All posts by renofriends

The War Tax Alternative

One feature that distinguishes Quakers is the power and purpose of the Peace Testimony. Friends believe every person is a child of God, and they recognize God’s Light in everyone, including their adversaries. With that deeply held conviction, Quakers generally oppose war, believing it is inconsistent with God’s will. If we are asked to serve in the world as instruments of reconciliation and love, how can we wage war?

Most Americans today are unlikely to face being sent off to war against their will because our country has no military draft. Still, many Quakers are uncomfortable with American military might and the knowledge that their taxes support military operations. Some determined souls become war tax resistors, refusing to pay the portion of their taxes that would fund the Pentagon’s budget or putting that money aside in an escrow account rather than paying it to the federal government. But such civil disobedience can put resistors in jeopardy. Some have had their wages garnished or their cars and houses seized to pay back taxes.

A bill now before Congress provides an alternative path: it would give taxpayers opposed to participation in war in any form based upon their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or training the right to have their federal taxes used for nonmilitary governmental purposes only. Pacifists could be faithful to their beliefs without withholding their taxes from the government.

The proposed legislation, called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act (H.R. 2377), was introduced last May by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; it’s the latest version of a bill first introduced in Congress in 1972. The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, a Washington, D.C., a not-for-profit social welfare organization, has worked to build public awareness and support for such a fund since the 1970s.

The campaign’s founder, retired physician David R. Bassett, developed strong moral objections to war and military service growing up during World War II. After graduating from medical school in the 1950s, he was directed to join the military medical corps. While not yet a Quaker himself, Dr. Bassett argued, with the help of Quaker friends, that he be allowed alternative service as a conscientious objector. After a long campaign of letters to the Selective Service, he was granted CO status. Instead of serving in the military, Dr. Bassett spent two years working with the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee as a doctor in India.

Later in life Dr. Bassett started the campaign for a peace tax fund because he recognized that – while thousands of Americans feel conflicted about paying taxes for military purposes – most are not willing to become war tax resistors. The fund would allow those opposed to war to pay 100% of their taxes without violating their religious or ethical convictions, and it would also allow the government to collect the taxes it is due by law.

As Quakers, we feel strongly the need for alternatives to supporting war. If you are interested in the campaign for the peace tax fund, visit the website at peacetaxfund.org. There are many ways you can help.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Quakerism 101

Have you ever wondered how Quakers came to be? The Religious Society of Friends can be a puzzling spiritual community, different in so many ways from other protestant religions. Even those familiar with Quakerism have unanswered questions. Who were the Early Friends, and how did they manage to invent such in interesting new way to seek God? What led them to worship in silence? How did they arrive at consensus around the Quaker testimonies?

Looking beyond the simple dress and distinctive Quaker hats of Early Friends, you might be surprised to find commonality with these passionate men and women, the founders who struggled to find spiritual truth and community in the political and social chaos of 17th-century England. To explore this rich legacy, Reno Friends this fall will offer six sessions of what we call Quakerism 101, reviewing the emergence of the Early Friends and how their faith developed, and taking a closer look into some of the nuts and bolts of Quaker practice.

The classes start on Oct. 2 with a look at Quakerism’s roots during the English reformation and at several important Quaker founders. The second session (Oct. 16) will explore The Light Within, the direct and unmediated experience of the Divine in each of us, plus Quaker Universalism. The third session (Oct. 30) will delve into the meaning of attendership and membership in a Friends Meeting.

We will hold two more sessions in November. On Nov. 6, we will examine Quaker Process and our management of Meeting business. On Nov. 20, we will look at worship and ministry, our spiritual life, activism in the Quaker community, silent worship and what it means to be a gathered meeting. The last class, on Dec. 11, will dive into Faith & Practice, our Quaker guidebook, as well as the core Quaker testimonies: Peace, Equality, Integrity, Simplicity, Unity and Harmony with Nature.

Many Quakers have written of their own understanding and experience of God, their faith and the testimonies down through the centuries. This trove of wisdom is rich indeed. Here is one of my favorite examples, drawn from the testimonies presented in Faith & Practice:

“We who are members of the Society of Friends have little to fall back on except as our experience with truth. We cannot resort to ritual or creed or ecclesiastical decisions for guidance.  We must find our way by seeing the hand of God at work in the weaving of the fabric of daily life.”

– Quaker Clarence E. Pickett.

