Friday, February 02, 2007


I've been wondering lately why "Love" isn't a testimony. I mean, not exactly, for the past year I've found myself in various situations assuming that it is, and then realizing that I'm wrong.

So, what's with that?

Is it too emotional and passionate, maybe too earthy, for our culturally pretty reserved religion?

Is it an emotion? and therefore off limits?

Are we not called to love each other? but only to act from integrity/peace/equality - which aren't exactly the same thing, but I think why I get confused.

Any thoughts? Am I just missing something?

I think it is a testimony for me. Is that rampant individualism? Doesn't feel (exactly) like it.

Again, not feeling articulate, but have something to say anyways. (dang!)

peace (and love)!


Liz Opp said...


I think this is brilliant! You articulate something that I have been slowly turning to in the past year: that regardless of how any of us engage in our Quakerism, it is all for naught if we have not Love.

In fact, I'd say that over the past month, a directly related Bible passage has been flooding my mind and heart--and this from someone still new to Scriptures!

I don't think you are experiencing or advocating "rampant individualism" in this, Pam. I think you are pointing out that Love has gotten lost in the mix.

Still, a personal testimony becomes a corporate testimony over time, as others are inwardly transformed by the work of the Spirit, and as the wider Quaker community comes under the weight of the (individual's) concern.

Well, those are my preliminary thoughts, anyway.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

James Riemermann said...

I think love is way too important to tuck in with the testimonies. If we listen to the best and deepest promptings of our hearts--and those promptings are what I mean by love--of course we will see that we are all equally sacred beings, that violence is an offense to love, that we are meant to live together in loving community, that lying breaks down the bonds of that community, that a life filled with too much stuff and activity distracts us from the primacy of love, and on, and on, and on.

The testimonies are handy guidelines to keep us from getting too far off track while, being human, we stumble in our efforts to follow love. They're a pretty good list to keep in pocket, but they're just a list. We thought them up and wrote them down.

I'd also like to make a pitch here for reason, which has sadly become something of a dirty word in religious circles. Love and reason are full partners in the project of learning how we should act in the world. Love tells us what is good, and what is not good. Reason tells us how the world works, and how to achieve what love tells us is best.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Good post, Pam.

The idea of "testimony" has had a complicated history among Friends. Two hundred years ago, Friends recognized only one testimony, and that testimony contained everything by which our lives and words and actions testified to the way our intercourse with the divine had changed us. Quaker writers in that era spoke of the specific, concrete practices that Friends found themselves led to -- things like not-fighting and not-taking-oaths -- as "the several branches of our Christian testimony".

All through the eighteenth century, these specifics had been recorded in the minutes of various Friends meetings as they were discerned. But around 1800 the idea of a "book of discipline" containing all these specifics came into vogue. Nineteenth century books of discipline, or books of faith and practice, listed dozens of such specifics: not drinking to excess, not going into excess debt, etc. These specifics came to be referred to as testimonies, plural.

Then around 1900 a wave of reformers in our Society started boiling the long list of specifics down to a much smaller number of abstract principles -- peace, simplicity, etc. -- and calling this smaller number of principles, our testimonies. By 1970 the old long lists of specifics were mostly forgotten.

There has never been total agreement on what should be included in the new short list of abstract principles. For example, the SPICE acronym includes Community, but Howard Brinton's formulation substitutes Harmony, and many Friends omit both Community and Harmony from their lists. There are other omissions that would certainly puzzle people from other religious traditions -- why, for example, does the list contain Simplicity, but not Temperance; Peace, but not Detachment? Why does it not include Piety or Devotion?

And then there are those, like myself, who are skittish about the whole idea of such a list, seeing it as a departure from simple reliance on the Spirit.

Your own question -- why not Love? -- seems to me to go straight to the heart of the issue.

Woolman wrote that "love was the first motion," and I guess I'm inclined to agree.

Thank you for this posting!

James Riemermann said...

Marshall, It's a rare pleasure to find myself in complete agreement with you.

Tania said...

You speak my mind, Friend. I was thinking about love myself during this morning's Meeting for Worship and you really expressed what my thoughts were leading me towards.

Chris M. said...

Thanks, Pam, for asking this important question.

I've used the SPICES acronym -- adding Stewardship as a second S that is a growing leading for many Friends -- in leading workshops on Quaker values and testimonies at our local Friends school. I agree with James that this is "just a list."

Marshall brings up Howard Brinton, who in my opinion is most responsible for the categorization of historic Quaker testimonies into four general "buckets," namely Community, Harmony, Equality, and Simplicity. However, CHES doesn't have the same mnemonic power as SPICE. I don't know who coined the latter acronym, but it's a helpful tool. And only a tool.

