Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Quaker elevator talk

Quakers realize that most people don’t have a clue about Quakers. What they know often begins and ends with the guy in the funny hat on the oat meal carton.

Some of us in our Quaker meeting have been working on how to describe ourselves — briefly. Our model is the 30-second elevator speech.

It’s hard to imagine the subject of Quakers coming up on an elevator, but suppose....

“Quaker?” says the stranger. “Aren’t you kind of, like, Amish? The oat meal guy. Virtuous and old-fashioned. Kind of odd? Quaking even?”

“Do you have 30 seconds?”

“All the way to the 30th floor.”

I take a breath.

“Start with ‘spirit.’ There's something in each of us that is spirit. Many of us call it ‘God.’ Many of us don’t call it ‘God.'

"That's okay. We should be free to call it what we want.

"Friends— that’s what we call ourselves — Friends know we are different when it comes to words and theology. We are happily and variously Christians, atheists, Buddhists, Jews.... We think of ourselves as 'radically inclusive.' We know we all experience this ineffable living force — call it what you will.

“Quakers find that worshiping in silence — being beyond words — centers and deepens our relationship to this "it," this inner spirit or God. Stillness also deepens our relationship with each other. Sometimes, a Friend is led to speak out of the silence, to share ‘ministry.’”

“Through silent worship and words that emerge from it, we have been led to five guiding truths. We call them ‘testimonies.’ They are...

“Simplicity. Just as our worship is simple, the spirit leads us to live simply.

“Peace. Because spirit or God is in everyone (EVERYONE regardless of belief or non-belief), we strive to live in peace with all.

“Integrity. The spirit leads us to adhere to the truth as we discern it.

“Community. We are united and one in love, worship and the manifest spirit of many names.

“Equality. All are equally in and of the spirit.”

“That’s it. Oh, the testimonies are easy to remember; they spell the acronym ‘SPICE.’”

The elevator chimes. Its door slides open onto the 30th floor.

"I just wish we had another 30 floors for silence," I say.

The stranger touches my shoulder on the way out.

“Spirit or God, silence and SPICE,” he says with a spreading grin. “Elevating!”

As the door shuts, I'm left with a small problem. As is, the speech clocks in at over 45 seconds. Should I hold the elevator door open for 15 seconds for the sake of “integrity,” “community,” and “equality”?

And what about those extra floors for silence? Maybe that's why we have skyscrapers.

For more than an elevator ride's worth about Quakers, go to

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Blogger Paul M.A. said...


10:57 AM  
Blogger William said...

Love that...

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Lisa H said...

I did a version of this with a friend this week--admittedly one who already was familiar with our form of worship. My starting point was unmediated contact with the divine (by any name), and continuing revelation. That being the source of our spoken ministry, and of our business process. I also talked about the testimonies as growing out of our recognition of that of God in everyone. No mnemonics; I was trying to speak to her condition.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

As you suggest, yours was a slightly different exercise. Your "stranger" came with more knowledge about Quakers than mine did. That changes what one says in 30 seconds...or 45.

Our consideration of what we might say in 30 seconds came out of our meeting's considering Quaker Quest "outreach." The 30-second talk is a work in progress and a real eye-opener.

Speaking to one's condition seems critical. But first you have to know what that condition is, as you clearly did with your friend.

Perhaps my elevator talk should begin with the question, "Excuse me, what is your condition?" That would turn the tables. The response? "How much time do you have? I can't do this in 30 seconds."

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This made me smile. Recently I had to do a "10 points that you would want everyone to know about your field of professional expertise" as an exercise with colleagues, to help them identify the core messages we need to give when talking nutrition.

Perhaps starting with 10 (or 5) sentences would mean that 30 seconds would not be breached?

Greetings as a fellow kiwi to your niece.

1:03 PM  

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