I stayed away from YMG this year fearing it would be dominated by the nagging nabobs of negativity, and that the Epistle would be a repetition of the theme favoured in previous years that we are all angry about going to hell in a handcart. I could say I have not been disappointed but the main thing that strikes me about the Epistle that has emerged is its incoherence. It has clearly been drafted by a committee and a committee which has lacked crisp clerking. The drafters were unwilling, or unable, to elicit an overarching theme to the Gathering and as a result have strung together sets of phrases which are at variance with each other in tone and content. Not only do the drafters need a course in critical thinking, but on occasions their language is such that they seem unmindful of Advices & Queries.
Epistle from Britain Yearly Meeting held in Coventry, at the University of Warwick, 29 July – 5 August 2017
The Epistle opens by sending loving greetings and saying how pleased we are by the presence of Friends from other Yearly Meetings, but these are empty words because we are then told how angry we are at greed and ruthlessness. Since abstractions cannot have these qualities, I must assume that the Gathering expressed itself angry with other people whom the Gathering deems greedy and ruthless. But perhaps these others are us, because the Epistle then tells us that we ourselves are part of the problem and that many are too rich. We are also told to recognize our own selfishness and privilege.
I reject as dissrespectul any attempt by BYM to label me or anyone else. I would remind the Epistle committee of A&Q 22:
I agree with the Fox Cubs that as individuals we all find different ways of being faithful, and if this were the sole message of the Epistle then I would be applauding it but an attempt to expand on this theme produces a bewilderingly varied set of exhortations.Refrain from making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others.
So the Spirit can lead us in many directions at once. Whatever happened to discipline and gospel order?When we engage with the brokenness of the world, one of our tools can be our willingness to listen: to the vulnerable, to each other, to those with whom we disagree, and to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. This will enable us to work alongside others powerfully, telling the truth of what is wrong in the world. Sometimes listening will lead us to stillness, at other times to practical action. In all things the Spirit will direct us.
The Epistle then goes on to say we can be in a supporting role, which seems to suggest we can properly choose to be entirely inactive, when the theme of the triennium is how we work with others to make a difference and build a better world. The Epistle then does a volte-face and tells us action may mean taking part in public protests or acts of disobedience, to challenge rooted injustices and to use our energy to bring about radical change, so Friends seem free to go from one extreme to another. The Epistle ends with a further volte-face, the beautiful words of William Dewsbury which close QF&P and express in the unmatchable language of the early Quakers the ethereal process of personal growth through silent worship.
I find just trying to make sense of the Epistle an exhausting and fruitless experience.