Simplicity. Peace. Integrity. Community. Equality. Stewardship. Friends talk about these “Quaker values” often, but what do they really mean?
In this week’s video, several Friends help us examine each of the “SPICES testimonies” in detail—and discuss whether it’s appropriate to reduce the lived experience of early Quakers to a set of abstract values.
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Ben Pink Dandelion: I was teaching one class and they said, “Oh, Ben, could you make a flowchart of how testimonies changed over the centuries?” So I went back through the books of discipline over the three centuries and what struck me about the very first printed Book of Extracts, as it was called, is that it was all about testimony; it was all about the way we should live in the world. There was very little doctrine, very little spiritual experience in a sense. It was all about how we should live, and this led me to think that really the way we’ve– the way we used to understand testimony was as a singular category that had its source in our spiritual experience. It was the consequence of our spiritual experience.
What are the Quaker SPICES?
Max Carter: When Quakers are asked what they believe, we’re at a disadvantage. We don’t have the Book of Common Prayer, we don’t have the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed to cite. We’re non-creedal folk but we have beliefs, we have traditions, and the default setting for many Friends (many Quakers) these days are the SPICES. It’s an acronym for what Friends call the testimonies.
Testimony and “SPICES” Explained
Gregg Koskela: So sort of the way that I see it is a Quaker testimony is my reality, my experience of God that I want to share with you because I’ve lived it, I’ve breathed it; this has been my thing. When we talk about Quaker testimonies we think of a list of expressions of that that we as Quakers have historically held.
Max Carter: The SPICES as an acronym represent, in their different interpretations but the standard are: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship.
Simplicity comes out of the ancient Quaker tradition of plainness; focusing on what’s most important. Remove the excess from your life that detracts you from what’s most important spiritually in your life.
Kristina Keefe-Perry: In what we call Friends peace testimony now, (George) Fox talks about living in that life and that power that takes away the occasion for all wars, and I think that life and power part is the soil that we need to nurture to be in that life and power that takes away the occasion for all sorts of violence and helps us move out of the comfort of the institutions we’ve built and into some new space.
Max Carter: Integrity – let your yes be yes and your no be no; Be honest in all your dealings but more importantly be authentic. Practice harmonizing your life with your principles. Integrate what you say you believe and how you live your daily life; let your life speak.
Doug Gwyn: Moving on to community. Community is the way we learn to live better lives; the community of the Friends meeting. And that together we find the truth more adequately than we can as individuals.
Max Carter: Equality is important because Friends have always experienced that there’s that light and life and saving power of God within each individual. So all people are radically equal as children of God because each has that light of God within them, that access to truth.
Doug Gwyn: And then the beauty of SPICES I think is that the first thing and the last thing are intimately related. As we simplify our lives we’re helping ourselves live more sustainably but we’re also living more simply on the Earth and we’re helping move towards a society more in balance with the natural world or God’s creation, and that that is the really big challenge — the final horizon within which I think we’re living our Faith and Practice today is toward a more sustainable world.
The Testimonies as One Whole Life
Max Carter: The concern about the SPICES for some Quakers is that like a creed or like statements of faith like the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed, it can become a shorthand that is unreflective, that is simply repeated. “What do you believe?” “Well, we believe in the SPICES,” but you don’t really know why.
Ben Pink Dandelion: There’s the danger that we both separate different aspects of our testimony from itself, but also that they become kind of optional add-ons or, you know, I can say I’m really into peace but I struggle with simplicity or I’m really into simplicity but I struggle with peace, and so we’re in danger I think of losing that connection between spiritual experience and our witness.
Gregg Koskela: And if we take someone else’s testimony and just proclaim it we have taken out the life of it; we’ve taken out what made it exist in the first place because all of those testimonies that we hold came because of this living relationship with God living out within a person in a community. And if we try to sort of– I think of it kind of like branches of a tree; if the testimony of peace or the testimony of simplicity is a branch on the tree you can’t just break it off and hand it to someone. You have to also give them the whole tree, which is a direct encounter with God that brings all of these things out to be expressed in this real and living way.
Doug Gwyn: I think Quaker faith and practice, the deeper you go with it over time, the more you realize it’s not just lists of things like SPICES and different aspects of Quaker faith and practice, but it’s all one whole life and it’s a sustainable life that brings a lot of joy and wisdom over time.
- 1) What is the difference between a testimony and a creed? Do Friends sometimes use the SPICES in a creedal manner? If so, how?
- 2) What are some ways you’ve integrated your testimonies and witness into your life?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.