October 18, 2009

Putting God into SPICE

A couple of times in recent Meetings for Worship--once at the monthly meeting and another at the worship group--a worshiper at each place made reference to the nifty little acronym SPICE. A lot has already been written about that acronym and the modern take on the Quaker Testimonies, and I've included a partial list of related blog posts below.

I agree that the mnemonic acronym--Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality--is a sort of tool to help our youngest Friends and our newest attenders understand what some of our key principles are.  But it's like a mechanic who pulls out a Phillips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, and a hammer and says, "Every mechanic should have a complete tool set like this!"

Well, of course it isn't quite like that.

One of the Friends who talked about SPICE has long-time connections with Friends education. To be fair, the Friend did say something about helping the young students understand some of the values that make the school what it is. And yet: at the rise of worship, an attender acknowledged that the acronym helped him finally understand what Quakerism is about...

Do we really want worshipers to leave meeting with an acronym? Or do we want them--and ourselves--to leave worship with a renewed sense of God's love, guidance, and presence in our individual and corporate lives?

The short-hand of SPICE doesn't relieve us of our responsibility to convey our faith and its invisible doctrines, principles, and complexities to those who worship among us.

What is it we really want those who find us to understand about our peculiar faith tradition? How can we share the fabric of Quakerism and not just a few of its individual threads?

The other person who recently spoke about SPICE has been worshiping with Quakers for a handful of months, and he talked about the acronym as if it was the best thing he'd seen or heard since sliced bread. I think he was disappointed to find out that the acronym has been around for at least a few years...

The thing is, if we stop at SPICE--as others have pointed out in their posts to which I link below--if we say in essence, "The testimonies are the crux of what we need to share when we talk about Quakerism with others," then it is as if we have pulled out a single thread that leaves marred the entire Quaker tapestry. In essence, we unintentionally sever these spiritual fruits from the deep root of our faith: the Inward Teacher, the Light, the Divine Principle that guides us to outward action that offers testimony to what it is we know inwardly.

If we are going to talk about SPICE in reference to the Testimonies, then we must also, and at the same time, and in the same breath, talk about the concept of the transformative power of the Light. Quakers would have no Testimony to the Truth had we not made ourselves low enough to submit to the Light's searching out of our shortcomings, yielded to it, and subsequently found ourselves changed.

So I want to suggest a new acronym, in order to put God first:

    GPS ICE.
That's God, Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Community, and Equality.

But really, the acronym should be
    GPS G ICE G.

Putting God first, last, and in the center of our Quakerism.


Martin's essay on the Quaker Testimonies
Chris M's thoughts on Creeds and Quakers
Melanie Douty-Snipes thoughts on Devotion as a Testimony (scroll down)
Pam's thoughts on Love as a Testimony
My own cautions about overreliance on an acronym
A more recent post by Quaker Jane, reminding Friends that Love is the fount from which the Testimonies rise


Bill Samuel said...

The SPICE components are outgrowths of the original core of Quakerism. They aren't the core. While good things in and off themselves, they sort of miss the point.

Early Friends referred to "our Christian testimony" in referencing any of the consequences for our life of being convicted by Christ, repenting and becoming a new creature in Christ.

For a good take on the historical roots, consistent with your post, by an Evangelical Friends pastor who personally is drawn to the Conservative Friends way, see The One Testimony that Binds Them All Together at http://www.quakerinfo.com/one_test.shtml

Mitch said...

Your experience shows that the SPICE formulation is very valuable to some people. If they say it's valuable, is that therefore a summons to show them the error of their ways? I am not engineer, but I have encountered them from time to time, and they come down heavy on the side of precision and completeness at the cost of ready comprehension and democratic access. (Mathematicians and engineers fret obsessively--and for good reason--over exotic "boundary cases" that have to be forseen but which are not relevant to the layman.) I've been employed as a professional writer, and learned the value of simple, powerful methods that introduce the newcomer to a new way of thinking. I've learned the importance of not overestimating the learner. That is why I love the SPICE formulation, and wish it were more sympathetically approached. And Bill's emphasis that Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus is the answer to everything is simply not logical or realistic.

Diane said...


To some of us in Quakerdom, Jesus IS the answer to everything. Jesus IS the logos. Jesus IS the reality and everything else grounded in an illusion. Can that be respected?

As you may imagine, I have problems with SPICE as defining Quakerism. As Bill and Liz imply, these traits are merely the outward manifestation of a spiritual transformation.

Micah Bales said...

