Category Archives: Quaker Testimonies

Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

Continue reading Bringing Light into the World

Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

A Reno Friend recently shared a photo from social media that reminded me of something fundamental to the Quaker faith. It wasn’t a photo of Quakers; it was a photo of Turkish protestors, gathered to stand against their government’s crimes –   and they were standing in silence. Below the photo (which was published by The Free Thought Project) was a caption: No yelling. No screaming. No fighting. A more efficient form of protesting: Thousands of people standing in complete silence, protesting in squares & public places in Turkey. Baffling the police by creating a calm curiosity, instead of tension and aggression. Along with the photo, the Reno Friend sent a comment: “Quakers have been using this form of protest for years!”

Continue reading Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

Quaker Testimonies in the Time of Coronavirus

The Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, often speak of their “testimonies.”  The testimonies are the shared truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years. There is no single, exclusive list of testimonies, but there are common, deeply held values that the Quakers refer to for guidance. Given that our world has been turned upside-down recently by the Covid-19 virus, I thought it would be useful to consult the testimonies for guidance in how to manage our lives, both individually and collectively, during this trying time.

Many Quaker schools use the acronym SPICES to remember the basic Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship. For the purpose of this blog, I will talk about three of the six testimonies and how they can light the way through our current darkness.

Community: Quakers often refer to those who gather together to worship in silence as “the beloved community.” Indeed, there is something intimate about the silence, and the deep currents of spirit that arise from it, that brings people together. We know each other; we care about and for each other. And yet, right now, we cannot gather. Instead of sitting in silence in our Meeting House, we try to sit in silence in our individual homes. But it isn’t the same. As we wait for life to return to normal, Reno Meeting is trying to keep our people “gathered” in whatever way possible. We are holding online spiritual discussions and lunches, sharing worship after-thoughts and inspirations via a weekly spiritual update, and holding each other (and our families) in the Light as we cope with illness, job loss, sadness and anxiety. All of this is more powerful when done together. As Quaker writer Parker Palmer has written: “Friends are most in the Spirit when they stand at the crossing point of the inward and outward life; and that is the intersection at which we find community. Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.” It’s a time to keep our hearts open, flexible, and able to adapt as things change. It’s a time to employ the best practices of community: kindness, attention, mutual support and tolerance. If we reach out to each other with love and assistance, our community will stay strong, even if we cannot be gathered together in our Meeting House.

Integrity: The heart of the Quaker testimony of Integrity is about keeping our lives centered in the Spirit, where actions are rooted in our convictions and our words are dependable. Integrity calls on us to be responsible in what we do and careful with what we say. During these difficult times, when there is a host of untrue material circulating online and in the media, Integrity can be a beacon for Quakers. Integrity means that you resist divisive language; that you check that a news item is accurate before reposting it on Facebook. As the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guide Faith & Practice says: “Commitment to truth requires authenticity and veracity in following one’s conscience, illuminated by the Inner Light.” Integrity of words and deeds is the habit that allows us to discern a leading, such as one that might help our community or support those in need. Sitting in Silence, listening to the guidance of Spirit, can carry us a long way in these trying days.

Equality:  The spread of the coronavirus has exposed the fault lines in our society. Those without adequate health care are more likely to get sick and have a rough time coping with the illness. Those who are poor and who live together in crowded apartments may be unable to social distance or work from home, and thereby end up at greater risk. And many of those who have lost jobs are those whose financial circumstances are chronically fragile. The Equality testimony of Quakers says that everyone is worthy of love, care and support. This is a time to seek out those that might need special help, including the hungry, the homeless, those who are lonely. For those who can afford to help, it’s a time to continue paying for services we depend on, even if we cannot get them right now. It’s a time to donate time, money, energy and heart. Equality does not just mean accepting that we are all children of God; it means looking around to see who is struggling and who needs our help. As Susan B. Anthony, the 19th-century Quaker suffragette, said: “I pray every second of my life; not on my knees, but with my work… Work and worship are one with me.” May our work to bring fairness, equality and kindness to society be worship for us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Peace in these Times

To write this blog, I’ve had to tear myself away from the political news and center in the silence for a bit, just so I can return to a semblance of peace. Without a doubt, we are living through extraordinary times, ones that challenge us to remain calm and loving. It’s too easy these days to fill with rage, to want to rant at someone, to gnash our teeth. The Peace Testimony, which reminds us to be “an instrument of Peace,” is a central fixture of the Quaker faith, and yet sometimes it just feels too hard. How are we to meet public malfeasance, abuse of power and war-like behavior with love? How are we to talk to those who disagree with us and honor that of God in them when we are angry and upset? How do we follow the road of peace in times of conflict and polarization?

