In July, we drove up to Lancaster and spent the day in Amish country. It got my curiosity going, and as so often happens to me, it took a stack of books to run it down. (Coincidentally, there were seven!)
- I went to the library and checked out a rather large book called The Amish. I thought I’d read a few sections here and there, just trying to satisfy my curiosity on a few points. But I found that I couldn’t stop reading it! Every time I read a section, I would get super interested and have to back up several pages to read more. Finally I decided to start from the beginning. I read the entire 500 page book in about a week, and used my new book darts like crazy.
2. I discovered that the authors had written other books on the subject. A book about Amish education in a one-room schoolhouse that shares many things in common with my own homeschool (which is basically a tiny one-room schoolhouse)? Yes, please. (Interlibrary loan to the rescue.) It was called Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools. I was fascinated by the varying levels of importance that education can have in Amish society, depending on the strictness of the particular group. I loved reading about their school days, school buildings, curriculum, teachers, and school boards. I confess I am a little jealous of the freedom from the state that they have as they educate their children they way they think is best. Shouldn’t we all have that freedom? Through this book I found out about a newsletter for Amish and Mennonite teachers. Obviously I subscribed to that. Actually I subscribed to three Amish newsletters. What can I say? There was a special price.
3. Next I went on to The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, which focused more on describing their religious beliefs and practices. Although I don’t agree with many of the Amish doctrinal beliefs, I was struck repeatedly by the contrast between the demands of their church and the absence of demands of the modern American church. What, really, do our churches require us to do? Virtually nothing. The authors spoke over and over about the practices of the Amish, and how those regular, sustained practices are formative. Dressing distinctively. Rules that are enforced. The Amish believe that “spiritual vitality comes at a price – no other religious community asks more of its members than the Amish.” It’s all very intentional. “Nurturing that spirit – the spiritual roots of the community and of the members who commit themselves to it – is not left to happenstance. A deliberate rhythm of worship, along with annual rituals of confession and renewal, foster Amish faith and faithfulness.” Although “seekers” come to the Amish from time to time, they’re generally looking for the benefits of the plain lifestyle without actually signing up. They want the virtues of the Amish way, but they don’t want to pay the full price of baptism. I could go on about this book for ages. Learning more about the formative, distinctive practices of the Amish left me with quite a lot to think about.
4. Next I read a memoir titled Called to be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order. The author related her abusive childhood and then her marriage into an Old Order family. She never seemed to fit in to the Amish community, partly because she refused to really learn German and she never got completely comfortable around horses. It wasn’t a great book.
5. I moved on to another memoir – Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite. The author is young and a good writer; in fact, I found her blog and began following her. The book is more about her life and her dreams as a writer than it is about being Mennonite.
6. I found an Amish cookbook at the library and added it to my stack. The Amish Cook is a delightful read, offering much more than recipes – many brief and enjoyable anecdotes of the author’s life and family. She wrote a regular newspaper column for years, which I believe her daughter took over. I found the daughter’s blog and subscribed there, too.
7. Becoming Amish was my last Amish read. It’s the story of a “regular” American family who decided to join an Amish community. Spoiler alert: they failed. After 10 years, they left. Clearly, it’s just really, really hard for outsiders to join such a close-knit group, whose very survival depends on being closed off to outsiders. In my opinion, this family could have avoided a lot of upheaval and radical change with some solid teaching and wise advice at important junctures. Also, this book needed an editor big-time; the writing was awful.
To sum up –
Amish memoir: Eh.
Amish non-fiction by knowledgeable historians/sociologists who have made this their professional area of expertise? YES. Fascinating, thought-provoking information that makes me want to keep learning more.
And maybe possibly also a little bit makes me want to be Amish.
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