The Amish Speak: Selections from the book The Amish in Their Own Words
|The year 1968 marked the first year of publication of the Amish monthly magazine Family Life. The Amish editors wanted it "to be an instrument through which thoughts and ideas can be transmitted." A new book, The Amish in Their Own Words, is a unique compilation of Amish writings from the first 25 years of Family Life. Rather than some outsider writing about them, here the Amish speak for themselves in a book about the Amish, by the Amish. It comes with our highest recommendation. This year-long series in Amish Country News consists of excerpts from the book.
Part One: The Plain Way
We dress differently and our lifestyle is different, but is that the only difference between the Amish and other churches? Well, let me tell you a story. Some years ago a group of 52 people chartered a bus and came to Holmes County to see the Amish. They had arranged to have an Amishman meet them and answer some of their questions. The first question was, "What does it mean to be Amish?" The Amishman thought a bit and then he asked a question of his own. "How many of you have TV in your homes" Fifty-two hands went up. "Now, how many of you feel that perhaps you would be better off without TV in your homes?" Again, fifty-two hands went up. "All right. Now, how many of you are going to go home and get rid of your TV?" Not one hand went up! Now that is what it means to be Amish. As a church, if we see or experience something that is not good for us spiritually, we will discipline ourselves to do without. The world in general does not know what it is to do without! (Monroe L. Beachy)
But what about among the plain people? Are we always consistent in our way of life?
Following are a few examples that should be questioned:
1. Some who consider it a sin to smoke a white cigarette will smoke a pipe or cigar instead.
2. While we will not travel in an airplane, some churches have no restrictions against hiring a motor home, the most modern and luxurious form of land travel there is.
3. Some who refuse to play ball on Sundays will not hesitate to sit down to a game of cards instead.
4. Some who would not think of having a phone in their homes run to the neighbor's to use his phone, even for calls that are not necessary and for which a postcard could easily have been sent.
5. We don't own automobiles ourselves, but are sometimes caught in hiring a taxi to go short distances for which our horse and buggy could be used.
There is no spiritual gain, and we are inconsistent if we avoid one sin only to replace it with another that is just as bad or worse. When the world sees us inconsistent in one point, most of our other good points lose their power and influence, and it soothes their guilt conscience. (Unsigned)
We believe that posing for photographs is part of the world's misguided emphasis on glorifying our outward man. The Bible tells us that it is the inner man that is important. A person's facial features should not affect our opinion of a person's worth or value.
No, let us not slip gradually into the ways of the world that lead to an emphasis on pride and personal vanity. For when we are gone, let us be remembered not by how broad were our noses, the height of our brows, or the angle of our cheekbones, but by what truly matters --- the lives we have lived and the examples we have left.
Dust we are, to dust we shall return. Why frame and embellish and hang on the wall the pictures of this house of clay in which we live? Let us beware lest we permit Self to be exalted, becoming unto us a graven image.
Will the same trends and influences that have wrecked families and communities in the world around us also destroy us in time? If we follow the same route, travel in the same train, we cannot expect to arrive at a different destination. Trailing fifty years behind the world isn't going to get us where we want to be. Those who ride in the caboose are in reality going to the same place as the engineer.
Part Two: Choosing a Minister
Several years ago an Amishman who had just been ordained bishop was congratulated by his non-Amish neighbor. The Amishman was dumbfounded at what to answer when congratulated. No one else had ever congratulated him, but many brethren had wept with him. The burden of his office felt too heavy.
Amish ordinations, whether for deacon, minister, or bishop, are solemn, serious affairs. Amishmen do not attend a seminary seeking ordination. Nor do they seek it in a political way. They never ask to be ordained. It is thrust upon them by lot. This practice of ordaining by lot is based on Acts 1:23-26, where lots were cast to see who would replace Judas as the twelfth apostle.
Who would it be? The ministers had just come in, and now the old, white-haired bishop had arisen. He stood before the congregation. "Those chosen in the lot are..." Slowly, clearly, he read the names.
