Our goal

Oliver Robertson looked down the other end of the lens at Yearly Meeting Gathering

Hearts shared with Friends in preparation for all-age worship. | Photo: Elinor Smallman.

At the recent Yearly Meeting Gathering participants were given a daily journal for their notes. At the top of each page were a few questions on the particular theme of each day. As often happens, some spoke to me more than others, and some spoke to me because of the alternative questions they provoked.

The first day’s question was: ‘What gifts can I contribute today to build a loving community?’ But the question which clung to me was: ‘What gifts do I not want to contribute? What are the things I ought to do but wish I didn’t have to?’ Once I had that answer, the role I should be playing would become obvious.

Two days later, the question asked: ‘What can I do to help?’ But these are the words I use when I offer my services, and if I am offering then I have the choice of offering nothing, of wriggling away from any commitments. The question that stayed and resonated was: ‘If I had no choice but to do this, how would I do it?’ There is no question about whether to be involved – that matter is already past. The attention, then, is on how.

Such questions are essentially challenges, asking whether I can better serve if I am taken out of my comfort zone.

Certainly, I believe that I, we, all of us need at least to consider whether we are called to leave some of our current comforts behind in order to help create a better world. Quakers are already impressively engaged with the social and political issues of the day, but I wonder whether the wealth that many Friends have, and our demographic and attitudinal similarity, act as a buffer between us and the rest of the world. They are not walls, but if we want to look away, such things make it easier to do so. I think of the analogy of opening the bathroom door after a hot shower: the knowledge that a blast of cold air will hit you when you step outside makes it tempting to just stay where you are.

The one other phrase in the preparatory notes that especially caught me was: ‘We refuse to prejudge who is or is not an ally’. This brought to mind the civil rights movement in the USA, which sought, ultimately, to make allies of everyone.

The goal was not to win, but to transform their enemies by opening their eyes to the injustice they engaged in. The civil disobedience and nonviolent protests were undertaken so that nobody could remain unaware of the injustices of racial segregation; it opened the bathroom door. This was not done maliciously, but from the belief that individuals and society could not reach their fullest potential or have a right relationship with God while they continued to treat their fellow humans so cruelly.

What they sought to do was to ensure that change happened, but in the kindest way possible, and that should be our goal also.

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