I found myself thinking about this after reading an article about an Idaho family.
Originally running in the Lewiston Tribune under the title “Amish family in Winchester finds its way” (and elsewhere as “N. Idaho Amish family embraces modern ways”), the article contains the following description:
In many ways the Miller family is as Amish as the people they left back home in Wisconsin 10 years ago, carrying on the traditional ways.
Father Harley, 40, is a master carpenter who has constructed the sprawling, ski-lodge-style house the family now lives in. Mother JoAnna, 40, with the help of her nine children, ages 8 through 21, cooks, sews, tends a garden and the family’s large flock of goats and teaches the younger children their school work.
But in so many other ways the Miller family is helping to define a new generation of Amish people who dress in regular clothes, work outside the home, use computers, cellphones and DVDs and drive cars.
For practical purposes, when we say “Amish”, we’re talking about Old Order Amish (“Old Order” meaning horse and buggy driving Amish, including New Order, Swartzentruber, and all other such groups).
There are other churches that use the word “Amish” in their official names, such as the Beachy Amish or Amish Mennonite congregations. But if you asked an Old Order Amish person whether the Harley Miller family was Amish, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to use that term to describe them.
What if the family thinks of themselves as “Amish” though? People who were once horse-and-buggy Amish may still self-identify as Amish. Don’t they have a right to call themselves “Amish”? I suppose so, but that doesn’t mean that Old Order or any other people have to acknowledge them as such. But I do think the desire of former Amish to identify in some way as Amish is not uncommon.
On that point I found this recent comment by Saloma quite interesting:
I still retain many Amish ways. Many people tell me I do not dress “in style” which is probably true… I just don’t pay attention to the latest fashions. I mostly wear solid, bright colors and I wear what’s comfortable. I am told my home looks “Amish.” I am a decent cook and I was a professional baker for 10 years, which grew out of my Amish background. I still practice many of the homespun arts I learned from my mother. I believe my strong work ethic comes from my upbringing. I don’t buy the latest technologies to have them, but rather I think about what might simplify my life instead of complicate it. So, I’m essentially what the Amish claim you cannot be… partly Amish. They claim you are either Amish or not — there is nothing in between.
I’ve heard people who were formerly Amish describe themselves in similar terms. Osiah Horst adds:
Saloma, you are so right about remaining “partly Amish”. The first twenty years of your life are remembered. My older brother left the OO Mennonites, went to the modern Mennonites for close to ten years and then went out altogether. He claims not to believe, but he still remembers what he was taught from the Bible. He rarely speaks the German dialect anymore, but he has not forgotten it. The work ethic he learned even though he left home at sixteen, still works. There are good things that are not forgotten.
I may be wrong, but it seems that most people who leave behind an Amish upbringing–even those with a painful history, and who may be critical of Amish practices–don’t want to fully disown their heritage.
On a basic level I imagine it would be hard to fully shed the identity and culture you were raised in (“you can take the lion out of the jungle…”). I do wonder if there is anything specific to an Old Order upbringing that makes it stick. Thanks again to Saloma and Osiah for sharing on this point and giving us some food for thought.