I recently finished reading Ira Wagler’s memoir Growing Up Amish, and I highly recommend it. It is a very enjoyable read, and it gives a wonderful, fair, balanced view of what it means to be Amish. It doesn’t overly romanticize the Amish like so many Christian fiction books do, nor does it overly criticize the Amish way of life.
One of Ira’s great struggles throughout his Amish life (he finally left the Amish community at age 25) was the immense number of rules he was required to obey without question. These rules included:
- No electricity or phone in the main house (and potentially other structures depending on how strict the particular Amish sect was).
- Only wearing “barn door pants”, which are pants without a zipper.
- Always wearing “galluses” (suspenders).
- No modern entertainment, including music or books.
- No rubber on the wheels of a buggy (again, there was leeway on this depending on the strictness of the sect).
- And many, many, many other rules.
The Amish stay away from these things because they are “worldly”. In a desire to stay pure and unblemished by the world the Amish separate themselves as much as possible. When Ira would chafe and thrash against the rules he was always told, “This is how the Amish have always done it.”
Now, I’m sure there are many godly, born-again Amish men and women, and I’m sure their simple lifestyle has many benefits. However, the more I read the more I thought about how many good, holy gifts the Amish are missing out on. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” God, in his abundant, lavish, creative, even frenzied generosity, has filled the earth with good things. His good, rich, common grace is everywhere, bursting forth from every nook and cranny. His image and glory fill the entire Earth.
When I make dark, oily, rich French Press coffee, I am enjoying a gift from God. When I hear Eric Clapton ripping off an incredible guitar solo, I am enjoying the musical gifts God gave to Clapton. When I get sucked into a legal thriller by John Grisham, I’m enjoying the literary gifts God put into Grisham. When I watch a J.J. Abrams movie, I’m enjoying the visual and aesthetic gifts God has given to J.J. Abrams. God’s glory and gifts are scattered everywhere we look if we only have eyes to see.
As Ray Ortlund Jr. says in his commentary on Proverbs:
What did Solomon understand that made such a difference? He connected the Lord with real life, all of it. First Kings 4:29–34 tells us that Solomon was a Renaissance man. He was fascinated by everything. He studied plants, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of a crack in a wall. He studied animals. He composed music. He did not compartmentalize God. He understood that everything is connected with our Creator, and therefore everything is interesting.
I love that! Everything is connected to our Creator, therefore everything is interesting! Does sin pollute and pervert the good gifts of God? Yes, of course. But that doesn’t mean we should throw out the gifts altogether.
The Amish aren’t the only ones guilty of discarding and ignoring God’s gifts. Under the guise of holiness, we too can create rules that prevent us and others from enjoying what God has declared to be good. And in our good desire to guard our children from sin we can inadvertently teach them that certain good things are evil.
Does that mean I’m going to watch The Exorcist with my daughter Charis? No. But I want her to be able to see the glory of God everywhere. I want her to be able to see God’s creativity in the creativity of Roald Dahl (author of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). I want her to feel God’s creative energy when she listens to “Imagine Dragons”. I want her to thankfully enjoy a glass of wine with her steak. By God’s grace I want to teach her to carefully, thankfully, and reverently see God’s glory in all that she does.
Again, I love how Ray Ortlund Jr. puts it:
Because of Christ, everything God made will be redeemed. So even now everything is, in principle, eligible for wise enjoyment under Christ (1 Timothy 4:1–5). The NFL is good, fallen, and redeemable. Gardening is good, fallen, and redeemable. Your job is good, fallen, and redeemable. Everything—the arts, the military, family life—everything God created is good, and we should rejoice in God our Creator. John Calvin was believing the doctrine of creation when he wrote, “There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world, that is not intended to make men rejoice.”
I’m going to pursue holiness with all my might. But God is way too much fun for me to be Amish.