Even if you think you know all about Quakers, please join us for this exploration into the heart of the Quaker world.

 

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Leadership in Quaker Meetings

What does it mean to be a leader in a Quaker Meeting? Technically there are no leaders in the unprogrammed Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, such as Reno Friends. Everyone is equal, and no one is in charge. But if there are no leaders, how does a Meeting organize to get its work done? How do Quakers determine how to worship, how to manage their business, how to grow?

Early Friends were defined, in part, by their rejection of the leadership and ministry of clerics; Friends turned instead to their personal experience to understand God. Even today, most Quaker Meetings operate without a pastor or minister. There are no deacons, nor a church board, as is common in many Protestant churches. Instead the Meeting, as a gathered community led by spirit, performs the functions of leadership collectively.

The foundation for this is articulated in the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guidebook, Faith & Practice:

“Ministry in word and act, responsibility for the good order and material needs of the Meeting, visitation, faithfulness in testimonies: all these things, in the measure of the Light that is given, are the responsibilities of persons in the Meeting.”

This means that all those affiliated with a Quaker Meeting bear a responsibility to contribute to the workings on the Meeting, however they can or feel led. Some serve on committees, such as Ministry and Oversight, which tends to the spiritual and personal needs of Meeting members and attenders. Some participate on Nominating, the committee that works to discern who can best fill each organizational role. Others will take responsibility for our finances or our buildings and grounds or will serve as clerk, the person who handles administrative procedures and running Business Meetings. At most Quaker Meetings, and at Reno Friends, all these tasks are done by volunteers.

Yet none of the individuals filling these positions have authority over the Meeting. That authority rests with the Meeting for Business, which gathers once a month to make decisions. Unlike most governing boards or groups, Quakers do not vote or adopt the will of the majority. Instead, they work to find common ground that will lead them to unity.

To reach unity on a decision, Quakers understand that those present at Business Meeting need to listen to each other, and to the spirit of God. Sometimes they pause and return to silence, to allow everyone to look within for the solution forward.

“By listening to the Divine in ourselves and in each other, Friends are better prepared to find God’s will. Friends should not listen for the most convincing argument, but for the greater understanding to which each contributes and to which each may assent…. When unity is realized, the outcome is deeply satisfying. It produces a sense of the rightness of the decision and a loving connection between members.” (PYM, Faith & Practice)

It can feel challenging, at times, for any small group to operate without the guiding hand of a leader. Sometimes unity is hard to find, and an issue may be tabled for another day, to give everyone more time to reflect. But we have faith that if we love and trust and listen to each other, we can usually find the path. As Faith & Practice says, “A united Meeting is not necessarily of one mind but it is all of one heart.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

 

 

Quaker Presidents and the Oath of Office

A recent news story about the U.S. Presidential Oath of Office got me thinking about Quaker presidents. The story focused on the words “so help me God” that many presidents add to the official oath, and whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would follow suit. But I was intrigued by another, more basic question:  because Quakers do not believe in oaths or swearing, would a Quaker president be required to take the oath at all?

The official oath is short and to the point:  I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution requires every president to tender the oath before he or she may assume power.

No doubt, the founding fathers wanted to make sure presidents committed publicly to uphold the Constitution, a cornerstone of rule by law rather than by the whims of a leader. And yet taking such an oath could violate the beliefs of the Religious Society of Friends. As the August Query on Integrity and Personal Conduct says:

Friends believe that we are called to speak the truth. A single standard of truth requires us to conduct ourselves in ways that are honest, direct, and plain, and to make our choices, both large and small, in accord with the urgings of the Spirit. It follows that we object to taking an oath, which presupposes a variable standard of truth. Be true to your word.

Indeed, the oath’s alternative fourth word – “affirm,” rather than “swear” – was included in the oath by the founding fathers to accommodate Quakers and other religious groups that followed the biblical prohibition of swearing. As James says in the New Testament (James 5:12, KJV):  Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Quakers have served as president of the United States twice: Herbert Hoover held the office from 1929 to 1933, and Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1974. Ironically, neither man choose to use the optional word affirm when they took the presidential oath. It is sometimes reported that Hoover said “affirm,” but a newsreel shows him using the phrase “solemnly swear.”

