Reflections for 2nd Month, 2023

The Religious Society of Friends is small in number compared to many other religions, and might be considered to be a quiet group. We worship in silence. It doesn’t get any quieter than that.

But there are several Quaker organizations actively making noise to try to create a better world.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is one such group. Since 1917, AFSC has been pursuing their goal to “challenge injustice and build peace around the globe”.

AFSC started that year as a way for conscientious objectors to have alternatives to serving in the active military, which goes against the Quaker Peace testimony. In 1919, after World War I ended, they started a program to feed children in Austria, Germany, and Poland. As their website described it, “AFSC was willing to do what others would not—to house, feed, and train people scorned as enemies.”

Through the years the Committee has tackled poverty and racism, provided support for refugees, and opportunities for youth to participate in service projects. They have worked for prison reform, supported farmworkers, and brought to light the abuses of the Military Industrial Complex.

In 1947, AFSC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the British Friends Service Council for their work to heal the damage from World War II, and to prevent future wars.

AFSC is still very active today. In 2022, they were involved with the successful fight to prevent the lethal use of police robots in San Francisco, provided legal assistance to more than 2,000 immigrants in New Jersey, and worked internationally in Burundi and El Salvador. Closer to home, they helped homeowners in Atlanta’s historic Peoplestown community against the City which was using eminent domain to displace them.

For more information about AFSC, go to their website at AFSC.org.

Reflections for 1st Month, 2023

Thinking of famous Quakers, historical names tend to be the first ones that come to mind.

George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends in the mid 1600s. Margaret Fell, John Woolman, William Penn, and Elias Hicks are familiar names to Friends that all lived prior to the 1900s.

While you’ll probably recognize the names of these more contemporary people, you may not know that they all are, or grew up as Quakers.

United States Presidents Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon, actors Judi Dench and James Dean, and musicians Bonnie Raitt, Joan Biaz, and Dave Matthews all had Quakerism play an important part of their lives.

Baez has said that the Friends peace testimony has been a strong influence on her music. About her Quaker upbringing, Dench said “I think it informs everything I do. I couldn’t be without it.”

And if you need one more famous Quaker, how about Cassius Coolidge, the man who created the iconic Dogs Playing Poker painting?

Reflections for 12th Month, 2022

This is the seventh in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.

Elizabeth Freyman’s Walking Cheerfully is a delightful website (walkingcheerfully.com) that is designed and written to be shared with children, providing inspiration for First Day School programs.

Walking Cheerfully describes the Stewardship testimony as “the responsibility we have for the gifts we have been given.”

It goes on to say:

“What if the gift I am thinking of isn’t even mine, it is something I am sharing with others? I think the thing I love most about the testimony of Stewardship is that it leaves space for the possibility that we are not the owners of the gift that we are caring for, we might just be taking a turn with it.”

The Fort Meyers Quakers in Florida describe the testimony this way:

“To Friends, good stewardship means taking care of what has been given, not just for ourselves, but for the people around us and for future generations as well.”

As we try to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given, we can reflect on some of the queries the Fort Meyers Quakers ask:

  • Do we respect life and nature? As human beings, how do we act as caretakers of the Earth?
  • Do we think about what happens to the Earth and its creatures as a result of our own behavior? How can we help make the world a welcoming place for all the different animals and plants we share it with?
  • How can I be a better steward of our environment in my consumption and recycling habits? How can I help others care for the environment?

The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice sums up the testimony very well:

“All that we have, in ourselves and our possessions, are gifts from God, entrusted to us for our responsible use. From the beginning, it was through the wonders of nature that people saw God. How we treat the earth and its creatures is a basic part of our relationship with God.”

Reflections for 11th Month, 2022

This is the sixth in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.

Like the other Quaker testimonies, the Equality testimony has its foundation in the belief that there is that of God in everyone.

On their website, the Lincoln Quaker Meeting in England says “Equality is the acceptance that everyone is equal and every person has the right to be respected.”

