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Lessons from the Amish

June 15, 2015

Last week my wife and I spent a few days in Lancaster PA on vacation.  Lancaster, as you probably know, is one of the centers for Amish worship in the US.  While we were there we took time to learn more about what their beliefs are and how they applied those beliefs in their lives.  I confess I had a mental image that they were pretty much trying to live a 19th century life in the 21st century.  But I was wrong.

As it turns out, while they drive around in horse-drawn carriages and don’t have electric and telephone lines coming into their homes, they are quite open to modern technology.  Many of them have replaced their kerosene lambs with LED ones.  There may be no landline telephones but many have cellphones.  Many Amish women scorn buttons on their clothes as “adornment” but can be seen wearing Nikes on their feet.  Gas generators can be heard humming away charging batteries for a variety of uses.  And on and on.

In short, they pick and choose what modern things to let into their lives that will let them be content that they are distinctly different from us worldly types.   As you drive around the area you will also note that they understand and work the contemporary capitalist systems to great advantage.  To be sure, deciding when to follow current technology and when to shun it requires some degree of thought and lends itself to divisions but you have to admire their ability to navigate the technical and cultural waters.

As I pondered this it suddenly hit me that there is a lesson here for me to.  We evangelicals are pretty good at picking and choosing too.  We take a passage like I Corinthians 11:1-8 and say that Paul’s injunction in verse 3 that “the head of a wife is her husband” applies to all women today.  Then, two verses later, (and unlike the Amish) we say that the requirement for head covering was only for that church in that time or, if we find that a bit embarrassing, we spiritualize the head covering to mean the husband; that because the wife is “covered” by the husband she doesn’t need that little cap.

And it is not only there.  Paul is distressingly good at listing various sin issues for us to consider and we find ourselves looking at, in Galatians 5:19-21 for example, and picking the sins we want to condemn and shouting them out while, at the same time, if not actually ignoring others then at the very least paying little more than lip service to them.  We then move on to verses 22&23 and praise the fruits of the spirit while ignoring that many of them (kindness, goodness, and gentleness for example) often fall under the headings we assign to women when we are dividing up gender roles.

Examples could go on and on.  My first reaction to the Amish nitpicking of when to let 21st century reality in their lives and when to shun it was that this was legalism on steroids.  How galling it is to realize that the real lesson of the Amish was not to critique their choices but to go through my life look for the same picking and choosing.

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