Thinking Out Loud

October 5, 2017

What You Don’t See Just By Looking at the Amish

I don’t know offhand if the Amish permit what’s called here “Agritourism” — in other words farm tours — but I have something that would be of greater interest than seeing the hay lofts or furniture making workshop. I’d like to sit down with an Amish elder and discuss the underlying faith, specifically their faith and how it informs their customers. It beats driving around Lancaster, PA and going, “Over there! It’s another one!” and then snapping camera-phone pictures of these precious people simply trying to live their lives in peace.

This week, I got a bit of an insight into the type of information I’m seeking. I work two days a week at a Christian bookstore that my wife and I coincidentally happen to own. When an audio book came in missing the shrink-wrap usually found on audio products1 I considered the idea of listening to a few minutes of it as, despite the various podcasts and sermons I listen to constantly, I have no personal experience with audio books.

Then I discovered the book was voiced by none other than Christian Taylor, one of the regulars at The Phil Vischer Podcast.2 I decided to see (or hear) what her vocational labor produced.

The audio was for the book Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Susanne Woods Fisher.3 Interspersing Amish proverbs with anecdotal stores would make this a fun read, but it was probably a bit of a challenge voicing a reading of the book.

Putting it as simply as I can, there is a world here which, while it may seem strikingly different to observe as a tourist, is actually more different than you think in terms of the underlying principles which guide everyday life in an Amish family and an Amish community.  They live out an ethic which is certainly rooted in the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus, but in many respects almost goes beyond that high standard in terms of everyday life.4

Even if I could embed myself in an Amish family for a week, I don’t know that I could ever expect to fully get it without having spent a lifetime being educated and shaped by their community values, passed on from generation to generation. They live in a world without electronic media and yet possess a wisdom many of the rest of us cannot imagine. Their formal education ends at Grade 8, yet they have better literacy rates than in other neighboring rural areas. Their children are given responsibilities that would boggle the minds of parents who bubble-wrap their kids in the cities, such as driving a team of mules to plow a field.5 And their pace of life means they see things which the rest of miss while driving Interstate freeways at 70 mph.

I enjoyed the (audio) book, but I find myself wanting more; more than I can get from simply packing up the car and heading off to Amish country or Mennonite country to simply look at them.6

I want to take a month and be them.7


1To my readers in other countries: For years records, tapes and CDs in North America have come plastic-wrapped, as we don’t want to get to get germs, at least that’s what a record vendor in England told me years ago.

2As in “…We’ll talk to Skye and Christian, too, but we’ve got no guest this week for you…” (Show theme song.) Christian is a voice actor. christiantaylorvo.com

3Oops! Fisher wrote Amish Peace in 2009. In an earlier version of this blog post, I identified the book as The Heart of the Amish which she wrote in 2015. This appears to be a different book, not a title update. My bad.

4The stories about forgiveness will break you.

5Full disclosure: The book admits this freedom results in a much higher rate of Emergency Room visits due to injuries compared to other children in rural areas.

6Pennsylvania or Ohio or Western Ontario would be the destinations of choice for such an excursion. The book notes the Ohio Amish have a lower percentage of people living in farm communities.

7I would probably not be able to give up my phone or internet connection. Today, several houses share an outdoor phone booth of sorts which is for making calls, not receiving them. That would be somewhat insufficient.


Christian responds:

Related: A 2010 article I wrote about the Amish and the concept of being separated from the world.

Photos: Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

March 25, 2017

Are You Going to Church Tomorrow?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Back in the day, not going to church wasn’t an option. Unless you were ill, you went. End of discussion.

These days shift work and sports often keep adults and kids respectively away from weekend services. But surely such a lax attitude doesn’t exist in more conservative denominations, right?

Actually, I’ve been doing some research into a particular aspect of Amish life, which has meant reading a number of articles which deal with related topics. On one of the articles at Exploring Amish Country, I was a little surprised to read this:

In the Amish culture, the word “church” doesn’t refer to a building, but to the people in the congregation. Since in most sects there is no church building, services are held in individual homes on a rotating basis. This limits the size of the church district to the number of members that can fit in a home, usually thirty to forty households.

Your church services are held every other Sunday. The “off” Sundays are spent visiting or taking it easy. You look forward to these social times along with the occasional wedding, barn raising or other frolics.    (emphasis added)

So we have a trade-off here: A three hour service, but only bi-weekly. Would you choose that option?