Friends believe this means equality for everyone, regardless of their religion, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, age, or ability.

Another aspect of equality that has long been important to Quakers is the fair and humane treatment of prisoners. Early Quakers were often imprisoned for their beliefs. They knew from firsthand experience that conditions in jails were frequently terrible.

Friends Elizabeth Fry and Richard Wiston were two of the early Quakers who started working for prison reforms. That is a mission that continues today for many Quaker organizations, including the Alternatives to Violence Project, which was started by Quakers.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting sums up equality this way:
treating everyone, everywhere, as equally precious to God; recognizing that everyone has gifts to share.

Reflections for 10th Month, 2022

This is the fifth in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.

There are several definitions of the word “society”, and almost all of them contain the word “community”. So it makes sense that the Community testimony is an integral part of the Religious Society of Friends.

On their page about Community, the American Friends Service Committee website says “While the Quaker faith is founded on the principle that every person can have a direct relationship with God, an equally central tenet lies in the power of the ‘gathered community’. When Friends gather in silence to worship, they are collectively seeking the will of God, rather than meditating individually. Shared worship signifies unity and trust.”

But Friends’ concept of community extends far beyond meetings for worship. Quakers have a long history of helping people and building relationships outside of their meetings.

Many Quaker queries ask us to look for ways to extend our faith – through our actions – into ways that benefit our communities.

In that regard, we don’t just mean people who live near us. As Friend Parker Palmer said, “Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other.”

The other Quaker testimonies such as simplicity, peace, integrity, equality, and stewardship are founded on not only what is good for Quakers, but what is good for others outside our meetings – in other words, what is good for our community.

Author Ursula Jane O’Shea said it this way:

“Living out the immanent and transcendent aspects of spirituality as a Friend has never been a private matter. Quaker structures depend on the shared inward experiences of members as the basis for worship, the ordering of business, and social and humanitarian action. The Quaker way takes on faith the seemingly irrational proposition that the inspirations of individuals can lead a community to unity and spiritual power, not to chaos and dismemberment.”

Reflections for 9th Month, 2022

This is the fourth in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.

The Quaker testimony of integrity forms a foundation not only for all the other testimonies, but for how Quakers want to live their entire lives. The Quaker.org website says “The testimony of integrity is not simply telling the truth; it is speaking and acting in and from the divine in each situation.”

Matthew 5:37 is considered to be the Biblical basis for the integrity testimony: “But let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these comes from the evil one.”

It’s the basis of why many Quakers do not “swear” to tell the truth. They believe swearing that you’ll tell the truth in a specific situation, such as for a court testimony, means there are times you will not tell the truth. And they even expand that to include not making statements that are misleading, even if they are technically true.

Early Quakers became known for their integrity in business dealings. Years ago, it was common for shopkeepers to not put prices on their products. They would negotiate with their customers to get the highest price they could on each transaction. Quaker shopkeepers thought it was unethical to charge different prices to different people for the same product. They would set a fair price and charge everyone the same amount. This approach gave them a reputation for honest dealings, and usually led to profitable businesses.

Anita Lucia Roddick DBE (1942 – 2007) was a British businesswoman and the founder of the British version of The Body Shop, a cosmetics company based on ethical consumerism. Roddick admired “those Quakers who ran successful businesses, and made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently.”

The QuakerWiki website says, “The Testimony of Integrity also means refusing to place things other than God at the center of one’s life – whether it be one’s own self, possessions, the regard of others, belief in principles (such as rationality, progress or justice) or something else. It is the understanding that even good things are no longer good when they supplant God as one’s center.”

The integrity testimony is a difficult one to live up to, but our lives and our society will be better if we try.

Reflections for 8th Month, 2022

This is the third in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.

The Quaker Peace testimony has its roots in the 1600s when representatives of the Religious Society of Friends stated that they “utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings.” Ever since, Quakers have collectively opposed wars in many different ways.

But Quakers also look at the Peace testimony on a personal level. They realize that it’s difficult for groups to find peace if the people that make up those groups can’t find peace for themselves.

