All posts by renofriends

Harmony with Nature

When I look out on our beautiful Sierra Nevada this winter, I worry. Even with the late February snowfall, there will likely be little snowpack to sustain trees and wildlife through the coming summer, extending the drought of the past few years. And that makes me wonder if I’m doing all I can to help protect the remarkable blue planet that is our home.

Quakers have long held a testimony to live in harmony with nature.  As stated in Faith & Practice:

“God is revealed in all Creation.  We humans belong to the whole interdependent community of life on earth.  Rejoice in the beauty, complexity and mystery of creation, with gratitude to be part of its unfolding….  Live according to principles of right relationship and right action within this larger whole.  Be aware of the influence humans have on the health and viability of life on earth…. Guided by Spirit, work to translate this understanding into ways of living that reflect our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”

For me, and for many Quakers, the accumulation of scientific data is convincing: the climate is changing and humans are responsible. Recently I received a copy of “Facing the Challenge of Climate Change,” a statement developed by Quaker Earthcare Witness, the Quaker United Nations Office, and Friends Committee on National Legislation for the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014.  In this statement, the Quaker organizations called on world leaders to make the radical decisions needed to create a fair, sufficient and effective international climate-change agreement. They also wrote that “the current rise of greenhouse gas emissions is leading to an unprecedented rate of increase in global average surface temperature of extreme detriment to the Earth’s ecosystems and species, including human beings.” The groups added that they “recognize a personal and collective responsibility to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable peoples now, and all our future generations, do not suffer as a consequence of our actions.”

The Quaker groups referred to this challenge as a call to conscience. “We recognize the connections between climate change and global economic injustice as well as unprecedented levels of consumption, and [we] question assumptions of unlimited material growth on a planet with limited natural resources.”  I find this statement interesting, because it links the threat of climate change with the economic and social consequences of drought, disruptive storms, rising ocean levels and accelerating desertification.  For Quakers, it’s not just caring about the earth that matters – it’s finding a way to live sustainably so that everyone may share justly in the riches the earth provides.

Many other Quaker testimonies are interwoven with our commitment to live in harmony with nature.  The Integrity Testimony calls on us to keep our lives centered in the Spirit so that our beliefs and actions are congruent, and our words dependable.  The Simplicity Testimony asks us to take no more than our share of the earth’s resources and to be sensitive to the needs of others, especially future generations.  The Unity Testimony calls on us to work together to discern and serve God’s will, trusting one another and being confident that, together, Friends will find the truth.

Climate change presents perhaps the greatest challenge humans have ever encountered.  I trust that, consistent with our testimonies, Quakers will help define and lead the national and international response to this pressing problem.

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.

Finding an Alternative Path for Those Who Live With Violence

Several years ago, Reno Friends Meeting decided to dedicate most of its charitable giving to the Nevada Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a group of volunteers who go into Nevada prisons to lead non-violence workshops for inmates.

Practicing non-violence is a central Quaker principle.  As the Peace Testimony of Pacific Yearly Meeting says,

Friends work for reconciliation and active nonviolent resolutions of conflict. Friends have traditionally supported conscientious objectors to military service, while holding in love, but disagreeing with, those who feel that they must enter the armed forces. Friends oppose all war as inconsistent with God’s will.  Recognizing that violence and war typically arise from unjust circumstances, Friends address the causes of war by working to correct social injustice, and by strengthening communities, institutions and processes to provide nonviolent alternatives to military force.

AVP is an international association of volunteer groups, active in 33 states in the USA and in 50 countries. The Nevada branch receives no financial support from AVP’s parent organizations so Reno Friends Meeting furnishes much of what the volunteers need to cover the cost of workshop materials and travel to prison locations such as Lovelock, 100 miles northeast of Reno.

AVP began in 1975 as a collaboration between inmates in New York’s Green Haven Prison and Quakers interested in working with youth gangs and teens at risk. The program spread throughout New York State prisons and to other states as a prison program and, in some places, as a community program for people from all walks of life.

AVP, which builds on a spiritual base of respect and caring for self and others, draws participants and trainers from all religions, races, sexual identities, and walks of life. Its three-day workshops provide an intense learning experience that teaches conflict resolution skills designed to lead participants to new ways of being in the world.

And the AVP workshops appear to be working:  a recent academic study in one California prison found AVP workshops were effective in reducing behavioral misconduct by those who previously had disciplinary infractions during their incarcerations and among more educated inmates.

Nevada AVP coordinator Rita Sloan visited with Reno Friends last month accompanied by a recently paroled inmate who became an AVP trainer while in prison.  The parolee told us that AVP changed his life.  The parolee said he had retreated to a very isolated emotional place before attending his first workshop.  But AVP provided a safe environment to discuss his fears and hopes, and he learned to understand conflict and how to deal with it.  Once his parole is complete, he hopes to return to the prisons to volunteer again as a trainer.

