August 3, 2005

The danger of SPICE testimonies

NOTE, Tenth Month 2009: Many of the original links in this post are no longer working and I've removed them and marked them with a * as I've discovered them.

Over in the archives of the Quaker Renewal Forum, I came across a post* about identifying the testimonies with the acronym SPICE as a way to enliven how we speak about Quakerism.

Here is the main thread of the comment I left there, expressing my disagreement:

Among some unprogrammed Hicksite and Conservative Friends, there has been a concern that the historic testimonies such as you have listed here are in fact becoming creedal in nature... and therefore dangerously close to becoming empty or meaningless.

I have had to rethink these testimonies for myself in recent months. And I have chosen to challenge myself to avoid using the word "testimony" to describe my faith as a Quaker. In doing so, I must therefore start with the Seed, the Inward Light as the foundation for my faith, out of which certain behaviors and beliefs grow.

Here's an example regarding the peace testimony. This testimony, like the others, was NOT intended to be used as a reason to pursue a certain activity. It was instead a thread that could be identified with reflection only after a number of actions had occurred.

I myself can reflect on a time when a bicyclist and a driver of a minivan were fighting with one another as to who was at fault in a little mishap that happened. I mean, they were really letting the other have it.

Not knowing what I was going to say (I had witnessed the mishap), I approached both of them and found myself calmly affirming how caught off-guard each of them must have felt; here's my name and number, can I have yours?; how would you feel if I called each of you in a day or two and see how you are doing?

That little story and my part in it is, for me, an example of the Spirit working through me to engage in peacemaking. It was NOT the Peace Testimony that led me to act the way I did, though.

In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that if I had stopped to consider "What does the Peace Testimony say about how I should act in this moment?," I think I would have become immobilized, spending all sorts of time composing what I might say, to whom, rather than acting out of faith and an inward prompt.

By being led by the Spirit in the moment, I was able to touch a peaceable place within myself, which maybe was enough to invite these two people to calm down. And both people appreciated my follow-up calls to them. They both expressed feeling cared for as well as feeling a bit embarrassed by how they each were acting towards the other.

I hope this example helps clarify what I am wanting to get across. If we lead our lives by the Testimonies and not by the Holy Spirit, we run the risk of seeking guidance from something other than the True Source.

UPDATE: Over at Beppeblog,* Beppe expands a bit* on this post, and I found the comments there to be worthwhile as well.

Timothy (One Quaker Take) writes about creeds and individualism among Friends.

Quaker Jane reminds Friends that Love is the fount from which the Testimonies rise.

*Link has been removed.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post Liz. It affirms my experience and my longings for the Religious Society Friends.

I have a very tender and uneasy relationship with the peace testimony. My work for peace, in dealing with violence in my own life and also in the battered women's movement, has been personally devastating, and is left me with many questions about whether my actions made things worse sometimes. I often fear that a woman might be alive right now if I had done nothing, instead of trying to help her escape from the man who was attacking her.

Trying to live out the peace testimony does not guarantee success. It does not guarantee that we are in the right, in issues of our personal life or in international affairs. I feel that peace testimony sometimes gives us a false sense of security, and sometimes gives us an excuse to stray from humility.

On the other hand I think that living for God does guarantee success, even if it's not the kind of success that we pray for or the kind of success that we even can recognize. It can be a mysterious kind of success, but I think it's there even when our undertakings fail. Following God also calls us to return to humility, even when we stray for a while, like almost everyone does.

In the last week, since visiting Iowa with you, I've been given a deeper longing to adopt the peace testimony as my own. It's quite a phsyical sensation. I feel like we are all sharing some kind of fire that runs through the earth. I think that must be one of way of seeing that of God in everyone, which is, as I understand it, the basis of the testimony's life within Friends.

The image of shared fire running through the ground come to mind many times since we came home andlast weekend.

Elizabeth O'Sullivan

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz,
I can get as tired by the SPICE tabulation as anyone else and have written about them myself here.

But the acronym was something new and exciting to Bill Waggoner of Quaker Renewal Forum. What was an empty formulation to us was fresh for him. It took him somewhere deep--glory to be to God! There's a baby in the bathwater of SPICE and we need to remember that when Howard Brinton redefined the testimonies as SPICE he was trying to free the gospel of the barnacles of Quaker dead wood that was smothering it. When I saw Bill's post I groaned at SPICE but then laughed out loud--he was teaching me a lesson! We need to be tender with one another about all this. What's old hat to us is new to others (and vice versa) and the truth--dare I say Christ?--can be touched through all of our metaphors and words. Let's hear the spirit of their excitement and listen for where the words come from. We "liberal conservative Friends" (or whatever we are) need Bill Waggoner (however he defines himself, grin!) and Evan Welkin (ahem) if we're going to be anything more than just another grumpy Quaker support group.

This is the kind of conversation I was trying to describe in Post-Liberals and Post-Evangelicals a couple of years ago. How do we identify our own frustrations so that they don't get in the way of us connecting with our brethren of the Spirit whose language of excitement is our language of exhaustion?

