When couples disagree about money
I really appreciate this testimonial of how giving has evolved and matured for Merry Stanford (“The Ministry of Giving Money,” FJ, October). I would appreciate more insight on how to dialogue with one’s partner when each member of the couple is not on the same page. Are there certain ground rules for the conversation? Timeframes to the commitments? My partner and I have very different childhood experiences with money and so learned different approaches. We also have different levels of income, which creates a unique dynamic regarding planning for the future and philanthropy. Finally, we do not worship together being of different faith backgrounds so need creative ideas for making our decisions from a spirit led space.
A failure of Quaker process?
The words “When Quaker Process Fails” (John Coleman, FJ, October) on the cover of my new Friends Journal grabbed my attention. I am a process junkie. So, with a bit of trepidation, I sat down to learn what failure of process a group of Friends had recently experienced. Instead, what John Coleman addresses is many contemporary Friends groups’ failure to plan ahead, to face fiscal matters with a reasonable degree of understanding, and to handle fiscal matters with integrity. These are all matters that I have also experienced among Friends.
The only reference to process I found was the assertion that “Historically, when facing seemingly intractable problems, Friends were inspired by our core tenet, the Inner Light, to show humility, to listen carefully to expert guidance, and to find the most weighty guidance.” I have considered Quaker process in its many facets, and written a book on it. “To listen carefully to expert guidance,” while a good thing and invaluable in some circumstances, is not a traditional Quaker practice in the same way that coming to a sense of the meeting is.I find it unhelpful to call the issues John Coleman raises “Quaker process.”
Now you’ve done it: published an issue I read cover-to-cover in one sitting. As the person at Friends Committee on National Legislation responsible for finance, personnel and administration, I found your October special issue on money and Quaker testimonies fascinating. The articles are really terrific, and should be required reading in Meetings, in Quaker boards, and in “Quakerism 201” studies. The only quibble I have is the suggestion that socially responsible investing (SRI) means lower financial returns. That is a common misconception. At FCNL (as at many other Quaker organizations with invested funds), we use a strong SRI policy (available at fcnl.org/about/finances/investment_guidelines). Our invested reserves have consistently over the long-term met or exceeded the returns of the S&P 500 and other benchmarks.
Arthur Meyer Boyd
I was disappointed in your October issue on Quaker business. Not that I objected to the articles, but rather from the articles that were not there. I found it quite “cute” that the authors of the articles used the euphemism “business” when they really meant “free market capitalism.” This is based on greed, namely, to charge as high a price as possible (Microsoft), pay workers and supplies as little as possible (Walmart), transfer as many costs as possible to the common wealth (pollution of the coal and nuclear energy companies), and lobby/fund election campaigns in return for tax breaks and preferential treatment (the current election campaign). Capitalism needs to continually expand to justify its existence. As Elson Blunt’s article, “Knowing the Earth’s Limits,” points out, this is impossible.
Most important for me since I live and work in East and Central Africa, is the neglect of the repercussions of predatory capitalism here. Free trade destroyed the cotton and textile industry in this region and the livelihood of millions, as the U.S. subsidizes the cotton farmers in the U.S. so much that no one else can compete. Many of the people in this region do not have the basic necessities of life, and there is no likelihood that the capitalist system is going to supply these since the people do not have the money to participate in the consumer culture. I am not certain Quakers should claim affinity with Barclays Bank which has just been found to fraudulently inflate international interest rates, thereby fleecing Africa of billions of dollars. Likewise Cadbury’s chocolate business was based on the lowest possible price for cocoa beans and forced West African farmers to use child, slave labor to produce the beans. American free market capitalism survives because of U.S. military power throughout the world, hardly a Quaker value. I suggest another issue on “Quaker business.”
