Cherry and I recently got to spend a couple of days in Ohio’s famed Amish Country in Holmes County. It was great. While there, we discovered some interesting facts about Amish culture and people. Their habits, traditions and lifestyle choices may seem odd (even radical) to us, but one can only have respect for their commitment to not conform. Even though I have no desire to live as they live, I do think there are some things we can learn from the Amish.
I always thought Amish men grew their famous beard with no mustache when they got married. I was under the impression the beard meant they were no longer single. I was wrong. Amish men start growing their beards when they are baptized in Christ and join the Church. Their beards are a physical sign of their commitment to the Lord and the community of believers who make up their local church (the Amish are Anabaptists). You can find many articles that speak of ridiculous reasons Amish men grow beards, but you will find few that speak to reason they start growing their beards.
Obviously, I don’t think followers of Christ should be required to grow beards with no mustaches. But, when I discovered this bit of information, it made me think, “What sign do I give people that I am committed to Christ and His Church?” Hopefully my sign is my love for others, my generosity to the Gospel and those in need, and my personal efforts to share Christ with people. What is your sign?
Amish children are required to go to school until the 8th grade. Conventional wisdom says this is woefully inadequate and unfair. However, when looking at Amish education one must keep in mind their purpose for it. The Amish do not educate to promote individuality and critical thinking. Their goal is teach the next generation the values of hard work, ethical living and the importance of being a valuable member of the Amish community. By the time they graduate, they are expected to start contributing to needs of the family business not because their manual labor is needed, but because they have worth, skill and are part of a bigger picture.
I don’t think we should limit our children’s education to only 8 years, but I do think the next generation is missing out on being taught to contribute. It is not uncommon for mainstreamed, educated children to graduate from high school (and sometimes even college) clueless about their role in society. This does not seem to be a problem among the Amish.
Amish teens are given the opportunity to choose another lifestyle, a practice called Rumspringa, and leave the Amish way of life. Most choose to remain. Many high school graduates who attend church in mainstream society quit participating in faith activities once they leave for college or start their careers. Again, the Amish see a much less percentage of their teens walk away from their values. I don’t know why it is this way, but I do admire the Amish’s ability to train the next generation to hold onto their values.
What the Bible calls forgiveness, many times the world calls pacifism. It is true the Amish are political pacifists, and although I don’t agree with this political position, I deeply appreciate the value of forgiveness they practice.
The commitment of the Amish to practice forgiveness made national headlines on October 2, 2006 in Lancaster, PA. On that day a gunman went into a rural, one-house schoolroom and killed 5 Amish children and wounded 5 others before taking his own life. National news media flooded the low-key Amish community to report on the horrific crime, but instead they found a story of forgiveness. The way the Amish community responded to this event not only baffled the nation but also radically impacted the family of the shooter. If you want a great read about the power of forgiveness get a copy of One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville, the widowed wife of the shooter.
Today, when a life is lost to gun violence, domestic violence, acts of domestic terrorism or hate crimes, we see whole communities march holding signs plastered with hateful words. We see large rallies filled with people shaking their fists cheering to words of hate. We find individuals posting angry videos and writing rants on their social media outlets. We might even see individuals respond with their own acts of violence. When this takes place, hate ends up fighting against another form of hate; and when hate fights hate only hate wins. The Amish taught us on October 2, 2006, the only way to defeat hate is to fight it with forgiveness. Jesus was not making a suggestion when he said, “Love your enemies, pray for those who hurt you, do good to those who hate you.” (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 and 35)
Every culture has pluses and minuses. The Amish culture is no different, but after spending some time in their world and reflecting on some of their values, I think there are some things we could learn.