Saturday, February 26, 2011

Advices in Active Voice - A Meat-and-Potatoes Paraphrase

In theory, I have always felt that the Advices and Queries in each Yearly Meeting's Book of Faith and Pracice are vitally imporant for our life as a Religious Society of Friends. They should give us something meaty to chew on. If they really did, then the oft-quoted postscript "these things we do not lay on you as a rule or form to walk by" would be welcome - a warning to chew carefully and not swallow whole. But such a postscript becomes unnecessary if the advices themselves go down like watery soup.

As a practical matter, the Advices do not seem to be read, quoted or consulted very often in the Meetings I have known. Part of the reason, I now believe, is the style in which they are presented (after generations of rewrites by committees). They are mostly cast in the passive voice ("Friends are advised..., Friends are urged..., Friends are earnestly cautioned", etc.) In addition some of the actual advice is padded with unnecessary explanatory material ("From the beginnings of our society we have found it necessary... etc. etc.)

At the risk of hubris, I've now therefore tried doing my own rewrite of the Advices of NYYM - not to change the substance but to try to punch up the language just a little. I haven't left anything out because I disagreed with it, nor put anything in because I think it needs to be added. I've tried to keep as much of the actual functioning part of the original language as possible. It feels to me as if my new rendering is a tad more clear and more helpful than the original.

Please read the original 16 advices (you'll find them at this location in the New York Yearly Meeting website). Then compare them to my 16 "revised" advices below. I'd like to know what Friends think.

Advice to Friends from The Yearly Meeting

1. Hold regular public meetings for worship. Wait expectantly for divine guidance. Be diligent and punctual in attendance. Believe in and depend upon our Creator.

2. Read frequently the Scriptures and other books that inspire and instruct. Encourage your families and others to do so also.

3. Be mindful of your conduct and conversation. Observe the testimonies of simplicity and moderation.

4. Observe our Christian testimony for a faithful ministry of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Remember that all have a responsibility in ministry.

5. Parents and teachers, exercise a loving and watchful care over children and youth. Meetings, help parents and children share religious experiences at home and in the meeting for worship. Give them an understanding of the principles and practices of Friends.

6. Parents and older Friends, be sensitive to the insights of younger people and keep a close and sympathetic contact with them. Children, love and respect your parents.

7. Work toward removing the causes of misery and suffering. Support efforts to overcome racial, social, economic, and educational discrimination. Bear testimony against all forms of oppression. Work for such treatment of prisoners as may help reconstruct their lives. Work for the abolition of the death penalty.

8. Refrain from practices that are detrimental to the body or the mind, such as the use of intoxicants and tobacco, and the misuse of drugs.

9. Avoid participation in lotteries, gambling, and betting, including schemes of chance that appeal as benevolences. Refrain from hazardous speculation. Do not engage in business that may be questionable.

10. Observe integrity in your living. Inspect frequently the state of your temporal affairs. In your dealings with everyone, endeavor to maintain a truly Christian character. Bear in mind the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

11. When contemplating marriage, seek divine guidance. Marriage is a life-long union of spiritual as well as temporal concerns. If you are united in your religious faith, you are likely to find not only a firmer bond of union but also greater strength in fulfilling all of life's undertakings. Therefore, when you contemplate marriage, acquaint your families and meetings with your intentions early and seek their approval. In this way you may avoid the far-reaching consequences of hasty and ill-considered action. Keep to the simple and solemn form of our marriage ceremony.

12. Conduct funerals and memorial meetings in a sincere spirit of worship. Avoid the display of floral decorations and the wearing of mourning. Adhere to our simple ceremony.

13. Take the opportunity, on occasions when special statements or oaths are required, to advance the cause of truth by simple affirmation, thus emphasizing that your statement is only a part of your usual integrity of speech.

14. Do not take of arms against any person, since "all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons" are contrary to our Christian testimony. Beware of indirectly supporting preparations for war. Examine in this light such matters as non-combatant military service, cooperation with conscription, employment or investment in war industries, and voluntary payment of war taxes. Be prepared to accept the consequences of your convictions. Maintain our testimony against war by supporting peaceful principles and the settlement of differences by peaceful methods. Lend support to all that strengthens international friendship and understanding. Give active help to movements that substitute cooperation and justice for force and intimidation.

