My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Thursday, December 29, 2016

25 Facts? Part Four

This is a continuation of comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

13.  Mennonites And Amish Are Distinctly Two Different Communities. 
Both communities find it greatly insulting to be mistaken for one another. The Mennonites, pictured on the left, are not as strict as the Amish. Mennonites may wear brighter colors, drive cars, and even live modernly.

The “greatly insulting” part made me smile!…  As far as “strictness,” both the Mennonites and the Amish vary from group to group.  The Mennonites fall on a continuum, with Old Order Mennonites on one end—horse and buggy and nearly as strict as the Amish—to modern Mennonite churches on the other end, where dress and lifestyle are no different than the Presbyterian church where I grew up. 

The Amish also fall on a continuum,  but a narrower one.  The Nebraska Amish are so strict that they won’t use screens on windows, or carpets or curtains—but on the other hand, a small group called the Beachy Amish have phones in their homes and drive cars.

The photo?  The people in the left photo are not Mennonites—I believe those are Amish women from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, based on the headgear.  The photo on the right, of the women all dressed in black?  I don’t know who or what they are!

12.  The Amish Came To America From Switzerland In The 18th Century. 
The Amish escaped persecution in Europe by immigrating to America. They found live more peaceful in their new country and decided to make it their permanent residence.

The greatest Amish immigration did happen in the 18th century (1700s), when most of the Amish in Europe came to Pennsylvania, at the invitation of William Penn, for religious freedom (and to escape military service in Europe).  A smaller group, even more conservative, called the Swiss Amish, came in the 1800s.  I wrote a blog post about this.

The photo?  Those aren’t Amishmen, and it wasn’t taken in the 18th century, when photography hadn’t yet come onto the scene.

11.  They Refuse Genealogical Testing Because Of Suspected Inbreeding. 
Despite living in small communities and reported inbreeding, the Amish refuse testing that would tell them who is related to who as they claim the testing is not of God’s will.

Besides being a blogger about the Indiana Amish, I am also a genealogist.  I’ve done lots and lots of Amish genealogy, and my various Amish friends were thrilled to receive an ancestry binder which outlined their family history and “who was related to who.”  I found that the rate of semi-close relatives marrying was about the same as it was in the “English” genealogies I’ve done—which is to say, it was and is extremely rare, but not unheard of.  The Amish may be uneducated, but they are not stupid.  They are aware of the dangers of inbreeding, and as a rule, they are very careful about avoiding it.

10.  Jakob Ammann Is Credited With Starting The Amish Religion. 
Jakob Ammann, an Anabaptist leader, began the Amish movement when he left Switzerland and other Christians decided to join him. Obviously, the word “Amish” comes from Jakob’s last name.

When Jacob Ammann decided to leave Switzerland, it’s not so much that “other Christians decided to join him.”  Rather, the Amish left Europe as a group and came to America.  Jakob and his followers were originally Mennonites, but they broke off because Jakob felt that the Mennonites were not strict enough on certain issues, particularly “shunning.”  He is indeed the founder of the Amish church, and it is named after him.

9.  Women Are Considered Second Class Citizens. 
As their tradition and old-fashioned thinking dictates, women are treated as second class citizens. This means girls are only destined to become housewives to cook, clean, and raise children.

I think my Amish women friends would disagree with the “second class citizen” statement.  As in many conservative Christian churches, male and female roles are well defined—and Amish families are large, due to the ban on birth control.  But I have seen true love and respect in the Amish marriages I’ve observed.  My original Amish friend Glenn has gone out of his way, over and over, to do things for his wife to make her life easier and better.  One time, he asked my husband to take them shopping for a good leaf blower; leaf cleanup is the wife’s role, as is all yardwork, but Glenn didn’t like to see his wife all tired out from a day of raking.  He and his wife are partners and best friends and have one of the best marriages I know.

The photo?  I don’t know what religious group these women belong to.  It’s very strange!

8.  The Average Amish Couple Has Between Five And Seven Kids. 
Amish communities do not believe in or use contraceptives, which results in large families. It’s also said they aim to have as many children as possible!

I not so sure about the aim as stated above; but due to the lack of contraceptives, families do tend to be large.  Reliable experts say that six to seven children would be typical.   

More next time in part five, where I wrap up this series.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

25 Facts? Part Three

This is a continuation of comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

16.  “Meidung” Is The Act Of Shunning Someone From The Community For Breaking Rules.
With so many rules, it’s not unheard of for someone to be banned from the community. Known as “Meidung,” the only way for someone to be un-banished is to beg, or to die and be buried back in the community.

Shunning is much rarer that the media would have you think.  Part of the reason Amish young people are required to wait until young adulthood to join the church (90% of them in Northern Indiana eventually do join) is because it is a big decision, not to be made lightly!  Promises are made to live the Amish faith and lifestyle, and those promises are binding for life.  (Those who have not yet joined the church are not bound by these rules.) 

