“Am I a bad Quaker,” I wonder. “How to know,” I think. “Ah, yes,” I answer myself, “the Advices and Queries in the Book of Discipline of New York Yearly Meeting!” In reading the queries “straight down,” I have to pause at number five, which asks, “Do we keep to moderation and simplicity in our daily lives? Have we allowed the acquisition of possessions to interfere with God’s purpose for us?”
Hmm. A couple of days ago we spent a hefty sum on a new SUV for my wife. If we had gone to more than one dealer, we might have found a less expensive brand—say, a KIA instead of a Chevy Equinox. Or we might have bought a used SUV or a smaller vehicle.
Anyway, the amount we spent doesn’t really seem like “moderation and simplicity.” On the other hand, my wife does need a SUV for the large wedding and quinceañera cakes she sells in her cake decorating business. Moreover, she has recently grazed a parking lot pole twice and scratched another vehicle in traffic. Our new Equinox beeps if there’s a hazardous object on either side of it. It also has lane keeping assistance and emergency braking for unexpected obstacles detected in front. And I don’t really see how the acquisition of an Equinox will interfere with God’s purpose for us. We can still afford airfare to New York to visit Old Chatham Meeting!
Continuing with the Queries, I see that number eight says, “Have we confronted our own decisions about our use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs…?” Well, I don’t smoke or drink, but I do sometimes chew nicotine gum for an energy lift. The gum isn’t carcinogenic; but it is mildly addictive, and it does raise blood pressure, which I’m trying to control with prescription medications. Moreover, it’s expensive. “Gum money” could be better spent on household bills or charity. I don’t think I have a good answer for Query number eight.
Then there’s number thirteen. “Do we maintain Friends’ testimony against war?” Well, I don’t approve of our militaristic society and the U.S. tendency to wage senseless wars, but I’m not an absolute pacifist. For example, I do believe that we should send military aid to the Ukrainians as they fight to preserve their independence and freedom. It grieves me to stand apart from other Friends who approve only of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and I applaud those who give their unqualified support to the Peace Testimony. I wish I could join them.
Considering my problematic Queries, am I a bad Quaker? Probably not. After all, I “passed” thirteen of them with only three that were doubtful. Admittedly, I’m not a perfect Quaker, but how many Friends are perfect?
By the way, the picture at the head of this article is a painting of Benjamin Lay, a good Quaker and one of the first Friends to oppose slavery. He only “looks bad.”
~ Richard Russell
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