Related articles:

 

June 10, 2013

Amish Farmer Ripped Off By Energy Company

I have a very low tolerance for stories of injustice. So the first three paragraphs of this story in New Republic magazine are enough to spike my blood pressure:

It was late 2010 when a chipper agent for Kenoil, Inc., a drilling company in Eastern Ohio, drove to the nearby hamlet of Millersburg to visit Lloyd Miller. His car slithered down the hill overlooking the Millers’s home and white farm buildings, past a set of pine green drums, pipes, and gauges—a shallow oil well that Kenoil had drilled on the Millers’s property many years ago—and stopped in front of the aluminum barn where the family, who are Amish dairy farmers, lodges its horses and buggy. The agent had an unexpected business proposition for Lloyd and his wife, Edna: Kenoil wanted to lease the right to drill on the Millers’s land for shale gas. And for a lease of five years, he could offer them $10 an acre that same day.

The timing felt providential. The couple, who have several young children, were still paying off a 2006 loan they’d used to buy a small farm adjoining theirs. Gazing in the direction of his 158 acres, as he talked with me at his kitchen table in March, Miller said, “We thought, ‘Hey, that’s $1,500 we didn’t have.’” Still, he asked the agent about rumors of farmers who’d been given much larger signing bonuses in similar deals. He remembered the agent grinning dismissively as he said farms in the area were not leasing for more than what was offered. Miller, 46, considered the Kenoil well on the hill, and the years of good relations he had enjoyed with the company. “I just trusted him,” he said. The Millers signed the lease.

It was maybe two weeks, Miller figured, before they realized the enormity of what they’d done. First, their local paper, The Bargain Hunter, carried a front-page story advising farmers their land could be worth hundreds per acre to oil and gas companies. He compared notes with landowners nearby while on trips to the sale barns where farmers trade livestock, and when other farmers delivered hay for his cows. Miller is physically imposing—stout and broad-shouldered—but also painfully timid. When pressed on what his neighbors had earned, he gazed for a long time at Edna… “My wife and I took turns kicking each other in the butt.” He paused for a long while. “Our ten dollars an acre compared to $1,000.”

The article is appropriately titled “The Amish Are Getting Fracked,” but the subtitle reveals an even more horrific angle to the situatio, “Their religion prohibits lawsuits and the energy companies know it.” Read on:

Even by a conservative calculation, the couple said they had missed out on a $79,000 signing bonus. (Kenoil declined to comment). Several times, they have felt the sting of their mistake, as during last year’s drought, when a decimated corn crop forced them to buy extra feed for the milking cows, costing thousands of dollars. The Millers have also tried to undo their misstep. Around the beginning of 2011, Lloyd presented his lease and his story to a lawyer, who said that by telling the Millers that $10 an acre represented the best deal available to them, the agent had committed fraud. He told Miller he could take Kenoil to court. “But I said, ‘Hey, that’s something we don’t do,’” Miller said. “He’s got to live with his conscience.”

Miller means that literally. The Amish interpretation of the Christian bible prohibits the use of the courts: Except in rare circumstances, the Amish do not sue…

continue reading at New Republic.

Insert sound of me pulling my hair out. What’s left of it.

I hate injustice like this. My immediate reaction is to want to do something; the very knee-jerk reaction that Amish interpretation of the Bible intends to mitigate against. This is a culture that forgave a killer and his family when ten of their young were murdered in their schoolhouse. 

…Their prohibition on the courts derives from the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs his followers to turn the other cheek, and if they are sued for their coats, to give up their cloaks, too. The Amish interpret this to mean that the court is no place to right wrongs…

But for some people seeing this article, other buzzers and lights will go off as applicable to the whole issue of fracking; something New Republic also notes:

…the potential damage to land used for fracking is enormous. Between above-ground trucking and the storage of chemicals and heavy machinery, and the sheer size of the underground operation, a full-fledged site can occupy 10 acres of land—a significant percentage for the average Amish farm, which is usually no more than 150 acres. And a lease can entitle a company to much more than just fracking rights—like the right to conduct seismic testing, or construct pipelines or storage fields, on a piece of land.3 That’s not to mention the environmental hazards to livestock and water tables that fracking and auxiliary activities, like piping and storing, may pose. The signing bonus and royalty checks help compensate for the risk…

