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.

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Comment by Alice M Yaxley on 4th mo. 17, 2012 at 6:01pm

Yeah, we're not in the same position at all Mackenzie, bless you, perhaps I should have guessed before. UK personal tax allowance is £8 105 per annum, I am nowhere near that, I handle less than £2 000/yr which is mostly from the govt via a thing called "Child benefit". No wonder we see things from different angles. I'm talking about networking for skills and getting by on the poverty line, and the blessings I can see emerging out of a vision and a method of working together down here, I think you are nowhere near. Most of the folks I hang out with have little/no chance of getting out of here, me and husband might be able to one day because we have the privilege of higher education. Maybe the gulf of class meant we have been talking at cross purposes the whole time.

I have been going through a detox from money in the years since I had my daughter, big readjustment, and there was a lot of readjustment needed, I had no idea how deeply I had bought some of the messages about money. I am very fortunate, married to a lovely guy who earns enough to pay the bills and I work hard to do stuff from scratch to keep our outgoings low, we live in one of the cheapest neighbourhoods in the country, mostly social housing. I went through the wardrobe readjustment a few years before that. Getting my life in good order I think, bit by bit, by the grace of God.

Comment by Mackenzie on 4th mo. 17, 2012 at 7:06pm

I live in probably the third most expensive city in the US: its capital. I may have said in the last post, but I'm not sure because I edited it so many times, that if I moved 1000 miles away, I could maybe subsist on knitting, if I didn't have debt from going to uni (I hear it's no longer "free through the first degree" over there either).  For this area, my income is just about right on the median line.  My money goes four places: rent, debt repayment, food, play, in that order.

I think there's also a gulf of culture or economy, aside from my recent class jump (from being a student in uni a year ago to having a job that pays the bills and the student debts--still, the debts come out above "replace shoes with holes in soles"). I would have no idea who to trade with to get ANYTHING that I normally buy.

  • There are no neighbors with yards, let alone vegetable gardens or chickens (though my partner's mother has a back yard that I've now planted squash and zucchini and tomatoes in because getting an allotment to plant on is horrendously expensive). 
  • I know several people who brew beer, but I don't drink it. 
  • I know one person who makes soap, but I have two bars of soap at home already, and bar soap takes about a year to go through, so... 
  • I almost traded crocheting lace for having someone tailor a hand-me-down dress to my size, but then I just buckled down and figured out how to tailor it myself (the morning of the wedding where I was planning on wearing it)
  • I can't trade to fill the gas tank, get a prescription filled, or pay the car insurance monthly payments (car insurance is a legal requirement here for all driving, and driving is a practical requirement to get to the office -- there is no public transit option in that direction)
  • I doubt I can trade for toilet paper.

The only service I can think of that I can't do myself but that I need on a repeating basis is changing the oil in my car a few times a year. My lease forbids changing the oil in the parking lot at home, because they don't want to clean the oil off the pavement if it gets everywhere (at least, I assume that's the reason).  I don't pay an accountant to figure out my taxes (it's just a little math, after all). Clothing purchases are rare. Most of my shirts I've had since I was 14 or 15 years old. And if something breaks... well, we have hammers, nails, pliers, needles, thread, yarn... why trade with someone to fix it when I can do it myself? A lot of the things you list in the original post (cabinet-making, basket-making, drapers, seamstress, etc) are things my partner and I either already know how to do or could quickly train up to relatively quickly if we had the need...so we have no need to trade for them.

I am thinking about making my own laundry detergent (as mentioned in your original post), by mixing borax, sodium carbonate, and fels naptha in a big quantity. The HE-safe eco-friendly laundry detergent I've been using is not available for sale in my area and is pretty pricey (even if one package lasts a year and a half), plus shipping if I order it mailorder. And I expect to run out of it by June.

Comment by Alice M Yaxley on 4th mo. 18, 2012 at 4:30am

This is a bit hurried, drafted between tasks, so please excuse if you this doesn't come out quite right. Please read with generosity, I want to chat but time is short.

Do you know could make laundry detergent from ashes, rainwater and oils? Less outgoings, if you can find somewhere folks have a fire, and have enough scientific knowledge. Might be able to bring a sack of ashes back to the city if you ever leave the city to go camping for a weekend holiday or whatever, especially as you can drive?

Cheapest way to live here is to rent a bedroom (with bed, cupboard, desk) in a house where you share use of the kitchen stove and sink, and loo and shower, with the other four or five folks, or maybe the same arrangement in an elderly persons' or couples' spare room. Where do the folks live in your city who work at cleaning, at supermarket checkouts, emptying bins, casual labour in warehouses, who are elderly and poor, who are disabled and can't get work? Usually over here there are bus routes in our sort of neighbourhood, even if you have to walk a mile or two to get there, because there are enough folks who need to use the bus.

You can eat cheaply from bulk buying, and trade with the other folks who eat like that: swap from your sack of rice for their beans or potatoes. Folks in apartment blocks can grow greens and herbs on windowsills, seed and bean sprouts for vit C in winter, make preserves made from bulk buys from the veg markets (sauerkraut etc), tap downpipes for rainwater and build filters to cut the water bills, giveaway clothes with holes for mending or remaking?

