In the last year or so, in an attempt to be thorough, I've tried to talk about basic testimonies or ideas or concepts that are present throughout Quakerism, such as direct "communication" or experiences of God (or the Spirit or whatever you call it), while explaining the diversity of Friends - liberal, unprogrammed through evangelical. This is quite a task; I've found myself calling it my "Quaker spiel". Sometimes it's difficult to know where to start.
I bring this up now because I just had a 30 minute conversation with an exchange student from Austria where I tried to describe Quakerism. I found this to be more of a challenge than usual; usually, people asking have at least heard of Quakerism or learned a little bit about it in their high school history courses, but this student from Austria had never heard of Quakers or Quakerism.
I tried to explain that it was founded in Christianity, I tried to explain a little bit about the testimonies, but first had to explain what the word "testimony" meant, which was a task in itself! (I believe I said they were like concepts or things to be followed - sort of; I feel that my description of them was inadequate, but the best I could do to continue.) I described a typical unprogrammed Meeting for Worship and a little bit about leadings. I was asked about Quaker weddings and membership, I was asked about whether there were rules (such as abstinence). I tried to touch on the diversity of Quakerism - that some attended Quaker churches or Friends churches.
I was asked about where the word "Quaker" came from - and spoke about George Fox and about early Friends being persecuted for being faithful Quakers, I spoke about trembling or shaking when feeling led and about how a Friend was called a "Quaker" in court once and somehow that became incorporated into the name or rather, an alternative name. I spoke about why Quaker Oats took the Quaker name, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with Quakerism.
It was very difficult to describe Quakerism in such a manner; somehow I felt that I couldn't just give my usual spiel because that spiel was given with the assumption that someone had at least heard of Quakerism and had at least a basic idea of what Quakerism is. Also, I was challenged to define words along the way that I wouldn't normally have to define (such as testimony).
I don't feel like I manage to necessarly capture the depth and spirit of Quakerism, but I'm not sure how to go about doing that without being confusing or assuming.
How do other Friends describe Quakerism? How might you respond to the question "What is Quakerism?"
I find that giving a complete answer is quite the challenge.
Love and Light