As is often the case with the Quaker Testimonies, the Integrity Testimony helps guide Friends through the collisions of principle with the rules of other institutions, the mores of society, and the practical demands of the moment.  Our guiding document, Faith and Practice, sums it up this way:

Integrity is a demanding discipline. We are challenged by cultural values and pressures to conform. Integrity requires that we be fully responsible for our actions. Living with integrity requires living a life of reflection, living in consistency with our beliefs and testimonies, and doing so regardless of personal consequences. Not least, it calls for a single standard of truth. From the beginning, Friends have held to this standard, and have often witnessed against the mainstream. When they suffered in consequence of their witness against secular order, their integration of belief and practice upheld them in adversity.

Perhaps, in the end, it matters less how a President takes the oath and more what kind of leader that person proves to be. No matter who stands up next January to swear, or affirm, to uphold the Constitution, let us hold them in the Light.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

 

 

Marrying in the Manner of Friends

June is wedding season, and each year I like to think back to the lovely weddings I’ve witnessed over the years. One of the most moving was a Quaker wedding. One of my dear friends – the woman who introduced me to Quakerism – was married in the backyard of her family home in Colorado “in the manner of Friends,” as the Quakers say. Except for the fact that her marriage took place outdoors, rather than in a Quaker Meeting House, it was a true Quaker wedding.

What does it mean to be married “in the manner of Friends?” Quaker weddings often surprise people who have little experience of Quaker practice. Instead of a fancy ceremony with a minister preaching the virtues of marriage, a line of bridesmaids and groomsmen flanking bride and groom, and a church sanctuary decked out in flowers and ribbons, Quaker weddings are often quiet celebrations in modest settings.

The most interesting difference is the minister leading the service – there is none. In unprogrammed Quaker Meetings, such as Reno Friends Meeting, there is no recognized difference between clergy and laity, so there is no official that marries the couple. Quakers believe they are married by God. The Meeting that gathers for the wedding merely witnesses the couple’s declaration of intentions before God.

As George Fox, one of the founders of Quakerism, said:“For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests’ or the magistrates’; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s; and therefore Friends cannot consent that they should join them together: for we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.”

A Quaker wedding usually starts like a typical Quaker Silent Worship, with everyone sitting in silence and people speaking out of the silence as they are led. Sometimes the couple to be married sits facing the rest of the group, and sometimes just in a front pew. When they are ready, they rise and exchange “declarations” with each other. They do not swear traditional wedding vows: the Quaker testimony of Integrity holds that Quakers should tell the truth at all times, so vows and oaths are unnecessary. The declarations are usually simple and egalitarian. As the 18th-century Quaker Lucretia Mott said:“In the true marriage relationship the independence of husband and wife is equal, their dependence mutual, and their obligations reciprocal.”

My friend’s wedding started with a period of worshipful silence. Next, the bride and groom rose and exchanged their promises to each other. After they sat down again, the Meeting continued in Silent Worship, with people rising occasionally out of the silence to share a message. The silence that day was deeply loving and sacred.

At the close of the wedding, everyone signed the marriage certificate as witnesses. Quaker couples often frame their marriage certificates and hang them in their homes, as a way to remember the community of beloved friends and family who witnessed their solemn marital promises.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

How We Give

I first started attending Quaker meeting because Silent Worship spoke to me like no other church service I’d ever experienced.  After a few months of attending, I decided to deepen my commitment to the Meeting by making regular contributions of my time and financial support.

Volunteering for a committee at the Meeting was easy, but figuring out how to give financially proved harder.  When I asked the worship clerk one Sunday, he looked around the room. It was a large, east coast Meeting, and there were about fifty Quakers gathered. “Well,” he said, “there might be someone here who could tell you how, but I don’t know who.”

The Quakers do not conduct a traditional church service, and they also do not pass the plate for donations.  At least not in any of the Meetings I’ve ever attended.  Sometimes there’s a small box or canister on a table near the door, but I’ve rarely heard anyone suggest attenders drop their contributions inside it. And unlike most Protestant churches, Quakers rarely use a pledge system.  A Meeting might make a special appeal, say if it needs funding for a new building or something unusual, but generally Quaker Meetings proceed as if money doesn’t matter.

But, of course, it does.  Reno Friends has an annual budget and is happy to accept donations to help us pay our First Day School teacher (our only staffing expense), and to offset the cost of utilities, insurance and upkeep of our Meeting House and First Day School. We also give to several local and national charitable organizations or Quaker organizations, and we support the quarterly and yearly Meetings that serve our region and the West Coast.

