I walked into another world today…quite literally. My Tata (Grandma) from Peru was spending her birthday with us out here in Kentucky, and upon her request, she wanted to have Belgian rabbit stew (most delicious!). We quickly found ourselves in a predicament, because although we are in and around the sticks of backwater Western ‘Tuck, we knew we were not gonna find rabbit so easily. The local grocer summed up much of our initial search efforts…”Rabbit? We aint got no rabbit. Only people I know that eat them rabbits shoot ’em themself.”
But lo and behold, Kentucky proved yet again to be as perfectly old fashioned as it is resourceful against the problems of life. As is the typical chain of events out here, we knew a friend, who knew a friend, who once knew a guy, that might know someone who could help us. That might not sound too promising to many of you, but out here, as I’ve quickly learned, that’s almost as good as being a short-tailed cat in a room full of rocking-chairs…to quote some good old fashioned Kentucky philosophy.
Back rang the phone with shrills of promise escaping from the grown up version of telephone we had started among Kentucky strangers. The words seemed simple enough…”Just go to that address, you’ll get yer rabbits sure enough.” While those words will never hold the same powerful allure as Gandalf’s words before the door leading into the mines of Moria, “Behl-lock“…or the ancient Egyptian murmurs that allowed Daniel Jackson’s character in Stargate to unlock the gateway to another world…they will forever remind me of the deep South stargate that was to be among the most precious of memories I could ever call my own.
And so we drove, and drove, and drove some more. We crept through never-ending backroads…that turned to gravel paths that long abandoned road lines and left our shrinking familiar far behind us. The GPS navigator in our car whined incessantly with its inability to tell us where anything was…quite a fitting contrast considering where we were heading. As we pressed on our windows let the cool wind along our path sneak in all around us. The speedy breeze could again be felt for its own strength as we crept no faster than it swept by…this world was strangely calming to the eyes, but gently thrilling to our curious hearts.
And then finally… we arrived!
It reminding me of how I climbed through the huge jungle leaves and mountain pass brush on my way to Machuppicchu…very subtly you resign your focus to the routine obstacles before you, allowing it to numb your expectations of what you actually came to find. But then, all at once, I stood before this new world, just as I did before ancient Peru. I had walked into the world of the Amish!
Thought a quick note on the Amish might help…
The Amish originated in Sweden around 1693 under the guidance of Jakob Amman. Their identity, much like many soon-to-be denominations, came out of the Reformations that gripped Europe during those centuries. Their particular zeal distinguished itself in how they chose to live…”set apart from the world”…quite literally. I like to think of them as simply returning to the roots of monasticism, and rubbing some Protestant Biblical principles all over it. They, like so many others, fled Europe during the infamous persecution of the 18th century. As many of you might know already, the Amish heavily emigrated to Pennsylvania and slowly over the last century have sprawled out throughout the US and Canada.
Although there are many facets to their intriguing religion and lifestyle, and in now way could be summed up in a short list, I’ve found a few key points that help to better understand the Amish and their world…
The Amish are Biblical literalists, refusing to accept that metaphor, allegory or parable were ever intended to be expressions or interpretations in the Bible. This belief gives us their infamous “set apart” lifestyle for which they hold-fast primarily to four main biblical passages. They are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1Peter 2:9), they are not to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2), they are to avoid “love of the world or the things in the world” (1John 2:15) and they believe that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). In short, the Amish can be understood by knowing of their world’s two most undergirding themes…
The Gelassenheit (Gay-la’-sen-hite) is sort of like the heartbeat of the Amish people. This is the idea and practice of “letting be,” or “the submission to the will of God“. This concept comes from the Bible when Jesus said, “not my will but thine be done.” This essentially means that the Amish regard the dying to self as paramount to their efforts to live for God. The Gelassenheit is the call to fight against individuality, selfishness, and pride. Serving others and submitting to God, therefore, permeates all aspects of Amish life. An Amish person would desire to be seen as modest, reserved, calm, and quiet. These values play out through the virtues of submission, obedience, humility and simplicity. Gelassenheit should be the overriding aspect for every person within the Amish community, and is gaged through the observations of one’s actions and possessions.
