An “English” Riddle

As the year draws to a close, I have a question to pose to my readers. This is something I've been pondering for a while, and have discussed with my friend, Monica (the Mennobrarian). She and I could only ponder the question, for we don't have the answer.

The question stems from knowing that the fascination for the Amish is perhaps at an all-time high in mainstream America. Amish novels that romanticize the Amish culture are immensely popular, and accounts of people taking trips through Amish country abound. 
Many times, the people looking in from the outside long to become part of this model of a good society that the Amish have become. On the Amish Heartland website, Esther Leggett states that she gets hundreds of inquiries about how people might be able to join the Amish. She goes on to convey her discussion with Atlee Miller from Walnut Creek, Ohio, about the six steps involved in joining a New Order Amish church. One of the steps is learning the language… no small feat… and the rest are equally arduous. She also quotes an Amish man's advice, as published in Small Farm Journal:
If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself.
So, needless to say, it is not easy to join the Amish and they are not clamoring for people to join them. Some "Englishers" who had joined have subsequently left — often the reason is that they just never felt like they were part of the culture, because they weren't born into it. Or else they became disillusioned because Amish life didn't match their image of it. So, even of those who make the commitment to go through the arduous process of "becoming" Amish, many do not stay.
Enter the Mennonites, who are quite open to having people join their culture and community. They share much of the same history and many of the same values as the Amish. One major difference is that they believe in converting people into their faith, so they actually seek "joiners." Many Mennonite communities no longer speak the Pennsylvania Dutch language, so in most cases there is no language barrier. In short, it is so much easier to become Mennonite than it is to become Amish. Why, then, are "Englishers" so eager to join the Amish, without even noticing the open arms of the Mennonites?
Can anyone help me with this question? It has me truly puzzled.
Thank you in advance for any help you can give me to solve this riddle. 
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36 thoughts on “An “English” Riddle”

  1. I don’t know–because my parents joined the Mennos, not the Amish. It was hard enough switching to Menno. I can’t IMAGINE trying to become Amish. . . .

    There must be something “so romantic” about the Amish that it draws people ?!

  2. I think it is because people associate the Amish with the horses and buggies and quaint lifestyle. I don’t know that most folks that don’t live near an Amish or Mennonite community would know the difference.

    I think that a lot of the emphasis on “Amish” lifestyles has to do with the romanticized ideals of “that is how life should be” from the past. Of course, the advice of the Amish gentlemen is right! Anyone can develop deeper faith, a sense of community, an upright sense of values, a less materialistic lifestyle, regardless of where they live.

    I believe that (from what I know) about the Amish lifestyle is admirable, but I am appalled at some attitudes that they (some at least) espouse.

    I’d like to learn more about the Mennonites.

  3. Because I think the unfamiliar is what creates the curiosity. And I guess many hanker for the simplicity that being Amish seems to offer. Of course with everything in life people often see only the romantic side of things.

    People also often want what is hard to get.

    I’m not Amish and know very little about the Amish lifestyle, but I can see why ppl might become “obsessed” about it. I myself find reading about it and recently watching some YouTube videos about it quite fascinating (not to the point of wanting to join, but simply to learn more).

  4. I live where there is a large Old Order Mennonite community, horse and buggy and driving. They do open their church etc. to anyone who cares to join. I think more men join though as quite a few of the Mennonite women marry “out” but I have yet to meet a woman who married “in”. Not saying it hasn’t happened but as a mail carrier I get to know these folks a bit and I don’t see it.

    We also have a few smaller Amish communities. To me there is a big difference between them. The Amish are so much more isolated and “poor” unlike our Mennonite population who has come in and now the property values have soared because they improve most farms and homes immensely. We are a very poor small community but the Mennonites saw cheap farms and gold and tapped into it.

    I don’t think you see the wish to be Amish around here. Maybe more toward Augusta. There they have tours etc. Someday I’ll go just to see.

    I used to want to be Amish before I even knew there were Mennonites. I admired what the man in SFJ said along with the slow pace of life. Now I look at all these buggies going down the road, have witnessed a buggy vs. car accident, have realized it TAKES ALL DAY and decided no, that is not one part I want. But I do admire their hard working attitude, beautiful farms, small businesses, (mostly) friendly attitude. I think Mennonites have got a lot of it right and I would love to have a part of that. But a lot in my life would have to change like actually “getting” Jesus.

