Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
James C. Shultz's recent blog post 'Why I'm not on the Occupy band ... and the comments to it got me thinking. The blogger writes, in the comments, "Going into business for yourself is the Quaker way. " A number of the other commenters have argued that is not possible. I know my thinking about this has been influenced by the book 'Beyond Civilization' by Daniel Quinn, which I would say is worth reading for someone who is thinking about whether they could build a business. I think it is possible, and I'll write a little about how.
What's more important to me is I think we shouldn't be too quick to put limits on what is possible with God's help. There's a powerful teaching in the resurrection of Jesus and the flowering of church at Pentecost following it, a part which is set out in Jesus's teaching in Jerusalem in John's gospel in Ch 12. Our brains seem to be set up so we have to give space to the dead end, to grief, and let go of our own opinions about the way forward, before any way forward can open for us - we are asked at times to continue to be faithful in the darkness, to continue seeking God's way despite everything. For me, Quaker worship includes practicing that 'letting go' of my own ideas; dropping down into the well of God's radiant, healing compassion, and sitting there, letting myself be changed by immersion.
One of the disciplines of our Quaker way is in staying close to the guide, staying right by the wellspring of Life, and encouraging and supporting each other in listening for the answer there instead of reading from the scripts we have been programmed with, whether by our family, our culture, our previous experiences or whatever. There's a subtlety in allowing ourselves to dream, to entertain our longing to take our place in the beloved community, and at the same time letting go of our human effort in making it happen. What we see as the realities of our lives might change, or what is possible within those limits might change, but change happens. God's way grows in us as we stay in it, and the waters of God's grace pour out without stopping.
For me, this is grace - we are invited out of the jaws of the trap, not because we are good or special but because God is good and we are willing to try to tolerate the discomfort of receiving God's gift, and be shown the way we should go. The beloved community comes to us as a gift, and what is required is that we are willing to be shown the way in our own lives, beginning where we are. I know that way may include many miles of wilderness and desert, yet still there is something that can draw a person onwards and give strength for the day. There might not be space for a cow in a city residence but perhaps someone in Meeting has garden space for a dwarf dairy goat you could care for.
I'm not claiming to have success in worldly terms, but I have some observations to offer. I live in a city, but we have a back garden, about 6 m by 15 m. We got some hens when the local egg farm culled their flock. We adapted a playhouse into a hen coop, and built a fence out of scavenged timber and wire to section off a yard for them. Our 6 hens lay well, and have become much happier than they were when we arrived. I have to supply feed and water and grit and bedding, and the hens are very happy to help eat up many of the non-poisonous weeds from the rest of the garden and other gardens where I help out; they also love to eat slugs and snails. The hen's manure contributes to a good compost pile for eventually feeding the garden. The eggs have supplied the needs of three households through the winter with a few spare for other friends, and now the days are lengthening here we have even more spare eggs to share with others. It's not a business in any conventional sense but I see it as part of a life which takes a tiny part in the solution to industrialization - I think it's possible that almost everyone can find something like it from the resources each of us has available. Salad or herbs in pots or window boxes? Mushrooms in the airing cupboard? Fruit or nut trees planted somewhere you walk past on your way to work or Meeting?
Another link could be from studying artisan production at the smallest possible scale, where similarly we might be able to afford the startup costs. I've recently been studying soap-making, and made some bar soap using vegetable oil that could grow locally. It takes study and planning and there are hazards to be assessed, but all of these things can be learned, perhaps you know a science graduate or engineer who would be willing to work with you through the learning process. The overheads of soapmaking are fairly low - I bought a notebook to record my soapmaking activities, recipes and costs and I think I have spent around £15 so far, including the hardware stuff like safety goggles and protective gloves, and I have enough materials to make five more complete batches; consumables total approx 50 p cost per bar for artisan organic soap bars.
If it was a priority, perhaps each church/Quaker meeting could find someone who could make soap for all the households. Again it's not a whole solution but again it is a step - everyone needs soap, most teenagers could learn the skill and have a sideline to take with them if they get a chance to move away. Someone who develops the skills could start selling at a market, perhaps with extra hurdles depending on local regulations. So could basket-makers, cabinet-makers, drapers and seamstresses and cobblers. Don't look at renting a business property or printing stationery at all, look at how much could be done from what you already have available. It's not necessarily easy, I don't think anyone said that developing a business was - and we have the possibility of supporting each other in seeking and following God's way.
One of the really beautiful things I see in this is that if people who are relatively privileged, skilled, and comfortable can break the trail, abundance arises for those who have less. A lot of people feel they "have to" buy the supermarket laundry detergent brand which is on offer because it's the cheapest - but if there was a neighbourhood business making laundry detergent which is environmentally sound and which is cheaper than the industrial one, even poor people would have a choice. That's what convinces me - good news for poor folks. God makes springs in the desert: our faithfulness in listening is required.