If the Gelassenheit is the heartbeat of the Amish people, then the Ordnung is the pacemaker. The Ordnung is the blueprint for the expected behavior of all Amish people. It is never seen as a set of rules, and hence is rarely ever written down, even in partiality. Even the kids from a very young age are simply taught what’s right and what’s wrong. The Ordnung is used to produce a yielding of spirit to the traditions of the roots of the Old Amish order. From this very endeared posture, the Amish often hark back to those who have gone before them in order to best understand how to honorably continue to go forward before God in this life.
And so my Uncle, Mom, Dad and Tata all crept slowly through this beautiful, new, preserved world…oddly enough, in our huge F350, King Ranch, duly truck. The main house dawned different shades of pale whites and gentle blues, and sat atop a gradual incline that was tucked away and above the busy little world we found all around us. The traditional white and blue, depending on your marital status, bonnets of young Amish girls were popping up and down in the landscape all over the place, dipping in and out of the work they were tending to. Closest to us was a young girl, maybe 13, who was mowing the lawn with an old-fashioned push mower. Other younger girls scampered to and fro picking berries and sloshing, but never spilling, watering cans as they darted left, then right, corner, to corner, plant, to plant.
To our right, blanketing the right side of the undeveloped hill that the main house sat on, were nearly 30 goats, at least! Full grown adult goats and wobbly legged baby goats played and panicked all in a sort of hodge-podge stampede that clearly could’ve cared less about direction or ruckus.
Everywhere I looked I saw, amisdst the shaded nooks of land in this little handmade world, tiny, resting, wooden carriages carrying the hope and harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables. More still we spotted some precious to our left…two twin blonde-haired baby boys, no more each than 3 years old, who immediately stopped playing their game of tag and became eye-locked as we slowly drove by them. Everyone from this world waved back at my happy and curious family, as we in turn waved back at them from our Ford spacecraft.
When we reached the main house a middle-aged lady waited and watched until I called out to her with a hello. As I saw when I came closer, she was dressed the part of the Amish Mama, gentle eyes tucked behind years of work, guised in surprisingly forgiving years of tough labor. We talked of how easy it was to get lost out there…us with our useless horsepower on the never-ending roads…them with their useless horses on the never-ending roads. We laughed as our worlds gently collided in a spat of commerce. During the small talk and exchange of money and rabbit, I noticed a huge sickle propped up against the long stretching wall down the right of the deck…it was a simple tool to them, but to me it gleamed with every bit of wonder and treasure this world could hold. I would have made a good flag if the Amish ever wanted one…save for the fact that that would be some wierd Communist-Amish thing going on. Clearly I’m not Amish.
They were all so cordial. But more than that, they seemed genuinely receptive to us, endearing that age-old truth that we both share in this world. They offered us a sleeping kitten that my Mom had picked up off the door mat and began to “oooh and aaah” over. How’s that for an ice-breaker! Sometime during the small talk another woman emerged from within the shadows of the kitchen who my Mom later named the “Alpha-Mama.” She was a broad shouldered woman with a strong but groomed German accent who spoke of how they had managed to …”maintain the Old Order of things around here“… holding their services in German as they should be if truly trying to retain their Amish roots. She said this almost matter-of-factly to me and then added, “this is a huge turn off to other people wanting to be here.” Obviously she had seen and heard the excitement and respect that was escaping me as I peered around this world smiling all over. I could think of nothing better to do than match her sentiment with one of my own. “Is there any way I could come back here and just give you my services…either help bring in the harvest, or, well, anything really that I could do to help? I would love to experience this world.” I got the most wonderful, Amish answer I should have expected…“You’ll need to talk with the men.” They added little bits of optomism about someone simply wanting to help them…but, only time will tell!
And so, if the Lord would be so gracious as to allow for this to happen, I might just get to help bring in the harvest, Amish style. This world felt like something I had only heard stories about. It blew every stupid and silly Hollywood depiction I had ever seen of it far and away.
To be here felt simple, true, fought for and more honest than most anywhere else I’ve ever found myself.
Praise God for revealing Himself through His Amish world.