    Sorry to be such a book, LOL!

  5. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know for a fact that my mother’s longstanding admiration of the Amish has everything to do with just how devoted they are to maintaining the ‘old way’ of things. It is, indeed, a mutli-sided topic, for some of the people I’ve spoken to who were born Amish, and subsequently left, did so because of the oppression they felt within the culture.

    There are the good and the bad points of such a strict lifestyle and my mother makes no bones about the fact that she could not commit to it herself (especially with me being involved with farm/horse work for almost twenty years, seeing the labor of that). She doesn’t romanticize the Amish, but she does admire them for not bowing to the encroachment of ‘modern’ life. She respects the Mennonites as well (we live in VA and have a great deal of interaction with them) but because they’re more modern, they don’t capture the separatism that many of the Amish achieve.

    In the few conversations I’ve had with people outside out family on the subject of Amish and Mennonites, I’d say ignorance is a big factor. They have little experience with horses/farm animals and they’re grasp of what such a lifestyle entails – even with modern amenities – is negligible. Usually I can astonish them with stories of us at the barn all hours of the night dealing with everything from daily routine to dying animals, and that’s with electricity, hot water etc. Take away any ‘modern’ stuff, add to it the religious aspect, the attire (maybe pinned on, depending on how strict the order) and people can’t believe it’s even possible. But they still think they’d like to try it, because it just can’t be as hard as what’s described.

  6. I have no interest in joining the Amish but my interest in the group was piqued when we had some cabinets made by an amish family that we found via their English ‘partner’ over the internet. Shortly after that, we had a week’s stay at a bed and breakfast that happened to be in the middle of a small amish community. We didn’t even book it for that reason.

    Even though the mennonite hold many of the same values, it’s still not quite the same all-encompassing lifestyle. Yes, your faith determines everything about your lifestyle in the mennonite church but you aren’t living in a completely separate community. The mennonites have a such a wide range —- one of my friends pastors a mennonite church and it’s similar to many churches outside of the anabaptist realm.

    I think there’s something extremely tempting about the CONCEPT of a tight-knit, closed-off, self-contained, simple, faith-based community. In concept, it would be easier to live simply, etc, when the whole community is living that way rather than trying to live a simple amish lifestyle in my current situation with my husband’s job in the corporate world. In the amish community there are no resumes, CEO’s, layoffs, politics, being passed over for promotion, etc.

    In reality, the grass always seems greener. The amish, because they are humans like the rest of us, will carry with them the same baggage and quirks that we all do. There’s probably plenty of politics, plenty of hierarchy, etc. The English never get a real honest look at the Amish because they are so ‘self-contained’ and don’t go about airing their dirty laundry. Because we English don’t see the whole picture, it’s easy to fall in love with the concept rather than the reality of being Amish.

    There’s also something attractive, for whatever reason, about something extreme. Especially extreme commitment. Everybody wants to belong.

  7. I would also think that the fact that it is hard might appeal to some.

    I find the Amish and anababtism interesting but I would not want to join the Amish or any other anababtist group but I do think there are lesson to be learned from the Amish. I do want to simplify and make my life less complicated but not necessarily the same way as the Amish. I think that it is dangerous to learn about the Amish through novels though, they will not give a correct picture.

  8. Also, most people are familiar with Amish and not with Mennonite. I learned a little about the Mennonites while living in up state NY where there was a very strong Amish and Mennonite community.

    If those who are seeking a Plain life aren’t familiar with their options, it stands to reason that the Amish would be the first to come to mind.

  9. As intrigued as I am with the Amish, I would never want to join the faith. I hold strong and true to my own faith. I agree wholeheartedly with the Amish man’s advice. As I write these words I still feel a desire to lead a simpler life as they do. The Amish (to me) do it so well. Could I leave all that I know, all my worldly ways behind? NO. Can I learn from them? Yes. Perhaps those that seek their faith wether permanently or temporarily are lost. They are in need of a sense of belonging. The world that we “english” reside in today is full of sin, desire, lack of faith (for many), immoral, and a general lack of community. True community is what I think many seek. The Amish (seem) to have a community that works together, lives together, worships together, shares meals together, etc., etc. We live in a world that you can see the same person at the market over and over and never so much as peak or nod to one another. It’s a cold impersonal world we live in.
    Just a few of my thoughts.

