All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
About once a year or so, it seems, they trot out another one. This one was shown in England last weekend. An Amish-themed documentary entitled “Trouble in Amish Paradise”. One more film about a fascinating backwards culture, one more tidbit for the ravenous maw of mainstream appetite, one more attempt to satiate a hunger that can never quite find its fill.
It featured two local Amish couples who set out, some time ago, on a quest for truth. And followed that path to its ultimate end. They began to question the established church practices and beliefs. And as the title suggests, their queries created a great firestorm of trouble. One of the two couples was excommunicated. Of the other couple, only the husband was. Someone emailed me a link to the film and I watched a few minutes of it. Later that day, I logged on to see the remaining fifty or so minutes, and the link was gone. So I didn’t get to see it all. A few friends who did see it reported they thought it was pretty fair and tastefully done. And honest.
I don’t know the two couples and their families. They both reside here in Lancaster County. I don’t know what triggered their discontent, their search and the subsequent journey of faith they traveled. But I feel for them. I can imagine the pain and uncertainty they faced. The intense stressors they encountered. From a whole lot of sources. Family. Relatives. Friends. And, not least, the Amish church. It’s tough, to be forced to choose a path that estranges you from all you have ever known. To walk away from the security and structure of such a close-knit community life. Especially with young children.
Technically, I have no problem with their decision to allow the filming of their journey and its immediate aftermath. That was their choice to make. I do not fault them for it. And it’s really none of my business. If they felt comfortable doing it, more power to them. It’s not like I don’t do something very similar, in much of my own writing. I have few illusions on that point. But for the rare insider perspective of my Amish back- ground, my stories would attract only a fraction of my current readers.
And yet, I have mixed feelings about the documentary. About spilling out for all the world to see the intricate details of the journey. Not because of the details themselves. Anything that happens to anyone is fair game. But because the events are so close. So fresh, so recent. It all just happened. And the drama continues. How can anyone be in a frame of mind to discuss the events rationally in so short a time? I’m not saying they weren’t rational, the couples. I didn’t see most of the documentary. But from my own experiences and from what I’ve seen of others, it’s almost impossible to absorb and process the pain of cultural separation and rejection absent the passage of substantial time.
I have seen them, encountered them again and again over the years. Individuals and families who had left the Amish. Joined the Beachy church. The Mennonites. Charity. Mainstream Protestants. Some are outright “English” and wander alone, with no claims of affiliation.
I have spoken to them and listened to their stories. You can soon tell which ones have dealt with the wounds of the past and which ones are still struggling and which ones probably never will get over it. They have a hungry bitter eagerness, those who still struggle, to speak of it incessantly. Of how they were wronged. How cruelly they were treated. How patriarchal and dictatorial the Amish system is. The manmade rules, how unscriptural they are. How arbitrarily applied. How the Amish are lost. Some few even state with grim certainty that one cannot be Amish and be a Christian.
When I talk to such people, there is no question their pain is real. You can see it in their eyes. The hard lines on their faces. The constant mental strain. I feel sorry for them.
They just can’t let it go. Can’t let it rest. Not with the passing of time. Not for any reason. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, they stumble along the footpath, stooped and bowed by the great weight of baggage on their backs.
And that simply is not healthy. Can’t be.
I’m not saying the couples in the documentary were like that, or are like that. Or will be like that. I am saying that the painful events they experienced are probably still way too fresh for them to have dealt with and processed the resulting emotional turmoil.
The Amish church was founded around three hundred years ago. It’s not going anywhere, regardless of the myriad doomsayers who somewhat gleefully predict its imminent demise. It is solid and it will endure.
The structure of the Amish church has remained largely unchanged since its inception. Yes, the power is centered on the ministers and bishops, regardless of how much they might protest they are just “servants.” They are not servants. They are leaders, with a lot of raw power. They can be dictatorial. Decisions are often made that simply make no sense, however one looks at them. Yes, members are expected to submit to the church’s authority in all matters. Yes, it can be a hard road for anyone with a spark of individuality. And yes, it can be almost impossible to break away without losing your mind.
But it can be done.
Sometimes the Amish lifestyle in general makes little sense, even to those of us who emerged from it. And the further one is removed, the less sense it makes. But I try to keep in mind that the structure and rules are a survival mechanism, without which the culture would be swept into the mainstream, probably within a generation. No longer separated. No longer distinct.
Which to me wouldn’t be a big deal. But it is to them.
Here I directly address those who were raised Amish or in some other similar plain setting. You can always choose to leave. Maybe you already have left. As a lot of us did. But if you make or have already made that choice, it seems to me, there should be no expectations of changing the cultural structure that has anchored the church for so long. A structure that was in place long before you were born. And will be here long after you are gone.
If you suddenly see the light, and conclude that all those manmade traditions and rules are unbiblical, that the bishop has too much power, whatever, by all means follow your own conscience. State your position. Do what you have to do. But then, don’t complain when the inevitable consequences follow. Don’t expect an entire culture to see things your way. That’s like kicking a concrete wall, expecting it to give. It won’t. You’ll only hurt yourself. And endure a lot of needless suffering.
We all have to find our own equilibrium, those of us who left. Our own sense of who we are, where we’re going, and how we’ll get there. And how we absorb and deal with the daily consequences of our choices.
Some deal with it one way and some another. Some never do.
Letting go is the only answer. Let go the rage, the anguish, the hurts, the wrongs. Life’s not fair. Just let it rest. That doesn’t mean there won’t be flashbacks. Or that you never have to deal with the issues again. Or that you won’t have to vent occasionally, when something sneaks up and whaps you upside the head. And that’s OK.
It does mean you can take control and live a productive life without allowing the hurts of the past to control your present well being. That you can walk in calmness, with a peaceful heart. You can even reach a point where you respect and honor the good things the Amish hold on to, of which there are many.
Not that you have to reach that point. But you can.
Only by letting go will you ever be truly free.
I’ve always been quite vocally opposed to tanning beds. The oven-like contraptions you lay in to get a fake tan. The people you see strolling about in the dead of winter with dark tans, most of them, get it from artificial sources. I’ve always proclaimed they will pay for every minute spent in a tanning bed. It just can’t be healthy. Can’t be. Common sense tells you that.
Now I’m not so sure. May have reevaluate my position. Last week the Feds came out with a study showing that lying in a tanning bed is equivalent to soaking in arsenic. Pretty nasty stuff. My natural inclination is always to take any federal study and conclude that the opposite is true. I remember all the hype and hysteria about caffeine, second hand smoke, fiber, and so on, ad infinitum. It’s always something. What will kill you one year may well be proclaimed healthy the next. 1984, anyone?
So I may have to try the tanning bed this winter. In any case, the activity will be taxed soon enough. Anything that’s perceived as bad for you is taxable. There’s a reason this particular study was released now, when tax revenues are plummeting everywhere. And with the insane wackos now running the country, nothing is off limits.
This week, I took somber note as Big Blue cranked over his 30,000th mile. Wow. Can’t believe it. Where has the time gone? Seems like only a couple of months ago that I proudly drove the truck off the lot, glistening and brand spanking new.Share