Continue reading Peace in these Times

Who We Welcome

One of the central tenets of the Quaker faith is the Equality Testimony. As stated in the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s manual Faith & Practice, the Equality Testimony starts with this simple statement:  “Friends testimony on equality is rooted in the holy 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.”

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Judgment vs. Discernment

Reno Friends Meeting is currently taking a hard look at how we interact with each other. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of discernment in our Meeting life.  Discernment is a process dear to Quaker hearts, and an important tool to figuring out the proper path for both the Meeting and ourselves as individuals. But what does discernment entail, and how does it differ from judgment?

Continue reading Judgment vs. Discernment

Seeking Unity

Unity, the idea that we should seek consensus in our collective decisions, is a central testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  In this fractious time, however, it often seems the goal of unity has been nearly forgotten.  Everyone seems to have differing views and fears and concerns, many of them deeply held. The anxieties of our age have taken a toll on our ability to talk with each other. In such a climate, unity feels nearly impossible to achieve. If so, does unity still matter?

I believe it does; in fact, I would argue that unity could be the antidote to our societal divisions. Faith and Practice, the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guidebook, says this about unity:  “Friends believe that it is possible for the human spirit to be in direct communion with the Divine. Seeking God’s will together, we believe (the) way will open and unity will emerge. Working together to discern and serve God’s will both nourishes and benefits from unity. This unity grows from trust in one another and readiness to speak out, confident that together, Friends will find the truth.”

It is clear, then, that unity is as much a process as a goal. One of the qualities I find most compelling about Friends is that every advice and testimony rests on the fundamental principle that actions matter most. When Quaker founder George Fox said “Let your lives speak,” he meant that beliefs and convictions can only be communicated through action.  It is what you do that matters, not what you say or profess.

In the case of unity, it is the process of seeking unity together through thoughtful listening and discerning of God’s will that is paramount. That’s why unity is most valuable when we disagree.

According to Os Cresson, an Iowa Quaker, “For Friends, unity is not usually unanimity, which is agreement without dissent.  Unity is more often agreement that acknowledges dissent, staying together despite differences, and moving forward with guidance from our common values.”

Seeking unity can be a challenge, as Quakers often hold disparate views of God and God’s will. Because Friends believe that each person is on her or his own spiritual path, it is more important that we are seekers of the truth than that we have all arrived at an agreed-upon destination of spiritual perfection. And this, says Cresson, is what we can model for the larger community. “The embrace of religious diversity in our midst can be our gift to the world…. Let us be patterns of living together and loving each other, differences and all. Let us openly and joyfully celebrate our peculiar combination of Quaker diversity and Quaker unity.”

That is why we must continue to seek unity with all around us. Unity matters because it requires listening with an open heart, and honoring what others bring to a discussion. It requires us to respect and love those who think differently than we do.

As the contemporary Quaker Parker Palmer has said, “Friends are most in the Spirit when they stand at the crossing point of the inward and outward life. And that is the intersection at which we find community. Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.”

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, wswallow54@gmail.com

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

 

Integrity to Oneself

A central tenet of Quakerism is the Integrity Testimony, which encourages Quakers to tell the truth, say what they really mean, and stand up for what they believe, even in the face of condemnation or conflict. Frankly, the Integrity Testimony can sometimes feel like a stern taskmaster. Truth can be slippery, or not even clear at the moment we need it to be. Having the courage to speak one’s truth can feel like a nearly impossible requirement. Sometimes circumstances are clouded by love or concern for others or embarrassment or weakness. How do we proceed and carry ourselves forthrightly in this complex world?

The Integrity Testimony of Pacific Yearly Meeting says: “The testimony of integrity calls us to wholeness; it is the whole of life open to truth. When lives are centered in the spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent and words are dependable. As we achieve wholeness in ourselves, we are better able to heal the conflict and fragmentation in our community and world.”