15. Avoid any harshness of tone or manner when administering counsel or reproof, either privately or in meetings. Speak truth with love. Remember that if you would do God's work, you must abide in God's love. Even a seeming harshness may check the beginnings of true repentance, and a lack of sympathy may cause harm where only good was intended.

16. In Friends' business meetings, when there seems to be disagreement, encourage a free expression of all opinions. When you speak in meetings for business do not be unduly persistent in advocacy or opposition. After having fully expressed your views, recognize the generally expressed sense of the meeting. A deep and seeking silence can help to reconcile seemingly opposing points of view. Conduct your Meetings in the spirit of wisdom, forbearance, and love.



Blogger Paul L said...

Very well done, Rich. The tone is exactly right -- firm, clear, strong, wise. Thanks.

12:13 AM, February 27, 2011  
Anonymous Eric H-L said...

I am a big fan of Strunk and White.

10:01 AM, February 27, 2011  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Rich. I appreciate the time you've taken to put these here. The link didn't work for me, but I did find the Advices on the website of New York Yearly Meeting (scroll down).

In the worship group that I attend, there is one Friend who occasionally feels led to quote the Advices from Britain Yearly Meeting. He made it a practice of his years ago to commit them to memory in order to have access to them.

For me, I see part of the issue of our not lifting up these items during worship as being connected with the lost practice of committing things to memory; of not sharing our faith and our faith tradition more regularly with one another in our homes and elsewhere.

Then again, if we did talk of and refer to the Advices over-frequently, we run the risk of having them become empty forms... and more watery soup.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

10:13 AM, February 27, 2011  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks to all for your comments.

The link to New York Yearly Meeting's Advices was indeed broken. I think I've fixed it now. Readers, please let me know whether it works for you.
- - Rich

4:56 PM, February 27, 2011  
Anonymous Jay T. said...

In revising the F&P for our yearly meeting, the committee on which I serve has listed four different ways to phrase advices. We've yet to unite among ourselves, let alone found a phrasing or a combination of them that our YM clearly will resonate with.

Here are the four styles we've listed:

-straightforward imperatives (Live adventurously.)
-affirmations (We live adventurously.)
-exhortations (Friends are encouraged to live adventurously.)
-statements of fact or tendency (When we live adventurously, opportunities open before us.)

For what it's worth.

11:18 PM, February 27, 2011  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

@ Jay T: A well-framed question. I'd incline toward (I started to say I'd "vote for") straightforward imperatives.
Affirmations may not always be true (Do we really "live adventurously" or just aspire to do so? Do all of us do so, or only some? If we do so today can we be sure that we'll do so tomorrow when the advice will still be in print?) If the affirmation is true, then is it really an advice or is it a boast (or possibly a confession). The peace testimony is a good example. "Friends do not take part in war" is simply false. Often Friends do. "Friends do take part in war" is hardly good advice. "Do not take part in war" is good advice based on the heart of our tradition, not on the all-too-common betrayals of it.

Exhortations as such are good, but the example you give ("Friends are encouraged to live adventurously")is in the passive voice. Friends are urged to avoid passive voice. I'd be fine, though, with "We [the Yearly Meeting] encourage Friends to live adventurously" which is also exhortation.

"Statements of fact or tendency" sounds a lot like "affirmations", but the example you give is different, it speculates about the consequences of "living adventurously". Any such speculation could easily be dated. Take the topic of nonviolence, for example: would it be more accurate in a particular situation to say "Nonviolent action is the surest road to peace and justice", or say "Nonviolent action may seem futile and can get you killed, but it is the soundest spiritual response to injustice"?
- - Rich

8:42 AM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

One more question for JT: Would you be comfortable telling us what Yearly Meeting you are part of?

9:20 AM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Rich, for doing this! They're much more forceful this way. However, no matter how gently and nondirectively they're put, if Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit, wishes to draw our attention to an advice and say "Follow this!" we'll feel the imperativeness of it. -- John E.

11:35 AM, March 02, 2011  
Anonymous Jay T. said...

Sorry to be so slow in responding to your question, Rich. I'm part of North Pacific Yearly Meeting. See some of our revision efforts at

11:17 PM, March 05, 2011  

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