Strong & Simple: The Amish

We have a fascination with the Amish, maybe even envy the lifestyle they choose to live. Julie & I decided to spend some time on Amish dirt roads in northern Ohio a while back. When we stopped for lunch, I purchased a book, A Pocket Guide to Amish Life, by Mindy Starns Clark. She spent a lot of time living among and visiting Amish families in order to gain an understanding of this culture that seems so appealing. This book answered a lot of my questions and gave me a new appreciation for the strength it takes to maintain their lifestyle and protect their culture.

Amish 219Our curiosity about the Amish seems to be fueled by our longing for a supportive community and a simpler lifestyle. The Amish curiosity about our curiosity is reflected in this response that is found in many public places in Amish areas:

If you admire our faith, strengthen yours.

If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours.

If you admire our community spirit, build one.

If you admire the simple life, cut back.

If you admire the quality merchandise or land stewardship, then make quality.

If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them.

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We long for what they have, but maybe we aren’t willing to pay the price. What the writer doesn’t say is that it takes a lot of strength to make the choices that lead to the lifestyle we would like to lead. It takes strength to develop the values that sustain and nurture both us and our environment, and then to be true to those values in the way we live.

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The Amish settlements are communities of faith – but the demonstrations of faith are not obvious to us outsiders.I wasn’t able to photograph a church because they choose to meet in homes. The Amish expect their community members to lead a life that is an expression of their faith – in everything they do. If we want to build this lifestyle for ourselves, we need to understand the faith-based values their culture is built upon:

  • surrender the self-will to God
  • submit to authority, to the faith community, and to its rules
  • separate from the world and become a “peculiar people” by turning to the family and the faith community, by honoring history and tradition, and by turning the other cheek
  • simplify through the practice of humility, modesty, thrift, and peacefulness

When I reflect on these, my head and my soul say yes. But deep down, somewhere dark and hidden, there is some rebellion. Maybe this rebellion is the me I remember from so long ago, the one that wanted to belong, be independent, worldly, and most importantly accumulate symbols that said I’m accomplished and successful. I rebelled against the rules of how women should be. I wanted to be educated, have an income of my own, earn power in the public sphere so I could make the world a better place. Were my values self-centered or community-centered?

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In many ways my life seemed to reflect the worldly values of the time, those that came from the Feminist Revolution. But in many ways, my life feels like it is similar to the Amish culture. I made choices for my life based on what I believed to be right, what I felt to be consistent with my faith culture, my knowledge of what God willed for me. I struggled with balancing my personal needs with the needs of my family and community. I dreamed of a better world – and I needed to be a part of that world if I wanted to influence it.

Each Amish settlement makes their own rules concerning connection to the outside world, based on whether the connection will compromise their core values of submission to God’s will, simplicity of lifestyle based on humility, modesty, and thrift, and maintaining a strong community that takes care of it’s members. Most Amish settlements believe that being connected to the electric power lines would compromise simplicity, but we saw many solar panels in yards that power refrigeration, some farm equipment, and washing machines. Their community rules stipulate how members can be a part of the outside world without letting these interactions compromise their values, and are decided by the religious leaders (who are chosen by drawing straws). These decisions take a lot of discussion and discernment.

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I admire the strength of faith, character, and community of the Amish. And what I learned through exploring the Amish culture and writing this post is that if I desire the worldly treasures put before me, I need to question whether fulfilling this desire would compromise my values and faith commitment. If it does, I need the strength to say no. I need to be strong enough to be different, to not follow the trends. And when I’m unsure of what is the best way to live my life, I need to look to my God for answers.

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is strong. I hope you will be inspired to find your interpretation and join in by posting and linking to her blog. She gives instructions.

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18 Comments »

  1. Wonderful and thought provoking post. I think as I get older – I do try to simplify a wee bit more than in the past – but I have to say that I would have a very difficult time living as they do at this point in my life

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  2. I agree with parts of this, but under the exterior appeal of Amish communities lies a deeply patriarchal and controlling core. Women do not have equal rights, questioning authority is frowned upon. Surrendering to god is one thing, surrendering to men who claim they speak with god’s authority is another, and something other hard line religions also demand.

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    • I agree totally. There are parts of the life that I agree with but obviously chose not to be obedient to what our patriarchal society said I should be as a woman. Their culture wouldn’t be for me, but those who were raised in the culture and then join the church at adulthood seem to do well. I like the values but believe there are multiple ways to interpret how they should be lived out.

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  3. I admire them for their conviction but like everything else in life nothing is perfect. The comments about how the women are perceived is a problem but on the other hand I’m guessing the adults and children don’t spend the majority of their days checking Facebook, Twitter, etc. to seek personal validation because they are comfortable with who they are and are too busy working. Beautiful photos.

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    • They don’t connect to the internet (except sometimes for business purposes) because of the threat to community and value of humility. I think the children have a lot of freedom to interact with the world because when they reach adulthood they have to choose to join the church or not. If they choose to join they must give up the world and adhere to the rules. They do not go to public schools, however. They have their own schools and education only goes to the 8th grade. Then they are expected to work.

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  4. Very interesting and thoughtful, Pat. I think that although we enjoy parts of our material life, we can be inspired by the Amish and make some adjustments.

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    • Good point, Inga. It seems that the trick is being aware of when values and choices are causing unhealthy stress and frustration instead of happiness.

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