Sincerely -w here's the good news for the poor in your life Mackenzie? Or does that not have meaning for you? I am struggling to write this because I don't want to offend but there are some things missing from my perspective in what what you are writing. Where is your community, church, where is your connection with poor folks locally? Maybe you don't see the need or reason fo that? I wonder if we are doing the same thing, are we on the same quest looking for the good news for the poor that Jesus spoke of? For me that would be the reason to be talking Quaker: joining with others in seeking God's good news together. That's not the sense I get from what you are writing. Could you write more about where your faith life fits into this, or is it too raw to write about in public? Are you involved with Quakers or any other church? Doesn't that have anything to do with how you use your time and money, who you feel you are accountable to for the use of what you have been entrusted with?

I'm not so interested in talking about surviving poverty as I am about entering into the beloved community that I believe God is inviting us to. I believe there is good news for the poor and that when we are serious about our spiritual practice that good news can come to be expressed through our lives.

You appear to have many talents, I know most of the people I know don't have the ability and confidence to say they could learn whatever they need to know to mend or make everything they need. Maybe your culture is different in that respect. Maybe you could volunteer at your local day care centre, community centre, wherever it is that poor folks go meet up, on a day when you are not working? Have a mending or making clinic, a skillshare opportunity, go into a local school that poor folks go to, show folks how to do the (mending, re-knitting, anything else) stuff that makes the difference between misery and reasonable comfort when the budget is very tight? Somewhere local teenagers or other unemployed folks might turn up to share skills? Teaching folks skills is great as a way of building up the skills and trading network too.

Comment by Mackenzie on 4th mo. 18, 2012 at 9:14am

The one thing I took from the movie Fight Club was that lye is some scary stuff!

Group homes exist here too, but I've only heard them described as how "young professionals" (ie, recent college grads working for a non-profit, lobbying firm, politician, etc.) live. There is a system called Section 8, which may be similar to what you'd call Council Housing. The government subsidizes the rent on various apartments around the city, and if your income is low enough, you can qualify for one of those apartments. Especially if they have a family, that's how I think a lot of folks making only minimum wage would live. It is possible to commute into the city by bus from about an hour and a half outside the city (though the hubs for pickup that far out are pretty far apart...I used to do the reverse commute from my university to my job for 2.5 hours each way), so probably some are also spending 8 hours at a shift and another 3 hours getting to/from it.  BTW, supermarket checkout and emptying bins are usually union work here, so they are likely getting more than minimum wage. Restaurant workers, on the other hand, are paid 1/3 of minimum wage on the assumption that it'll be made up in tips.

That's a fair point about bulk buying. I hadn't thought about going in on a giant bag of rice with other folks to get the lowest per-pound price.

Good news like religion? In that case, it's at the shelters where they don't let you have a bed unless you attend church. Or good news like "hey, life's gonna start sucking less"? I'm not sure there's a light at the end of that tunnel. Have you seen our politicians? They want to destroy the meager social safety net we've got, and they're flippant about basic needs like "well if you can't afford healthcare, you deserve to die, lazy arse. Should've worked harder." The entire culture is screwed up, and I feel like it's too far gone for anything to change. Suggest fixing things? Get called a pinko commie socialist and that's the end of the discussion. It's like half the country's convinced the Cold War is still going on, and they  buy into the "pull up by your bootstraps" myth, not recognizing that the US does indeed have an aristocracy, whether they admit it or not.

I'm involved with a Friends Meeting here. In the winter, there is a mass giveaway of cold-weather supplies by the Meeting to a small portion of the local homeless population (I say "small portion" because while it's several hundred people, there are several thousand homeless folks here).  Folks gather around and apportion the hats, gloves, blankets, etc. into single-person boxes for two days. There's also a soup kitchen the Meeting works with. There's also a donation basket for the food pantry. I don't know of anything else within the Meeting.  I definitely haven't heard of anything that would help people get out of poverty, just subsist longer in it. The church I attended in another state before coming here and attending the Friends Meeting didn't even have that. All they cared about was how evil abortion is and politics that would make it possible for the parochial school to get government money. I've heard there's a church in Florida that feeds the homeless population publicly, where people can't pretend there are no homeless in their town, in a park. Or at least, there was. The city that church is in made it illegal to do that.

What's more interesting  is the Occupy Church (heh bringing back that other thread...), where folks are talking about getting the gears moving for setting up a workshop where homeless folks could go to learn to use the equipment and then use it to attempt a business. The first project is a guy who was a screenprinter before becoming homeless. I met a woman at Occupy Church who is unemployed and doesn't have much marketable skills. I asked if she'd like to be a programmer. She said she can't afford to take classes at the community college. That is something I could work with. I'd like to copy the Boston Python Workshops. That's a weekend-long programming workshop to teach people (mostly women--it's a very male-dominated field, frequently women who do get into it do so as adults, after they're done with schooling, often after having children) how to program in Python, which is a nice language for beginners and also used for some large-scale applications (WashingtonPost.com is developed in Python). With some Django web-development in there, folks can pretty quickly go from "no job prospects" to "in high demand." Even if they're a beginner to it, I think the very high demand for people who know Django stuff would make potential employers willing to work with them on improving--and there are a lot of small non-profits who just need someone who can make the website do the thing where it shows the new stuff.

