Sunday, February 13, 2011

Amish Country

Our new house lies in the heart of Amish country. Our Wal-Mart parking lot has a long barn where they park their horses and buggies. On occasion I feel that I am the only woman in the store who is not wearing a long black dress with a bonnet, which suddenly makes me feel like a real heathen. I smile as they push their cart with their darling bonnet-covered daughter by me. Sometimes they smile back, but sometimes I feel only their reproach, or perhaps that's just what I perceive. They have never stopped to make small talk, the way strangers sometimes will, but I'm not sure if that's because they look on me with disdain, or because they are tired of being misunderstood, misrepresented, and treated like a tourist attraction.

As a whole I look on them with immense respect. I know many around here do not. Many see them as self-righteous, works-oriented, legalistic, and proud. Perhaps they are, but I have to believe that at least some are simply trying to maintain a simple lifestyle, uncluttered by all the chaos, noise, distractions, and filth of our modern culture. They just want to live peacefully and quietly, to maintain their focus on their creator, to love God and love each other. Many around here will point to the so-called compromises they have made or inconsistencies in their legalism. The Amish have gotten jobs in our factories; they shop at our stores. Last week I saw a whole group of them come from Arby's with large soft drinks and climb into their buggies, and I have to admit that it didn't seem quite right. Some will put a phone in their barn, but not in their house. Some will ride in a car, but not drive it. So I understand why the people around here sometimes shake their heads and look with their own disdain on those who would be ridiculously legalistic and look down their noses at us.

But that all said, when a beautiful brown horse goes prancing by my car with his head held high, and I see the responsible teenage boy driving his sunbonneted sisters in their buggy I think that, for all their faults, they have something I wish I had. Matt drives the country roads to work each day and he passes an Amish school just as the children are scurrying out to recess. Our Sunday morning drive to church takes us by an Amish church just down the road from their school. This morning we were caught in a horse and buggy traffic jam as over thirty buggies filed into their "parking lot." We waited for the traffic to clear, and I watched as families piled out of their buggies and walked into the church. A man hitched his horse to the post in line with the others, two young ladies chatted happily and stepped lightly through the snow, an older boy pumped water from a hand pump into a bucket and carried it inside. Each dressed alike, each doing their part without complaining.

I speak well of the Amish to my children and tell them that these people choose to live simply because they don't want to be dependent on others, and they don't want to be distracted by the things of this world. They want to live a quiet life and work with their hands, and win the respect of outsiders, and for the most part I think they do.

I know they are sinners tempted to legalism and pride the same as any of us, but their dedication to simplicity (blurry as the lines may get) inspires me to take a closer look at what I fill my life with. It inspires me to see the beauty in the ordinary. It inspires me to be content with what I have instead of wanting more. It inspires me to place priority on relationship with God and neighbor, not the latest gadget or entertainment. And who can
forget the most godly reaction after the senseless murder of the Amish school girls in Pennsylvania seven years ago? Just hours after their girls were murdered, the elders of the community went to offer forgiveness to the family of the murderer. That isn't cold legalism, that is Christ's love, and it inspires me to forgive my enemies as Christ forgave me.

So when we hear the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse and buggy approaching our house, we race to the window and watch breathlessly as that beautiful creature carries some of earth's most beautiful people by our door. Call me idealistic, but I will call it beautiful.

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