It is, indeed, not easy to define the precise kind or amount of indulgence which is incompatible with Christian simplicity; or rather it must of necessity vary. But the principle is, I think, clear. In life, as in art, whatever does not help, hinders. All that is superfluous to the main object of life must be cleared away, if that object is to be fully attained. In all kinds of effort, whether moral, intellectual or physical, the essential condition of vigour is a severe pruning away of redundance. Is it likely that the highest life, the life of the Christian body, can be carried on upon easier terms? ….
The Quaker ideal, as I understand it, requires a continual weighing of one thing against another–a continual preference of the lasting and deep over the transient and superficial…. If we bear in mind the essentially relative meaning of the word “superfluous,” it is obvious that such a testimony against “superfluities” does not require any rigid or niggardly rule as to the outward things. To my own mind, indeed, this view of the matter seems to require at least as clearly the liberal use of whatever is truly helpful to “our best life” as the abandonment of obstructing superfluities. No doubt a testimony against superfluities is very liable to degenerate into formality, and to be so misapplied as to cut off much that is in reality wholesome, innocent, and beautiful….
Caroline E Stephen, Quaker Strongholds
There is a truism common among jazz and blues bass players (other musicians too, for all I know) that, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!”
A life that is called to a “continual weighing of one thing against another–a continual preference of the lasting and deep over the transient and superficial…” is bound to bump up against the culture of the internet. It is not that the internet necessitates “the transient and superficial”, or that writing which is (first) published online is necessarily so; rather there is so much transient and superficial stuff around that it is hard sometimes to see past it. Just look at any news website to see what I mean – there’s no need to drag poor old Facebook into this again. But we have to wait, to avoid hastiness: many online babies may be lost in the flood of bathwater if we just pull out the plugs of our computers.
As Caroline Stephen says, “To my own mind, indeed, this view of the matter seems to require at least as clearly the liberal use of whatever is truly helpful to ‘our best life’ as the abandonment of obstructing superfluities.” Technology, in any age, is a mixed blessing. Any technology. A hammer may as well be used to stave in someone’s head as to build a hospital, and the internal combustion engine has been used to power lifeboats as well as tanks.
There is no easy way around our Quaker call to “a continual weighing of one thing against another”. Rules and regulations, categories and classifications are a lazy excuse for discernment – as, usually, are heroic acts of renunciation. Only the silence can really show us, and the wisdom the heart finds when all the kerfuffle dies away, what is “lasting and deep.” May we each find our lasting and deep things, and live there feeding quietly on the good things of God, like moorhens on our own ponds.