Experimental Testimonies

In considering Quaker testimonies yesterday, the leader of our session of religious exploration asked us to check inside to see what arose as something we do in relation to what leads us.  Then we each spoke a sentence about it.

I don’t gamble.  I don’t use illegal drugs.  I wear simple clothing.  I speak plainly. This is to keep a simple mind. (I chose the last sentence to share with the group.)

I don’t think I chose these because they are negative testimonies–things I restrain myself from.  I chose them because I’ve been able to experiment with them.  I’ve found an expression of me that works best.

I don’t recall ever putting money down in a casino.  In the 1970’s I started refusing door prize tickets.  For raffles, I often make a straight donation.  This put me in line with some of the Conservative Friends I knew and with my own yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice.  When I’ve been talked into taking a ticket by enthused people at the door, I find I join other attenders in a strange mixture of anticipation, excitement and disappointment each time a number is called.  The disappointment seems heightened when the called number is close to the one in my hand.  All this when I never actually had anything to be excited or disappointed about.  And it’s just stuff I probably don’t even need.

In my youth, I took a few tokes on a couple of joints.  It bothered me.  I felt a bit guilty or confused.  My good friends were stoners.  At least they were in relation to the rather straight college circles we were in.  I skipped out on the marijuana and cocaine use.  I drank alcohol a bit.  I tried tee-totaling for a few years.  I’m not sure why or when I started drinking a bit.  Beer and cider–one or two a week.  Perhaps I’d be happier without it.  Not sure it matters.

For almost a year, I wore overalls only.  Some Quakers I knew wore more traditional plain dress.  The college president told me my best overalls weren’t appropriate for the formal Friday evening lecture.  I asked me to put aside my religious convictions for the occasion.  I didn’t then, but allowed myself some more variety in dress.  Simple has worked for me for decades.  I have fifteen single colored shirts hanging in my closet.  Eight others have stripes or a pattern in the weave.  Three Hawaiian shirts have floral prints.  My tee shirts are folded in a drawer.  Almost all have a single background color with silk screen print advertising some charity run or sports team.  When I pick a shirt, I typically grab the next one from the top of the pile or the right end of the bar.  When plan for the day asks for formality, partisanship or a particular sort of work, I sometimes sort through for a good match.  Not as simple as Barack Obama’s decisions, but it helps keep me focused on what’s important.

It’s easy to speak at too great a length.  I like to hear myself talk, especially if I can sound smart or educated.  I am slowly learning the discipline of short, simple phrasings.  I don’t need to impress people with the vocabulary or complexity of my speech or writing.  If I can say something important simply, it seems better for both speaker and listener.