When we do discuss giving to our Meeting — usually at our monthly Business Meeting — we try to do so in a larger context.  As the 19th-century Quaker John Woolman said, “As Christians, all we possess are the gifts of God.  To turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of Universal Love becomes the business of our lives.” We recognize that some people have more time than money, or may feel that they have a special skill or expertise they can lend the Meeting to make our communal experience richer and more interesting.  Our Query on Stewardship says:  “From the indwelling Seed of God, we discover our particular gifts and discern the service to which we are called.”  Some might make phone calls to those who are sick, while others balance the books or help keep our campus tidy.  There are many ways to give to the Meeting.

In the end, I’ve learned to appreciate the Quakers’ way of keeping money off center stage, and I  appreciate the many ways Reno Friends give to our Meeting.  Everyone does what she or he can. If they have a handful of coins or a check to share, then they can slip it into the humble Quaker Oats canister that sits on our Meeting House table.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

HUMILITY AND THE MIGRANT CRISIS

The other day I saw a news photo of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of several Muslim refugees from the Middle East. As a Quaker, I had never seen this Maundy Thursday ritual performed. Having priests wash the feet of parishioners is the sort of high-church tradition the seventeenth-century Quakers rejected as obscuring the pure light and direct experience of God.

Nonetheless, I found the image of the 79-year-old pope and the migrants seated above him strangely moving. Washing a stranger’s gritty, smelly, earth-bound feet is a way of saying “let me be your servant,” an expression of deep humility. It was such a relief – after a difficult week of ISIS attacks in Belgium and political grandstanding about migrants – to see a world leader bend his knee to these fellow humans.

While we all understand the need to be on guard for terrorists trying to cross our borders, we also need to remember the power of humility in trying times. Unfortunately, humility is not a trait that gets much respect these days, particularly not in the heat of our current political season. Candidates trumpet their views as if they have the only answers, and followers seem especially inflamed and righteous. It makes me long for middle ground, a place where all of us who want the best for our country and the larger world could come together and listen with open hearts.

As the English Quaker Joseph Jon Gurney said in the early 19th century: “When the pride of the heart is laid low, when the activity of human reasoning is quieted, when the soul is reduced to a state of silent subjection in the presence of its Creator, then this ‘still small voice’ intelligibly heard, and the word of the Lord, as it is inwardly revealed to us, becomes a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths.”

It takes humility to accept that we don’t always know what’s right or how to respond in a difficult situation. Pride and posturing will not help us understand why emigrants have left their homes or what they are seeking, but perhaps humility will. Whether a flood of migrants is part of God’s plan or not, I cannot say. But it’s an opportunity to practice listening humbly to others, and to God. We will need to understand each other better to make progress in this chaotic world.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Compassionate Listening and Adult Children of Alcoholics

Reno Friends Meeting hosts several community groups in our Meeting House, providing space for organizations that share our Quaker values and have no home of their own. For the last year, members of the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families have gathered inside our space on Thursday nights. This 12-step fellowship program is designed to promote healing for those who struggle with neglect, shame, abuse and other legacies of growing up in a home led by alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.

One recent Thursday, I decided to join them. I was curious about the program and wanted to extend a Quaker welcome. That night, twenty people showed up, of all ages and types. They knew each other well, greeting one another by name and chatting a bit. When the program started, they shared readings about how alcoholism and dysfunctional parents can torque a family. One of particular interest was the “Laundry List” of traits common among adult children of alcoholics, such as low self-esteem, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility or the need to seek approval from others.

Over the next hour, the attendees took turns sharing their stories. Some spoke of harrowing moments in their childhood and how they had responded. Others talked of how they struggled in the present to respond differently to trying situations. Some even shared little victories, such as using meditation and prayer to calm down, or drawing a boundary between themselves and someone taking advantage of them. The stories were interesting, and many made me think of moments in my own life. No one, after all, grows up in a perfect family.

But what struck me most was how the group listened to each other. They paid full attention, and no one else spoke until the person had finished. Then they all said “thank you.” By agreement, they do not “cross-talk,” defined as giving advice or commentary, which allows each story a compassionate space. Watching them, I suddenly saw what a profound gift it is to listen attentively, wait until someone is done, and then thank them for their story. How often do we do that for the people in our lives? How often do we listen without being distracted by our own thoughts, our own response? How can we learn to let go of what is in our own head and really hear what someone is saying?

