Category Archives: Our Testimonies

The Moral Consequences of Climate Change

Climate change is not just about melting ice caps, worsening drought and rising sea levels. It is not just a crisis for plants, animals and the environment they inhabit. It is also a crisis for people. In fact, some people consider climate change as serious a moral issue as an environmental one, and an issue that could have grave consequences for society.

Pope Francis has issued a moral call for action to phase out use of fossil fuels. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the pope’s encyclical warned in 2015. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, an alliance of U.S. government agencies that compiles climate science research, the impact of climate change on humans could be profound: homes destroyed by rising waters or severe storms, diseases such as West Nile virus or Lyme disease spreading, crops and potable water lost due to drought, people crippled or killed by increased air pollution. The program, whose work is available at globalchange.gov, points out that those most vulnerable to climate change are the poor, under-educated, those least able to adapt, and people already struggling with high rates of disease, hunger and societal disruption.

In A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, author Stephen M. Gardiner argues that we are failing in three ways to address the ethical dimensions of climate change. First, those living in wealthy countries are passing the impact of environmental degradation on to poorer, weaker nations. Second, we are saddling future generations with our legacy of environmental degradation. And, third, when we ignore the scientific evidence, we deceive ourselves about our responsibility. We must face up to our ethical failure, Gardiner says, and push our leaders and institutions to act before it’s too late.

Starting on Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Reno Friends will meet every other week for five sessions to discuss climate change and its consequences for social justice. Our goal is to find ways that we can do more, individually and together, to address these issues. We will explore impacts of climate change here in our Sierra Nevada, as well as legislative initiatives, how to change our everyday lives, how to protest effectively, and how to address the needs of those in the Reno area hurt by climate disruption.

Please join us if you are interested in reading and learning more about the ethical challenges of climate change or in debating how we, as citizens, might respond. The discussion group will meet on Wednesday evenings starting at 6:30 in the Quaker Meeting House at 497 Highland Avenue in Reno. In addition to Feb. 22, we will meet March 8 and 22, and April 5 and 19. A reading list will be distributed in advance. You’re welcome to bring light snacks. Please contact me, the clerk of Reno Friends Meeting, at wswallow54 (at) gmail.com, if you are interested in attending.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

Integrity for the New Year

Everywhere I turn today, I encounter the issue of integrity. Our recent presidential election raised repeated questions about integrity: who had it and who didn’t, whether journalists had integrity or were manipulating the truth, whether candidates were lying or obfuscating. And finally, in the end, whether the voting itself was conducted with integrity. Integrity, it turns out, may be one of the most compelling issues of our day, and a good place to start thinking about the New Year and what it may require of us.

Quakers consider integrity a fundamental principle. As the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice 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.”

These are simple words, yes, but living fully in the spirit, speaking the truth as we individually discern it, can be a demanding discipline. As Faith & Practice says, integrity means being responsible for our words and actions. It means “living a life of reflection, living in consistency with our beliefs and testimonies, and doing so regardless of personal consequences.” To me, this means keeping an open mind, looking for truth in evidence and knowledge, and sifting through information to sort fact from fiction. And once we discern truth, it means speaking up, even if that takes courage. Especially if it takes courage.

At the same time, integrity means maintaining an attitude of loving kindness. Just speaking the truth, without considering the feelings and sensitivities of those who will hear it, can be cruel and useless. Perhaps the central challenge of living a life of integrity today is discerning how to understand those who see the world differently. It helps me to believe that most people share core values – like decency, caring for the needy, longing for peace – and work from that common ground. Consider these words from an early Quaker, Edward Burrough, who in 1659 wrote:

“To the present distracted and broken nation: We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other… but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God and with one another, that these things may abound.”

Righteousness and meekness, side by side. Perhaps that’s a fitting place to start the New Year.

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 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.

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.

 

 

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.

Welcoming the Syrian Refugees

At our November Business Meeting, Reno Friends debated a topic that days later would  command the front page: whether to welcome Syrians refugees in northern Nevada. The federal government is working through local non-profits to find homes and livelihoods nationwide for the 10,000 Syrian refugees it has promised to take. Our Meeting had been asked what it could do.

The Syrian tragedy is all too familiar today: refugee families slogging their way through the Balkans in a cold rain, drowned children washed ashore after their boats swamp in the rough Mediterranean Sea. Young men, many of them, but also elderly, parents, women, kids and babies — more than 4 million in all enduring a terrifying journey to escape terror and war.

Reno Meeting decided we would do what we could. A few days later, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the national lobbying arm of the Quakers, wrote us to urge our Senators to support funding for the processing and settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Several of us called to ask the government to authorize the spending.

Then came the horrifying attacks by ISIS in Paris and Beirut. With several hundred dead and ISIS threatening to attack American cities, governors of many states declared they were unwilling to allow Syrian refugee families to settle within their borders. Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada chose a different path: rather than an outright refusal, he said Nevada would accept no Syrian refugees until the White House had reviewed the resettlement program to make sure it was as thorough as possible. To date, nine Syrians have been resettled in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

I understand the fear we harbor in our hearts. I lived through 9/11 in Washington, D.C., and remember well the paralyzing anxiety of another attack. I worried about friends and family riding the Metro, visiting popular landmarks like the Smithsonian, or just driving through the city. I know how hard it is to feel unsafe, to fear that a random act of terrorism will destroy the life and freedoms we often take for granted.

But does that mean the United States should turn away Syrian refugees? There is a remote danger that some of the refugees could be terrorists or be radicalized in the future, but so can American citizens and immigrants already living among us. Does fear of the few mean we should block the many who are worthy and desperate? And wouldn’t the Syrian children now enduring hardship to reach a better world be less likely to mature into terrorists if we took them in and cared for them?

These are difficult, complex questions. Nothing here is simple. But for me, this is a time when being a Quaker helps. Our Peace testimony asks us to recognize the child of God in everyone, and to do what we can to end violence and promote justice and human understanding. At the same time, the Integrity testimony urges us to be true to our word. “When lives are centered in the Spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable,” says our Quaker guide, Faith and Practice.

It is, after all, the season of Peace. Let us open our hearts.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

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

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.

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.