Six black books, each bound with a rubber band, were lying on the table in the front of the room. In one book was a slip of paper containing an appropriate Bible verse. The man who drew that book would be the one chosen by God.
To stand up, go over to the table, and pick up one little book. It seemed like such an easy thing in itself, but Dan Yoder had never realized how hard it could be to do such a small thing. He was a fearless man, unafraid to stand up for his beliefs. But now in this solemn moment, his courage and strength seemed to have left him.
William Yoder's blue eyes were dark and troubled. Unworthy, unfit, unprepared. He lowered his head and tears dropped on the small black book in his hands.
Henry Graber's face was very pale. "He is working too hard," the people said. And yet there was no one more willing to help others when the need arose. He often left his own work to help his neighbors.
Joseph Mullet looked very young as he drew his book. His brown eyes were clear and trusting. Joseph's mother tried to swallow the lump in her throat. Joseph had always been an obedient son. Tenderhearted, quiet-spoken Joseph.
More than one person had the feeling the chosen one would be the bishop's son, Amos. Now his usual friendly look was replaced by a burdened look. How well he knew the load his father had to carry!
Mark Miller, his curly, bushy hair looking disorderly, picked up the last book. Only God knew the thoughts that went through the minds of the six men on the front bench. Only God knew which man held the book with the slip.
Quietly, carefully, the bishop paged through the books. Now there were only two men, Henry Graber and Dan Yoder. Which one would it be? The bishop reached for Henry's book. How quiet the room was! The bishop cleared his throat, and another silence. "The Lord has chosen Henry Graber."
One of the ministers began speaking. How well he knew the truth of the words uttered to the solemn, listening congregation. "You can help to make this a tiresome, heavy burden which God had placed upon our brother today, or you can help make it a great joy in his life." Which would it be?
Letter to a New Minister:
I would like to write this letter to you while the scene from yesterday is still fresh in my mind. I am sure all of us will cherish for many days that experience when you were ordained as a fellow minister in our church district.
Part Three: Amish Youth
Oh, our poor, deprived children!
We deprive them of education beyond the eighth grade. We even deprive them of that greatest of educators, the television set. They are deprived of the opportunity to attend theaters, exhibitions, circuses, baseball and hockey games.
Instead of having all of the above advantages, they are expected to feed the chickens, sweep the floor, and fill the wood box after walking home from school. They drive a team of horses for loading hay and grain. Truly, they have very little leisure time. Instead of all manner of public entertainment, our children find enjoyment in nature on the farm. Above all, they enjoy learning by doing.
Andy Zook was a young, rebellious boy who lived in a community where disobedient children were not allowed to stay at home. After a while away from home, the longing to see the family grew so intense that he finally mustered enough courage to go home. As he parked the car beside the barn, he saw his father running with an upraised hammer straight for the car. He immediately put the car in gear and drove back out the lane. The next we heard of him, he had enlisted in the army and, sad to say, a few of his younger brothers followed him.
Eli Miller was another boy much the same. Although he was not forbidden to stay at home, the sad faces of his father and mother haunted him so much that he didn’t spend much time there. After a few years of rebellious living, he ended up in jail for drunken driving. There he had lots of time to think. His jail sentence expired on a Saturday and he was free once again. But where would he go? There seemed to be only one place to try---home. The sad face of his mother invited him to stay for supper, much like you would invite some special company. After supper he was admonished that he should go to church the next day, and the relieved feeling at being accepted at home made him think he might go.
But when he awoke the next morning, that feeling had left him. He got out of bed and looked out the window. To his surprise his horse, which he had not driven for so long, was patiently standing at the hitch rack, all hitched up. Suddenly the kindness of his parents overwhelmed him. Yes, he would go to church, even if he had to face the people as a jailbird.
This was the beginning of a new life for Eli. Today Eli is a married man with a family.
(Daniel L. Hershberger)
Part Four: Farming
Our mission in life is not to go to some far-off foreign land, but to work at home and in our churches and home communities. Our goal should not be to leave behind riches and possessions, farms and homes for our children, but a priceless heritage they will cherish enough to work fervently to pass along to their children. It has been done for generations and with God's help it can still be done.
