Among Friends: Relating to Money

Friends and Money: This topic could be more controversial, more sensitive to many Friends than discussions about politics, racism, religion, or sex. Might this be because, as a group, we Quakers are better educated and have higher household incomes than the average American? That when we choose to live simply or in voluntary poverty, it’s generally a choice and a statement, not an unavoidable, crushing fact of life? Are we conflicted by these facts? In our January 2004 issue, Kat Griffith summed up her ambivalence about money exceedingly well ("Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also"): "I have personally labored for years to achieve a kind of detachment from money—an attitude I have imagined to be a hallmark of a ‘spiritually evolved’ person. But I am compelled to admit that it has been an uneven struggle. Money and I have a complicated relationship, a love/hate/ignore relationship that plays out in odd ways. I alternately pay no attention to and obsess over money. I go back and forth from feeling resentful of others’ wealth (and sense of entitlement to it) to feeling guilty about my own. I am alternately self-righteous, materially envious, ludicrously penny-pinching, and wantonly generous. My behavior might all balance out in the long run to some kind of karmic neutrality, but detached it is definitely not!" I loved her candor—and could identify with many of her comments. Money is a tough subject. Tough to regard objectively; tough to discuss without tensions developing, particularly when money is tight or short; tough to sort out in regard to one’s spirituality, not to mention the spiritual thrust of one’s meeting. We Friends have a religious tradition that is opposed to many of our mainstream cultural norms, one that leads us to paddle upstream much of the time. This is certainly true when it comes to money, but we are more private, and perhaps conflicted, about money than we are about a great many other issues.

A range of views is presented here, from personal finance and finding a positive relationship to it, to guides for corporate spending, to encouragement to Friends to become personally involved in for-profit business and banking, bringing Quaker values, literally, into the marketplace. Carolyn Hilles was a co-leader of a Friends General Conference Gathering workshop on "Your Money or Your Life" in Amherst, Mass., in 2004. I was fortunate to participate in that workshop and encouraged her and Penny Yunuba, the other co-leader, to write something for us on this subject. Carolyn Hilles has done so in "Our Money and Our Lives" (p.6), and it seems a good place for this issue to begin, with questions about how we want to use our life energy, how much is enough, and how to align our spending with our values. Some of our writers refer to the fact that Friends Journal must run like a business, which is certainly true, although we are a business that has a ministry, rather than profit, at the heart of it. Perhaps for this reason, I share the concern of Mark Cary ("Friends’ Attitudes toward Business in the USA" p.30) and Paul Neumann and Lee Thomas ("Why Young Friends Should Consider a Career in Business" p.32) that many Friends fail to recognize the opportunity to promote Quaker values that the business world offers. William Spademan, in "Common Good Bank: A Society to Benefit Everyone" (p.33), finds himself surprised to be venturing into banking, but doing so precisely so that his religious values can find an outlet that benefits the community. Ideally, all of us will seek ways to impact our culture positively by our choices about how we earn, spend, invest, and donate our money.

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