the first few comments on my last post, because it's so OBVIOUS that love isn't a testimony, it's like the earth that the testimonies grow in.

But then I'm left with an even bigger question, why do we talk about the testimonies so much and love so little?

It's like the testimonies are rules that you can follow - because you want to be a "good quaker" - or a 'good person" or whatever.

And I used to get a bit squeamish when folks would say it's not all about the testimonies because I thought they were saying:

a) it's all about God (and therefore, as a nontheist, it has nothing to do with you)


b) even worse, God might change "his" mind - if he's the God of the Bible he might (in my opinion) change it to something sort of icky - he might chuck equality out the window and tell us to slaughter all our enemies, except keep the little girls for sex slaves (reference, anyone? I'm so bad at Biblical references) or to kill our first born child or something.

me and God still have some talking to do....

But back to the "love" thing - while I'm not about calling it God, I think there is something, and love is a decent word for it, that grounds the testimonies, and nourishes them. It might even seem to undermine them (in moments where it says - yes, lie to that slavecatcher about whether there is a runaway in your basement - sad that I can't think of a more current example) but it can't be truly undermined, though it can be ignored.

We don't use "SPICE" much in my first day school class. I think it's kinda corny anyways... but I think every now and then we manage to touch on the rest of it, even glancingly...


Liz Opp said...

Good for you for raising the question, "why do we talk about the testimonies so much and love so little?"

The longer I am a Friend, the more I see that what binds is us a desire to love one another, to grow into Love, and to cultivate Love.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Liz Opp said...

Oops-- I wanted to make sure you saw this post by a young Friend that talks about Love as a binding force that calls us together.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Micah Bales said...

Liz: Thank you for passing along the link to my latest posting.

Love is definitely at the root of it all, and it was our experience this weekend, at the Young Adult Friends Gathering, in Burlington, New Jersey, that Love was acting in amazing ways to affirm us as a community and to show us why we are indeed called together as a community.


Micah Bales

QuakerK said...


I was recently re-reading a passage by Isaac Penington which was related to this point. The overall piece in general was, I think, about why Quakers refused to follow certain rules, but the specific passage was about the idea that all the commandments are "fulfilled in love." He says that there are two ways to understand that. First, there is the idea that we continue to try to follow the rules, but we do so "in love," in a loving spirit, and not with gritted teeth. That, Penington says, is the old way. The newer, better way--the Christian way, as far as he is concerned--involved relying on God to send us love, and then living and acting in and out of that Love. Rather than simply "following the rules" we lead truly Spirit-led lives. Penington says he himself doesn't have anything against people who follow the old way, but for himself, he'll follow the new way.

And the relationship to your post? I think "testimony" was originally understood as Penington meant it, and in the sharpest and most interesting of Quaker thinkers still is meant that way--the testimonies are literally that, not rules to follow but actions that testify to the Spirit of God acting in our lives (since you are non-theistic, I'll add that the idea could also be translated into non-theistic terms). But that's real hard, because it requires both a disciplined spiritual life to hear those leadings, and a great deal of humility and death to self to actually do, all the time, what God wants of us. And so the easier thing to do is take the Spirit-led actions of others and turn them into rules. The result is that testimonies becomes rules to follow--if possible, in love. But love is no longer the basis for the testimonies, as it was for Penington, it becomes the way in which we carry them out. So perhaps that's why we talk about love and not the testimonies.

It's also possible, of course, that we avoid talking about love and testimony in the Penington sense because it would disturb our lives. To really act at all times on leadings, to live (as someone once said of Dorothy Day) as if the Truth were true, would be powerful, but would also throw comfortable lives out the window.

It so happened that I was writing about this in my journal last night, and I was relating the Penington passage to a piece on Islamism in the Middle East which I had read that morning. The article noted (and I've read it elsewhere) that Islamist groups are popular in part because they do good works for people. They provide free medical care, they hand out books, paper, and pencils to poor students, they provide job training, and so on. Quakers could do that--my meeting, for example, is located in a relatively poor urban area--but while we do some good work, I can't say we do as much as we might. Imagine, for example, if all Quakers tithed. Think how much money could be raised and the good that could be done. Or if you prefer not to think in terms of money, think about the time that could be volunteered. Jesus said be a light unto the world, and probably, if we really listened and acted in love, we would do that, but it's threatening, so instead we domesticate the testimonies, and treat them as rules we can follow and be done with, rather than expressions of a Spirit that must animate our entire lives.

Sorry this response is so long! As you can probably tell, related issues have been on my mind.



Lorcan said...

I have said at times, in answer to the old observation that a God that can be imagined is not a God worth worshiping, that a God who may be quoted, is not a God worth worshiping, the God who changes "His" mind is that God which we create to justify our bad actions, often against that quiet loving voice within, which makes us know that our actions were wrong.
As to lies told to slave catchers, one need not tell them there is an escapee in the root cellar, but, to lie, not to speak lovingly to that slave catcher, is to turn away, not from them, but from that God within them, who we must encourage to emerge and take charge of that man - or in the rare historical reality woman, in the case of one particularly cruel slave catcher, whose name escapes me for now.

Thine, dear fFriend, in the light, in frith and Friendship