Mixing inmates and members of the community within each workshop is integral to AVP, Sloan said.  Community volunteers must first be cleared to enter the prisons — a process that can take months — but the volunteers find the workshop experience is well worth the hassle. “We all have things to learn about non-violence,” said Sloan.  “We all have the seeds of violence in us, even if it is just through our words and gestures.  Everyone takes away something important from the workshops.”

If you are interested knowing more about AVP, go to our AVP page. You can also contact Rita Sloan by email:  rwrksloan (at) hotmail.com .

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.

Seekers and Seeking

Quaker Meetings often attract seekers, those who yearn for the mystery and comfort of a spiritual life but who haven’t yet found their spiritual home.  There is something about the open silence of unprogammed Silent Worship that seekers find welcoming, even liberating.  There is no sermon, no lectionary, no spiritual music, so each person can experience the silence in whatever way helps her or him feel and understand the mystery of God.

Many of the Reno Friends are seekers, and a good number of us come from other spiritual traditions—Baptist, Congregational, Catholic, Jewish.  One attender is a devoted seeker who has spent years studying Buddhism; another is married to a Muslim and has raised her children as Muslims, an experience that has deeply influenced her understanding and appreciation of God. Those of us with other religious backgrounds and wisdom often share these experiences in worship or discussion classes, to the enrichment of all.

It was this tolerance of seekers that first attracted me to Quaker Meeting.  I loved how the Quakers had Queries, or questions, instead of dogma or declarations.  I loved how often the messages shared in the Silence were wrapped around the mysteries of life and faith.  I have always felt free at Meeting to share my own doubts and spiritual insecurities.  When others in the Meeting respond, it is with compassion, interest and stories from their own spiritual meandering search.

One of the most profound stories I ever heard was told out of the Silence at a Quaker Meeting in Washington, D.C.  It was an unusually large Meeting, with nearly a hundred people in the room.  A man in his fifties rose and haltingly told the tale of his father’s tortured spiritual wandering.  How he started out as Jewish, converted to Catholicism, later boomeranged to atheism, and then retreated into a mix of Buddhism and New Age Spirituality.  Near the end of his life, he had joined his son—the speaker—at Quaker Meeting.  Finally the son took a deep breath and said:  “My father died this past week.  I hope now he has his answer.”

Many have found their spiritual answers, but for those who haven’t, the patient “waiting on God” of Silent Worship can provide some of the solace we seek.

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.

Simplicity at Christmas

Many who visit Friends Meetings wonder if Quakers celebrate Christmas. It’s a good question: because we worship in silence, without a traditional worship program, there’s no structured role for the Christmas story or hymns and carols.

In the old days, early Quakers refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter because they felt such rituals distracted from true religious experience. They considered every day a holy day and, to emphasize substance rather than form, gathered to worship simply in silence. To this day Friends in unprogrammed Meetings such as Reno Friends worship without outward sacraments.

But that is not to say that Quakers don’t gather in the dark midwinter to share fellowship and music. Today, Quaker groups generally do not testify against their members observing Christmas, and many Friends Meetings have some holiday traditions.

Friends often try to reflect the Quaker simplicity testimony in their observances, marking the season with special concern for the poor and needy rather than decorating their Meeting Houses with Christmas greens. When my children were little, their First Day School spent weeks collecting donations of toiletries and gifts, then packed them in shoe boxes wrapped in bright paper and delivered the boxes to shelters for the homeless.  Many Friends serve in soup kitchens, and some Meetings collect non-violent toys to give to charities, seeing the season as an opportunity to witness to the Peace Testimony.  This year, Reno Friends will hold a Winter Sock Drive for those in need.

So, in the spirit of holiday fellowship, Reno Friends invite you to join us on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at our Meeting House for a special Silent Worship, followed by carols and cookies. And if you have some gently-used woolen socks you no longer need, bring them and toss them in our Sock Box. We hope to see you there!

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.

Reno Friends, Welcoming One and All

Our Quaker Meeting House may be small, but its heart is big.  Since its founding in 1994, Reno Monthly Meeting has welcomed the LGBT community. We celebrate the recent federal appeals court ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriages in Nevada,  and we cheer when national figures like Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook feel free to profess that they are gay. I was particularly moved by the words Cook chose as he made his announcement late last month:  “I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Our wide tent and acceptance of all people are founded in the Friends’ Equality Testimony, which starts with a quote from the New Testament:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”  (Galatians 3:28, the New Jerusalem Bible). These words of the apostle Paul in the first century A.D. provide one of the most profound teachings of Christianity.