I've suggested to other YAFs (you'd call us YFs) in the Meeting that know mending that we should teach it to the teenagers in our Meeting. Unfortunately, I suggested this just as the RE committee (under whose purview this would likely fall) was having a turnover, and now the new clerk is away, I think for FWCC, so things are all up in the air.

Comment by Mackenzie on 4th mo. 18, 2012 at 5:35pm

Oh! I just saw that you're from Coventry, Alice. A band I quite like was from Coventry, the Specials or the Special AKA. I don't know if you're familiar, but they had a song called "The Lunatics are Taking Over the Asylum" about Maggie Thatcher and Reagan. There was another one called "Ghost Town" about the loss of small businesses and the lack of employment for youths in Coventry during their era. Well, those songs do a good bit of explaining the direction things seem to be going here, what with the high regard with which Reagan is held. From friends in Scotland I'm getting the impressions the Tories are trying to head England back that way as well, especially as I hear about attempts at privatizing the NHS.

Comment by Mackenzie on 4th mo. 18, 2012 at 5:39pm

Hmm and now I read Wikipedia and see that Ghost Town was actually inspired by a visit to Glasgow. Though given the rioting at the time was widespread, I think it's probably safe to guess that more than one city was drawn on in writing the song, even if it was Glasgow that gave them the kicks in the rear to do it.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 30, 2012 at 10:56am

My wife Anne just pointed me to this notion...

Comment by Olivia on 5th mo. 15, 2012 at 10:41pm

(Belatedly)

Thanks very much, Alice, for the spirit of your post. 

"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." 

   and

"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."

Thank you also for the clarity to point out that all the grace of the "business" you are speaking of happens at the poverty line, or there abouts.  I find this fascinating. If I am getting the message, it seems that your experience is suggesting that God's abundance and God's solutions and the beloved community's solutions all happen at that point -- not in the income brackets above it!

In this though, I suddenly feel like the rich man who left Jesus disappointed after being told to give all he had away. That's a terrible feeling as I'm trying to go all the way on this relationship. 

I have been feeling that my partner and I are on the poor side, and with health problems, we don't want to go lower than we already are.  And yet we are decidedly above poverty, and are bringing in a modest income, and we DO feel blessed and rich in terms of gratitude for the abundance of resources (not rich-people resources, but God's solutions) throughout our daily lives.

I have intuitive gifts that I am growing into using more as I strengthen and get healthier, and which I look forward to using to help others as well when I am able.  As I get healthier I may be able to help my partner with health matters as well. One's beloved community gets very small...  very insular.    We are energy-poor.   That's the hurdle I am aware of now....every day I am learning more and more about healthy ways to handle my energy and what to let go of.  I would really value your insights about how you see this "good news for the poor" applying to those who are energy-poor.    I don't know how someone does what you do without such energy for being alert, inventive, doing the manual labor, etc.  We are happy but tired!  There is great fatigue in the household!  Do you really feel like these resources are given as one gets poorer, as well?  That hasn't been my experience in the past but instead I have learned how to be less poor in terms of my Energy and what I do with it.  As far as I currently know and expect that lesson is a whole other thing and doesn't work this way. But I would like to hear otherwise from you if you feel so.     

And I have to say -- much is currently growing and changing  (presumably healing) but I think this lesson is still plenty big and I would value more insight in this area.   There is so much I want to do that takes more energy and I have more to learn about how to be aligned enough with God to have all the needed energy for these activities.  (if this is outside your area, that's fine -- but you seem so wise about other things I need to grapple with and I would love to hear if you have thoughts on this as well).

Comment by Alice M Yaxley on 5th mo. 28, 2012 at 5:13am

Hello Olivia. Thanks for writing and for sharing your insights. I think you probably have more insight into what God is teaching you than I do.What you have written sounds like Good News for those who are weary.

Sounds like you are managing life much better than I am. I know I am often miserable and lonely as well as tired. I find it very hard to trust God, and to know what I should do. I am learning the manual labour, and perhaps my body is gradually becoming stronger as I work at it, but I am as gentle as I can with my body. I have suffered with chronic fatigue in the past and it is prone to flaring up whenever I get a virus or overwork. It causes problems in the community project that I am not as physically capable and energetic as other people and they find that hard to understand. I find it hard to understand as well and hard to accept. Good news for the poor is what I can grasp of Jesus' message, and I am trusting in God and looking for it.

Comment by Olivia on 5th mo. 28, 2012 at 2:06pm

Hi Alice,

You wrote "What you have written sounds like Good News for those who are weary."    I am not sure I see it but I hope if this is how you feel then there was good news for you in there.    It's funny but I felt with such conviction that you had something to share about this which was indeed good news for those who are energy-poor.   Something I didn't have.  I still have that feeling. Maybe invite the Light of Christ to reveal?    And if this doesn't become clear at any point, please feel free to email me!  We can compare notes later.

peace....

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