A word about Muppies

Gee, has it really been nearly 30 years since that dear couple invited me to go halves on a study kit they saw advertised in Utne Reader? It’s hard to believe that much time has passed.  And I thought I was helping them? You can see that it soon was working the other way around. Emotionally, I was a mess when it came to money stuff — at least I wasn’t dealing in debt. I just put a competent face on everything. But inside? There was a volcano.

At the time, I had recently relocated to New England from Baltimore, where a number of my friends were Mennonites. I suppose I should say something about their denomination, since it’s not common in many parts of the country. Remember, half of that couple was a Mennonite.

The faith arose in Switzerland and other spots in northern Europe at the time of the Protestant Reformation but traces its roots back through the underground church to about the year 1000 CE. Unlike the Lutherans, on one side, and the Calvinists, on the other, they refused to bear arms or swear oaths or to baptize their children. Because they believed that baptism was reserved for adults and made as a conscious act, they were dubbed Anabaptists — a name that also applies to several other denominations.

The Amish split off from them in the 1690s.

Discipleship is a major tenet of their practice, and churches range from very conservative, wearing Plain clothes and using horses for farming and transportation, to moderately liberal, with university degrees and professional careers. My friends were among the latter.

At the time, a new lifestyle was getting a lot of press — Yuppies, or young urban professionals. And it didn’t take long for some observers to note similarities and differences to Mennonites like those of my acquaintance. In fact, in 1985 Good Books (published by Merle Good in Lancaster, Pennsylvania) released Emerson Lesher’s The Muppie Manual: The Mennonite Urban Professional’s Handbook for Humility and Success.

That’s right — Muppies.

Its humorous and insightful details demonstrate ways our values can shape our financial activity. You don’t even have to remember the excesses of the Yuppies — young urban professionals — or know any Pennsylvania Dutch to appreciate this examination of decisions facing young Mennonites as they left large-family farms and moved to busy cities. If a Yuppie could play racquetball on Sundays, a Muppie would play basketball on Saturday. If one owned an original painting, the other might own a lithograph. And what do you leave out and what do you hide when your parents are coming over? How about when it’s your friends, instead?

You get the picture. You can begin asking just where you fit in this spectrum, especially when you encounter humorous examples like his. But be warned: Some readers thought it hit a little too close to home.

My fellow Quakers, meanwhile, found it expressing our own situation surprisingly well. A major part of our faith is the practice of simplicity, and like the Mennonites, ours is a peace church. We don’t go along with a lot of the spending practices of the general public around us.

Call it a lifestyle, if you will, but faith does shape the way we handle money. That faith, incidentally, doesn’t have to be a formal religion. I’ll argue everyone has one.

What do you wear to work? What brand, if any?

What can’t you wear?

What do you wear on the weekend?

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