Here are a few excerpts from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s general queries regarding the peace testimony as it applies to us as individuals:

How do we help each other face conflicts with patience, forbearance and openness to healing?

To what extent does our meeting ignore differences in order to avoid possible conflicts?

– Do I treat personal conflict as an opportunity for growth?

– How do I face my differences with others and reaffirm in action and attitude my love for those with whom I am in conflict?

It can seem daunting to try to achieve peace on an international level. But we can and should continue to work towards our own personal peace, and help others do the same.

Reflections for 7th Month, 2022

This is the second in a series of Reflections posts about Quaker testimonies.

In his book “A Quaker Book of Wisdom”, Robert Lawrence Smith wrote “If I were asked to define Quaker simplicity in a nutshell, I would say that it has little to do with how many things you own and everything to do with not letting your possessions own you.”

Smith also wrote, “Living simply is also not about finding a quiet corner where you can contemplate your life and feel good about yourself. Far from it. It’s about giving yourself the freedom to pursue that indestructible impulse to do good in the world, to go toward the best.”

Simplicity can also support other Quaker testimonies. A simpler life requires fewer resources, supporting the testimony of stewardship. Needing fewer resources makes those resources available to others, supporting equality. And with few distractions, our time and attention are available to help build community.

Even outside of the Quaker community, many people have been drawn to the practice of minimalism. Although some proponents of minimalism say it’s about limiting the number of possessions you own, others view it more like the Quaker approach to simplicity.

Minimalist Joshua Becker said, “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value, and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” Colin Wright tells us to “Get rid of the things in your life that don’t add value so you can focus on the things that do.”

A simpler life, with fewer possessions, fewer demands, and fewer distractions, brings into focus that “indestructible impulse” Smith wrote about, and can help us identify and pursue what it will take to make our lives and our society as good as they can be.

Reflections for 6th Month, 2022

If there’s one thing you can definitively say about all Quakers, it’s that there’s almost nothing you can definitively say about all Quakers.

There are Conservative Friends, Evangelical Friends, Holiness Friends, Liberals, Universalists, Gurneyites, and even Non-theists Friends. They have different ways of worship and different ways they relate to God and the Bible.  

But if there is one thing that most Friends do agree on, it might be the Quaker testimonies.

In their 2021 ‘Guide to Our Faith and Practice’, the Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association (SAYMA) says that testimonies “help mold our conscience and outward behavior.”

But the testimonies are not commandments or rules or measuring sticks for judging people. They are spiritually-based principles that we can use to guide our lives. How Friends manifest the testimonies in their own lives is for each individual to decide.

The Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) website said this:

“They arise from an inner conviction and challenge our normal ways of living. They exist in spiritually-led actions rather than in rigid written forms. They are not imposed in any way and they require us to search for ways in which we can live them out for ourselves.”

Not suprisingly, different Quakers have different lists of the specific testimonies, although there are more similarities than differences between them. In the United States, many meetings refer to the testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. These testimonies are frequently referred to by the acronym SPICES.

We’ll take a look at each of the SPICES testimonies in upcoming Reflections.

Reflections for 5th Month, 2022

Are you open to the many ways Spirit may speak to you?
— New England Yearly Meeting Advices

The silent meeting for worship, which we use at Peachtree Friends Meeting, is one of the things that attracts many people to Quakerism.

But for some, it can also be a little uncomfortable. In today’s society, we almost never sit with other people in silence for a sustained period of time. An hour of silence can feel awkward, especially when attending a meeting the first few times.

Even if you think this could be difficult for you, we encourage you to attend a Peachtree Friends meeting for worship. If you need to stand or walk or read or write during the meeting, that would not be a problem.

And fortunately, our meeting space is very accommodating as well. There’s plenty of room to move about inside – and even outside if you like the weather that morning. We would just ask that you be as quiet as possible.

A Quaker silent meeting for worship can be a powerful spiritual experience. We invite you to join us on First Day and try it out.