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.

On the Sunday after the protests in Reno’s downtown, we sat for peace and equality. As we were settling into our chairs, we noticed a number of people and dogs in our neighbor’s yard. Suddenly, loud, acid rock began playing out of a bedroom window facing the garden. I went over and let them know we were about to begin worship and asked if they could bring the dogs in and turn the music off. The grandmother told me that it was difficult to control the dogs. I understood in that moment that she had absolutely no control over the actions of the young men playing the music.

We decided to choose the path of peace and, leaving our garden, selected a tree out in the park where we had a lovely Silent Worship. We were joined by two squirrels, one ironically seeking sanctuary from a bully squirrel who was chasing him. The timid one hid under a lawn chair until he could race through the midst of us back to his burrow.

Shortly after that first Sunday, the Ministry and Oversight Committee decided to extend a gesture of neighborly friendliness and peace toward our neighbors, even though we were unhappy about the loud music that had disturbed our garden worship. We put together a gift bag for the family’s little boy, who is about three years old and loves to greet the USPS and UPS drivers. It contained a UPS truck and a satchel of small letters and packages designed by one of our members, as well as some construction vehicles the child would likely see on the streets. We also made a goodie bag of cookies, espresso mix, and chocolate for the rest of the family.

I was planning to deliver our gifts, but circumstances kept delaying me. In the meantime, we continued to meet for worship in the garden on Sundays and noticed the neighbors were making their best efforts to keep their dogs indoors and that there was no more loud music.

About two weeks later, my not-so-still-small voice inside said, “Go buy some flowers and deliver it all, now.” I remember arguing that it was lunch time and I didn’t want to bother them. But the voice was relentless, so I went, picking up flowers on the way. I’m so glad I listened. It was a little after noon when I pulled up to the Meeting House and saw the grandmother out on the porch with the dogs.

I took the gifts to the gate and she came over. I introduced myself and said I was with the Quakers next door and we wanted to offer these gifts of neighborly friendliness and peace. She said we didn’t have to do that; that she was trying her best to keep the dogs in and quiet, but she couldn’t always control her boys. She apologized for what had happened.

She went on to explain that it had been a very hard time recently for their family. Her mother had died two weeks earlier. They had a celebration of her life while she was still alive, as this had been her wish, and several family members had come into town to be part of it. That was why there were so many people next door that Sunday after the demonstrations. I suddenly understood the tension I had felt when I’d gone over to talk with her.

I told her I was sorry for their loss and that we absolutely wanted them to have these gifts. I was even more glad I had come as I was led, and that I brought flowers. I expressed our gratitude for the efforts they had made the last two Sundays, which were very pleasant out in the garden. She told me she’d requested that her family respect our time in our garden, since it is only “one hour a week.” I asked her to let us know if they have a family gathering we need to work around, and we will find a tree in the park again.

We chatted for a bit (it was her lunch break, so the timing was perfect). I learned that her daughter’s family lives with her, and that she is grateful for them, as she is never alone. She said she wanted to support our worship as she saw how much it had pained her mother not to be able to go to church at the end. She also told me she is a spiritual person, though she doesn’t attend church. I invited her to sit with us anytime she would like, even if it’s from her own porch. She smiled at this invitation, thanked us for our gifts and wished me a good day.

In July, we had a Zoom spiritual discussion on the subject of Loving thy Neighbor (No Exceptions). There was rich and poignant sharing about the challenges of loving others without exception, particularly when we disagree or feel upset with each other. Friends shared these insights:

  • Sometimes it’s helpful to agree to disagree. We can stand in our own integrity and truth, while respecting the different position of the other person.
  • There is power in holding those with whom we disagree in the Light.
  • It is important to approach interactions with curiosity and compassion.
  • Before communicating when upset, it is prudent to deal with anger/fear in oneself first. Then we can be clearer when we reach out to the other person.
  • It helps to remember that we all struggle, and that we don’t know what another is experiencing.

Our experience with our neighbors and the spiritual discussion that followed brings to life something another Friend had spoken about during Worship: Be kind to others; you never know what pain and hardship they may be going through. It is also a testimony to the current need and power of loving thy neighbors, especially those you might not choose as friends. It seems to me now is a time for us to live this testimony in our everyday interactions out in the world. The peaceful change we seek lies within us.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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