  10. HappyMom, that is fascinating that your parents joined the Mennonites. I would love to know more… The “something” so romantic about the Amish is what I am trying to get at… what is that?

    Jan, interesting point… most people don’t know the difference between Amish and Mennonites, yet the Amish are so much more venerated than the Mennonites. I would refer you to the Mennobrabrian for more information about the Mennonites. If you want other references (I have Mennonite cousins, please email me.)

    Lea, I agree, we do often see only the romantic side of things, especially when we hold that up as our ideal. And I really think you are on to something with wanting what is hard to get. That gives me an idea for a future post.

    Elin, I agree that the Amish teach us something valuable about ourselves… as we are bombarded with all the choices we have to make in our lives, the Amish life does look simpler, because many of the choices are made for individuals in that culture. Perhaps we need to wear what we want without paying attention to the latest styles, and think twice before deciding to buy the latest technologies… this alone would simplify our lives.

    Cora, I think what you are getting at is that there is much more information out there about the Amish than there is about Mennonites. But I think that even those people who do know about both cultures, tend to be drawn more to the Amish.

    Amy, you make a very good point about community. I think in mainstream America, we have gone so far in the direction of individualism, that we forget how to come together. The Amish show us a good example of an alternative, especially when one sees how they work together at funerals and weddings… everyone knows their place and everyone plays their part. it is truly something to behold.

    There is also a price to be paid for this much togetherness or community. What I think we sometimes forget is that the sense of community is usually commensurate with the amount of sacrifice one makes for that community. And the sacrifice one makes among the Amish is significant, especially when one happens to be the lowest on the totem pole in terms of being “gut oh szena” or well-regarded. There is much finger-pointing and shaming to ensure people “stay in their place” or accept their role in their communities. And for every Amish community I’ve ever known, that includes scapegoats. Most of those of us who left know what it felt like to be at the bottom, and we also knew we would never “rise” higher in the hierarchy.

    All that said, the question that still remains is why the Amish and not the Mennonites, when the Mennonites also have a strong sense of community and espouse to many of the same tenets in their faith?

    Just a side note here: I am in no way advocating that people join the Mennonites (I could not conform to becoming a Mennonite any more than I could fit myself back into the Amish mold) — I am merely wondering why the difference in perception of these two cultures.

  11. Saloma, I decided to comment before reading all the other ocmments. I “think” that many people are disillusioned with their quality of life. They have family, money, things and yet they are not satisfied because something is missing. It would make sense that they would seek a simpler lifestyle yet, their basic needs go much deeper than that.

    I really like the Amish man’s advice .. it is SO true!

    Speaking for myself, I enjoy only some of the authors who “romanticize” the Amish culture; their books must contain true elements of Plain culture and have a Christian theme running somewhere through it to keep my attention. I enjoy country living and grew up with parents who lived on farms. My maternal grandparents were simple farmers who raised their children to love the Lord and having never met them, their lifestyle must have been similar to that of the Amish and Menonite back in the late 1800’s. We have very similar recipes.

    I traveled to Lancaster Co as a young teen and was mis-informed by a supposed knowledgable person giving a talk and it was refreshing to learn about the Amish from trusted authors and more authoritative sources: you, Mary Ann, Monica, and several others. I honestly prefer to read your blogs now than to read any ‘romanticized’ novels! I have learned so much more than authors like to bring out in their stories; even trusted authors don’t like to talk about the sad/bad things as it probably would detract from their heart warming stories. If I read about one more Amish baby being kidnapped or given up for adoption I’m going to scream!!!!

    We have several Amish communities(from OH and IN looking to raise their children more conservatively and protect them during their teen years) here in NY near where we live and it irks me when people have misinformation about their culture, practices, religion, etc .. i.e. “all Amish who run puppy mills, mistreat them and mistreat their horses, too” … OH, MY!!!! Not every Amish family has good ethics or practices just like the rest of the world and they are looked down on by their own community. My husband has reminded these (English) people that the horses have to be treated well as their transportation and plowing depend upon them!!! People can be very ignorant and the more I know the more I can share.

