Sunday, June 20, 2010

Simplicity

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.

13 comments:

Robin M. said...

I think that not telling how we are wrestling with our testimonies puts people off Quakerism because it sounds like our lives are so easy. I personally appreciate knowing how other people are figuring these things out in their own lives, even if I'm making different choices about some of it.

Friendly Mama said...

Robin,
Nice to hear from you!
Yes. I feel the same way (obviously). My life and my journey are an almost open book via my blog and my relationship with my meeting. We can't know one another intimately unless we share our struggles as well as our successes. This is life in all it's beat-up and beautiful perfection. I'm just trying to remember how to listen to God's call to me every single day and I am aided tremendously by talking with/reading about other people's ways of trying to hear and heed God's call for them.
Mary Linda

Leslie said...

I'm thinking if a person can't handle a little of another persons real life they're not ready for Quakerism. Maybe they're not ready for life on this planet.

I used to have a simple life, also car-free. Loved it. Then moved to the country with my man, to home he had built and raised his kids in. Now every activity must be measured in my mind based on whether it is worth the trip to town, the time, the gas, etc.
to anyone reading this in the city and wishing for a country life: country life is splendid in many ways but There Is Nothing Simple About It.
(Moving to the country will simplify your life about as much as moving to Hollywood will make you a movie star.)
I have come to realize that my city life was simple mostly because of all the people there who did things for me, like ship my food to me, drive the bus for me,clear snow off the streets for me....all do it yourself projects here.
Maybe there's a way to make life simple in our heads even when it's unlikely to make our circumstances very simple?

Friendly Mama said...

Leslie,
When I talk with folks about creating intentional community, most say they want to move to the country to simplify. Everybody I know that lives in the country have to do exactly what you do and so spend their time driving to town for their social, health, sometimes even daily work needs. That's not simple! I think if you live so remotely that you couldn't get to town except once a month or something and were forced by geography to be self-sufficient, maybe you'd live very simply. Thats not the reality for most country dwellers.

I think if you can live near a farmer's market and can avail yourself of locally grown produce and ride bikes/buses you have a much lower carbon footprint. Personally, I know I don't have the stamina to be a farmer and be self-sufficient in that way. I'm very happy aspiring to the simplicity of high density living!

But you get to see the stars clearly and hear the crickets, which I envy.

The grass is always greener (and needs mowing)...
Mary Linda

Hystery said...

As others have said, I find great value in your struggle with how to define this testimony and your relationship to it. It is meaningful and helpful to me to read your words.

I also agree that those who would be put off by a Friend's honesty about her life are not ready. Of course, it is important that others not mistake the experience of one Friend as a universal experience, and I would like people to know that all are welcome, but I would not want folks to think that the RSoF is an easy thing that does not require one to enter into a life-time of spiritual work and challenge. "Simplicity" and "Easy" are not identical terms.

Isabel Penraeth said...

"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. "

In this, I hear love, compassion and concern for those who are seeking to learn more about Quakers who might come away with the wrong impression that someone must "aspire to live without a car in order to be a Quaker." Which would not be true, if that was the impression one got. This "long-time" Friend is being quite specific, and I would argue that her perspective on the presentation deserves some respect. I am sorry to read this piling on of negative statements against this mythical unworthy seeker, which ends up being a dismissal of the love and compassion this Friend felt for this mythical unworthy seeker's condition.

Friendly Mama said...

Isabel,
You are correct, I think, in your perspective about the Friend that spoke out. I didn't represent her perspective thoroughly: I think she was mainly concerned that we have a variety of voices speaking about Simplicity because if newcomers only hear someone like me, they could easily be put off of Quakers as being too radical or what-have-you. I'm in accord with that concern.
Mary Linda

Friendly Mama said...

Hystery,
The most un-easy aspect of being Quaker, for me, is the lack of external direction and guidance we get. I think when we share our personal spiritual struggles with one another, we can learn from and with one another.

I do think a lot of people come to Friends because it seems easy--as in comfortable--to them, and then I think many people leave for that same reason. If we can more openly share how NOT comfortable and how challenging it can be to try to live as we are called by Spirit to live, I think we would represent Friends more authentically. Unfortunately, except in venues like this and sometimes in support committees and such, our challenges and struggles tend to be quietly personal and unspoken save the occassional "Please hold me in the Light as I...".
Mary Linda

Paula Roberts said...

It's funny because the thing that drew me to Quakerism was that it was NOT easy, that it was a daily struggle, a constant chafing to achieve that...something. I struggle with simplicity as well, especially since I've proved to myself how easily I can get caught up in material struggle and all the resultant anxieties of ego and such. I find that simplicity meshes very well with integrity in that simplicity forces me to be more truthful in those difficult ways. What do I mean? It is easy to speak the truth, but it is more difficult to speak the truth of your own vulnerabilities. It is more difficult to say that you are worried about money sometimes and that it distracts you from your leadings with regards to simplicity. It is hard to not be polite but to instead tell the truth of what you are feeling. It is hard to say, "no, I don't want to", especially to people whom you hold in high regard.

So in conclusion I say that it is important to seekers to see Friends struggle with the testimonies. It is also important for seekers to understand that Friends' struggles are not uniform, that one person might be lead (for example) to shun a car, but another might be lead to do some other thing.

Friendly Mama said...

Paula,
"...it is more difficult to speak the truth of your own vulnerabilities." Yes, this is very true and one thing that keeps us apart from one another. It was hard for me to trust my meeting, myself and, I guess God's guidance enough to begin to do this but I did (after attending for quite a while) and I do. I like the way you expressed that idea so clearly.

I agree that seekers DO need and want to see the struggle. I don't think seekers show up looking for what's easy but I think that's what they do find, sometimes--especially those who only come for the one hour a week meetings for worship and don't really get to know the meeting on a deeper level. Meeting for Worship can feel very "safe" and unchallenging--to me at least. Not very often do I feel pushed or challenged or grown by it. That fault very well may be with me, though, because I still, after all these years, don't center well.
Mary Linda

Harvest Home said...

Found your blog on Quaker Quaker..

I also live in Nashville!

I'm looking for more info the Quaker House..
I am seeker.. and have stumbled upon Quakerism..

I emailed the QuakerHouse here in Nashville but have not heard anything back from them ..

I have a 1000 question! And would like to attend a Meeting ..

Any help or advice would be welcomed.

Thank you
Denise Tordoff

Friendly Mama said...

Denise,
Cool! I don't know if I have 1000 answers but I'll do what I can!
Call me: 337-6656. Or email me: friendlymama@aol.com
Mary Linda

Anonymous said...

A million thanks!
will contact you asap!

Denise Tordoff