Monday, February 20, 2012

The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World

The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World
By Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

Having directed a dissertation on the Amish, I have a good background on Amish ways—especially in Ohio.  Also, I have read other books on the topic as well.

This book is outstanding for a number of reasons.There are at least 14 pages of notes, and 6 ½ pages of references.  Each of the three authors has a Ph.D.  Kraybill is a senior fellow at the Young Center of Elizabethtown College, Nolt is a professor of history at Goshen College, and Weaver-Zercher is a professor of American religious history at Messiah College.  In addition, they are the authors of the very favorably reviewed and successful book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, which describes the response to and reaction of the Amish community to the shooting of ten schoolgirls at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, in October 2006.  Together, the authors have over 50 years working with the Amish.

All of the above paragraph supports and proves the authors’ credentials—the first reason why this book is outstanding.

The second reason this book is outstanding is that it is superbly written.  The authors tell wonderful, endearing stories that are engaging, insightful, and instructive.  If you have read nothing about or have no experience with the Amish prior to reading this book, you will be enlightened.  If you are part of the secular world, your eyes will be opened in shock and amazement.  Yes, the book is gentle, respectful, sensitive, and understanding, but it discusses a society and a way of behaving that is so contrary to “normal” society that it is scarey.  Fortunately, the authors offer a readable book that is well-crafted and entertaining.

The third reason this book is outstanding is its organization.  It is organized around the topics of spirituality, community, everyday life, Amish faith, and the rest of us.  From the authors’ descriptions and explanations, you get a wonderful picture of the details of Amish life as well as an overview of Amish reality.  Because of the authors’ approach, you come away with a nearly complete look at what it might be like to live in the Amish way.  The rules by which they live, alone, are so specific and detailed that little in their daily life is spontaneous or free.  They are bound by their faith.

The fourth reason this book is outstanding is that it answers many of the questions those who are not Amish ask about them.  For example, do the Amish accept non-Amish converts?  How do Amish adolescents decide to be Baptized?  How are the strict rules of the Amish enforced?  What constitutes infringement of the rules?  Why (and how) is the practice of shunning used?  Why do Amish attend church only every other Sunday? To what degree does the Amish bishop wield authority? How do the Amish view modern society?  Technology?  How do the Amish hold onto their young people who get a taste of the outside world?  What do the Amish do when they move into an electrified home and yet want to strictly follow Amish rules?  So many questions are answered.

The fifth reason this book is outstanding is because it really makes your heart go out for Amish people.  Why?  First, because of the very hard life they live.  Second, because of the many sacrifices they must make.  When you consider all the devices, tools, and equipment we in the secular world have to make our lives easier — with new technology being offered to us on a daily basis — it is just amazing that anyone would or could give it all up to live a simple, faithful life.  

Because of the authors’ manner of presentation, as well as the positive features of this book discussed above, readers cannot help feeling a profound, whole-hearted, and compassionate tenderness regarding the Amish commitment to faith, family, and frugality.  This is a sensational book.

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