“We’re all friends here.” How might that idea, that statement, that energy change the world around us right now? What if people elected to our government could say that—“We are all friends here”—in the White House, in the halls of Congress, in press conferences, on airplanes? What if leaders of nations, of denominations, of industries and towns—across the whole wide world of Spirit—could see the world that way and operate with that view? What if those of us living our normal daily lives, with our different opinions on things and different ways of seeing the world, could know in our heart of hearts, when we meet someone who thinks, talks, acts, and lives differently from us, “It’s okay—we are all friends here”?
Maybe the old could say it to the young, they could say it to each other, and we all could say it to our planet, collectively. And mean it. And live it.
“We are all friends here.” What a different world we would create! One based on shared and common good, the idea that we want the best for one another, for our planet, and for all life and that we trust—or are willing to try to trust—each other, because we have a bond. We Friends believe that bond comes from the fact that we each embody something of God within us, and we bring it forward into the world, knowingly or unknowingly, using that creative potential to impact the world for better or for worse. If we tune our lives to the leading of spirit, we see our efforts harmonize with the principles of God.
All this potential healing from just a few simple and basic ideas at the heart of our Friends tradition. Quakers have a lot to offer the world today.
Although we are sometimes seen as old-fashioned and likened—mistakenly—to the Amish as a kind of group that separates from the world, we are actually quite the opposite. We seek to bring what light we can into the world, transforming it, lightening it, bringing peace.
Our testimonies serve as stars we can steer by: We value Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. So many struggles in the wider world could be healed with those simple testimonies. To commercialism and greed run amok, Simplicity says, “You’ll be happier with only the things around you that really matter.” Those who struggle to find peace in this world are invited into sweet stillness of a few moments’ quiet. There, along with the beating of hearts and the rhythm of the breath, we find a gentle space where God awaits.
To those who mourn the loss of integrity in our systems and in our culture, Friends suggest that integrity starts within, with our choice to act in accord with our own inward sense of what’s right. When we act in harmony with our consciences—or, as Friends might say, in accord with our inner leadings—we rebuild the integrity we have with ourselves. This is vitally important if what we want is a transformed world. Our yes means yes and our no means no. We begin to keep our promises to ourselves and make choices that are in tune with our higher nature. With a strengthened sense of inner integrity, we begin to relate to the world with a clearer sense of honesty, forthrightness, and understanding. The value of integrity shines like a light from the inside out, changing our world for the better.
In a world where civil discourse seems all but lost, the Quaker testimony of community—the belief that it is in the many that the One can be found—holds the potential to heal what divides us. Our respect for one another—and for all people, animals, and ecosystems all around the world—is built right into our tradition, coming from the idea that the light of God exists in and has the potential to teach and heal and guide every living being. Because all beings share that divine spark, no one person should be set above another—all are equal as Friends of God. This is the root of our lived belief in equality.
All our testimonies work together on behalf of the whole: because we desire peace, we treat each other with care. Because we value simplicity, we create relationships that are clear and at ease. Because we value integrity, we are honest with ourselves, and tell the truth to others, treating them with respect. These are foundational ingredients for healthy community. Without any one of these values, complex, confusing, dishonest, conflicting rifts begin to develop—like rips in the social fabric—and, allowed to grow unchecked, they may threaten to tear communities apart. That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Read a headline, listen to the news. Thank Goodness the light is still at work among us. The story is not finished yet.
The remaining testimonies that guide our intentions and actions are equality and stewardship. Most of us are painfully aware of the desperately uneven systems of wealth and power in the United States right now. It has always been Friends tradition, however, to uphold the sacred value of every individual. From the earliest times of Quaker history, women have been seen as full equals to men in ministry, teaching, and more. And for those who have been treated inhumanely and unjustly—whether they were forced into slavery or held in terrible conditions in mental hospitals or prisons—Friends have long been advocates for freedom and justice, respect for all beings, and reverence for life.
We Friends believe that it is not enough to worship on Sunday and then forget about our faith through the week. We do our best to live a sacramental life, hoping that our understanding of love and light shines through all we do each day. It is this call to faithful service that made Isaiah jump up immediately and exclaim, “Here am I; send me!” when God asked for a volunteer in the heavenly court. It is the same call that Friends respond to each time they take up a concern that calls for healing, justice, grace, and care.
And Friends have been involved in so many efforts across the centuries, working in a rainbow of ways for the betterment of conditions for all. Through the years, Quakers have been reformers in all of life’s major arenas: We have worked to abolish slavery, advocated for peace and equality, called for reform in mental institutions and prisons, visited nations as part of non-formal diplomacy, and provided relief efforts to those experiencing war, poverty, and the effects of natural disasters. Friends travel the world in the name of peace and justice, living out the witness George Fox offered in 1656:
“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”
And it’s because we care so deeply about values that honor and lift up “that of God in everyone” that we advocate for inclusion and equality, excellence in education, integrity in politics and business, social justice, economic justice, workers’ rights, healthy community development, and efforts that support the good and free growth of individuals, families, and societies.