    A guess: Mennonites do not seem to be as “popular” as a culture, probably because the areas where they originated (in this country) are referred to as “Amish Country” (as well as Pennsylvania Dutch.) People tend to lump all plain people together … Brethren, too. Progressive or contemporary Brethren and Mennonites (with and without coverings) are becoming popular in Christian circles because of their Biblical source of faith, missions, etc. New Order Amish (and some Old Order) are venturing out more into the community and not just for shopping but working in construction for English people in our area. We also had a lovely little girl (legally blind and deaf) who attended our public school in a class for vision and hearing impaired children. Her parents even agreed (and their bishop, too, I presume) to let her stay beyond age 13 to learn a little more. Her teacher was wonderful and her parents appreciated her very much. I am not sure what she is doing, now, but on her graduation day, I hugged her and told her to be the very best daughter she could be, to continue learning from her family and be proud of all she had already accomplished. I would love to know how she is doing, but have reservations about trying to contact them since I was not a teacher in her classroom but an aide in another … sigh…. I just keep her in prayer as the Lord brings her to mind.

    Whew! A long post … now to read others’ comments!

  12. What I’m hearing over and over again in the answers are that Mennonites need a better publicity department! It seems we are relatively unknown to a lot of people.
    But I have to say, it’s very rare that people even join the Mennonite faith from the outside. Sometimes they do, and about only half the time do they end up staying. Although our church doors are wide open, many people seem to find the sacrifice of discipleship (and their individualized identity) too great. People want community, but they also want complete autonomy for their choices and a high level of privacy, neither of which you will get in any plain church.
    Here’s my theory: I do wonder if we are at a time when people are keenly feeling a loss of community along with a bombardment of choices and demands on their time, and they want to identify a “better” or “simpler” way, and they want to identify it NOW. Right now, with minimal research or further investment on their time. So, without knowing all the details, without knowing what it’s really like, they have honed in on the most highly visible plain group, the Amish. The Amish, who are increasingly relying on the public to purchase their goods and services, and are quite conscious to project a positive image (which is good for business). In doing so they validate the longing of some people who can adore them from afar but could never truly be a member of their club. Just a thought. If it’s true, it’s a circle of dysfunction.

    I might add that, as a Mennonite, it doesn’t pain me that more people don’t want to know us. It pains me that more people don’t want to know Jesus. Also, I encourage people to seek a church, community, or denomination that they feel God is calling them to join. There will be many people in heaven, not just Amish and Mennonites. *But if you do want to know more about my faith and beliefs, I am happy to share them and happy to point you to one of our churches.*

  13. This is going to sound awfully shallow, but I wonder if it is simply a matter of the exposure that the Amish way of life had from movies like Witness. Entertainment media have a way of reaching people and planting (usually misleading) seeds of thought.

    When people don’t have much real information to go on, they will start off from whatever “knowledge” they’ve been exposed to, even such misleading sources as popular movies.

    So, simply, the Amish have had exposure in popular media, the Mennonites haven’t.

    This line of thinking would also lead me to question whether most of those people so eager to join the Amish really have any idea what they are looking for, or whether they are driven by idealised notions of the culture.

  14. The only outsiders that make it and stay Amish are the ones that are fluent with languages and like the culture, according to my observations. I have seen many an outsider come and go the thirteen years I lived in Aylmer Ontario Canada and worked for Pathway Publishers.

  15. Peggy, thank you for your comments. The longing for a “simpler” lifestyle seems to be an ongoing theme. And certainly the Amish life is simpler in the sense that the average Amish person is not going to be bombarded with as many choices each day as the rest of us, but when people read my book, they will discover that the Amish life is not simpler in other ways. The flip side of not making these choices for ourselves is that someone else will… and that can also get complicated and uncomfortable.

    Thank you so much for your saying what you did about those of us who are writing about the Amish from the point of view of living or having lived the “Plain” lifestyle. it really helps make me feel like my blog is helpful in giving people “real” information about the Amish culture. And about the Amish novels… I’ve only read a few, and I know the theme you are talking about! It stands to reason that if the conflict is something other than one that reflects on the culture, the sources of conflict become restricted to a few themes.

    The opposite of the romanticization of the Amish is the vilification… it all stems from stereotyping. I never knew any Amish who raise puppies. And most Amish I know treat their horses well. At the same time, much of the child and spousal abuse that does happen among the Amish does not get addressed because no one (least of all the Amish themselves) know how to deal with it. So by not seeing the Amish as humans who make the same mistakes as anyone else, they either get lumped into the same mold and seen as “good” or “bad.” Like the rest of us, Amish people need to distinguish right from wrong.