Some other expenses of simple living
I have thought much about Daniel Suelo’s approach to life (“Interview with Mark Sundeen, Author of The Man Who Quit Money,” FJ, October). In the early 80s I met a young man who was giving away his meager possessions in order to be totally free of the energy dragging down his spirit, as he put it. I have often wondered what happened to him in subsequent years. As he traveled from one rainbow gathering to the next, staying with “radical fairies,” he had to rely on others who did participate in the mainstream economy in various ways and to varying degrees. Even hitchhiking across the country as he did required others who paid for gas and vehicles. Staying with friends who owned farms—someone paid for land and paid taxes, possibly interest on a mortgage. And seeking healthcare at “free clinics”—someone paid for the medication and medical supplies, whether purchased cheap after their “expiration date” or donated by a faith community. Another friend who lived extremely simply, but not as radically, I later learned had a veteran’s disability pension. He had always let the rest of us assume he practically “lived on air.” A person could make the argument that Daniel serves as an example, not one that most (or even many) will emulate, but a reminder of what is possible. Daniel’s story has certainly made me more mindful and aware of how I spend my own money. I am in no way criticizing any of these paths, just pondering & considering.
Thompsons Station, Tenn.
Four and a half years ago, my husband and I somewhat unknowingly started a multi-faceted journey of simplicity. We found ourselves living the American dream. We both earned degrees from private universities, we both had good paying jobs, we owned two cars, bought our first home and were getting ready to have our first child. But something was missing. Though God had financially provided for us in amazing ways (we had no debt, except our recently purchased home), our lives were numb.
A leap of faith had us uprooting our lives, downsizing our amount of possessions and taking a huge pay decrease to work with college students. Then God threw us an unexpected opportunity to work with urban youth and for me to become a stay-at-home mom, another decrease in our income. We were never more spiritually alive than at this moment in our lives. Was it just a coincidence? We don’t believe so. There is no such joy as letting go that in which you have false hope (money, possessions, etc.) and trusting that which can truly sustain you (God,relationships, justice). And now a recent job loss has my husband and I switching parenting roles.
Unfortunately, I have been out of the job market for several years. and the recent economic climate has not helped me land a great paying job. Four years later, we’re living on a fourth of our income but our lives feel full, abundant, lovely, exciting and full of possibilities. So much so that we have recently decided that when my temporary job is over at the end of the year, I won’t look for a replacement. Instead we’re taking the opportunity to take a payless practicum in Kisumu, Kenya with New Life Homes for my husband to complete his master’s degree; our daughter and I will go along as volunteers. So in a matter of four and a half years we will not be relying on a job to provide for us but solely on our Father in heaven. And once again, we are now more spiritually alive than ever before. It’s amazing how when we had money, our possibilities seemed so few, but without the attachment of money and material possessions, our possibilities are endless and we have the freedom to grasp them with both hands.
In the early 90s sever circles of Friends in New England were looking at similar issues, spurred in part by the book, Your Money or Your Life. Beginning in February, I will posting a series of reflections and exercises from those efforts, to make them available to individuals and discussion groups everywhere to use for their own investigations into the emotional and spiritual sides of our money, wealth, labors, and time. The chapters will be found at frugaljnana.wordpress.com.
Occupy movement not just about the poor
I found much good reading in the September issue, particularly Eric Cleven’s “The Spirit of Mediation” and Pamela Haines’s “The Great Separation.” I am eager to read the reviewed book, Broken and Shared: Food, Dignity, and the Poor on Los Angeles’ Skid Row by Jeff Dietrich, as I suspect it has much food for thought for those of us who are involved in feeding programs for the needy. I do take issue with the comment by the reviewer, Patty Levering, though, that “it is a must-read for people concerned with the Occupy movement, because it gives a picture of what sustained commitment to caring for the poor looks like and requires.” In fact, the Occupy movement is not only, nor even primarily, about “caring for the poor.” It is about economic justice for the 99 percent—those whom President Clinton referred to as “people who work hard and play by the rules,” and who feel entitled to decent schools, safe neighborhoods, affordable health care, and clean air and water. These are two different issues, both demanding attention, certainly, but each having different requirements.
Vashon Island, Wash.