The Friends’ embrace of equality is rooted in the expectation that there is that of God in everyone, including adversaries and people from widely different stations, life experiences, and religious persuasions. All must therefore be treated with integrity and respect. Each person is equally a child of God. The testimony of equality does not imply that all individuals in a particular role are the same; instead, it recognizes that the same measure of God’s grace is available to everyone.

The Pacific Yearly Meeting, our regional Friends’ organization, proclaimed its position on equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in 1972, saying: “Now, more aware of the socially inflicted suffering of people who love others of the same sex, we affirm the power and joy of non-exploitive, loving relationships. As a Society and as individuals, we oppose arbitrary social, economic, or legal abridgment of the right to share this love.”

Reno Friends celebrate any union that is dedicated to mutual love and respect, regardless of the make-up of the family. We strive to create homes where the Spirit of the Divine resides at the center and where the individual genius of each member is respected and nurtured. Both in the public realm – where Friends may “speak truth to power” – and in intimate familial contexts, Friends’ principles require witness against injustice and inequality wherever they exist.

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.                                  

Personal Simplicity: A Complicated Idea

If there was ever a time to seriously consider the Friends’ Simplicity Testimony, that time is now.  Technological changes and modernity have brought a dizzying array of media, personalities and international events to our digital doorsteps.  New gadgets complicate things we thought we understood, like our television sets and phones.  New channels of communication and entertainment open daily, cluttering our lives with more things we never knew we lacked.

It can make one long to retreat to a mountaintop.

How, then, can modern Quakers bring simplicity into our complex twenty-first-century lives?  Is it really wise to stop listening and reading the news?  Is it kind to our community to ignore email, or fail to respond to phone messages?  Is it even possible to retreat from the clamor of our culture?

The Simplicity Testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting says “simplicity is the right ordering of our lives, placing God at the center. When we shed possessions, activities, and behavior that distract us from that center, we can focus on what is important. Simplicity does not mean denying life’s pleasures, but being open to the promptings of the Spirit. We Friends seek to take no more than our share and to be sensitive to the needs of others, especially future generations.”

For the Quakers, living simply is about seeking to live more meaningfully.  Quakers have long referred to the unnecessary accumulation of material items as “cumber,” and they believed it obscured their vision of both God’s will and reality.  It can be spiritually cleansing to disinvest oneself of unnecessary possessions, to recycle unused items, or give away things you no longer truly need.

But “cumber” can mean more than material possessions – it can represent  unnecessary mental or spiritual cumber, or living beyond our emotional means.  Do we worry about some things more than necessary?  Do we challenge ourselves to consider each commitment, undertaking only those that are meaningful and useful?  Do we consider the power in focusing our energies rather than spreading ourselves too thin?

Like all the Quaker Testimonies, Simplicity is something we must each grapple with in our own lives.  There are no easy answers. But here are some questions that can help you assess your own personal simplicity balance:

What are the criteria we use to determine how to simplify our lives, and do those criteria help us move closer to God?

How do our needs for control and security complicate our lives?

Do we treasure our time, treating it as a gift from God?

What does it mean, as Quaker Kara Cole Newell asked, to be “lean and disciplined and not dependent upon our things?”

What hinders and what promotes our search for inward simplicity?

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.

 

A Testimony for Peace Day

In 1651, English Puritans imprisoned Quaker founder George Fox in a dungeon for refusing to fight in the English Civil War.  Out of this refusal grew the testimony to peace among early Quakers.  As Fox said:  “…we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of this world.”

Quakers have been refusing to fight in wars ever since, though this does not mean they have not contributed.  Quakers served as medics during the American Civil War and in other wars involving the U.S., and Conscientious Objectors have served in numerous ways at home.  The Peace Testimony continues to be a defining element among Friends today.

Does that mean everyone who counts themselves a Quaker is against all war?  No, indeed.  In a recent discussion at Reno Friends Meeting, several attenders said they feel the Peace Testimony is the most personal of the Quaker testimonies: it requires each of us to wrestle with his or her beliefs and understanding about war, war taxes, military service, even (for young men) registering for the Selective Service, as required by federal law.

The Peace Testimony, in fact, is about more than whether it is moral to go to war.  As the Pacific Yearly Meeting puts it:  “Recognizing that violence and war typically arise from unjust circumstances, Friends address the causes of war by working to correct social injustice, and by strengthening communities, institutions and processes to provide nonviolent alternatives to military force. We testify against structural violence implicit in disparities of wealth and income and against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, class, sexual orientation, and other divisions of people.”

Friends support those who seek to register as conscientious objectors to military service, while holding in love, but disagreeing with, those who enter the armed forces. In the search for peace, Quakers are called to see and speak to that of God in everyone, as well as seeking peace within ourselves, the family, the community and the world.

