Monday, April 30, 2012

If I were Amish

If I were Amish, my life would likely consist of a three-mile radius.

Amish buggy in Walnut Creek, Ohio
Providing I was the Amish woman who worked in an inspirational carvings store in Walnut Creek, Ohio. I know this because she told me. She, who lives in the largest Amish settlement in the world, a settlement which boasts over 35,000 Amish, lives her entire life in the space of three miles. Good thing, too, because she travels by buggy or bicycle. The farthest she has ever been is Pennsylvania, where she has some cousins.

So I told this young woman, who seemed simply at ease in her simple blue frock and bonnet, that I'd always wondered what it would be like to live in an intentional local community like that. She half-smiled with pity in her eyes. Or perhaps I just imagined it.

I dared not tell her that I was driving one way to seminary and another way to serve as a part-time pastor, that my husband cooks, or that I had an iPhone in my purse that serves as my life's central command station. I'm not sure she could have borne all that news without weeping for me. Being in an intentional community of simplicity, a community in which every shop I entered was playing Christian music, and in which Amish of every age were bicycling over the hills in the wind and rain made ME feel like the outsider.

David, surrounded by "peace and comfort"
That is as it should be. Sitting in the der Dutchman restaurant, the only available dinner choice in town, I overheard a waitress greeting a woman with a head covering. The waitress approached her family, which included several good-sized children and said "I know you!" "What did your last name change to when you got married? Ah, yes, Yoder. Of course."

And I wondered what it would be like to be that woman. What if my last name were Yoder instead of Burden? What if my circle were small, but my faith was large? What if I cleaned and cooked for a living and found abundant satisfaction in simple things? What if I didn't have insurance, but knew my neighbors would come through for me come hell or high water? What if?

I wandered into a thrift store last Thursday and saw a teenage Amish girl in very conservative dress eyeing some black ballet-type shoes. She tried them on, sticking her foot out to admire them. And I tried to imagine what she must be thinking. Well, they aren't practical, but they are inexpensive. Would mother and father approve? Where could I wear them? and finally, They make me feel beautiful. At that, I left the store, leaving her to continue to admire them, to toss the idea around one more time, to decide if her life could embrace a pair of delicate ballet flats, to imagine herself wearing them somewhere nice.

der rolling hills

And this is where I decided we are not entirely different after all. In Walnut Creek and the nearby Sugar Creek community, Amish farms butt up to hotels and restaurants, thrift stores and gift shops. It is a dizzying mix of simplicity and tourist traps—and Amish and Mennonite locals are at its center. Abstaining from the world through radical nonconformity, the many different sects are content to get their goods into the marketplace and make an honest profit.

So this rag-tag mix of what the world considers misfits thrives, bolstered by thrifty living, laboring close to the earth and God's animals, enjoying a simple rhythm that 99% of the United States of America will never know or appreciate. This devotion, rooted in their Christian faith, attracts thousands of curious visitors, many of us wistfully longing for a simpler time and pace. So many of us want the same things. The Amish, however, are willing to forgo normal to maintain Christian simplicity.

It's not a perfect life, but I admire them for it.

If I were Amish, my life would likely consist of a three-mile radius. And my relationships—in person and offline—just might go deeper than I've ever dreamed.

Your turn: What appeals to you about Amish faith and simplicity? What do you think the Amish can teach us about living more authentically?


  1. So interesting to click on your blog and read this. I'm not sure how I found your writings, but somehow I did and bookmarked your blog.

    I grew up in Holmes County, Ohio and come from those Amish and Mennonite roots there. I know Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek very well. I moved away after high school but often wonder what life would be like had I stayed. What I love about the Amish is their intentional commitment to community and family. The values of hard work, thrift, simplicity, honor, truth - those are ingrained in me from those Mennonite roots.

    I enjoy your writing - thank you for sharing your perspective from visiting that area.

  2. So Crystal...thanks for posting. Were you from an Amish or Mennonite background, or just from the surrounding community? Did your time there cultivate a desire for simplicity in you?

  3. My background is actually both Amish and Mennonite. My paternal grandfather was Amish, but left the Amish and joined a Mennonite church as a young man. Both my parents were raised Mennonite and I was initially as well. My brother has traced our ancestry back to Anabaptists in Switzerland fleeing persecution. So much of what I grew up with I didn't realize was from that Mennonite heritage until I moved away, if that makes sense. I think I've looked for that simplicity everywhere I've gone.

  4. Wow. You are blessed. The Christian walk is to be single-focused and simple, for sure. Thank you for sharing.