“Aaron Miller” on the beard, cell phone, and Ordnung

An Amish friend, whom we’ll call “Aaron Miller”, recently discussed aspects of Amish society with a college class.

Aaron later wrote a follow-up letter to the class, in which he addressed a few issues raised during the discussion.  Aaron has kindly shared the letter, from which we’ll post a few excerpts on the blog.  You may remember Aaron, aka “Anonymous Amish Person” or “Mr. X”, from this two-part interview a year or so back, in which he discusses media attention, computer use, and the “hardest thing” about being Amish.

In this first excerpt, Aaron addresses a question on the nature of the Ordnung, and specifically how it relates to two disparate aspects of Amish life—appearance (the beard), and technology (the cell phone):

Starting with the beard I know I stated that the reasons for wearing one was a protest against militarism and an imitation of Christ. I later realized that this was an incomplete answer.

Because the protest against militarism part is archaic and though it may have been the case in Europe, there is today greater significance. And as one student pointed out, how do we know Jesus didn’t wear a mustache?–which was a great point. The significance of the beard is as a symbol of humility and identity. It identifies a man as married. The question came up of what would happen if one would grow a mustache. And although it would entail questions and a visit from the ministry, it still is hard to say exactly what and how it would happen. The reason being it has never happened. If one would grow a mustache, that person would very certainly have other issues with the Ordnung as well.

I like what Charlie Rice said about the Amish in his writings. The Amish are an eminently practical people. Thus it stands to reason why would anyone challenge the church (meaning the body of believers and not church as institution) on something as impractical as a mustache. You can easily do without a mustache. Amish tend not to challenge the symbolic things of identity simply because it is not worth the fuss, in addition to the fact that identity is important.

A cell phone however is a different story. To some Amish business people a cell phone is an indispensable communication devise. And it follows that if parents and some business people have cell phones the youth will very certainly have them, and hence peer pressure increases exponentially.

This is an interesting example about the nature of Ordnung. It is not so much a set of arbitrary rules and regulations handed down from some authoritative council somewhere, rather it is a set of understandings about expected behavior that is refined and modified by an informal process of practical testing and subtle negotiation. It is a model for a way of life.

This all of course varies in different districts, settlements, and affiliations, and also different personalities produce various outcomes.

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    1. magdalena

      Funy about the mustache/beard controversy. My husband usually wears a beard, and wore a mustache with it for years. Later, he got rid of the mustache.Now, he has removed the beard as well, after this dry winter weather made the facial hair intolerable. We, though Plain, don’t have to follow on ordnung, but he was more comfortable with the “brethren” beard than the “hippie” one. The brethren beard has become something of a fad with the young men we know, although most of them are unmarried!

      That is an excellent definition of ordnung. Ordnung is a practical system of order for a practical people. How I wish the Anglican church was as open to amending their canons!

    2. sadie

      fabulous definition of ordnung!

    3. Sandy

      Is there anything else from the letter you can post? That was very interesting.

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    8. Alice Mary

      Ordnung defined

      That’s the best description (or, at least the most understandable to this “English” woman) of the Ordnung I’ve come across, and it definitely did strike me as a good “model” for a way of life. It’s just a little long to stitch into a sampler to hang on my wall, however, though it would be a good one to display!

      Alice Mary

    9. OldKat

      I wonder how a local Ordnung would be developed in a start up community when people are coming fron differing home comunities, with differing Ordnung(s)? Is there a core set of principles or practices that would be universal to all Old Order or all New Order communities and they build from there? Or do they have to sit down and start from scratch? Just curious.