July 31, 2009

Letting Go…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm


All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.

—Havelock Ellis

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.



  1. Lots of wisdom there, Ira. Well written post that was a pleasure to read. Thank you.

    Comment by Cheryl — July 31, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  2. Tanning beds should be avoided if possible. Spend the money instead on a delicious yet overpriced Starbucks latte. There you can tinker on your wireless laptop and look important and let people think you’re a liberal.

    Today I took a somber note as Big Red cranked his 100,000th mile on a lonesome stretch of US 36 near Macon, MO.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — July 31, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

  3. Well said, Ira. Makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks for a good read tonight.

    Comment by Patrick — July 31, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

  4. I read your blog because it’s better than Friday night T.V. which I have … let go..

    Comment by Michelle V. — July 31, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  5. I had the opportunity to see the documentary in its entirety and it was very interesting, with the one individual well intended but not understanding that leaving means leaving and he will not change anyone.

    A well written piece of advice and wisdom written from experience. Normally when the choice is made to leave there have been ongoing hurts and pain, which are the seed of bitterness if watered and nurtured will grow into a root of bitterness destroying an individual and in turn generations that follow. A backward focus on all wrongs that we believe people have caused will result in us becoming exactly like the people we hate the most at their worst.

    The best choice is forgiveness, which is simply that, a choice to forgive and move forward. Forgiveness is not justice but rather a gift which you give someone. When we think we can not forgive, remember how much we have been forgiven.

    Lest any believe there is no personal experience involved, there was a sad 4-5 year period in my life when I loathed my father, which was justified by the fact that he literally disowned me as his son, refusing to talk with me in public unless forced to so. The Bible clearly states we are to honor our parents and when it became clear to me that was an area which was lacking and I had to ask my earthly father for forgiveness and start honoring him, not because he was perfect, but because he was my father.

    There is a difference between honoring and obeying. We are called to obey God at all times. We are called to obey our parents until the age of accountability. If at that time we choose to live a life that is not according to the way you were taught culturally, we then assume all responsibility & accountability for that and not our parents.

    An example would be an individual that has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior and decides that according to the doctrines or teachings of the Bible he or she can live a different lifestyle and still obey & serve God the Father. According to the teachings of the Word of God he or she would then have to give an account to God on the Day of Judgment. As much as the parents may believe that it is right or wrong, if there are no grounds found in the Bible that the individual is living in sin, then there is no reason to obey man rather then God. Salvation of a child by faith in the completed work of Christ on the Cross of Calvary and by God’s grace imparted to us should always be the first concern of parents.

    According to the Bible children are still always called to honor their parents. When God gave the “Ten Commandments” the first four dealt with how man relates to God. With the first four commandments God established that He is the One to be honored and obeyed above anyone or anything else.

    Then we have the fifth commandment and the order of the Commandments is not a coincidence. Honoring parents should be a direct result of our faith in God.

    “Honor thy father and mother.” Look carefully at this commandment. Whom does God command us to honor? Only the perfect parents who have it all together or Christian parents? Only parents who spiritually mature and have great insights into the Word of God? Only parents who never made any major mistakes in rearing us?

    No! God commands that we honor our parents regardless of their performances, behaviors or mistakes. Why? Because honoring parents demands that we walk by faith, trusting God in His Word.

    Honoring parents is a command for children of all ages. There is no exception clause in this command that exempts an adult son or daughter from this responsibility. This may seem risky and may give you doubts, but this is what God teaches us to do.

    Comment by Fellow Traveler — July 31, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  6. I would like to see in my lifetime a new plain people community come to be, based on most of the points Ira pointed out almost verbatim, in order to resurrect Elmo’s original unfulfilled desires in his community which disbanded after his death.

    There is 120 acres for sale were I live, in perfect place a few feet from the fair grounds a couple miles from a series of stores, I even have design layout for the community which is just a dream for now.

    Comment by Lee Nelson Hall Junior — August 1, 2009 @ 2:24 am

  7. This is one of your best pieces of writing Ira, as it has your own gut feelings, as part of the story.

    Comment by Lee Nelson Hall Junior — August 1, 2009 @ 2:51 am

  8. I think “Fellow Traveler” needs a blog! :) Well said. Anyway, I feel bad for anyone who is unable to worship as they feel called, whether it’s because of guilt, family ties, fear, tradition, etc. I know I’ve been there. It’s not just an Amish issue. There’s a difference between honoring your religion and honoring God – sometimes the paths cross but sometimes they don’t and it’s hard to know what to do. Humans are fallible, plain and simple, but we do need one another. You hit the nail on the head though – strongly rooted religions rarely change. Trying to do so is like walking in a circle – it’ll give you something to do but you won’t get anywhere. I know there’s no right answer, except prayer, and I know I’m definitely no authority on the matter. That was a really good post! Good job.

    Now, as a mother of two teenage girls, the tanning bed issue….UGHHHHH. Trying to convince a teenager, especially a girl, that I know more than they do is a lot like trying to change a religion and walking in a circle!! I have a headache now – probably too much diet soda that I hear is bad for me also. HA HA Have a great week ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — August 1, 2009 @ 9:52 am

  9. A thought provoking piece, my question in general is why do people think they have to bash the church they leave? Nothing makes me cringe more than when someone wants to leave a conservative church setting for a more liberal one and they think they have to bash ‘em to pieces. Just leave!

    There is just plain no way that tanning beds can be healthy. I don’t think I would try ‘em, Ira!

