For all its bad press, the USA is a remarkably beautiful country. We [the Wilson family] recently returned from there, having spent a delightful three weeks holidaying in various parts of the country. We spent 5 days in Philadelphia, mid-hurricane, and it was great to catch up with old friends who are dotted around the city. We then flew to Denver, rented an RV and spent 2 weeks touring the Rocky Mountains and several National Parks, The Grand Canyon included, en route to Las Vegas. It came as a relief that we only had to spend one night in “Sin City” – interesting as it was, it was also a very depressing place to stay.
Whilst in PA, we had the chance to visit Washington DC [where we saw President Obama]. We also enjoyed a trip out to Lancaster County, home of the Amish people. I enjoyed every day of our holiday, but I think this was probably the most memorable of the lot; not because of any incredible event that took place, and definitely not because the scenery was remarkable [we have our fair share of fields in England]. I just found the Amish people to be a very interesting case of extreme living – technology is readily available to them, yet they choose to stick to less conventional and more traditional methods of travel, communication and medication.
I’m unsure what to make of the Amish. I disagree with a lot of their interpretations of scripture, and as far as I could tell most of their principles had double standards. I was amused to see a woman tie up her horse-drawn wagon outside her house whilst jabbering away to someone on her mobile. Yet I can’t help but feel slightly attracted to their way of life, and I definitely think that it wouldn’t hurt for a lot of Westerners to take a few leaves out of the Amish peoples’ book. I can’t see much wrong with living a life of simplicity, starting from humble beginnings and living in a modest homestead. I’d like to think that Christians would sooner take that lifestyle than one where material wealth and possessions are the focal point of our being. I also believe that, as followers of Christ [who suffered the ultimate suffering and humiliation], we would be more than willing to give up all worldly things we hold dear and live a simple life. Here are some points on which I agree with the Amish:
1. We need to be responsible stewards of our planet. There is no doubt that the Amish take exceptional care of the world they live in, that they have a minuscule carbon footprint and that they probably get pretty annoyed at everyone else burning gaping holes in the Ozone layer. If we all lived like the Amish, we wouldn’t even know there was an Ozone layer to worry about! Sounds refreshing to me.
2. Self-indulgence is a sin. 1 Timothy 6:17 is probably the passage I would normally turn to in this instance. That’s not to say that God doesn’t want us to enjoy the things he’s made for us! We just need to discern the point at which we stop serving God and start serving ourselves. The Bible consistently makes it clear that, when it comes to it, it’s better to give everything up and follow Christ fully than to cling onto the things of the world and follow Christ with half-heartedness
3. Horses are more fun than cars. I think life would be a lot more enjoyable if we still rode everywhere in a horse and cart. Admittedly the Amish seemed a miserable bunch, but I’m confident we could make things work.
So I’ve blown the Amish trumpet pretty loudly so far, but unfortunately they wouldn’t allow me to use a PA system so I’m going to voice my disagreements a little more vigorously. I am partially sympathetic with their ideologies, but on the whole they annoy me. Here’s what I have against their philosophy:
1. They are a cult, and not a branch of Christianity. The Amish people believe in salvation by works – that is, a person’s life is weighed up by God when it reaches its culmination, and if God declares them to have met his “standards” then they spend eternity in his presence. The catch is that no-one’s quite sure of what standards they are required to meet, so from a young age the Amish find themselves imprisoned in a vicious society that requires perfection for fear of being insufficient. It’s a message that completely contradicts that of the gospel.
2. They have a selfish attitude. Surely people who live in such an extreme way have an important reason for doing so? And if the Amish really believe that they are enlightened in their beliefs then it is surely appalling that they’re not doing anything to convince others of [what they believe is] the truth. Christians believe evangelism to be an essential part of their faith – once you’ve heard the good news, it’s only natural that you want others to know about it too. Yet the only visible sign of “Amish Evangelism” was a collection of leaflets in a shop that explained what it meant to be Amish, and I have a feeling that they were more heavily aimed at the tourist trade than anything else.
3. They’re a moody bunch! I struggle to remember seeing a single Amish person who took joy in what they were up to. Folk scowled at us as we drove by them in their carts, the lady behind the shop counter seemed immune to my attempts to strike up conversation. They didn’t seem to have much to be cheerful about. The sermon preached at my church last Sunday was on Philippians 4, where we read that we are to “Rejoice in the Lord always”. What the apostle Paul means by this is that we are to be filled with joy and thankfulness when we receive blessings, and be filled with comfort and strength when we don’t like our situation. We are to draw upon the Lord and be reflective of his glory and grace.
I do think that we should all be a little more Amish though. They do get some things right.