All posts by renofriends

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.

Exploring the Quaker Testimonies

For the past several months, Reno Friends have been meeting twice a month to explore what the Quakers call “testimonies” – shared truths that Quakers have learned through their own experience.

The most common Quaker testimonies spell out the acronym SPICE – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. Some Meetings include other testimonies such as Unity, Stewardship, Civic and Social Responsibility, or Harmony with Creation.

We use the term testimonies because each person’s experience and life illuminate different aspects of these truths. The testimonies draw from 350 years of Quaker experience and yet they are dynamic too. Many Quakers, from 17th-century founders to modern Friends, have written personal testimonies based on these truths. These testimonies are in turn studied by their contemporaries and successors. Some of our monthly Queries pose questions for our lives today based on the testimonies.

In our discussions of the testimonies we’ve found a range of understanding and experience in our small circle – and a host of questions. How can we live a more meaningful life? Does it take courage or just clear thinking to speak with integrity? How does our need for control and security complicate our lives? How can we treat others equally in a world full of personal differences and civil inequities? How might we confront the violence endemic in our society?

We’ve invited each other to consider writing our own personal testimonies. I penned a testimony on simplicity that I’ll share here: “Simplicity for me is swimming back – through the murky, weed-choked complexity of modern life – to the root of my soul, where love, kindness and wakefulness live. Love, because it permits forgiveness; kindness, because compassion focuses my heart on the other; and wakefulness, because I need to see clearly to know what to do.”

Our testimony discussions continue for several more months. Check our Calendar for dates and times. All are welcome to join.

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 New Home on the Web

When my husband and I moved to Reno seven years ago, we went searching for a spiritual community online….

I checked out several different religious websites, but was attracted to Reno Friends Meeting by the personal feel of its site.  There were bios of attenders, welcoming faces, and a treasure trove of material on Quakerism.  We went to Silent Worship the next weekend and have been attending ever since.

Today, though, that original Reno Friends website feels out of date.  How quickly technology changes!  In an effort to reach out to the Northern Nevada community, Reno Friends has built a new web site that we hope will be easier to use and more inviting to newcomers.  Building on the WordPress blog platform, we reorganized and distilled content from the old site, building a site we hope you will find useful, attractive and easy to navigate. It will also be easier for us to manage internally, enabling more frequent updates.

As part of our redesign, we have added this monthly blog about the interesting things we’re doing at the Meeting — whether it’s the annual fall camping trip to Grover Hot Springs or the new class on Quaker Testimonies.  We will also fold the monthly newsletter into the website and provide a more robust calendar of future events.  My hope is that the Reno Friends website will become a resource and home for everyone interested in Quaker practice and philosophy in the Reno-Tahoe area.

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.