    Comment by Andrew — August 1, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  10. Elmo’s community in Cookeville was far more conservative, than most Amish settlements, Amish have become far more liberal of late. But I did not know Elmo’s village that at the time was on far end of conservative, as it was the first plain person community, I ever spent any time at. I would say being around many different Amish communities, I would rather like to live in a far more conservative community, than a more liberal community were more arguments about bending rules by using band technology occur.

    Comment by Lee Nelson Hall Junior — August 1, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

  11. Why does the bashing occur- look no further than the teachings. A common feature among many plain sects is the strict interpretation of the passage that mentions that we all must be of one accord. If I (we) am right the rest of you must be wrong – or some variation of this theory is commonly practiced if not outright taught. There is an arrogance that comes with being plain – isn’t that ironic? Go ahead call me a relativist, but if you truly believe that His Word is living and that it speaks today and is relevant today and He speaks to you individually then my practice will not look like your practice, my faith will not be your faith even though it is of the same substance.

    Comment by Glo — August 1, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  12. Andrew took the words out of my mouth, we are not on earth to judge people. Or to condem them, that is not our job. Recently we were at a funeral where I visited with 2 minister’s wives from an Amish community we once lived in. Must say I genuinely enjoyed visiting with both, they seemed so open-minded, and yes, I beleive both are born-again Christians. You can never, never have too many friends in this life, so don’t bash them when you leave or later you will regret it. Great piece, Ira.

    Comment by Rachel — August 2, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  13. Very insightful piece. I agree that making peace and sorting it all out takes years of perspective, but I would also point out that those first years of anger, pain and fighting back are all a part of the journey and one part of the picture. Of course, to give the full picture would take another documentary in several more years.

    Right now I am trying to accept that there will always be flashbacks. You should never assume that you have dealt with everything and they can never hurt you again. Because it will happen and it will only hurt worse.

    Comment by Mariann Martin — August 2, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  14. I just really enjoy your blog. God doesn’t allow any of us to walk the exact path and forbearance is one of the fruits of the spirit.

    Tanning beds should be a no no and the cause of skin cancer and the cause of other cancers, quite taxable if many get sick. with the new health system, if you get cancer, suffer and when it comes to your turn if not too bad can get some help. If bad, say by.

    Comment by Connie — August 2, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

  15. I think we who have left the Amish need to remember that we rejected the Amish way of life and all it stands for first, before they rejected us.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — August 2, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

  16. “Only by letting go will you ever be truly free.”

    That is true. I agree with much of your post, especially that it takes time to finally move on after leaving a group. More than 4 years removed from a very painful departure, my perspective is different now than it was right after leaving.

    One of the most difficult items to deal with is the concern for the family/friends that remained in the previous setting, and what experiences they may face in the future.

    It is not just an Amish or Mennonite thing, though it seems those who have left the Amish face more pain than most in other settings.

    Comment by David Brubacker — August 3, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  17. Here is a link to a site that has some updates on the two families in the documentary. http://www.troubleinamishparadise.com/home.html I was glad to hear their daughter is doing well on the chemo.

    Comment by Missy — August 3, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

  18. One observation when meeting the disgruntled (for lack of a better word) who have left a plain church setting, one often notices that what they react the most strongly to is something that people in any church, culture, or group would react against- abuse of power, abuse of children, and abuse of one another. Witnessing abuse in any form, or being abused, is something that has a long recovery time and in some instances, you never recover from at all.

    Comment by Monica — August 4, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  19. A good topic and writing. It takes me back to a time when I had no idea what letting go meant. That was so frustrating. I tried to let go, so very hard, but it wasn’t working. I wanted, needed to control the letting go process. My real issue, I suppose, was control.

    I remember when I started getting it, though. It was after I took a good look at what I had done rather than what other people had done to me. Now, there was no way I could do this initially, when I first started getting therapy. I had to have an improved sense of self-worth first, a loving foundation. I could NOT look at myself without it. This was attained through the use of prayer, people, books, music, gentle 12-Step meetings (some are not), and counseling. All of which God led me to.

    I wrote down the things I was not proud of. Then I asked myself, for the first time in my life, why? Why did you do that? No condemnation, no drama, no self-hatred. It was factual, calm, just a gentle question. In answering this question, I discovered that there was a reason why I did what I did. IT WAS NOT BECAUSE I WAS A BAD PERSON. It was because I was a hurting person, who was doing the best she could, trying to get the holes in her heart filled up. Plain and simple.

    Then, as if that weren’t wonderful enough, I was able to see that my parents and those that brought pain into my life had heart holes, too. They didn’t hurt me on purpose. They didn’t hurt me because I was bad or unlovable. It had nothing to do with me. It had to do with their hole infested hearts.

    God created children to believe that they are the center of the universe. They think everyone lives to meet their needs. And their parents are like God to them. They feed them, clothe them, shelter them, protect them, love them. No wonder they see their parents in such a light. But when there is a problem with the child not getting these essential needs met, rather than see the problem is “God’s” they blame themselves. If it were “God’s” problem, who would take care of them?

    I made my apologies to those that were hurt because of what I did, but it was done by the grown-up me, not the frightened, shame filled little me. I took responsibility. I grew up.

    I thank God, my Papa, for His great love for me. And for His great love for everyone else, too.

    Comment by Francine — January 31, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  20. “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.”…”Letting go is the only answer. Let go the rage, the anguish, the hurts, the wrongs. Life’s not fair. Just let it rest.”

    All so very true. And the freedom, peace and joy that comes with the letting go….There’s no other like it :)!

    Loved this one

    Comment by Eileen — February 15, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

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