Monday, October 24, 2011


Our Amish, Ourselves

Ashland, Ohio

BY the time I made my way to Mr. Stutzman’s farm to ask for his take on the renegade Amish of Bergholz, Ohio — a splinter group that includes several members recently arrested after participating in assaults on other Amish — I was too late to break the news. I knew I would be. Several of my fellow English (that is, non-Amish) residents of Ashland County had been to see Mr. Stutzman earlier that morning. All were eager to tell him of yet another Amish incident. And this was the best kind — a case of Amish-on-Amish violence.

English always stop by Mr. Stutzman’s place with news of the outside world, especially if the news reveals Amish indiscretion, or worse. A few years ago an Amish man in an adjacent county was sent to prison for sexually abusing his daughters. Traffic at Mr. Stutzman’s produce stand was heavy that day, he told me. Folks he’d never seen before stopped by to pick up a head of lettuce or a bushel of peppers. They stared hard into his face as they asked if he’d heard about the abuse. Springing bad news on our Amish neighbors is just something we do around here.

I live surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish, widely considered the most conservative of all Amish. Around here, people seem either to love or hate them. Unlike those parts of America without large Amish populations that tend to romanticize the community, here things take on a more fundamental, some might even say practical, prejudice.

Around here people tire of swerving around buggies and dodging horse droppings. Around here people resent the amount of land bought up by the Amish and how they have their own kind of health insurance, an insurance called community. Around here people are convinced that the Amish are getting away with something, have figured out something, have too many secrets. Around here people love to poke holes in the fabric of Amish solidarity.

The assaults and arrests in Bergholz seem to fit a convenient narrative for people seeking to discredit the Amish. There’s evidence of a doctrinal split, which is as common in the community as straw hats and hay wagons. Schisms and splinter groups are prevalent among the Amish that I know. Mr. Stutzman’s neighbor, Mr. Gingerich, also a Swartzentruber, recently broke off from Mr. Stutzman’s group over the issue of adding a second lantern to buggies. Mr. Gingerich is set to move to Maine later this month to start his own settlement.

All Amish seem to fall into the trap of believing their way is the true Amish way. The Swartzentrubers believe that the more liberal Old Order groups and the even more liberal New Order groups live dangerously close to the modern world, a world from which all Amish are to remain separate. The more liberal orders deride Swartzentrubers for taking baths only on Saturdays, and they call them gruddel vullahs (or “woolly lumps”) for getting cows’ milk in their beards. So it comes as no surprise that the attacks in Bergholz, which included the forced cutting of hair, were the work of a splinter group that believed somebody had betrayed the true cause, if the attacks can be credited with such lofty motives.

Whatever the case, I know a few things for certain. The Swartzentruber Amish will continue taking baths only on Saturdays, believing this deliberate inattention to hygiene is evidence of living the true Amish way. I know that there will always be splits and schisms among the Amish. I know that many of the rural English of Ashland County will continue to dislike the Amish in general, even while maintaining genuine friendships with a few. I know that many Americans will continue to see the Amish as a backward cult of religious fanatics, but that many more will persist in mythologizing them, seeing in them what they need to see. I know that, as the writer Wendell Berry says, America’s view of the Amish is a “perfect blindness.”

The truest thing I can say about the Amish is that within a week, or even less, they will disappear from the media and from the nation’s consciousness. They will deliquesce — until the next newsworthy incident — into the background of contemporary America.

Joe Mackall, a professor of English and creative writing at Ashland University, is the author of “Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish.”

As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain
I take a look at my wife and realize she's very plain
But that's just perfect for an Amish like me
You know I shun fancy things like electricity

At 4:30 in the mornin' I'm milking cows
Jedediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows, fool
And I've been milking and plowing so long that
Even Ezekial thinks that my mind is gone

I'm a man of the land, I'm into discipline
Got a bible in my hand and a beard on my chin
But if I finish all of my chores, and you finish thine
Then tonight we're going to party like it's 1699

We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
I churn butter once or twice, living in an Amish paradise
It's hard work and sacrifice, living in an Amish paradise
We sell quilts at discount price, living in an Amish paradise

A local boy kicked me in the butt last week
I just smiled at him, and I turned the other cheek
I really don't care, in fact I wish him well
'Cause I'll be laughin' my head off when he's burnin' in hell

But I ain't never punched a tourist even if he deserved it
An Amish with a 'tude, you know that's unheard of
I never wear buttons, but I got a cool hat
And my homies agree I really look good in black, fool

If you come to visit, you'll be bored to tears
We haven't even payed the phone bill in 300 years
But we ain't really quaint, so please don't point and stare
We're just technologically impaired

There's no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury
Like Robonson Crusoe, it's as primitive as can be

We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
We're just plain and simple guys, living in an Amish paradise
There's no time for sin and vice, living in an Amish paradise
We don't fight, we all play nice, living in an Amish paradise

Hitchin' up the buggy, churnin' lots of butter
Raised a barn on Monday, soon I'll raise a nutter
Think you're really righteous? Think you're pure in heart?
Well, I know, I'm a million times as humble as thou art

I'm the pioust guy the little Amletts want to be like
On my knees day and night scoring points for the afterlife
So don't be vain, and don't be whiney
Or else my brother might have to get medieval on your hiney

We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
We're all crazy Mennonites, living in an Amish paradise
There's no cops or traffic lights, living in an Amish paradise
But you'd probably think it bites, living in an Amish paradise

For those unfamiliar with the basis for this Weird Al parody, watch Coolio's original here.


Bizzy Brain said...

After the rest of the country has gone to hell due to the insanity of liberalism, there will still be the Amish. They have strong faith in the God of the Bible, actually PRACTICE righteousness, believe in personal responsibility and self-reliance, and live with a robust sense of community. They are living the ideal that the utopian socialists can only fantasize about.

hoosierdaddy said...

Yes Bizzy, the Amers have a lot going for them, but they also have their own set of problems, eh? Maybe small ones compared to the 'english.'

Rayleen said...

American society is plagued by many troubles, but those not to be found in the Amish culture include hatred, selfish ambition, infanticide, rampant promiscuity, bastardy, ghey perversions, divorce, infidelity, drug abuse, unbelief, and meaningless existence. I would say many people, especially liberals, lead a shit life compared to the Amish.

Phil L. said...

With a name like Rayleen, I bet your husband's idea of the good life is a refrigerator full of beer and a stuffed couch both on the front porch.

Rayleen said...

Hopefully, this may alleviate your redneck worries, Phil. Rayleen is not my real name, just my "comments" name. My real name is Rayette.

Nostradumbass said...

I predict a couple of you people are going to be scolded by Dr. S for straying off topic.

Dr S said...

Thanks Nostradumbass - some of my students call me "The Hammer" and I was just about to come down on the 'drifters.' :-) I suppose that sometime we should have a more serious discussion about the pluses and minuses of the Amish communities.

Steve Heller said...

Loved the Amish rapper parody. Clever and entertaining. No, I didn't find it "offensive."

Steve Heller said...

RE: plusses and minuses of the Amish communities, and this goes for Mennonites of yore, they often get too hung up on legalisms and lose sight of "living in the Spirit."
From Galatians 5: "22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another."