On September 27, Reno Friends will participate in a Peace Day event in Reno, one of many events being organized nationwide by Campaign Nonviolence during the week of September 21-27.  The Reno event is still being planned, but we expect it to include speakers and music. We’ll provide details on our Calendar as they are finalized.  Hope to see you there.

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.

Why Reno Friends Go Camping

Every fall the Reno Friends head to Grover Hot Springs State Park near Markleeville, California, for a weekend camping trip. We hike, swim in the hot springs pool, huddle in tents when it rains, and cook epic meals over bonfires. Most important, we talk — sometimes casually, sometimes with intensity. For a group that worships in silence, our time together around the campfire feels precious and important.

Last year, the forest fires that sent smoke across the Sierras required we cancel our camping trip, but we managed to muster a good-sized group for a day hike in the alpine meadows near Mt. Rose. Reno Friends try to get together for at least one outing or social activity every couple of months. We have shared lunch at a fun restaurant, cheered the Reno Aces at the ball park downtown, and hiked up Peavine to check out the spring wildflowers. What I love best about these outings is talking with other Friends, discovering details about them I hadn’t known. Each time I find myself deepening the connection to someone in the group.

Early Friends, often ostracized and sometimes persecuted for their simple living and radical spiritual and political beliefs, referred to their meetings as the Beloved Community. And no wonder—they must have needed each other’s support every day.

I think of that sometimes as I look around our Meeting gathered for the monthly potluck or an adult First-Day School discussion or teaming up to pull weeds and trim bushes during the spring or fall cleanup. I’m glad others bring beliefs and opinions that challenge me to think more deeply and test my own understanding and social norms. To see that of God in everyone, as Quakers strive to do, it helps to have these opportunities to know one another better.

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.

 

The Maple Leaf

Recently a Reno Friend offered the Meeting a large photograph of a maple leaf. It was a vivid image, the veins of the leaf quite pronounced, branching and spreading in all directions. The Friend told us she became attached to the image after another Reno Friend suggested the leaf illustrated that there are many paths to God. Her hope was that we would hang the painting in the Meeting House.

Other groups might say yea or nay quickly, without much deliberation. Not the Quakers.  Meeting House decoration can be a loaded question. Early Quakers were notoriously “plain-living,” eschewing fancy dress and sumptuous furnishings. They also rejected the ornate Anglican and Catholic church buildings of their day, and many Quakers still prefer to keep their Meeting Houses simple. Yet we have found that sometimes this “blank slate” interior, combined with the silence of our worship, can leave visitors wondering what we are about.

At Reno Friends we have occasionally used our Meeting House walls to showcase local artists  or to hang posters with Quaker messages. But none of these are permanent fixtures. Indeed, we have a policy prohibiting permanent art on the Meeting House walls: we would not want to promote any particular path toward God.

In the Quaker tradition there is even a testimony against proselytizing; we believe each person must determine the truth for themselves. As Quaker Clarence E. Pickett said: “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.”

After some discussion, our Meeting decided to accept the picture of the maple leaf for temporary display. While it hangs on our wall, we’ll each have time to consider what the leaf means to us.  There are many paths to God, enough for each to have their own.

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.

Listening to the Spirit: Clearness Committees

When I went through a difficult time in my life many years ago, I drew great solace from a group of Quaker women. We met twice a month for fellowship and food, offering each other in turn the gift of compassionate listening. I was moved by their patience with me and by their restraint. Instead of showering me with advice, they just listened, trusting that all I needed was a chance to lay out the problem and see it afresh.

Quakers believe that each one of us contributes to the spiritual strength of the loving community and that the community can serve as a guiding and sustaining force in the life of each individual.

Sometimes a person in the Friends Meeting will seek help making a tough decision or addressing a personal problem — whether it’s about work or family, marriage or divorce, taking a stand on a public issue, serving as a witness, or following a leading. When that happens, the Meeting convenes what we call a clearness committee to meet with the person and offer caring support. The members of the committee do not serve as a professional counselor giving advice or as a colleague hashing through the problem. Instead, they listen with patience — not only to the person in need but also to the movement of the Spirit in their hearts. Their purpose is not to criticize or offer collective wisdom but instead to listen without prejudice or judgment, to help clarify alternatives, and to provide spiritual and emotional support. The goal is clearness for the seeker.

At Reno Friends we have convened several clearness committees in the past few years, and I’m sure we will convene more. Friends say that asking for help in reaching clearness requires personal discernment and trust in the Spirit. Those who serve on clearness committees often find that responding to such a request creates the opportunity to invite spiritual guidance into our everyday lives.

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.