Kraybill, Donald, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, Steven M. Nolt. The Amish. Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2013. Print.
image from: amazon.com
This non-fiction book was fascinating and well researched and over 400 pages in length. I took lots of notes and flagged so many pages while reading. This was almost like reading several academic papers (Each chapter is a different aspect of Amish life.) that the researchers wrote. "Our goal is to tell the Amish story with the resources of solid scholarship in a style that appeals not only to scholars but also to a broader audience interest in the Amish experience" (Kraybill xiii). I think they accomplish this goal. I flipped to the appendix and read the footnotes (which is partly why it took several weeks to read this!) when I came to them in the text. Pictures, graphs, tables and maps add to the book. At the end of each chapter, the writers included a summary paragraph. This just reiterates the focus of the chapter.
I appreciated that the authors contend beginning in the preface that this book cannot possibly describe ALL Amish--some generalizations are made while trying to be respectful of all Amish sects. "It is hazardous to speak of 'The Amish' as if they were one unified group" (Kraybill 13). When people say "Amish" we often have a preconceived notion (stereotypes) that ALL Amish do this, wear that, don't use certain technologies, etc. The movies and television have done much to perpetuate this idea. I was honestly surprised to learn that one Amish lady was actually a Mary Kay beauty consultant and several were Pampered Chef consultants (Kraybill 305). Some Amish have organic farms/cooperatives, small home based businesses and many work for the "English." The "mystique of Amish life creates a branding effect..." (Kraybill 305). As non-Amish, we are curious about this group because they are different. They "'represent a way of life we wish we could live'" (qtd. in Kraybill 397).
The opening chapter explains the roots of the Amish community, but I'm still unclear on how the Mennonites and Amish are kinda related going back to the beginning, but they are different in their practice of religion and aspects of lifestyle (Kraybill 26).
Most Amish follow the Ordnung--the stable, tradition-guided moral order (Kraybill 41).
In the chapter about population patterns, my hometown of Stephenville was mentioned (Kraybill 183). I do remember when I first moved here, I would see black horse-drawn buggies going down the road. Even the place that I worked had a "hitching post" in the parking lot until just a few years ago.
There are aspects of the Amish lifestyle that I think are universal--live simple lives, try to do your best, honor your elders and pursue a measure of happiness. This "Gelassenheit is the deep taproot that nourishes the Amish way. A German word that resists easy translation, it roughly means 'calmness, acceptance, and yieldedness'...'let go, quit trying to figure it out, let it alone'" (Kraybill 98). The Gelassenheit has five dimensions: personality, symbols, structure, values, & rituals. A graphic is included on page 99 to show how these areas include all aspects of Amish life.
In the "Symbols and Identity" chapter, the writers show that the Amish do not all dress alike. Their dress performs different tasks and signal different meanings within the culture. The seven social tasks that dress performs:
- signals that a member has yielded to the collective order,
- it prevents dress from being used for self-adornment,
- it promotes equality,
- it creates a common consciousness that bolsters group identity,
- it encourages members to "act Amish,"
- it projects a united public front, which conceals diversity in other areas,
- it erects symbolic boundaries around the group. (Kraybill 127).
The style and color of dress signify social distinctions linked to at least ten dimensions of Amish life:
- marital status,
- church membership,
- social esteem,
- religious rituals,
- rites of passage,
- sacred-profane boundaries,
- ethnic-public domains. (Kraybill 128)
Chapter Twelve was entitled "From Rumspringa to Marriage" which is where several myths about the Amish were dispelled. The concept of Rumspringa is defined as "a time to find a mate" rather than "explore the outside world" (Kraybill 214). I didn't realize this. I've always heard and believed that Amish teenagers were encouraged to go out, explore and then decide to stay in or go out of the community. Rumspringa is so much more (and is better explained later in the chapter by the authors).
The end of Chapter 13 was about Amish funerals. I read this the same day I learned of my Aunt Martha's death.
Chapter 14 was about Amish education, which is a very controversial topic between the English and the Amish. Usually, Amish children only go through 8th grade and are not taught critical or reflective thinking. They are taught "a basic education for the entrepreneurs...and gives those who leave the Amish world a solid set of employable skills in the public job market" (Kraybill 270). Amish children are not usually home schooled, as "schools socialize students for adult life in a collective ethnic community" (Kraybill 267). I found this very interesting.
Another chapter I found very interesting was "The Amish in Print" (Chapter 20) where I learned more about the Amish publishing house and the idea of "Amish romance novels" or 'bonnet fiction' as its own genre.
Did you know...?
- Amish faith focuses more on how one lives than on what one believes (Kraybill 65)
- Amish clergy receive no compensation, formal education and serve for life (unless an illness) (Kraybill 92)
- Many liberal Amish read mainstream Christian authors such as Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers and Janette Oke (Kraybill 112)
- Some Amish "trick out" their buggies (which made me laugh thinking about that) (Kraybill 131).
- There is an Amish publishing house (Pathway Publishers)
- Until a person actually joins the church (usually late teens/early 20s after Rumspringa), they are not shunned if they choose not to join the church
- Amish weddings are usually held on weekdays, in the house, shop or other buildings at the home of the bride or a relative. There is no rehearsal, photographs, gowns, veils, rings or tuxedos, and the ceremony lasts five minutes at the end of a three hour church service (in which about forty minutes of this service is the couple meeting privately with the minister while the guests/congregation sings several hymns) (Kraybill 233)
- Many Amish business rely on China to make products
- Most Amish farms are not organic (Kraybill 285)
- Amish and non-Amish foods are identical (Kraybill 394)--this made me laugh!
- The Amish do not observe Advent or Lent (Kraybill 86)
- Almost no Amish serve as individual missionaries or aid workers due to air travel being prohibited (Kraybill 366)
I'm glad I invested the time to read this book. It was fascinating to learn about the Amish as a whole.