    That is a very touching story about the Amish girl you encountered. Because of her limitations, she was not going to challenge the Amish system, so it doesn’t surprise me that she was allowed to go beyond eighth grade. How nice that you still keep her in your prayers. I’m sure that affects her life in a good way.

    Thank you, Peggy, for your thoughtful comments.


  16. Monica, I was thinking exactly the same thing — that the Mennonites need writers to bring their point of view to the mainstream culture. Know of any candidates? (I do — she is a wonderfully articulate writer, has a lifetime of experience with the Mennonites, and she writes a very interesting blog.)

    THAT is a VERY interesting theory about why people are drawn to the Amish. The very aspect that keeps them seeking after the latest fads and technologies, also makes them want to join the Amish… that aspect is instant gratification. And the funny thing is, it takes exactly the opposite — that of long-term planning — to actually achieve the goal of joining the Amish. So, if someone actually achieves the goal, whether or not they stay Amish, they will have learned something in the process… that of setting a long-term goal and enduring hardships to achieve the goal. And those people who want to join and decide not to with the first sign of difficulty will not have learned anything. This, I suppose there is a self-selection process involved.

    All of this still does not address why the Amish are more venerated than the Mennonites for those who admire the Amish and have no desire to join. That may come down to your first idea… that the Amish have just been given a lot more attention.

    Monica, I would say you have your work cut out for yourself.

  17. This has been a VERY thought-provoking discussion. Thank you to all who have contributed… and an open invitation to those who still want to join the discussion. There is truly food for thought here.

    Many blessings for the New Year to all!


  18. Just another note … in the little hamlet of Ghent, NY, there used to be a Lutheran Church. It is now a Mennonite Church. Not sure when it changed or what became of the Lutherans who remained (there must have been a few) since we have not lived there for a number of years, but I am going to investigate ;-) There are no Mennonite communities there so I am assuming it is one of the more ‘contemporary’ (not so plain) groups who are very active in community service and mission work. I believe the Mennonite Church is growing but without the community / Plain living.

    When my husband and I traveled to Guatemala a few years back, we bumped into a group of Mennonites who were serving there, too and had a great conversation with the Mennonite pilot of their airplane! He had some fascinating stories. We are also friends with other Mennonites in Costa Rica.

    I also have an acquaintance who switched from a Baptist Church to a very active Mennonite one (she wears a covering) here in NY. I believe these are the congregations that ARE growing.

    I agree with Monica. People need to learn to look to the Lord for direction in not only what they believe but also in how to live a lifestyle that honors the God we serve and a Savior who saves!

    Still no answer to why the Amish seem more popular but it’s been a very interesting topic (as usual!)

    Now, here’s another question (with no answer) … How come I have writer’s block on my own blog but can talk up a storm here?!!

    Happy New Year to all of you!

  19. Thanks, Peggy, for your comments. Interesting about the segment of the Mennonite population that is growing (the not so Plain).

    I would love to know who the people are who you met in Guatemala and Costa Rica. I have Mennonite cousins who do missionary work in Costa Rica. Will you email me with the people’s names, so I can find out if they are part of the group my cousins are in?

    It is also interesting that in people’s spiritual quests that they settle on the Amish as what they want… there are many paths to God… why this one?

    I agree that this has been a stimulating discussion. this is what makes writing a blog worth it…

    And I have no idea why you have writer’s block on your own blog and have so much to contribute here. I would suggest taking any or all of what you’ve been writing here and posting it on your own blog… fleshing out the story of your connection to the Amish girl who was blind and deaf would be fascinating, for example.

    All the best to you, Peggy,

  20. Why are the Amish “romantized” in the “English” culture? Here’s a few of my thoughts:

    1. Separation from the “rat race” of modern life. Things are perceved as “slowed down” with greater attention given to the simpliar things in life.

    2. Focus on “how things used to be/ how they *should* be. Many look at the Amish lifestyle as the idealized/stylized version of how things ought to be. If we could just walk away from all the madness and embrace a simplier way of life, then it would look like the Amish (who make it look so easy).

    3. The clothes are spiffy. No, really. It’s the idea that if we could walk away from the trappings of fashion and it became *socially acceptable* to where Plain clothes then we would look like the Amish. It’s sort of like “they are living the dream.”

