Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Friday, October 03, 2008

In God We Trust

The current economic situation reminds me of the apocryphal sign behind the counter in a store:
“In God we trust, all others must pay cash.”

One of the things that is aggravating the current economic situation is that the banks and large financial institutions have stopped trusting each other. They do not trust that they will be repaid if they loan each other money. So they don't. Or they only do so at rates so high as to be unaffordable. How did we get to this place.

Quakers were instrumental in creating many of our financial structures and institutions. Quakers founded and operated a number of the banks in England. There were a number of reasons for this but one of them was the Quakers' reputation for absolute honesty, integrity and sobriety. Who better to trust your money to than a person committed to telling the truth in all things. A plain dressed Quaker was also unlikely to siphon off your money to pay for their luxuries.

Quakers were well known for their carefulness with money. Bankruptcy was grounds for disownment. Not paying debts was considered a form of untruthfulness because you had broken your word. It also indicated that you had perhaps overextended yourself and had not stayed low and faithful to your Inner Guide. It indicated that perhaps you had let a desire for worldly goods to cloud your judgment.

Nowadays Quakers mostly seem not to take to careers in business or finance. They lean much more towards academia and social or medical services or software engineering. I suspect that there is fertile ground fo sociological studies examining why this is. At least one part of it is a desire to good in the world. Teaching or healing or working for non-profits are obvious ways of doing good. But wouldn't the world be a better place today if there had been a few more Quaker bankers and financiers. Would we be in this sub-prime mortgage mess if the mortgage originators had been committed to scrupulous honesty? Would we have had the piling of debt upon debt if the financial institutions had been run by people who would not consider making a promise that they could not keep?

But none of that was the case and we are in a mess. So who do we trust now? Friends will claim to trust in God, but do we? Did we feel confident because we were living in good times and do we feel insecure now that our investments and retirement funds have taken a serious hit and we do not know what lies in store? When early Friends refused hat honor, or used thee and thou with people who thought they should be addressed with the plural your, they were holding a mirror up to them to see their pride. Friends considered that the angry reactions that they provoked were a way for the person getting angry to see how much pride had gotten a hold on them.

The current situation is a similar opportunity. It is a chance for us to see, in our reactions, where we have really laid up our treasure. Have we laid them up in heaven or on earth where rust, moths and financial collapse consume? How much of our lives serve God and how much Mammon? Is the Lord our rock and our refuge?

Is our cry that of Revelation 19:11-17:

"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.
"They will say, 'The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.' The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out:
" 'Woe! Woe, O great city,
dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!'


Or, in this our time of difficulty do we sing like the author of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah
Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields [b] with fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah

I find myself switching between songs, often several times a day.

Blessings to all,

Will T

6 Comments:

Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

The one I keep thinking of is, "Give us this day our daily bread...."

It may be that very few of us will get through this one without suffering. I hope we will care for one another.

October 05, 2008 9:37 AM  
Blogger Quasi-Quaker said...

I think both are extremely beneficial to the world, but it is agreed that a few more Quaker bankers would be better than the status quo.

~~~

By the way, I'm new to the Friends, and I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of a couple books which would aid me in my understanding of traditional (or contemporary, but preferably traditional) Quaker theology, that would be kind of you. Thanks!

October 06, 2008 8:15 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Quasi-quaker,
Welcome. My first answer to your question about books on traditional Quaker theology would be Robert Barclay's Apology for the True Christian Divinity. This has been the standard work of Quaker Theology since it was written in the 1670s. If you look in the archives for this blog, you will find that for the first two years, I have been giving a commentary on Barclay's Apology.

Quaker's in general have not been much for theology since they do not believe in creeds. Instead, much of the teaching is done through telling stories. Thus there are more historical introductions than theological ones. Of the former I can recommend A Portrait in Grey by John Punshon. You can find these and other books about Quakerism at Quakerbooks.org. Their collection of basic introductory books can be found here

Do other people have suggestions of books that they have enjoyed and that might be useful?

Blessings,
Will T

October 06, 2008 8:00 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

To Quasi-Quaker, I recommend a post by another Quaker blogger, in which he writes up book recommendations based on broad themes.... And in the comments are additional links to other book lists that other Quaker bloggers have compiled.

My own suggestion...? When I became interested in reading about Quakerism, I first thought of what sorts of reading generally appealed to me--history? biography? short essay? (yes to that last one). Then THAT's what I asked people for, for recommendations.

It would never occur to me to recommend Barclay's Apology... to someone new to Friends, but after all, you ARE at Will T's blog!

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. Other lists of book recommendations are here and here.

October 08, 2008 12:42 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Will,

I wanted to make a separate comment directly in response to this post:

The situation reminds me of my experience this past summer at the annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative.

When Friends listened to the responses to the queries, one meeting in particular spoke about the consideration that investing in the stock market is a form of diversion and distraction from the Spirit.

Given today's circumstances, I'd say those remarks were prophetic. Even in the chaos of the failing economy, are we able to keep God in the center of our lives...? I know I am struggling to do so.

I also am grateful for your lifting up the history of Friends in banking. My, how times have changed.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

October 08, 2008 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will, you know I love it when you speak about money and Spirit--as you have at Yearly Meeting sessions, and as you are doing now.

At Beacon Hill, our Finance Committee met last week, and concluded our meeting with thinking about what kind of support we could offer the meeting this year and in what form. this is indeed such an opportunity, both to explore our lives on the fringers of faith and fear, and to re-ground ourselves in our traditional Quaker practices of avoiding debt, avoiding spending that does not feed the spirit, and community. We have much to offer the world.

In my own workshops on money and Friends, I frequently quote Thomas Clarkson's chapters on Friends' lifestyle ca. 60-80 years after the original movement had settled down. You read those descriptions of Quaker houses, activities, possessions and attitudes and have a pretty clear understanding about why Friends didn't overspend.

Carolyn Hilles-Pilant

October 13, 2008 4:20 PM  

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