In our New Testament passage today, Jesus is telling the disciples about a new shift in their relationship with him. No longer is he simply their teacher, their master, their instructor, the one with authority who gives orders and they obey, taking their ques from the outside in. Now they are fully friends, he says, because they have taken his words and teachings to heart. The wisdom of the Christ now lives within them, shining from the inside out as they let the light lead their actions in the world. It is with the same manner and purpose that we Friends live out our faith today, listening and acting on the divine leadings we hear and sense and know.
George Fox wrote in his Journal about his own discovery of this deep heart-felt friendship with God:
“The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts … his people were his temple, and he dwelt in them.”
Today is World Quaker Day, and all around the world, Friends are reflecting on what it means to be part of the unlimited, expansive, never-ending community of God’s Friendship. The Friends World Committee on Consultation estimates that there are currently 400,000 Quakers in the world: 140,000 in the United States, 200,000 in Africa, and 25,000 each in Europe and Asia. All around the world, today, Friends are worshipping God in a thousand different ways, embraced by and responding to the One Love that upholds and leads us all.
A week ago, thinking ahead to today, I send a note to Friends meetings who follow us on Twitter. The note said,
“Greetings from Noblesville Friends, a semi-programmed and open-hearted meeting in Noblesville, Indiana, USA! We wanted to reach out and make contact and share our thanks and greetings to you as we serve together in this big beautiful work of the Light. Happy World Quaker Day! We invite you to share a word of greeting with us as well and we will share and celebrate it in our worship time next week.”
Through the week I received a number of responses. As I read them now, take a moment to receive what this really means. Good will and friendship coming to you—love and light and good wishes—from your friends around the globe. This is the energy, the light and love of God, extended to us in this moment:
- First, we received a big, “Thank you! Greetings from Toronto Friends!”
- From FWCC – Europe & Middle East: “Thanks for your message, Friends. It’s good to connect with you via Twitter.”
- Harrogate Friends in England wrote, “Thank you. Greetings to you from Harrogate Friends in the middle of Quaker week. This Sunday we had an additional Meeting for Worship in the evening by candlelight. Next Saturday we will be having a morning of spiritual nourishment on listening skills, followed by our bi-monthly peace vigil outside our nearby American Spy Base, Menwith Hill. On the Sunday after meeting for worship we will be having shared lunch followed by a play about a family fleeing domestic abuse in their homeland and the response they encountered at the hands of the UK Home Office.”
- Quakers in Ireland said: “Thank you for your World Quaker Day greetings! We wish you a blessed and peaceful time of fellowship on this World Quaker Day.”
- And from Ilkley Quakers: “Greetings Noblesville Friends from Ilkley Meeting in the UK. We were delighted to receive your message which will be read in Meeting today. Best wishes for World Quaker Day!”
“We are all friends here.” We are all friends here, and it’s time we recognized it. That may be one of our strongest testimonies, one of our strongest Quaker witnesses to the world today. By seeing that of God in each other—by being convinced it’s there and holding the space for it—we set our sights on nothing less than bringing the peaceful, loving, healing kingdom of God right into the spaces our hurting world needs it most.
In closing I leave you with these powerful words of Quaker Thomas Kelly from his book A Testament of Devotion. You’ll hear that he echoes both Isaiah and Jesus in describing our call to live and love in accord with the leadings of the Light:
“The experience of Divine Presence wholly satisfies, and there are few who, like those on the Mount of Transfiguration, want to linger there forever and never return to the valleys of men, where there are demons to be cast out. But there is more to the experience of God than that of being plucked out of the world. The fuller experience, I am sure, is of a Love which sends us out into the world. “As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you” becomes, not an external, Biblically authorized command, but a living, burning experience. For the experience of an inflooding, all-enfolding Love, which is at the center of Divine Presence, is of a Love which embraces all creation, not just our little, petty selves.”
Beautiful, isn’t it? One Love, One World. We’re all friends here on this planet. May we carry that transforming grace with us into all experiences of the friendly year ahead.
- OT Isaiah 6:8
- NT John 15: 7-15
- Friends World Committee on Consultation: www.fwcc.org
- Kelly, Thomas. A Testament of Devotion. https://pgadey.com/quaker/Kelly–TestamentOfDevotion.pdf
- Fox, George. The Journal of George Fox. https://archive.org/stream/journalofgeorgef00foxg/journalofgeorgef00foxg_djvu.txt