Categories
Quaker Testimonies This Month's Blog Post

Why do Quakers have Testimonies?

For the past several months, Reno Friends have been holding a Quakerism 101 class, to learn more about Quaker faith and practice. Some of the first questions to surface were about the Quakers testimonies:  What are the testimonies, who wrote them, and why do they matter?

To understand the testimonies, it helps to remember that Quakerism emerged in 17th-century England among devout people who wanted to understand God in their own way, rather than through creeds and liturgies laid down by priests or ministers interpreting God’s word.

Here is what George Fox, one of the Quaker founders, said about finding God: “My desire after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book or writing. For though I read the Scriptures that spoke of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not, but by revelation, as He who hath the key did open, and as the Father of Life drew me to His Son by His Spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see His love, which was endless and eternal….”

As Quakerism developed, what emerged were the testimonies, the truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years, seasoned into general acceptance by many Quaker Meetings.

The Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guide Faith and Practice says this about our testimonies: “Testimonies are expressions of lives turned toward the Light, outward expressions that reflect the inward experience of divine guidance.” Quakers use the term “testimonies” because each person’s experience and life illuminate different aspects of these commonly held truths.

The Quaker testimonies were one of the first things I learned about when I became a Quaker as a young adult, and I quickly discovered that they were a helpful spiritual guide. Because of their experiential foundation, the testimonies are varied and dynamic – not every Quaker Meeting upholds the same set of testimonies. The most common 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. The testimonies for Reno Friends Meeting are those articulated by the Pacific Yearly Meeting, our parent Quaker organization, and can be explored in the Testimony section of PYM’s Faith and Practice.

In our discussion of the testimonies, Reno Friends have found a range of understanding and experience in our small Meeting – and a host of questions for the testimonies: 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? And, how might we confront the violence endemic in our society?

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.”

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Angry Quaker: Why the Equality Testimony Matters

These are, without a doubt, difficult times in America. It is painful to witness the erosion of civil rights, the stark divisions between people and parties, the growing threats to the disadvantaged, not to mention the threats to our democracy. Instead of a War Against Poverty, we now seem to have a war against the poor. What happened to the progress we were making in expanding civil rights and becoming more tolerant? It saddens me, and it angers me.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Quakers Discuss Ukraine and the Peace Testimony

The war in Ukraine is troubling for all, but for Quakers it presents a particular dilemma:  how do we respond to a war against a sovereign nation in light of our Peace Testimony?

The Peace Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends is one of the important pillars that defines Quakerism. The Quakers, along with the Mennonites and Amish, are “Peace Churches,” religious organizations that believe peace and non-violence are the best (possibly only) way to resolve conflict. Many Quakers, historically, have resisted all forms of war and non-violence, including refusing to participate in military service and, in some cases, refusing to pay the taxes that support the military. In some cases, Quakers have been jailed for these positions; in others, Quakers have won the right to be conscientious objectors to military service and be assigned community service as an alternative.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

The Quaker Peace Testimony

(from the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice)

We utterly deny all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole  world.… 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 kingdoms of this world.” – George Fox, declaration to Charles II, 1660, Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.

“A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” –  William Penn, 1693; Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Love thy Neighbor: No Exceptions

…And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us… William Penn, 1693

Back in May, when the Black Lives Matter protests were beginning after George Floyd’s death, Reno Friends had an opportunity to love our neighbors. Due to the pandemic, we were meeting for worship outside in our garden, so we could be together but also keep our distance. We had sent a letter to our neighbors asking if they could bring in their dogs during our hour of Silent Worship.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Settling Into My Natural Rhythms

As our extended Coronavirus retreat unfolds, I am settling into my natural rhythms. Delicious hours stretch before me, empty of outward commitments, allowing time to delve inwards. I am slowly coming home to myself. Why is it so difficult to create space for me in my own life? I can easily get lost in the tyranny of my to-do lists and the needs of others, ignoring my own needs in the process. These are lifelong patterns.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

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.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

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?

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Bad Quaker

Every now and then, someone in our Quaker Meeting says, “I’m just a bad Quaker.” If one of us gets caught complicating an issue in Business Meeting, or if someone doesn’t have time to make food for the feed-the-homeless dinner, they might drop their head in defeat and say something about being a bad Quaker.