There are always young people who choose not to join the Amish church in the first place, in order to be able to have a tractor, a car, a computer, or some other modern convenience not allowed by the Amish church.  Or perhaps they wanted to have higher education.  Or most commonly, they wanted to marry a non-Amish ("English") person.  They would not be shunned, and this type of situation would be far more common than a “shunning.”  As far as returning to the Amish church—that is always an option, by standing before the church body and repenting of whatever it was that got the person shunned.   

15.  Their Worship Services Are Surprisingly Modest. 
For such a religious community, the Amish do not see the need for extravagant churches or services. Instead, they show their faith in their work and how they live.

Yes, services are modest.  There are no church buildings; members take turns holding church services in their homes.  A family’s turn might come up twice a year.  In the old days, many homes had few walls, or removable walls, to accommodate the dozen to two dozen families in an Amish congregation.  Today, many newer Amish homes have a special large room for hosting church.  Others hold church in a barn, workshop, or other outbuilding.  And during the summer, some families rent a big white tent and hold church in the yard.

The photo, showing the large group of Amishmen in a back yard, hats on, laundry flapping in the wind, a station wagon in the yard, listening to a man at a table with a microphone?  I don’t know what this is, but it’s not an Amish church service—or at least it’s not how they do it in Indiana!

14.  Children’s Educations End At The 8th Grade Level. 
Boys will pick a trade to go into, and girls are all pre-destined to be housewives. Because of this, they see no need for an education past the 8th grade level.

This is quite true—education beyond eighth grade is not allowed, for many reasons.  I wouldn’t say the boys all “pick a trade,” although some do.  In Amish Indiana, many young men end up working in the local RV (recreational vehicle) factories, although this is often a stepping stone to starting their own businesses (dairy farm, harness shop, furniture or woodworking shop, etc.).  Girls aren’t necessarily pre-destined to be housewives, but most of them do marry and raise large families.  (I knew of one Amish woman, sister of a friend, who built a home, taught school, and didn’t marry.)  With an average of seven or eight children, women have plenty to do at home.

The photo of a classroom actually looks much like the several Amish classrooms I’ve visited.

More next time in part four.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

25 Facts? Part Two

This is a continuation of comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

21.  Weddings Are A Simple Affair That Don’t Even Include Rings Or Flowers. 
Amish weddings are typically held at the end of fall, and are devoid of anything that they deem too extravagant. Instead of flowers, they commonly use celery, and the bride may not even wear a ring as it represents vanity.

Yes, actual Amish wedding ceremonies are simple affairs.  I’ve been to two of them—one was in the spring and one in the fall—and they consist of a regular three-hour Amish church service with the 15-minute wedding ceremony added at the end.  Celery?  I didn’t see that!—but one time I drove a young Amish bride-to-be to Elkhart, Indiana to place an order with a florist for wedding flowers.  The flowers were table decorations, though—not carried by the bride.  Wedding rings are never worn.   

The photo accompanying this “fact” is amusing…  The clothing is not very accurate, and the preacher has a microphone!  A closer look indicates that this scene is part of a play.

20.  Most Amish Communities Speak At Least Three Languages. 
Besides English, most Amish communities also speak German and what is known as Pennsylvania Dutch. They will use English in school and business, but speak German in church and Dutch for common daily activities.

The Amish use three languages, but not all three are spoken.  First they learn “Pennsylvania Dutch” (usually referred to as “Dutch”), which is a colloquial form of German.  It is spoken but not normally written.  Secondly, they learn English (both spoken and written) when they start school at about age six.  Thirdly, they study German (the old High German used in their Bible and hymnbook) as a separate subject in school.  This Old German language is normally written but not spoken—church services are conducted in “Dutch.”

The photo accompanying this fact is amusing…  I don’t know what language is on the sign, but the sign appears to be in front of a church building—and the Amish don’t have church buildings, nor do they have Sunday School.

19.  They’re Not Allowed To Wear Bright Colors Or Jewelry. 
They wear the same plain clothes that tradition has dictated for many years. Amish are not allowed to wear bright colors or jewelry— not even to weddings!

Bright colors—yes.  Jewelry—no—not even wedding rings or wrist watches.  It’s true, the clothes are plain, and they have changed very little in hundreds of years, and nothing much varies from outfit to outfit except the color.  Prints are not allowed—solid colors only.  (Note:  Young people who have not yet joined the church are allowed much more latitude, and may be seen dressing like the local “English” kids.)

18.  Wedding Receptions Are Very Modest, As Is The Couple’s Wedding Night. 
Guests mainly talk and offer their blessings to the new couple following a wedding ceremony. Then, the bride and groom spend their first official night together at the bride’s parent’s home.

