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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Notes on The Amish Way



I will readily confess a deep interest in the Amish way.  Not the romanticized Witness and television drama version of Amish living, but in the witness the Amish offer of the possibility of another way of life--of being separate, apart, and yet whole.

Reading this wonderful book offers insights that go beyond what one might encounter in many books about the Amish.  It does not offer the usual proverbs, sayings, and superficial picture of buggies, bonnets, and barns.  Instead, we are offered a glimpse of Amish worship and how the Amish make meaning.

What is fascinating to me about all major faiths is the way that the emphasize a particular truth of the Gospel (often, I must say, at the expense of representing the fullness of the gospel).  What the Amish show, and represent powerfully is the notion of salvation within community--certainly a theme of Jewish Spirituality--but the main theme of the Amish way.  Everything is about keeping the community as Church intact.  For example, the prohibition regarding cars isn't because cars (or for that matter most modern mechanical things) are sinful in themselves, nor are they the direct cause of sin--but cars allow one to live at a great distance from others--to take oneself out of the community of believers and thus expose oneself more directly to the temptations that exist in the world.  The sinfulness in owning a car is the sin of willfulness an disobedience--not the sin of owning a modern convenience.  I find this a view entirely convivial with almost any Christian Doctrine.

As Americans, we are so used to having our own way about things.  We would not think of curtailing our spending because someone else though it excessive or unnecessarily indulgent.  And yet, I cannot help but wonder if we added a dollop of concern for others and concern for our ultimate effects on those around whether we might not do better to be more observant of things we tend to take for granted.

If Christian life is an integrated whole--not merely a surface decoration, a tribal tattoo, then it is necessary to regard every action taken as representative of that life.  Everything I buy, everything I write, everything I say, everything I do--every action has meaning and import for the whole Christian body.  This is what the Amish demonstrate for us--with their Ordnung and their tight-knit communities, we have a clear sign of what a Christian life looks like when one takes every action seriously.

And that does not mean joylessness--but as we often find with well-defined and clear boundaries, a sense of freedom and joy--the limits are clearly defined and while certainly more narrow that those enjoyed by society at large, often not, of themselves, particularly burdensome.  We all fail, we all transgress,  be we don't all have a community to call us to account--and, perhaps, that is a shame.

If you'd like to go beyond a superficial understanding of the Amish and their way--you would find this book a great help.  Even if the Amish are of not particular interest to you, if you take up this book and look into as a mirror, I think you might be moved and shaken by some of what you discover about yourself, your life, your faith.

And a note for the Catholics among us.  Does this ring any bells? If not then I think we might do well to consider the teachings of our late lamented Magnifico and our present blessed Pope.



from The Amish Way

One might expect that an Amish childhood would be chock-full of religious activities like vacation Bible School, religious camps, and Sunday school. Yet formal religious education is missing in an Amish child's life. Fathers and mothers--not church programs, schools, or youth pastors--shoulder the duty of passing on the faith to their chidren.


1 comment:

  1. Steven,

    Thanks for the post. My knowledge of the Amish is limited to bonnets, buggies, and barns, so this should prove to be a corrective.

    What convinced me to take a look at this book was your comment about why cars are banned. I had never thought of them that way, that their ability to easily cover distance in a short time is actually dangerous.

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