They say that there are some topics you don’t discuss at the dinner table or, perhaps, anywhere in mixed company. Here in the South those topics are religion and politics. Okay, you generally don’t bring up that black sheep cousin either– you hope that someone else does so you can get the scoop and then say, “Bless their heart.”
If you haven’t already figured it out, I am going to talk about one of those banned dinner table topics– religion. I consider myself a spiritual person with beliefs and a code by which I live. I was raised Southern Baptist though I have also attended and/or been members of other churches– Christian, Methodist, and Nazarene. I have also visited Catholic, Episcopal, Pentecostal, Holiness, Church of Christ, and non-denominational churches, and I’m sure I have left something off. When you are invited to church here in the South, you go. It’s just the right thing to do.
I’m not going to preach about what you should or should not believe or how you should behave. What I want to talk about instead is a group of religious people who will never read this because of their beliefs– the Amish.
First, let me give some background.
We needed a break from, well, everything. We had a wonderful time. We stayed in cabin #12 on the bluff.
I mean, just look at these views…
Places like this, where nature is powerful, can really speak to one’s soul and calm the restless spirit.
While we were in Florence, we heard about an Amish community in Ethridge, Tennessee. Never having had the opportunity to visit an Amish community, we decided to drive up there.
There is no disputing that Amish are religious people. Their moral code and life guidelines follow a very conservative and strict approach to spirituality. Often times people make fun of the Amish or discount their lifestyles claiming that they, themselves, could never live like that– no electricity, no telephone, no car. It was not too long ago, though, that everyone lived without these things. No, maybe everyone did not dress as the Amish do, but their lifestyle represents our history as much as it does a religious viewpoint.
Regardless of what our religious views (or lack thereof) are, the Amish community offers us a glimpse of a simpler time when we didn’t call on big business and government to take care of our needs. Rather, we believed in a higher power and we believed in community. I myself am a Christian and though I won’t quote Bible verses to you, I will share what I believe are two of the greatest responsibilities of Christians– to love and accept one another. Loving one another means a lot of things but, to me, it especially means helping and supporting others in a non-judgmental way. Driving through the Amish community, there was strong evidence that despite that lack of instant communication methods such as phones and computers, the Amish communicated and worked together to take care of one another.
From the map above, you can see how the Amish community is spread out in Ethridge. If you would like to see this map in PDF format, click here – Amish Community Map.
I would like to tell you that I took lots of pictures from this trip to document everything we learned and what we saw. However, I did not as the Amish request that you do not take pictures.
Rather than with pictures, I’ll simply have to do this the “old-fashioned way” and use words to tell the story.
You know you are in Amish territory by two things. First, the obvious– the black buggies. Secondly, the Amish in this community sell goods at their homes– as denoted by the map. Driving down narrow country roads, one will see, beside dusty, gravel driveways, small, rectangular hand-painted white signs with black writing. The writing is simple, “Eggs,” to show that they sell eggs. If you look at the map, you can see all the wonderful things for sale. Below are the items we purchased.
Every house in the community is white, has the same design, and is the same size. Each out-building is the same dark red color. Some homesteads, depending on what they sell and what their roles are in the community, will have more out buildings than others. Some raise chickens; some do not. However, they all had gardens. Also, they all had what we referred to as a shop. Typically, the shop is where the goods are sold. Two things to remember about shopping there–
1. Bring CASH. They are AMISH. They don’t do debit cards.
2. When you pull up in the driveway, step out of the car, but do not go into the shop. Wait on them; it’s etiquette. (Yes, we learned that the hard way.)
If you made it this far, you may be thinking– this post has gone all over the place! What’s your point? (As an English teacher, that’s what I’d say.)
The point is that there is much we can learn from the Amish. They live simply, yet with deep meaning and purpose. We get caught up in fashion, technology, movies, music, and stuff. We buy stuff to fill a deep emptiness and loneliness that STUFF cannot and will not ever be able to satiate, much less fix. We drink, smoke, take drugs of all kinds to numb the pain and dull the ache. It will never be enough.
The Amish, though, they have something many of us don’t. Now, I’m not telling you that they don’t feel the same things we feel– pride, lust, greed, anger. Those are human emotions. Those are things EVERY PERSON deals with. What’s different, though, is that they don’t look outside to material things. Rather, they seek comfort in a higher power. They choose every day, every hour, every minute, every second to allow this higher power to be the focus of their lives rather than material stuff.
I’m not telling you give up electricity, running water, internet, car, and your favorite clothes. I’m not telling you that you are bad or going to Hell because you don’t believe a certain way. Don’t misunderstand me.
What I am telling you is that the Amish live a simple, sustainable life. The grow their own food. They make jelly, jam, preserves, bread, casseroles, soups, and stews. They raise cattle, poultry, and other livestock. And they do these things without things we think we HAVE TO HAVE. If they can live this way, and our ancestors existed this way for generations, we can find ways in our own lives to be more green, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable.
I am also saying that those feelings you have that make you feel so alone and so guilty because “normal” people don’t feel this way– yeah, people DO feel these things. All kinds of people struggle with all kinds of inner turmoil– what Southerners sometimes refer to as inner demons. Those things don’t go away based on worldly things; if they did, shouldn’t you already feel better? Shouldn’t your mind be peaceful rather than filled with clutter and anxiety? No, what you are looking for comes from finding purpose and meaning in your life. It comes from living a soulful life where you have a connection to a higher power. It comes from having a life code you believe in and follow; being part of a loving, supporting community where people aren’t judged for their shortcomings but built up by their strengths; it comes from connecting, intimately in relationships with other people from whom you can all share knowledge, wisdom, and mutual respect; and it comes from giving freely of ourself to others while expecting nothing in return.
I leave you with a question and a challenge. What can you change about your life as it is right now to be more ecofriendly and sustainable? And, today, as soon as possible, find a way to give of yourself, freely, with no expectation of reciprocation, to someone in need.