One of the lessons we try to provide in our workshops is the fact that all of these values overlap, and that they arise from a common experience of being in a worshipful community together. The roots, of which the testimonies are the fruits.

Finally, Eric Moon and Stephen Matchett are leading a workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in California next month on Quaker Testimonies: Beyond SPICES.

-- Chris M.

BrianH said...

Good post Pam. Succinct and thought-provoking. It seems to me love underlies everything else we believe and of God and our neighbor is our holdfast.

Love, Brian

James Riemermann said...

Hey, Pam, I like your new template. Very easy on the eyes.

Sorry to say, I thought the old one was a little cotton-candyish for my tastes. Though I guess that's OK if you like cotton candy.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

I like pink, but then I'm way girlier than you (which is probably okay, all things considered!)

Glad you like it, it was a bit of an accident, actually, but I like it too.

earthfreak (Pam) said...


I love that bible passage, but I didn't realize that all four verses were all part of one passage (I know them all seperately)

I think the first part - basically about how it's all empty if it's not from love, is mostly what I'm trying to say almost every time I say anything. Why does it seem we often have so much trouble "getting" that?

Mark Wutka said...

Thank you for this wonderful post.

The word-nerd in me wants to suggest we add Kindness as well, so with the additional L and K, SPICE can become PICKLES.

To be a little more serious, long before SPICE came about, Paul wrote about the "fruit of the Spirit" which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (from Galatians 5:22-23). In the way that James says that love is too important to tuck in with the other testimonies, I think these others are as well. Marshall speaks of simple reliance on the Spirit, and I think the fruit Paul speaks of, as well as the SPICE list, come from that simple reliance. Both lists say "these are the things that God has led us to do."

With love,

James Riemermann said...

Oh, yeah, that's right. Pink is a girl color. I forgot.


Eileen Flanagan said...

My first thought as I read your post was the love was the base in which all the other "spices" stew. Simmering any spice in a little oil brings out its flavor. It's also what brings spices together in a stew. For me, love is the base of all of them.

Liz Opp said...

During my travels among Quakers last year, I heard a few Friends--some Liberal; some Conservative or Conservative-leaning--asking what, if anything, do all the branches of Friends have in common. One Friend in particular suggested that LOVE is the answer.

That response has grown in me since I heard it, I have found Truth in it, and I have been changed as a result. Friends in the monthly meeting say they notice I seem "softer" and seem pleasantly perplexed by the difference in me.

I myself feel as though the inward change has brought me greater patience, and an improved discipline of waiting without judging. But I'm not fooled: I know I have a long way to go in terms of exhibiting unconditional love and getting myself out of God's way.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Plain Foolish said...

This speaks to my condition.

But there's more: what does it mean to love our neighbor? What should that mean? And how should that change us and the situation?

And perhaps of the situation: how can I act in a loving way to bring about real improvement? How can we act together in love to make a difference? How do we open ourselves and reach out in love to others?

Edward Pearce said...

A good question, Pam, and a number of good comments on it.
I think the reason love is not generally considered a testimony is that it is something that requires outward action to demostrate its presence. I can say I have love, but how do you know that it is real unless I treat you as an equal, am truthful with you and act peacefully toward you? Love is the root; the testimonies are the part of the plant that appear above ground.

Rich in Brooklyn said...

Hi Pam (Remember me from our old on-line discussions on theism / Christianity / universalism / etc?)

I guess I'm coming late to this discussion on love as a "testimony", but I do want to weigh in. I agree with you that if we have to make a list of things we stand for and call them testimonies, then love is among the most important things we could put on the list and maybe the most important. (Jesus did mention love in both of his "top two" list of greatest commandments)

But I have become very tired of the whole business of listing testimonies. I understand, as Chris M said, that it's "just a tool", but it has been so emphasized in Quakerism 101 classes and Quaker outreach literature that lots people are forgetting that. Too often Friends speak as if Quakerism is about its "testimonies" and that these testimonies are an invention of George Fox or some other early Quaker. Like Marshall, I am "skittish" about such an approach. To me, Quakerism is not about testimonies. All of our actions testify (whether we're Quaker or not), and what they testify about is whatever it is at the deepest part of us that shapes our lives. I suspect that we would sometimes be surprised if we knew what our real "testimonies" are in that sense.

Peace and friendship,
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

BTW, Lorcan and I met Paul L from your Meeting (and from the blog Showers of Blessings) recently when he visited New York. He spoke highly of you and other blogging Friends in Minnesota. It was good to see in-the-flesh someone who I had only known on-line.

Allison said...

This post speaks to my condition as well. As a seeker, I am posing the same question. What have you since thought about adding Love as a testimony?