Liz Opp said...

Elizabeth, thanks for your comments and your tender sharing. I appreciate what you offer up about what does "success" really mean. I came across one Friend recently who wrote on a listserve that Friends must be careful not to confuse "success" with "faithfulness."

God does not ask us to be successful. God asks us to be faithful.

I think your comment touches on that concept as well.

And Martin, thank you, thank you for the reality check you offer up about the space that is needed for some Friends to discover the power and life within concepts that are "old hat" for others of us.

Your comment again draws my attention to how might this virtual online Friends community come to develop a spiritual intimacy, when we are detached from witnessing the vocal intonations and visceral movement of the Spirit within those who post a blog entry or add a comment.

So I am glad for the correction you lift up, and I sense that both my experience and that of Friend Scott (not Bill, when I last checked his blog) can live side by side. These experiences, of rethinking our testimonies and of how we might share them, are both needed so that that of God within us can answer to that of God within others.

Thank you for being faithful with your reminder for me to be tender with others...


Contemplative Activist said...

HI Liz,

I'm really glad you posted this.

I was recenty asked (or rather I came across the question and asked it to myself) as to how the testimonies effect the way in which I live my life.

I found it hard to articulate but what I wanted to say was that they don't. The testimonies resonate with me, I find them to be true, but that resonance comes from within.

I don't try to live as equals with my fellow human beings, or peacefully, or compassionately or with integrity or in community because the testimonies tell me so. I do what I do because it is in my heart to do so and I was livjng these things (or at least trying to) long before I came across the Quakers, much less the testimonies.

Perhaps, at best, the testimonies can articulate those values that we all share can provide a sense of commonality and connection, but never let them become a rule book.

Claire said...

My most distinct recent experience where I thought specifically about a testimony began about two months ago. I described it a little more in a post then (

In a conflict over email with a family member, I caught myself in survival mode, considering ways to respond that would 'end' the conflict as soon as possible. "How can I respond in a way that she would understand?" At first, this may seem a logical train of thought, but what was missing was most important - how I was feeling. If I responded in a manner tailored to what I thought she might listen to, I would be brushing aside my own thoughts and feelings, and thus the entire truth of the matter for me.

I thought specifically of the Quaker testimony of integrity. It was a gentle reminder for me. Rather than blindly following by thinking "Oh, well, integrity is a Quaker testimony, and I'm a Quaker, so I should have integrity!", I found that it felt right from within. For the first time I can remember, I spoke fully about my own feelings and my entire view of the situation. It's not that I'd been dishonest in the past, but that I'd been completely disregarding myself and my own integrity.

In my experiences so far, I find the testimonies (sometimes known as or remembered as SPICE) to be more of a reminder, a way to keep all the testimonies in mind.

Just thought I'd share that.

Love and Light,

Anonymous said...


This same discussion has found
itself independently occuring
in several of my haunts over the
past 12 months. I think I first
came to sensitivity of it within
the context of the usenet group
soc.religion.quaker. A person who
was a frequent poster there (and
member of Iowa YM) is in the
process of writing a book that
hopes to touch on this, among about
a hundred other things. We had a
few good off-list back and forths
in agreeance. It is worth taking
a look at the One Testimony To Bind
Them All essay that is hosted at (Bill S.'s site)
and is really a good codification
of these ideas too.

In addition, I had seem the note
on the blog you indicated, and in
addition our own meeting had some
discussions outgrowing from our
book hour back in the winter
along similar lines.

I would say that there are several
keys to better faithfulness that
is non-empty. One is a recognition
that there are basically two kinds
of testimony that we should reflect
on most vigilantly. The first is
the testimony that embodies the
spirit, as a whole, of the NT and
is best described as the meaning
and struggle and testimony of
Jesus' life. In essence, most of
the critical parts that uphold
SPICE are traceable back to key
lessons that see their founding
crystalization in the NT and
are frankly not found before that.
To deny that there is a link
or to minimize the link is
to discard a valuable area of
learning out of fear of what
else one might have to take with
it. Baby and bathwater, and we'd
best keep the baby, yes?

Reading the "words in red" in
the bible is a good way to get at
this, within the gospels at least,
with special attention to things
that appear to pertain directly
to what we now think of as SPICE.
I have conducted this exercise for
myself and found it rewarding. I
am trying, in spare time, to
codify that into a pamphlet.

I didn't put that idea together
overnight. It grew out of a stray
comment during my meeting for
clearness for membership, something
I carried with me and allowed to

I will now go read the other
comments and see if I have more to

Anonymous said...

Ah- left you hanging on the
second key kind of testimony
(other than Jesus')...

which is that which we call
our own Call. The additions we
write to the book of testimony
are not merely within tradition
bound areas of five letter
acronyms. Our own lived out
testimony isn't even required to
have its source and inspiration
there, though it is likely and
possible. We gotta go further.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi David: thanks for the reminder that these testimonies trace back. In our recent Gathering workshop with high schoolers Zac Moon & I continued every morning's worship with a section of the Sermon on the Mount. It always amazes me to see how explicitly most of our "Quaker" testimonies are spelled out there. Reading it was a way of gently pointing out that Quakerism isn't a entity in its own, sui generis, thought up by by a couple of north England sheepherders 350 years ago.

