As a young Friend, I care deeply about the state of the world and what we can do to reduce climate change and rebalance our economy. I recently read Toward a Life-Centered Economy by John Lodenkamper, Paul Alexander, Pete Baston, and Judith Streit, and it left me feeling deeply inspired about the future.
Climate change is not just about melting ice caps, worsening droughts and rising sea levels. While it is clearly a crisis for the environment, it is also a crisis for people. In fact, some experts consider climate change just as serious a moral issue as it is an environmental issue, and one that could have severe social and economic consequences.
Pope Francis released an encyclical in 2015 that served as a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the papal statement said. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
Several weeks ago Reno Friends met online for a spiritual discussion about membership, which was something of a rare event. Usually, modern-day Quakers don’t talk much about who’s a member and who’s an “attender.” Many devoted Quakers spend their lives as attenders of Monthly Meetings, volunteering for leadership roles and participating in Silent Worship, Business Meetings and social events, but deciding against the step of membership. In truth, that pretty much describes me: I’ve been attending Quaker Meeting (with varying levels of devotion) since I first went to the Florida Avenue Meeting in Washington, D.C., more than 35 years ago. I’m a really good attender.
Last month, Reno Friend Doug Smith led a spiritual discussion about Mysticism on Zoom. It was well attended and stimulated a vibrant discussion. One of Doug’s questions was: Do you think Quakerism can be a form of mysticism? Some thought yes and others no. Defining mystics and mysticism is a tricky task, as mystical experiences are often difficult to explain. Here is the Oxford Languages definition of a mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the Absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.
Quakers in the Reno area gather for silent worship each Sunday morning. Like most Quaker groups that worship weekly, Reno’s Quaker worship community is known as a Monthly Meeting. Most of our members and attenders come from Reno and the surrounding area, including Lake Tahoe and Carson City.
Quakers encourage one another, in John Woolman’s phrase, “to distinguish the language of the pure Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart,” rather than focusing on seeking names for God. The Light of Christ to one may be what another understands as the Inner Light; the Spirit to one may roughly be what another understands by the Christ Spirit. The Eternal, the Divine, and God may mean the same or not, depending on the context, the speaker or the reader. The language used in all Quaker writing (including Faith and Practice) varies with the source of material. Friends should temper their interpretations, knowing that any specific phrase may have different connotations to different Friends.
Friends are often asked: “Are Quakers Christians?” This is an important question. Whether one interprets the Quaker movement as a strand within Protestantism or as a third force distinct from both Protestantism and Catholicism, the movement, both in its origin and in the various branches that have evolved, is rooted in Christianity.
The Meeting for Worship is at the core of Quaker practice. There, Friends gather together in expectant silence, waiting upon God. Meeting for Worship is different from solitary prayer. The strength and focus of the community draw one who is distracted back toward the Center. In the embrace of the Meeting, an individual may be more willing to be searched by the Light that exposes weaknesses and shortcomings, and challenges the worshiper to transformation. Together, we can more clearly see Truth; we can better receive and understand continuing revelation.
Every so often we get a call at Reno Friends Meeting from someone wondering if the Quakers are Mennonites or perhaps part of the Amish faith. I used to find these questions amusing, as if people assumed we drive buggies, dress in simple clothes or wear colonial-style hats, like the smiling, white-haired guy on the Quaker Oats box. But it turns out the question is not so silly.
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.