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Quaker Testimonies This Month's Blog Post

Integrity for Our Time

Everywhere I turn today, I encounter the issue of integrity. Our political climate and deep divisions keep raising questions about integrity: who has it and who doesn’t, whether journalists have integrity or are manipulating the truth, and whether candidates are lying or obfuscating. Integrity, it turns out, may be one of the most compelling issues of our day, and an important topic to consider as we head into the next national election.

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 than we do. When confronting those on the other side of the political divide, it helps me to remember that most people share some core values – like decency, caring for the needy, longing for peace – and then I try to speak toward that common ground. Consider these words from an early Quaker, Edward Burrough, who wrote in 1659:

“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, meekness and temperance, side by side. Perhaps that’s a fitting place to start.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

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

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Quaker Practice

Acceptance

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ~ AA Serenity Prayer

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Quaker Practice

The Case for Words

In a blog a few months ago, I made the Case for Silence in a Quaker Meeting. Today I want to make the Case for Words.

When Quakers worship, the silence inside the Meeting House occasionally is broken by someone who rises to share a message they feel moved to say. These messages are usually simple, and most have a universal element, since messages should be shared only if they offer something to others. So, yes, we Quakers worship in silence, but we also listen – to God, to each other, to our own hearts – and share that with the community around us.

Why allow the silence to be disrupted in this way? Sometimes a Meeting for Worship is silent for the entire hour, leaving a deep sense of fulfillment. Silence is necessary to hear what God might be telling us, or to sift through the whirl of thoughts so we can make sense of our lives or the world. Sometimes, however, the silence is challenging, as we may be inclined to turn away from this inner voice; sometimes we might lose the inner voice in the comfort of the silence. 

Which is why words matter. Quakers call these messages Vocal Ministry, and the words are often what bring us together. We worship together –rather than alone in our homes — in part because the words we share enrich our experience. Some of the most simple and beautiful messages I’ve ever heard were shared at Quaker Meeting. A heartfelt message can open up a whole world in my head. When I am spiritually cold, the messages in Meeting feel like warm mittens handed to me by friends, and the wide range of spiritual insights can feed me for days.

Sometimes messages are shared using words that make some people uncomfortable, as we all have our own experience of God. When that happens, I try to remember this guidance from the British Yearly Meeting: “When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit; reach for the meaning deep within it, recognizing that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others.”

One of my favorite messages was shared by a Reno Friend who stood up one day to quote from the Quran: “If the day of judgment erupts while you are planting a new tree, carry on and plant it.” She linked these words to her deep concern and love for the natural world. Her message speaks to me still.

Wendy Swallow, RFM Blog Editor

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

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Eating the Climate Elephant: One Bite at a Time

I walk through what was once a lively forest, now reduced to charred standing skeletons devoid of branches, needles, shade. This was once a welcoming vibrant forest retreat, but now I am hypervigilant, watching for a strong wind as swaying snags threaten my head. There is life here—beetles furiously chewing in the snags, woodpeckers hammering to pry them out—but it is hard to focus on these small signs. Surrounded by these visual reminders of forest trauma, I am overwhelmed by the grief and shock of this rapid change to the forest ecosystem—not just the loss of our forest community, but also of homes burned, towns burned. It stirs my memories of people living in tents on the roadside because they had nowhere else to go.

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Quaker Practice

The Magic of Meeting for Business

Few people love a meeting, but most organizations hold meetings because they have essential business to accomplish. Quaker Meetings are no different:  once a month, most Quaker Meetings hold what is formally known as “Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business.” To be honest, a Quaker Meeting for Business is unlike most meetings I’ve had to attend in my life, either for work or with community organizations. And the key to the difference is in the formal name.

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Quaker Practice

The Case for Silence

There is something about the stillness of midwinter that soothes the soul. Much of the natural world sleeps. Though the wind still blows and birds hop about searching for seeds, for the most part the cold and dark confer a deep, healing silence.

Many of us who attend Quaker Meeting on Sundays are drawn by the opportunity to sit in communal silence for an hour. The Quaker silence started, in part, as a reaction to church services of the seventeenth century, which were filled with ritual and liturgy. Early Quakers believed, instead, that each person must come to her or his own understanding and experience of God. The silence is a chance to listen for God – the stillness enables us to quiet the busyness of our brains and discern what God might want us to hear. It requires waiting.

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Quaker Practice

The Dark Side of Gratitude

January, the season of resolutions, is always a time when I vow to do better with my Gratitude Practice. I usually start out strong, listing three things every day that I am grateful for, but – inevitably – sometime in the cold, dark days of February when it looks like winter will never end, I give it up. I’m not sure why. But I found a clue the other day: a note to myself that I should write a blog about the dark side of gratitude. And that was all it said; I had no idea what I had meant when I made that note months earlier.

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Quaker Practice

The Hold-In-The-Light List

Every First Day, at the end of Silent Worship, the clerk of Reno Friends Meeting reads the Hold-in-the-Light List. This is a list of all those we are “holding in the Light of God.” It usually includes the names of loved-ones we are concerned about because of illness, injury or trouble, and also a statement extending our concern to “all those who live in places where there is strife and need.” In difficult times, the list can get quite long.

Categories
Meeting Community

Cultivating Joy

This is the second of my blogs on The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The first was essentially a book review (https://www.renofriends.org/the-book-of-joy/#more-5464). This second blog is about my experiences of cultivating joy using the practices in the book over the last six months.

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Quaker Practice

The Gifts of Silence

My husband and I were hiking on a ridge above Lake Tahoe recently when I suddenly realized I could hear almost nothing. This happens out west – if you go far enough off-road you can often find a place beyond the whine of the highway or the hum of the city. We were hiking late in the day, so there were few others around. Even the birds were quiet. The tall pines and slanting light made it feel like we were walking through holy space, the world hushed in reverence.