The Button Talk

Department: 

Dear Friends: The Sunday before North Pacific  Yearly Meeting, we were making buttons. A few of our more popular versions are: “I’m a Quaker. No, Not Like the Oatmeal;” “Never Underestimate a Feisty Old Quaker;” and “Caution: Raised Quaker.” We sell these buttons and give half of the proceeds to Western Friend. This is something we do as a family – mother and son. Western Friend is not part of it.

As we were working on the buttons, Paul asked Debbie, “So, if these buttons work, and someone actually stops us and asks us about Quakers, what would we say? What’s the Quaker ‘elevator speech’?”

We hemmed and hawed about that as we button-crunched. (The process involves several satisfying squeezes and thumps.) Debbie said she’s trying to get away from the classic line, “There is that of God in every one.” Although the idea of “every one” was a big deal back in the 1650s, she thinks that today the expression plays too easily into modern habits of hyper-individualism. There’s a danger of forgetting that the real emphasis should be on God, not on us.

Paul said that he felt the “no hierarchies” part of Quakerism could be a hit with modern audiences. Then Debbie pointed out that we can’t focus too much on what we’re not. We want to keep thinking and talking about growing in the Light.

Paul, on reflection, decided that tailoring our elevator speech to popular ideas was maybe a bit of a bad plan to begin with. He wondered about tailoring an elevator speech to unpopular ideas. Hmmm.

Around and around we went, until finally, we realized we were looking at the question from the wrong angle. We didn’t need an “elevator speech.” The proper Quaker elevator speech is no set speech at all. Instead, we should trust in the Spirit to give us the right words for the right time. That’s how Meeting for Worship works, after all.

The beauty of not having a speech – and saying up front that we don’t – is that this reveals some important truths about us. When someone asks, “Quaker? What’s that?” we can say we don’t have a set answer. And we don’t have a set answer for the same reason we don’t have pastors or a formal creed: because the Spirit moves among us directly and constantly, and gives us the right words for the moment, in the moment.

When someone asks us about Quakers, we can ask them, “What have you heard? What do you want to know?” We can try to sense the will of the Spirit for them and for us, right there in that moment – on the street, on a bus, in an elevator. That is not preaching. That is simply speaking Truth in a way that reveals many Truths.

We encourage you to role-play conversations like these with other Friends. And if you want to buy some buttons, contact us at quakerbuttoncruncher-at-gmail-dot-com.

– Debbie Townsend and Paul Christiansen, Eastside Friends Meeting, Bellevue, WA (NPYM)