    4. Crazy as it sounds: nonconformity….from mainstream. Mainstream sees Amish in a light of “sticking to their guns.” “not backing down” “refusing to conform to modernity”. Bascially living the American virtue of individualism (funny, huh?)

    5. A look at a peaceful life. Amish, being a Peace Church, represents what could be if we stopped all the wars and violence and returned (or began for the first time) to a life of peaceful existance.

    And so, looking from afar it looks great, wonderful, sweet, innocent.

    Why aren’t the Mennonites looked at the same way? Maybe some of it has to do with that they are not so far removed from modern life and so they are not seen in the same simplistic way. By driving cars, watching TV, etc they are not living that “idealic” life therefor they are not as romantized…after all, joining the Mennonites won’t help you “get away from it all”.

  21. Saloma, you talk about being part of a collective society and I think I can relate to this a bit myself although far from being Amish.

    I grew up in a small town in northern Sweden and the culture there is very collective which has its benefits and its downsides. The benefits are the sense of community and belonging and that people do nurture their relationships by visiting people mostly in a relaxed and informal way. The downsides (which were the reasons I moved) are that you never exist as just yourself and everyone is in everyone’s business. What I particularly disliked was when I introduced myself to someone the first question was: “What’s your father’s/mother’s/brother,s/sister’s/uncle’s/aunt’s/cousins’ name/s” and this was continued until a commection of some kind was established. I never got to be me, only me in relation to others. I did not like that, but I do see how safe that was once I moved. I come from a family with a good reputation and any connection would almost always be to my benefit. You also always belong to some group in people’s mind. Still, I am glad that I moved as it has made me grow much more freely than what could have been possible if I had stayed.

  22. Cora, you have brought out several interesting aspects of Amish culture that seemingly contradictory… such as the Amish “nonformity”… as a group they do refuse to conform to the trappings of fashion, yet each individual has to conform to the Amish dress. I like to think I have the best of both… I get to wear what I find comfortable and fits my (simple) tastes without thinking about what is “in style” and also not having others tell me what I may or may not wear.

    The other “contradiction” is the one about the Amish living the American virtue of individualism by refusing to conform to modernity, while at the same time asking the members of the church to give up their individuality to become part of the community.

    Your idea of why the Mennonites are not looked at the same way as the Amish is interesting. It suggests that the refusal of conforming to modernity is very much the reason many people see the Amish the way they do. Which really brings up the question, why aren’t people more discerning about the technologies and styles they pursue? They wouldn’t need to join the Amish for that… pull the plug on the tube, and pick up a book of one’s choosing.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking contributions to the riddle.


  23. Elin, very interesting about the collective society you grew up in. Was there a religious affiliation, or was it location that made your community collective? I sure do relate to what you are saying about how you get to be someone only in relation to your relatives. In my case, it was not to my benefit to identify which family I was from… we were the lowest on the totem pole.

    Do you still live in Sweden? What is it like to visit your home place after leaving?

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts in this discussion.

    All best,

  24. Saloma,

    No, it is not a religious thing it is something which is part of the greater culture of the region. In the old days before roads were common people were quite isolated and depended on each other within their village so a very colletive culture developed. It is also a culture in which it is very important to welcome people if they visit which I think stems from this time as well. If someone has walked through the woods for say 3 days you do not say that this is not a good time, you have to go back home…

    I still live in Sweden, even in northern Sweden but in a bigger town. Here I can represent myself and I do not have to think about not harming my family by my actions. I do not think I would have harmed my family if I had stayed but somehow you always feel the pressure of representing something bigger.

    When I go back I easily slip back into the old ways. I accept that people see me as a member of the H* family more than an actual individual. I accept that I have a responsibility to not harm my relatives’ relationships to people and that I am expected to act on the behalf of more people than myself. I do not want to live this way but if it is just for a couple of weeks it is quite cozy and familiar. I see the benefits but I think that most people in my old hometown do not want to see the downsides. I love going home and being part of this system of relationships because you always have a spot where you belong. I love my family they are great and I truely miss being with them all the time. If I lived in my hometown I would meet them at the very least once a week and I would probably meet some members more often. Now I meet them like 3-4 times a year. I could come more often but I know that even ‘more often’ would be to seldom for both me and them.