So this whole thing, for lack of a better word, stinks on a number of levels. Environmental issues meet the sleaziness of ripping off the Amish. The New Republic article — of which you’ve seen only a small section here —  ends on a somewhat hopeful, if limited note:

…Aware of the complications caused by a prohibition on lawsuits, some bishops have decided that their flock can pursue what’s known as a declaratory judgment, in which a judge merely interprets a contract. Many are still uncomfortable with that, but at least one Amish couple in Holmes County, a bishop named Reuben Schlabach and his wife Sara, are currently pursuing this option to try to have a lease voided. The process still unfolds in a courtroom, but the arrangement is more palatable because there are no monetary awards involved and no jury.

This route, though, only works in limited circumstances—it would not do in the case of someone like Lloyd Miller, who signed the undervalued lease…

Do energy companies have anything resembling conscience? One can only hope that some oil and gas executives will feel a painful conviction to undo the contract themselves and take the moral high ground.

September 26, 2012

Wednesday Link List

We either start off with really serious issues and end with something silly, or we do it the other way around. Today leads off with the latter:

Okay, we need some serious links also, right?

Not enough links for you? The new Top 200 Church Blogs list is out.

December 15, 2010

Wednesday Link List

It’s a busy week for most so I’ll keep the list short(er) this week…

  • Yes, I do list the links in order of importance, so for this week, it’s got to be a Christianity Today story in celebration of 50 years of Youth With A Mission (YWAM).
  • “Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?”   That question, included in the online, advance-publication announcement for Rob Bell’s forthcoming Love Wins, may explain why the title is with HarperOne, and not with Zondervan.
  • The Amish are causing problems for building contractors in Philadelphia where they are underbidding local companies on jobs, and then leaving town without spending any money.
  • Lots of time to answer our poll question from yesterday — Should audiences still be expected to stand for the playing of the Hallelujah Chorus?
  • A look at Brad Lomenick’s “Young Influencers List” for December led to the discovery that he’s been doing this list for a few years now, with some names you might recognize.
  • If you own a business in Dallas, Texas, you’d better not be substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” or First Baptist Church will put you on their “Naughty or Nice” list.
  • It’s minus 12 degrees Celsius, or 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Fairbanks, Alaska.  What better time for an outdoor baptism service.
  • Because of remarks made by Canadian Pastor Charles McVety, the National Post reports that Crossroads Television System (CTS) has been found to be in violation of Canada’s strict “anti-hate” Canadian Broadcast Standards.
  • Cedric Miller, a New Jersey pastor “believes the forbidden fruit had a QWERTY keyboard and came with status updates.”  He’s ordered his church leaders to either quit Facebook or resign.
  • Canadian readers:  Don’t forget you have less than two weeks to help us fill our Salvation Army iKettle.  No matter where you live, donations stay with the S.A. Family Services branch closest to you.
  • Joel Spencer doesn’t blog frequently, but if you like your bloggers with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, you might enjoy his catalog of Jesus action figures for 2010.
  • Bonus link:  In the days before Weird Al, there was Ray Stevens (Guitarzan, The Streak, Bridget the Midget, etc.) filling the novelty music category.  He’s back with a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
  • Today’s cartoon is a 2009 entry at ShoeBoxBlog, while today’s picture is none other than Shane Claiborne at the White House which appeared — National Enquirer style — at the blog OutOfUr.  BTW, you need to drop by your bookstore to actually see, touch and feel what Shane is doing with his new book, Common Prayer.

August 6, 2010

Let’s Look at the Amish

Somewhere near the end of our vacation, we were in a town where suddenly a horse and buggy appeared in the opposite traffic lane. Not knowing if my wife had noticed, I simply said; “Amish;” to which she replied; “Oooh! Let’s look at them.”

The strange remark — which I got right away, but you may not have — is a dry reference to people we know who say they are going to go to Pennsylvania to “look at the Amish.” Not shop in their stores and buy jams, jellies or crafts from them. Not spend a week helping out on one of their farms — the way one might volunteer on an Israeli kibbutz — as much of an adventure as that would be. Not attending one of their worship services.

No… just “looking at the Amish;” the way we might visit a town if everybody there had two heads.

But maybe, just maybe, we should take a minute to ‘look at’ (in the sense of ‘consider’) the Amish.

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world.

And isn’t that

…continue reading here…

Photo is from Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

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