A few months ago, I participated in an exploratory gathering with the theme of Quaker outreach at Nashville Friends Meeting. Prior to the event, another Friend and I volunteered to be the local presenters working with the Friends General Conference traveling educators who facilitated the event. We were told we would each be giving two five minute talks about one of the Quaker Testimonies; the first talk would be about how I came to that Testimony and the second was to be how my life reflects that testimony now. "No problem", thought I. I'm used to speaking before Friends and leading things and exploring and sharing about my spiritual process. That was, however, moments before my confidence crashed to the ground when the Testimony of Simplicity was announced.
Simplicity sounds simple. My life used to be simple, back when my kids were young and we had so little that things were very uncomplicated. Currently, I'm not even sure what Simplicity means.
To me, the Testimony of Integrity undergirds and informs all the other Testimonies. For you non or new-to Quakers, the Testimonies are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality or SPICE. Integrity, in this Quaker spiritual context, is a substitute for Truth (a word which apparently causes more confusion and conflict than clarity). To me, as I wrote in yesterday's blog, Integrity is about all the parts being in harmony to make the whole. So Integrity is the foundation of each of the other Testimonies.
Ah, but Simplicity. What about that? We've had many, many discussions about Simplicity at Nashville Friends Meeting: Simplicity and money, and time, and stuff. Also, Simplicity in work, in relationships with others, in commitments and obligations.
The workshop we did was several months ago so I've had a while to think about this and gather my thoughts and ideas. At the time, I could not find any clearness about this Testimony. None. I couldn't write about it, I couldn't articulate anything that in any way reflected Simplicity. I was stuck. So that's what I talked about.
My first talk about how I came to Simplicity was about how I had been car-free for a year and a half, how right it felt and how I was forced to explore the privileges we all take for granted about being able to go wherever I want whenever I want and how eye-opening and centering that was for me. How my choice to be car-free forced me to live more simply.
My second talk was about how far I am from living in Simplicity now. I talked about what a confusing, overwhelming Testimony this is for me now and how I am so far from it that my life does not reflect Simplicity in any way. I talked about how Simplicity used to always be easy for me because I've never been an acquisitive person who needs a lot of stuff to feel successful but how I took a full-time job and put my kids in school and Simplicity was tossed out and I don't even know how to begin to go about creating a more Simple, Integrated life. I spoke from my center, my Truth.
I think some people responded positively and some people were overwhelmed. Later in the day, a long-time Quaker said she is afraid that having perspectives like mine shared may put people off of Quakerism because they may think they have to aspire to live without a car in order to be Quaker. I do hope I inspire other folks to think about their choices and maybe ride their bikes or take the bus more often but I certainly don't offer myself up as a model for much of anything. I'm wallowing in confusion and struggling with where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do every day. I don't recommend this to anyone. Or maybe I do when I think that this struggle is really about trying to find the way to align my life with God's intentions for me. Yes, of course, everyone should struggle with that for him or herself.