    I have seen the downsides of being so connected with your family, my brother married a woman who only shared the same last name as a family who was not very well respected but she was not related to them. Before she married my brother her introduction often had to include an explanation that she was not part of ‘that’ family. She was thrilled to change her last name after their marriage. What would she have felt if she was actually part of ‘that’ family?

  25. Saloma, I would love to tell you more sometime about how my family came to join the Mennonites. They joined a very conservative branch in KY–Rod and Staff Publishers.

    Around 30 plus years later, my parents and youngest sister (who remembers nothing of our life “before”) still are there. The rest of us have gone elsewhere. I am still a Mennonite, but not in an “acceptable” branch to them. However, it’s where my family has found a safe place for us to be the people God has called us to be. My brothers are no longer identified with any type of plain group. I think it’s interesting to observe that only my sister–who was only a baby at the time–stayed with my parent’s choice.

  26. Elin, thank you for sharing with us about your culture… very interesting. It sounds like you had much of the community atmosphere of the Amish community, but without the religion. Also, interesting about ‘that’ family. Ours was ‘that’ family. It sounds like scapegoating is an attribute of a collective culture, Amish or no.

    Hope Anne, I would love it if you would email me the story about your parents leaving the Amish. I’ve never been able to get to your blog, so I don’t know your email address.

    Very interesting that your sister, who remembers only the Mennonite lifestyle, stayed with your parents’ choice. Perhaps that demonstrates what the Amish have always believed… that teaching their way of life to children at a young age is important in keeping them Amish. Doesn’t work for all of us, but it does for many.

    Thank you all for sharing in this wonderfully stimulating discussion.


  27. Saloma

    I would think scapegoating is something that is common in this type of society. With that often follows a fear of becoming the scapegoat, my mother was always worried by the fact that I had ‘strange’ clothes and by my lack of shame for silly things. I would never be bothered if someone saw that our house was untidy while this was probably the major reason why my mother cleaned the house. “What if someone sees that I have not vaccumed for X days?” and I answered “Yes, what if?”

    This whole discussion has inspired me to try to write about my life and my experiences, but I don’t know if I am going to be able. I have tried before, it ended up sounding like a scientific article, completely without feeling. It was hard writing these comments too without making it sound like my childhood and adolecence was horrible because it truely wasn’t. Writing in English also complicates things, it is not my mother language.

  28. Elin, thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad it has inspired you to write about your own life. I did not see your comments as negative at all… in fact, I can see how it would be “comforting” to visit this familiar community. Yet I also understand your need to live elsewhere so you can truly be yourself.

    It took me fifteen years from the time I started writing down memories to the time I got my book published. And before that, I could not write about my life in the Amish… it came out wooden and my writing was filled with cliches. I was not yet emotionally ready to deal with the trauma. My guess is that you did not experience so much trauma, which probably means it won’t take you this long to develop your story.

    Fear of becoming the scapegoat is indeed what kept many people in line in my old community, but I would not have thought of stating it so succinctly. Very nicely put.

    Thank you again for sharing your insights.


  29. The media is a very powerful medium and when in the 1980’s The Witness was made, the romantic opinions of the Amish sprung up to the point of the tourist frenzy it is today.I think up until that point many people thought of their neighbours as backward.The Amish are more conservative than the Mennonites so the fascination at the Amish would be stronger than at the Mennonites who may drive a similar car and have rather fancy weddings.

    Most people when they encounter a very plain Mennonite assume that the Mennonite must be Amish and vice-versea.One time I saw a photo of a New Order woman with the title “My Mennonite Friend”.Naturally the next day it had “vanished”.

    I was born into a church akin to various Anabaptist churches and I’ve found people online liking my group to the Amish.(There are similarities but actually this church is a cult that has teachings that go against scripture.)One Anglican minister wrote online about how these people were nice, quiet Amish-like people, whose women were submissive and whom would never read a newspaper or have the internet so it was alright to talk about them online.I let him know how wrong he was and yet, he was in such denial that he claimed that I was wrong about my own church! It just shows how people develop an image of how things are and how they resent this rosy image being shattered.

    I am in contact with various Anabaptists and intend to join- not because I had an image of joining for a “sweet life”, but because I had always had Anabaptist beliefs but had not heard of Anabaptist until my late teens.I’d never heard of the Amish or any other plain people but when I did I was delighted to discover that there was a name for my beliefs.It was nice to have others like me.

