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 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.

Reflections for 4th Month, 2022

Stand still, wait for divine guidance, then act.
— New England Yearly Meeting Advices

In his book, “Being a Quaker”, Geoffrey Durham wrote about the traditional Quaker silent meeting for worship: “What Quakers are doing in their meetings is waiting on the Divine.” And he wrote about the many positive ways he has been led in his life as a result of silent worship.

But Durham also pointed out that when he first started to attend Quaker meetings, he did not always settle into the correct frame of mind. It turns out many of us at Peachtree Friends have had, and sometimes still have, the same problem.

A few weeks ago, prior to meeting for worship, we got to talking about that. We all agreed that sometimes the distractions and worries of day-to-day life make it difficult to settle our minds.

I knew that was true for me, a relative newcomer to Quaker worship. (I told everyone about the time I spent the entire meeting with an Elton John song running through my head.) But it was actually encouraging for me to hear that even lifelong Quakers who attend Peachtree Friends meetings sometimes have the same problem.

For some it’s prayer that focuses them, for others it’s focusing on a meaningful word, for others it’s intentional breathing. Sometimes it takes a little bit of effort to let go of our distractions, but it’s always worth it.

We welcome you to join us this month in silent waiting on the Divine – even if you bring an Elton John song with you.

Reflections for 3rd Month, 2022

“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.”

That statement is from a document written in 1660 by representatives of the Religious Society of Friends, including George Fox, to the King of England. It is commonly referred to as the Declaration of Friends to Charles II.

So it’s fair to say that the Peace Testimony has been an integral part of Quakerism for at least 362 years. It’s based on the Quaker belief that everyone has that of God within them. It’s not hard to see that war is incompatible with this belief.

Over the years Quakers have converted the testimony into action by refusing to serve in armed forces (or by serving in an ambulance corps only), protesting war, becoming conscientious objectors, and refusing to pay war taxes.

It can be hard for Friends to know how to manifest the Peace Testimony today. The best way to start might be by simply focusing on and listening to the Light within us. By letting it guide our thoughts, words, and actions, we can increase our own personal peace.

Maybe the first, and most important, step towards world peace lies within ourselves.

Reflections for 2nd Month, 2022

“Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence. We seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God’s love drawing us together and leading us.”
– Britain Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries

Since November, Peachtree Friends have been blessed to have our meetings for worship in the Youth Center at Christ Church Episcopal in Norcross. It’s a quiet, comfortable place for us to gather, and even in just these few months we’ve seen it drawing us together.

No matter where we are, we should always try to listen to the Divine voice within and around us. But it can be easier, and perhaps more powerful, in such a welcoming and encouraging environment with others.

We welcome you to join us this month to reflect on your spiritual path, no matter what that path is and no matter how far down it you are.