I’ve been to two Amish weddings.  The wedding is always followed by a meal, and it is anything but modest.  Often, over the four sittings which take place over the course of the day, over a thousand meals are served.  Guests sit at tables and talk and eat, while the bridal party sit at the head table, or circulates among the guests.  The last meal served that day is for the young single people, who socialize all evening.  As for where the couple spends their wedding night—I’ve never asked!

As for the photo—I cannot imagine taking a can of spray paint to a new buggy worth thousands of dollars!  The color and style show that this particular buggy is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania buggy.

17.  The Amish Are Known For Their Beards, But Never Have Mustaches. 
Amish men have beards, but no mustaches because of what the facial hair represents. Mustaches were once seen as a sign of wealth and military, and the communities wanted nothing to do with either.

This is mainly true.  Buttons and mustaches were common among soldiers back in the Old Country, and so the Amish avoided both, and still do.  Avoiding the military draft was a major reason the Amish left Europe and came to America in the 1700s and 1800s.

More next time in part three.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

25 Facts? Part One

My sister-in-law Deb emailed me a question the other day.  She’d seen an article on a website called entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know.” She asked me, “So – are any of these actually true??  On the picture of the wedding they have microphones.  What about the no power/no technology thing?  I’m so confused.”

After reading the article myself, I decided it was time to lay out some better information, based on the 20 years I’ve had friends among the Amish.  My knowledge is based mainly on the Indiana Amish of Elkhart and Lagrange Counties, but I’ve read enough reliable information on the other major groups to have a feel for their beliefs and lifestyles also.  (And I know where on the internet to go to get trustworthy information!)

Let’s take them one by one… in reverse numerical order, like the article.

25.  Courtships are usually short and quickly followed by marriage. 
Once a couple starts “dating,” they will go out only a few times before deciding if they should marry. The church will then bless the marriage, and the engagement becomes official once it’s announced in their town’s newspaper.

I’ve watched half a dozen Amish courtships over the years, including a few that ended up with breakups and broken hearts.  I would say that their courtships are no longer or shorter than ours in the “English” world.  Going out only a few times?  That’s just not true...  I’ve never heard of a “church blessing” before a marriage (although the engagement is announced, or “published,” in church)—but what typically happens is, if either or both are not yet baptized members of the Amish church, then that’s the time it’s done.  As for announcements in the town’s newspaper—nope.  Shipshewana, Indiana, for example, doesn’t even have a newspaper.

24.  The Amish Have Lower Cancer Rates In Their Community Than Other Demographics.
The Amish not only produce their own food— free of pesticides and processing, but they also refrain from drinking and smoking. This healthy lifestyle means lower cancer rates for their communities.

Most Amish refrain from smoking (except some of the tobacco growers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania), and drinking is not a part of their culture.  They don’t produce all their own food, however, although many do have large gardens.  Some have organic farms (free of pesticides and processing), but some don’t.  And I’ve shared a very non-organic local pizza, and other dishes, with Amish friends more than once!

23.  New Couples Are Encouraged To “Sleep” Together. 
Surprisingly, young couples are encouraged to share a bed together prior to marriage. However, both parties are fully clothed and a board is placed between them to prevent contact. The idea is for them to spend the whole night talking instead of doing other things…

This practice is called “bundling,” and it was common in Colonial America—google it for more information.  It is not, however, common in Amish communities today.  And the photo that goes with this one—wow!  It’s ridiculous!  Wikipedia has this one just about right:  “The [bundling] tradition is thought to have originated either in the Netherlands or in the British Isles and later became common in Colonial America, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  Some Nebraska Amish may still practice it.”  (The Nebraska or White Buggy Amish are the most conservative among the Amish groups today.  See my 2015 blog post on them.)

22.  Amish Beliefs Forbid Them From Using Technology.
The Amish do not use technology even in the slightest sense. They go without electricity, phones, and internet due to their belief in “Gelassenheit,” which is a Christian word equating to keeping the earth as God created it.

The Amish do indeed use technology—but sparingly, and after great deliberation.  Drive around Amish Indiana and watch for the solar panels on the roofs of Amish homes and barns.  I’ve seen items in Amish homes like an electric typewriter that ran on a 12V car battery.  My Amish friend Glenn recently said, about a son-in-law, “He really likes to use that GPS!”  And some Amishmen who have businesses which require being away from home all day, are allowed to have cell phones; I know an Amish cement contractor who has one.  Also—“Gelassenheit” is an Amish word which means submission—yielding oneself to a higher authority.

More next time in part two.

Monday, December 5, 2016

25 Facts?

...and articles like this are why I continue to write about the Amish!  I would say that about 80% of the so-called "facts" in this article are untrue.  I hope to write a 25-point commentary on this article later in the week.