The high cost of living, or perhaps it would be more correct to say the cost of living high, makes it difficult to start farming today and to keep on farming. As far back as we can go in the history of our people, we find they were an agricultural people. In the Old Testament the Israelites, too, were an agricultural people, as can be seen by the many laws and commandments which were given them, nearly all based on a rural people. To change this now would be taking a serious step. If we consider what effects it will have on the home and church, the question is before us, "Do we really want to change it?"
Take a paper, pencil and calculator in hand,
And first punch in the high cost of land.
Add painting, repair bills and taxes, too,
And sky-high interest that always seems due.
Figure in the long hours that we have to work,
At wages that would make a city guy smirk.
But, oh no! Farming is much more than that!
Farming is the smell of the soil being plowed in the spring,
While the north-flying geese let their music ring.
It's the wobbly-legged calf on a dewy summer morn;
It's a good stand of alfalfa, a nice field of corn.
It's the super-sweet smell of freshly stacked hay
That fills the entire barn for many a day.
It's being your own boss from day to day,
Making your mistakes in your own special way.
It's seeing the first corn sprouts pushing through,
Realizing God's promise is still holding true.
(David Z. Esh, Jr.)
Part Five: The Outside World
Freda Bender propped herself up on her elbow and surveyed the hospital room where she lay in bed. The only other occupant in the room was Mrs. White. Freda turned her head toward the door as a nurse called in with her baby boy. A second nurse followed the first with Mrs. White’s baby.
I suppose we’ve all been guilty of being more zealous than thoughtful. There’s an old story that I understand is true which illustrates what I’m trying to say, and it proves that no matter how right or how righteous we may be, if we use faulty thinking to support our position, we’re not going to be very convincing. This is the way I remember hearing it...
An Amish man was walking along the road toward town. A car came along, slowed down, and stopped. "Want a ride into town?"
The car was soon on its way again. The driver was a stranger to the Amish, and he was curious. Between puffs of the cigarette he was smoking, he began asking questions. He held the pack to the man seated beside him.
"Here, want a smoke?" he offered.
"I don’t believe in smoking," the Amish man answered. Then he laughed a little self-consciously and continued. "You see, I figure God didn’t intend that man should smoke. If he had, he would have built him a chimney."
The driver didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he braked the car and brought it to a stop.
"I’m sorry sir," he said. "You can get out here. I suppose if God had intended that man should drive, he would have put him on wheels."
There’s a deep principle here. We must be careful to base our faith on the Word of God and not on human reasoning.
Is the latest craze to adore the Amish, to idolize the plain people? There is no doubt about it. The plain people are in the news today and in public favor to an extent which they probably never were before. The Amish turn up in movies and television shows. Book after book is written. Stories and pictures fill newspapers and magazines. Tourists flock to our communities by the millions. How should we respond to all this favorable publicity? How should we feel about it?
We should be concerned to lead lives consistent with what we profess. But how many people in the world have looked to the Plain people for an example of Christian living and have been disappointed? How many people have been surprised that in some communities young people do use drugs? How often has our testimony to the world been ruined by our inconsistencies, our empty formalism, our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, and our spiritual coldness?
We need to be careful to give all honor to whom it belongs. The world is desperate for something to satisfy its hunger, some answer to its search for meaning in life, wanting something external to base faith upon, something to see and touch and handle. While they focus upon our beards and buggies and bonnets, they miss entirely what our faith is all about.
Part Six: Amish Parables
"The Greedy Heifer"
One evening when I was helping my husband do the chores, I decided to feed the heifers so that he would be done with his work sooner. After I had fed them all and they were eating contentedly, I walked past them with another shovel full to feed the dry cows. As I walked past, a young heifer tried to snatch a mouthful off the shovel, ignoring all the feed she had before herself.
