I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known a Quakers. I am registered with Charlottesville Friends Meeting in Charlottesville, VA, and have been since 2002. However, I have not attended there since I moved to Maryland in 2004. I attended at Sandy Spring Friends meeting in Olney, MD for a while. For the past two years or so I have been attending Takoma Park Friends Meeting (Preparative) in Takoma Park, MD, where I am presiding clerk.
I try to go to Quaker meeting every week. I sit in silence, listening for the voice of God. If I hear a message I think is from God, I share it with the rest of the meeting. I work for meeting to try and sustain the community that allows for silent worship. I try to bring my beliefs into the whole of my life, to be an example for others.
People who are not Quakers may thing that presiding clerk is an important position, and therefore I am an important person in my meeting. Not so much. It's called clerk because it's really a low level administrative position. I'm responsible for keeping track of time and announcements. In our meetings for worship with a concern for business, it's my job to keep the discussion on the agenda and to try and figure out if the meeting has come to a decision. I don't even really control the agenda. It's more about making sure things that need to be are on the agenda than deciding what isn't on the agenda. If someone wants to discuss something, it goes on the agenda.
As a Quaker my primary belief is in the Inner Light, or That of God in Each of Us. That is, we all have a personal connection to God. This makes a part of God, and gives us direct access to divine truth. This access does not require mediation through clergy. Note that this personal connection to God necessarily means there is a continuing revelation. It also requires a fundamental tolerance of those who believe differently than you do. I try to follow the seven Testimonies common among Liberal American Friends, the Ten Commandments, and my extensions of the Ten Commandments.
The Testimonies I follow are those associated with the SPICES acronym:
- Simplicity in speech, dress, and behavior so as not to distract from God.
- To live in harmony with that of God in everyone.
- To live a live that is true to God, true to myself, and true to others.
- Community being the necessary foundation for love, justice, and peace.
- To disrespect others is to disrespect that of God within them.
- To care for all of the gifts that God has given us.
My favorite Testimony is Integrity. I aspire to never lie. I fail sometimes, as I am only human. But as soon as I realize that I have lied to someone, I try to go back and tell them the truth. And no, I would not lie to a Nazi about the Jew hiding in my attic. That doesn't mean I would tell the Nazi about the Jew in my attic. It does mean that I have to live my life in a way that does not put me in situations where I need to lie.
That brings me to the Testimony of Peace. Quakers are well known as extreme pacificist, who would never use violence under any circumstances whatsoever. However, each Quaker follows the Testimony of Peace (or not) based on the leading of their own Inner Light. I believe in peace. I believe that peace is the way to prosperity and progress for humanity. I believe that peace is the way that we will bring the Kingdom of God to Earth as it is in Heaven. On the other hand, there are times when violence may be used to defend ourselves or others. On the gripping hand, we must remember the lessons of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. We must remember that sometime peace is the best defence. And we must remember that although violence may sometimes be the best choice, that doesn't make it a good choice.
It may not be apparent that I practice simplicity in dress, but I do refuse to wear a suit and tie. I believe that the suit and tie is a signifier of an artificial division of society, and a false sign of superiority.
Extension to the Ten Commandments
When reading the Bible, I was struck by the Sermon on the Mount, and how Jesus tries to go beyond the letter of the law to something greater. And while perhaps he succeeded, I don't think he succeeds. So I came up with my own ways to go beyond the letter of the law.
- Have no God but God.
- Worship simply.
- Have no graven images.
- Worship only God.
- Do not take the Lord's name in vain.
- Be tolerant.
- Keep the Sabbath holy.
- Be holy every day.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- Honor everyone.
- Do not murder.
- Turn the other cheek.
- Do not steal.
- Give generously.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Be loyal.
- Do not bear false witness.
- Be honest and open.
- Do not covet your neighbor's belongings.
- Live simply.
To clarify "Worship only God," I mean don't worship celebrities, leaders, or other worldly concerns.
My extension of "Do not take the Lord's name in vain" comes from an article I read saying it was about more than swearing. It's also about saying "God says do this," in order to cloak your own beliefs and desires with the name of God.
Most people read the Tenth Commandment as "Do not cover your neighbor's wife." However, in the Bible it lists a whole bunch of things: their house, their horse, their cart, their servants. In some places the house is listed first, in others the wife is listed first. The thing is, all those things were your neighbor's property back in the time of Moses. So I take it to be don't covet their property, with the more enlightened definition of property that does not include people.
I believe in the Ten Commandments, but I do not believe in the Bible. I use the Ten Commandments as a base framework for my belief in God, just as I use The Eightfold Path as a framework for my belief that all is one. But I believe the Bible is the work of men, and not the inerrant word of God. My God is not small enough to fit in a book, my God is not simple enough to be explained by a book, and my God is not weak enough to be bound by a book.
I am a member of a Christian sect. And I do think Jesus had some very good things to say. But I don't agree with everything he said, and I don't believe he was any more divine than the rest of us. So I wouldn't really say I'm a Christian. I would say I am a theist in the Judeo-Christian tradition.