Dear Liz,

I like this post. Thank you for it.

The testimonies, as presented in Wilmer Cooper's introduction to Quakerism, "A Living Faith," were instrumental in bringing me into the Quaker community. I agree with you that the testimonies are very good gateway or primer for attenders, especially in Liberal-unprogrammed Meetings.

That said, I would add that I believe that the core testimony from which all others arise is: "Christ is come to teach his people himself." I think we would be on more solid ground if we started there, and then proceeded to talk about the other testimonies that come from this fundamental revelation of God.

God bless you as you seek to be submitted to and transformed by the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Yours in friendship,

Micah Bales

Stephen Higa said...

Thank you for this post! I found it nourishing and refreshing (and I love the GPS G ICE G). You've said exactly what has been troubling me about the SPICE thing. I guess what we should ask ourselves is why we're attracted to this acronym in the first place. Is it because, when dealing with the larger secular world, SPICE makes us easier to swallow? (And, do we really want to be swallowed by the larger secular world?) Is it because it's easier for us to adhere to 5 distinct principles than to surrender whole-heartedly to the will of God (I know it's easier for me)? Is it because SPICE makes it easier to present ourselves to nonreligious inquirers without having to seem like an actual, radical people of faith? It makes us seem more tame, more like a group of secular liberals?

I understand and appreciate Mitch's point about the usefulness of the acronym for 'learners', but I do wonder whether a *God-less* SPICE will just be another thing like the Quaker school, where the practices and ideals of a Spirit-led people become empty forms in order to be made "useful" to a secular world...

I like Micah and Bill's suggestion that we return to our "testimony" rather than our "testimonies."


James Riemermann said...

The emphasis on the SPICE testimonies as the ultimate center of Quakerism has its problems, most of all that we miss the fact that they are secondary, not primary. They don't point the way; the way points to them. And they are incomplete, as the way points to other things as well.

But they do have the advantage--unlike God, God, God, front, back and center--of focusing on the life lived.

Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality--hearing all of these I hear clear and difficult challenges to live up to in my life. God? Few of us (believers and unbelievers alike) even agree on what the word means.

Liz Opp said...

Bill -

Thanks for the additional reference to what looks like a thorough article! Part of what I like about the blogosphere is how we can be resources for one another and point us to other relevant writings.

Mitch -

In my quieter states of reflection and holding things in a worshipful manner, I often find myself affirming that we need BOTH a sympathetic response to such helpful formulations AND a disciplined one that reminds us--and teaches people who are new to Friends--that our faith is greater than the formulations we commit to memory.

Just as one or two or more Friends lift up SPICE as a way of thinking about Quakerism, one or two or more other Friends may lift up the Living Presence and its workings in our lives as another way to think about Quakerism.

Neither approach is wrong, and both are needed.

Thanks for chiming in.

Diane -

I appreciate your affirmation of what in Quakerism holds Life for you. Let us remember to feel for where the words come from...

Micah -

Great to see you here again! And yes, I need to be reminded of the earliest openings that Fox had and how they continue to ground us in even our most contemporary forms of Quakerism.

. . . . . . . .

I hope to respond to the other comments in the near future. Thanks to everyone who is adding to the conversation and helping flesh it out.


Liz Opp said...

Stephen -

Good to see you hear... and I really enjoyed taking a look at your blog, brief a look as it was.

Thanks for your comment. Part of why I stay active in the "online [Quaker] conversation" is because I have come across other people's writings that revive my spirit and remind me that other Friends have a yearning for a rigorous and vibrant faith.

And I love the caution about having a *Godless* SPICE. It reminds me of a Facebook commenter who mentioned that the acronym SPICE also doesn't account for worship.

As to why folks gravitate toward the acronym SPICE...? All of what you offer has a ring of reality to it, though I think the best way to find out is to ask the person (or group of persons) who use it.

My own personal challenge is:

How would we describe Quakerism if we could not use the acronym? Would Quakerism be what it is if these Testimonies as we identify them today did not exist?

James -

Like you, I do my best to remember that both parts of Quakerism are needed to live out our faith. We need an understanding of what grounds us and guides us, individually and corporately, and we need to "focus on the life lived."

That said, I do need the reminders from Friends like you that I sometimes get the balance out of whack.

As for me and my understanding of what God is, I find I don't seek to "agree on what the word means." I seek to be faithful to that which I innately know as God, and I seek to encourage others to do the same--according to however they know their own Inward Teacher.