Wholeness seems to be the key. Quakers often interpret the Integrity Testimony as guidance for how to operate in the larger world, yet it also is central to helping us discern what we are thinking and feeling in our hearts. What strikes me about this language is the call to achieve wholeness in ourselves first. If we hope to work effectively to alleviate some of the world’s problems or pain, we must spend time examining our own motivations.

Are we driven to action out of a sense of self-abnegation or self-aggrandizement? Are we motivated by fear? Are we listening to what the world would tell us, or are we arrogantly pushing our personal agendas and beliefs? The Integrity Testimony doesn’t just prohibit lying to others; it also cautions not to lie to ourselves.

But how do we come to know and understand ourselves, to find the wholeness that will lead in the right direction? Many Quakers experience the phenomenon of leadings — a strong conviction that they are being led to take on a problem or follow a course of action that will address a societal issue. But this can be tricky terrain. How do we know we are doing what God would have us do, rather than taking on a mission with more dubious motivations?

This is where the Quaker practice of discernment can be useful. Quakers have discovered several useful tests for discerning whether a leading is valid. The first test is that of patiently waiting.  If you can wait to see how your leading or conviction is tempered by time, you can gain insight into how important it really is. You should also try testing your leading for moral consistency, and asking whether it is larded with self-interest or heroic ambitions. Another important test is whether the group, or Meeting, can support your leading in a spirit of unity.  Quakers often bring their leadings to their Meetings for more thorough discernment.

Quaker Rufus Jones said:  “Experience is the Quaker’s starting-point. This light must be my light, this truth must be my truth, this faith must be my very own faith. The key that unlocks the door to the spiritual life belongs not to Peter, or some other person, as an official. It belongs to the individual soul, that finds the light, that discovers the truth, that sees the revelation of God and goes on living in the demonstration and power of 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

 

Intellectual Integrity

A central tenet of Quakerism is the Integrity Testimony, which encourages Quakers to tell the truth, say what they really mean, and stand up for what they believe, even in the face of condemnation or conflict.

This imperative can also apply to how we approach information and news and form our opinions. If the nation ever needed clear-headed people with strong principles of intellectual integrity, now is the time.

Yet intellectual integrity can be hard to pin down. Is it being open-minded or is it being true to what you know? Is it listening to those you disagree with, or is it saying what you believe even if it is hurtful to others?

Seeking guidance, I stumbled across the Critical Thinking Community, a non-profit that promotes fair-minded critical thinking in education and society. According to this group, intellectual integrity comprises several elements:

  • recognizing the need to be true to one’s own thinking;
  • being consistent in the intellectual standards one applies;
  • holding oneself to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one’s antagonists;
  • practicing what one advocates for others; and,
  • being able to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thought and action.

The Integrity Testimony can be a difficult master. I blush to consider how many times I’ve violated one of these guidelines, went along with a crowd or lacked the fortitude to apply my intelligence to a problem. Given that many issues today bristle with complications, how do we foster our own intellectual integrity as we sort through opposing positions and heated political talk?

The Critical Thinking Community has several suggestions. First, that we practice intellectual humility by recognizing the limits of our own knowledge and developing a sensitivity to our own biases. Most of us have deeply held beliefs about what is right, but sometimes we might need to step back and re-examine old positions and prejudices. Has time changed the facts? Do experts now have a better understanding? Have unintended consequences of such an approach been revealed? And toughest of all, could there be wisdom in some of the positions we dislike the most? All are important questions, and it takes intellectual humility to consider them.

Along with humility, the group suggests we practice intellectual empathy, the idea of putting ourselves in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them. Open-mindedness and fair-mindedness seem critical to closing the many divides between us. In the end, intellectual integrity requires us to commit to analyzing and evaluating our opinions on the basis of reason and evidence, with humility and empathy. That can take time, effort and patience, but it usually leads to more reasonable positions.

Sometimes when our Quaker Meeting is trying to decide what to do about an issue or problem, we take a long time to discern what God would have us do. Quakers can be famously argumentative with as many opinions as there are people in the room, but I believe that helps us practice tolerance. And in most cases, by giving everyone a chance to be heard and acknowledged, and by staying open-minded and seeking out common ground, we usually discern our way to a solution. And if we don’t, we sit silently in the light of God and wait until we do.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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