"You silly, greedy heifer," I couldn't help but think. It was disgusting, really. She had all the feed in front of her that she could possibly eat, and yet she was trying to snatch away some of the other cows'.
But later on, after thinking it over, I had to wonder how often we are in the eyes of God like that greedy heifer. Blessed with plenty to eat, warm houses, good homes, family and friends, and all the material things we will ever be able to use and more, and yet we look about and lament when we see others who appear to have more than we do.
Are we in the habit of counting our many blessings and appreciating all we have, or are we often wishing for and wanting what others have?
It was getting dry. The lettuce, celery, and cabbage seedlings we had transplanted needed to be watered in order to survive. Each morning I took the sprinkling can, filled it with water, and carried it to the garden. Each day I wished for rain, not only to be relieved of carrying water, but because the rest of the garden was suffering, too.
Then one morning the sky was overcast. We waited hopefully. Then the rain fell. Not only was the whole garden being watered, but the yard, the pasture fields, the corn fields, the trees. Acres and acres of crops for miles around would revive and yield better because of this rain.
"Just think how small and meager my little sprinkling can is compared to a shower like this."
My friend thought a moment, then said, "But your sprinkling can kept the plants alive until this shower came. They would have died if you hadn't watered them."
Her statement, so simply stated, became a sermon that stuck in my mind long after we had both returned to our work. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were other "sprinkling cans" in our life.
The help we give our fellow men and neighbors is small when we compare it with what God does for us. And yet the smallness of things we can do for each other does not give us the right to sit back and do nothing. Even though our "sprinkling cans" seem hopelessly small, our concerns and prayers and admonishments and good example must not cease as long as there is still hope. Oh, for more sprinkling cans --- small vessels of love and peace, of goodwill and patience and hope!
Even after our life on earth is past, our footprints may remain. Perhaps the path we trod is one our children choose to follow. Or maybe it influenced a neighbor who was looking for a guide to chart his course.
Where are our footprints leading?
Part Seven: Husband & Wife
There are three reasons why a wedding is one of the most unique of the services held in our churches today. For one thing, it is the most joyous. The second reason is that a wedding is such a serious event, where a lifetime commitment is being made. The third reason is that it is such a sacred event because it is a representation of the spiritual union between Christ and His bride, the church.
How I tried to reform my husband, the poor soul! I remember well the time he told me, "How would you like to be like I am?"
"Impossible," I answered.
He then explained to me that this is what I am trying to do to him, trying to make him like I am, and he said that's impossible, too. I began to realize we can complement each other. In many areas we compromise. It is very essential to give in to each other, but it is not necessary to lose one's individual identity.
Even if we are extremely opposite, it seems we have exactly what the other needs to make a well-rounded union of two personalities combined in one.
The happiness of the husband and wife determines the kind of home the children will be born into. No one is born a good marriage partner. He must pay the price of being one. The happiest marriages are those in which people do what they can to make each other happy, instead of using each other to make themselves happy. Marriage partners must remember that everyone has faults and needs forgiveness. Therefore, it takes the force of true love to blend two different personalities into one happy union. Love, if it is to grow, must be nurtured. It must not be taken for granted, even after marriage.
Some families are just so many individuals with the same last name, living in the same house. They seem to lead separate lives, go their own ways, each independent of the other. If you ask one about where another member of the family is, he rarely knows. Apparently, they don't know where the rest of the family is, or what they are doing. Each is busy living his own life. They lack the essential elements of a joyful family life --- love, togetherness, loyalty, sharing. They are missing out on one of the greatest challenges on this earth --- building a meaningful family relationship where work, possessions, and even feelings can be shared in love and trust.
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow;
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep!
Excerpts from The Amish In Their Own Words and Edwin B. Wallace's illustrations are used by kind permission from Herald Press, Scottdale, PA. Copyright 1999. ISBN 0-8361-9123-4 The Amish in Their Own Words is available in the Lancaster area at several locations, including the Amish Experience and Plain & Fancy Farm, through online book sellers, or by phone at 1-800-759-4447 or via e-mail.
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