Liz Opp said...

Friends, thank you for all the comments and the exchanges we make with one another. I have had a busy week with helping prepare for a wedding for f/Friends... and then attending a memorial service for someone else.

I am still a bit spent, but wanted to acknowledge the conversation that has been going on in my absence.

What I seem to enjoy about the comments here is that they each have a piece of truth--about how we ourselves experience or articulate the testimonies; about some inward Principle that we can't quite put our finger on. Yet we strive to do so, and so we share our stories in order to point in the general direction of what we'd wish to say or how we wish to be understood.

I also wanted to post the direct link that is mentioned, for the One Testimony To Bind Them All, so it is easier for readers to find. (I acknowledge that given where I am on my path among Friends and the place of Jesus, the essay was hard for me to read.)

And, since I was not raised in a Christian household, I thought I'd include a link to the referenced Sermon on the Mount. (Maybe it is the internet that makes the world go 'round, as opposed to money... smile)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sensitively composed question, Liz.

Contemplative Activist said:
"Perhaps, at best, the testimonies can articulate those values that we all share can provide a sense of commonality and connection, but never let them become a rule book."

Agreed. I say this having just come back from Pacific Yearly Meeting, where as clerk of the children's program committee I encouraged all the teachers from preschool to middle school to incorporate SPICES into their curriculum. (The 2nd S is for Sustainability.) As Martin said, what's old hat to some may be new to others -- including our CHILDREN. Given that our yearly meeting's typical default curriculum is peace and peace alone, I wanted to broaden it to include a wider range of values. And the kids really responded to it, most clearly at the 4th-8th grade levels. I pray this will prepare them well for their teen years to grow and deepen in their faith as they mature.

I missed most of our business plenaries and meetings for worship, but I understand a weighty Friend cautioned against the use of SPICES as anything but temporary silos for the seeds we are sowing. True enough, and my response is, "Okay, we can worry about that once we've actually tended the crop a little more with our kids than we've done in the past!"

We've heard eloquently from our teen and young adult Friends over at least the last two annual sessions that adults have not done enough to share our faith with them. I attribute that to individual Friends as well as monthly & yearly meetings being unclear for themselves what that faith is, let alone to articulate it to young people. Nonetheless, I sense a stirring in our yearly meeting finally to articulate our beliefs more clearly. (Side note: There is ever more mention of Christ Jesus in the mix. Not to the exclusion of other views, but as a positive statement by Friends to whom the Christian path is their Way. For example, the 7 am Bible study had nearly 40 people in it most days, and a total of about 70 people apparently indicated interest on their registration form. PacYM's Bible study group has become a safe space for Christians and non-Christians alike to explore the scriptures.)

If it takes a marketing mnemonic like SPICE to move our yearly meeting along toward more explicit expression of our faith, then that's okay with me. It oughtn't stop there, but it can start there.

I'd like to recommend Wilmer Cooper's The Testimony of Integrity (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #296), which I just bought at PacYM: "We might refer to (the testimonies) as the Quaker equivalent of creeds of the churches, though the intent of the testimonies is ethical rather than doctrinal. The claim is that the testimonies grow out of our inward religious experience and are intended to give outward expression to the leading of the Spirit of God within; or put another way, they are formed by the voice of conscience illumined by the Light of Christ within.... If our inward leading is to be 'doers of the truth,' then integrity needs to be at the center of our being, at the center of our consciousness, and at the center of our outward witness."

Cooper also distinguishes between "Quaker values," which he considers a secularized term, and "Quaker testimonies (which) are derived from religious faith and experience fashioned out of a life of prayer, devotion and worship, joined with spiritual discernment and commitment."

Anyway, I'm all in favor of SPICES as a starting point, remaining mindful of Liz's caution, "If we lead our lives by the Testimonies and not by the Holy Spirit, we run the risk of seeking guidance from something other than the True Source."

-- Chris M.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks, Chris, for the thoughtful reply and for the relating it to your recent experience of working with some of the youngest ones within our/your faith community.

Like you, I give a fair amount of weight and consideration to the concept of sustainability: How do we sustain our living faith through the generations? How is a meeting, a faith community, a corporate identity sustained over time?

These are questions both of practicality and of vision; of action and of contemplation.

...And I wonder, Chris: Was there any caution or context brought to the adult Friends who worked with the youngest ones, regarding the [initial] purpose of using the acronym SPICES?

I truly sense that you personally take great care in how a concept is presented, how the Quaker faith is made explicit so it is not lost, and so I'm curious what was said to the religious ed teachers about distinguishing between a helpful "teaching point" and the place from which the Testimonies spring?

Thanks for your service to PacYM, too. I know I am not, and have not been, called to work with young people at annual sessions. I recognize some of the gifts gained and sacrifices made by those Friends who answer this call.

Thanks for writing.


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