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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

are the amish quaint or relevant?

Are the Amish quaint?

Many people think so. They travel to Amish regions in the US and Canada, cameras ready, to take pictures of people who don’t want to be photographed just because those people look quaint or old-fashioned.

Quite apart from not wanting to be photographed, I doubt the Amish want to be thought of as quaint, especially when it comes to their Christian faith and Christian lifestyle. I know I wouldn’t be. Quaint makes you sound cute, sweet and out-of-date, and I wouldn’t want my Christian faith to be described using any of those terms. I’m pretty sure the Amish wouldn’t like those words applied to their faith either.

The Amish take their faith seriously – it is the reason they live and dress as they do. It is the reason they still use horses and buggies, the reason they meet in homes and not church buildings, the reason the women have their hair up under prayer kapps. They are what people call quaint because it is their way of following Christ. But to them their faith is alive and vibrant and has a lot to say to the modern people and modern times that swirl around them. Theirs is not a dead faith or an antiquated faith or a fossilized faith, as far as they are concerned. It is brimming with Jesus in 2012 – not just 1912 or 1812.

This is one of the challenges for both the writers and readers of Amish fiction – to make the Amish real in their minds and hearts and imaginations, not quaint, not dated, not precious throwbacks to another era that have nothing much to say about real life and a real God to this one. Yes, the Amish live in many ways as if it is still the late 1800s. But why they do it and what they believe has a lot to say to anyone seeking Christ or following him in the 2100s. So the writer and reader need to work together to make sure that the charm of an 1800s way of life the world left behind in a hurry in the 1920s and 30s is not the only takeaway from Amish fiction.

The commitment to one another and to community is important. Seeking God’s will and not the world’s is also crucial. The value of humility, quietness, peace, and self-sacrifice are right up there. So are avoidance of war, rejecting conflict with your neighbors, forgiveness, and deep and abiding relationships. There is much more, as careful writers, readers, and researchers know.

The challenge is to say with Amish fiction that there is a beauty to the Amish ways but not just because they drive buggies and plow with oxen and make butter with butter churns. The beauty is they do all that and remain absolutely relevant to the people of the 21st century. Especially those who are seekers after God, followers of Christ, and men and women lost in the maelstrom of modern life who wish there was another way, even a better way, for them to raise their families and live out the threescore and ten years God has allotted them.

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