At the end of the evening, several in the room came up to thank me for the use of our Meeting House. I left grateful that we are able to provide a quiet space for them, and also for the insights they gave me.

If you are interested in attending or have a friend who might be, the Reno group meets from 5:30 to 6:30 pm Thursdays at our Meeting House at 497 Highland Avenue, Reno, NV 89512.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The Great Applesauce Giveaway

Every fall the children in our First Day School (FDS) collect apples from the tree behind the building where our First Day program meets on Sundays. The kids have picked up the fruit mostly so there wouldn’t be a big mess. But this fall FDS decided to put the apples to good use by cooking up food for Reno’s homeless. That’s how the Great Applesauce Giveaway was launched.

“We had been talking about homelessness and why someone might be homeless and hungry, and the kids wanted to help. This seemed like the perfect opportunity,” says Erin, our long-time FDS teacher. She put out feelers to the Reno Friends community asking if anyone had extra apples or problem apples. When one of the Quakers said she had plenty, the First Day School decided to meet on a Saturday and glean what they could.

The children enjoyed picking up and sorting the apples, and talked about how they were taking care of the land by eliminating a rotted mess of neglected fruit. They brought their harvest to the home of one of the kids, then peeled and chopped and boiled the apples. They had fun taking turns with an old-fashioned apple peeler, but still, it took a long time; several people worked into the evening. When it was done, however, they had lots of paper containers full of applesauce.

The next day, the FDS kids passed out the applesauce containers, and spoons, in front of one of Reno’s homeless shelters. “The cups were all gone within a few minutes,” Erin remembers. “Everyone could see what we were doing and they all came over.” It was a moving experience for the youngsters, Erin says. “It was very emotional; we were overwhelmed by how much greater the need was than we could fill.” One mom says the response from the homeless touched her son profoundly, and the First Day School kids soon agreed they would try to think up more projects to help. Later, they read about Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), a Quaker from England who worked in prisons and reported that no one ever asked the prisoners what they needed. People might bring supplies, but only the supplies they thought the prisoners needed, not what they truly wanted. And so the FDS children decided their next project would be to buy supplies for the homeless – but only after asking them what they need.

Reno Friends First Day School is available, for free, every First Day (Sunday) morning from 10 to 11. The First Day School explores age-appropriate issues and stories that teach the children about Quaker values and testimonies, such as the Peace Testimony and the Equality Testimony. For more information, look at the Reno Friends’ website under “All About Reno Friends.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

New Year’s Resolutions

Ah, January! After the flurry of Christmas – wrapping presents, baking cookies, hosting family – the bright skies and peaceful, quiet days of January always arrive as relief. I pack away the decorations with glee and crack open a fresh pocket calendar, ready to restart my life. 

Many of us take the New Year as a time to bring ourselves back to center. This is the point of all those resolutions: join a gym, lose twenty pounds, read a classic every month. But this year, I recognized my list of resolutions as all-too-familiar companions. I’ve adopted the same must-do’s every year; yet each January, there they are, still in need of attention.

It reminds me of when my younger son was small and seemed deaf to my requests. No matter how many times I told him to stop running around and get in the car, he did so only when I threatened to quarantine his stuffed animals. A therapist finally pointed out that I yelled instructions to my son so often he had stopped listening; it was all just background noise. “Don’t speak to him until you are ready to make sure he hears you,” she suggested. What wisdom! It worked like a charm.

Which raises the question: am I ready to listen to myself? And how about listening to the “small quiet voice within,” as the Quakers say?  Perhaps I’m embracing the wrong resolutions. After all, I’ll probably be fighting those same extra pounds the rest of my life. Maybe this year I could resolve to do something more radical, like adopting a resolution aimed outward, something to benefit the larger world instead of myself.

As I thumbed through my friends’ holiday cards, I was struck by how many contained messages pleading for peace. As terrorism and violence rock our world and the climate swings more precariously, many of us long for more safety and calm.

My resolution, then, will be to work for peace, wherever and however I can. I’ll start with those around me and work outward, following the guidance of the Quaker Peace Testimony: “The work of peace is the work of sustaining relationships of mutual human regard, of seeing and speaking to that of God in everyone, of seeking peace within ourselves, the family, the community and the world. The Kingdom of God is both present in each of us and a goal yet to be fulfilled. The task may never be done, but sustained by God’s love we are called to pursue it.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.