Study of Quakers (Part 2) – – Simplicity

March 1, 2010 — Leave a comment

This is a continuation of my study of Quakers and their beliefs. As I have already mentioned I am by no means an authority on these topics. I am just a guy trying to understand the various views of being a Christian. With that in mind let’s continue our study  

My wife is a person who occasionally wants to antique. I know, I hear many of you out there saying “antique is not a verb!” And you are right but I do feel a little playful today so I thought I would just jerk your chain :) . While my wife looks at all the antiques I concentrate on one thing. I collect signs that say “Simplify”. I have been doing this for some years now. They are all lining the walls of my study. It is a constant reminder to be to “Keep It Simple”. I don’t know what got me started with this collection? But now I come to find that the concept of Simplicity is a basic Quaker belief. The Simplicity Testimony attests to that fact.  

Before we get started on the Testimony of Simplicity we should probably understand just what a “testimony” is from the Quaker standpoint. Here is what Wikipedia says about that:

The word testimony describes the way that Friends testify or bear witness to their beliefs in their everyday life. A testimony is therefore not a belief, but is committed action arising out of Friends’ religious experience.  

Here is another quote:

Testimony of Simplicity is a shorthand description of the actions generally taken by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to testify or bear witness to their beliefs that a person ought to live his or her life simply in order to focus on what is most important and ignore or play down what is least important. 

By the way, as above, Quaker refer to their members as “Friends” and to the Quaker sects as “The Religious Society of Friends”. So, a testimony is committed action and not a “belief”. We just might be splitting hairs here as it does sound a lot like a doctrinal belief to me. But I will take them to their word in it :)

Ok, so let’s get going on the idea of Simplicity as espoused by the Society of Friends. Simplicity to Friends has generally been a reference to material possessions. Friends traditionally limited their possessions to what they need to live their lives, rather than pursuing less necessary luxuries. In recent decades some Friends have been less and less attentive to this testimony, although most still believe it is important. To define simplicity another way Friends believe that one should use one’s resources, including money and time, deliberately in ways that are most likely to make life truly better for oneself and especially others. 

Acting on those beliefs they among many other things shy away from fancy dress, particularly clothes that display designer labels. Contrary to much popular belief many Friends no longer have “special” clothes to identify them as to their religion. In other words, no the picture on the Quaker Oats box is not how they dress .

Here are some words by William Penn, who was a Quaker and the founder of the State of Pennsylvania, on the topic of simplicity:

Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretence to shape or beauty. Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention. Their folly would diminish if they could spare but half the time to think of God, that they spend in washing, perfuming, painting and dressing their bodies. In these things they are precise and very artificial and spare no cost. But what aggravates the evil is that the pride of one might comfortably supply the needs of ten. Gross impiety it is that a nation’s pride should be maintained in the face of its poor. 

I would think that this is still very much relevant to most Quakers today. Quakers very much believe in spending their resources of both time and money where it counts and that is being their brother’s keeper as taught to them by Jesus Christ. I am very much aligned with those thoughts. Anyone who has been a regular reader of this blog know that I have a thing about “stuff”. It crowds out other much more important things we should be doing with our time and resources. So this anti-stuff feeling I have is again a reason for me to be attuned to Quaker beliefs.

I want to close out this post with a quote from A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith.

Humility is simplicity of spirit, and simplicity of spirit is at the heart of Quakerism. 

So the bottom line in this discussion is to keep it simple. Don’t crowd your life with “stuff”. It only gets in the way of the our true journey on this earth. Next time we will look at the testimony surrounding the idea of Equality.

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