  30. Saloma, great question and discussion here. And Monica I really enjoyed your response over on your blog as well, exploring some of the deeper reasons.

    Just on a superficial level the Amish are the full package–more easily and uniformly identifiable than Old Order Mennonites(ie, bonnets and beards), more accessible than Hutterites, more numerous and less obscure than River Brethren/German Baptists as well as Old Colony Mennos, etc.

    “Mennonites” tends to bring a range of ideas to mind–from liberal to progressive groups, ie there are Mennonite colleges and other “modern” manifestations…whereas “Amish” tends to evoke first and foremost Old Order groups (even though you have some like the Beachy self-identifying as “Amish” as well).

  31. I’d say it’s largely because people know about (even if only very vaguely) the Amish, and don’t know about Mennonites. When they get a very mild introduction, it can often look like Mennonites are sort of half-Amish, who won’t go whole hog. (Further knowledge will clear things up a lot!)

    One thing that interests me: some very popular series of Amish-themed books actually tend to have more of a Mennonite leaning (which must go with the authors’ personal predilections – they’re often under the category of “Christian Fiction”). It’s the Mennonites who are the catalysts to whatever change happens to solve the main characters’ problems, and often the main characters will end up Mennonite. Beverly Lewis is the best known example of this, but several others are that way as well. (I’m always surprised when people say Lewis romanticizes the Amish. Well, yes, they’re romance novels, true. But she focuses heavily on repression, gender inequality, physical abuse and coverups, etc., and the conflict necessary to a romance novel comes more often than not from a religious difference with Amish teachings.)

  32. This is a fascinating discussion! I am an explorer ~ I am in an eternal quest for more knowledge. Religious faith and practices are just one element of that quest. The quote:
    “If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself.”
    Is right on target for all of us curious about the Amish or Mennonites. I believe many of us long for more simplicity in our lives, and we long for a sense of connectedness that the world doesn’t offer.

  33. I think Cora said it well. And to answer these questions:
    “Which really brings up the question, why aren’t people more discerning about the technologies and styles they pursue? They wouldn’t need to join the Amish for that… pull the plug on the tube, and pick up a book of one’s choosing.”
    I think it simply comes down to it being ‘easier’ (in a sense) to follow what somone else tells you to do than to have the willpower to do it yourself.
    There is also ‘power in numbers’. It’s one thing to be collectively different and another to be ‘weird’ on your own. That whole sense of belonging.

  34. Dear Saloma, although these comments have been posted a while ago, I just came across your blog and work my way through :-). I stumbled across your earlier comment where you stated: “Your (Cora’s) idea of why the Mennonites are not looked at the same way as the Amish is interesting. It suggests that the refusal of conforming to modernity is very much the reason many people see the Amish the way they do. Which really brings up the question, why aren’t people more discerning about the technologies and styles they pursue? They wouldn’t need to join the Amish for that… pull the plug on the tube, and pick up a book of one’s choosing.” I think that is exactly the point. Most people just can’t do this, they don’t have the same commitment as Amish seem to have. It is actually very hard to simplify your life (I’ve simplified for quite some time a few years ago). Therefore people admire the Amish for accomplishing something they themselves can’t. And maybe the wish to join is really the hope that by joining this community the Amish’s commitment and accomplishment will(miraculously?) pass to oneself and thus enable one to lead a more satisfying life.

  35. Dear Saloma, although these comments have been posted a while ago, I just came across your blog and work my way through :-). I stumbled across your earlier comment where you stated: “Your (Cora’s) idea of why the Mennonites are not looked at the same way as the Amish is interesting. It suggests that the refusal of conforming to modernity is very much the reason many people see the Amish the way they do. Which really brings up the question, why aren’t people more discerning about the technologies and styles they pursue? They wouldn’t need to join the Amish for that… pull the plug on the tube, and pick up a book of one’s choosing.” I think that is exactly the point. Most people just can’t do this, they don’t have the same commitment as Amish seem to have. It is actually very hard to simplify your life (I’ve simplified for quite some time a few years ago). Therefore people admire the Amish for accomplishing something they themselves can’t. And maybe the wish to join is really the hope that by joining this community the Amish’s commitment and accomplishment will(miraculously?) pass to oneself and thus enable one to lead a more satisfying life.

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