I wanted to point out a book written by Suzanne Woods Fisher called Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World, just released last month. I liked a couple of things about this book in particular.
Suzanne has a real gift for writing, and my blurb on the back cover, that she “plants the reader inside Amish living rooms, barns, kitchens, and schoolhouses” I wouldn’t change on giving the book another look now some months later. Suzanne mixes dialogue and description which makes her vignettes of Amish life read in a quick and entertaining manner.
Also, Suzanne did her homework, researching, spending time in Amish communities, and interviewing a variety of sources, both Amish and non-Amish, and it shows.
For example, in a section extolling the virtues of limits, Suzanne offers this amusing bit:
“Few Amish farms have more than eighty tillable acres. They traditionally maintain a scale of farming that enables each farm to be worked by a family. The use of horses to do field work automatically limits the expansion and size of farms. Even still, during harvest times, with all hands on deck, family labor is not enough. Help from the neighbors is required. “One year,” says Ray, “we had more third-cutting hay than we needed, so we made a deal with a neighbor who needed more hay. He got the extra hay and in turn he let us borrow his bull to, ahem…” Ray turns a shade of plum. “To visit with a few lady cows.” Farming, old-fashioned style.
From the size of their farms to the size of their churches, staying small suits the Amish. Each church district is kept to roughly twenty to thirty families. It’s a size that accommodates everyone in one house but is still small enough for everyone to know each other’s names. When a district grows too large, it will split and form another.”
Norman Erb, an Old Order Amish bishop, is a bear of a man with a thundering voice, sparkling black eyes, a grey-flecked beard, and rather longish hair for an Amish man. The image of Moses springs to mind: perched on the top of Mount Sinai, staff in one hand, stone tablets in another.
Like Moses, Norman often feels the need to remind his church members to take God’s commandments seriously. Norman is particularly sensitive to careless words getting tossed around. “Folks don’t take their words seriously enough,” Norman explains, leaning back in his chair. “Book of Proverbs says, ‘In the multitude of words there wanteth not a sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.'” Wagging a finger in the air for emphasis, he adds, “Words are serious things!”
Norman likes to use stories to make an impact on church members. One of his favorites, he says, is to hit people with this old yarn:
A deacon had to make a visit to a woman in his district who was known for her gossip. So he handed her a bag of feathers and told her to drop a few on the kitchen door of everyone in our church. So she did. Then she brought back the empty bag and handed it to the deacon. The deacon told her, “Now go and get all the feathers collected again.”
“What? How can I possibly do that?” she asked. “The wind has blown those feathers every which way!”
“That’s very true,” the deacon said. “And the very same thing has happened with your words.”…
Amish Peace itself is split into five sections-on Simplicity, Time, Community, Forgiveness, and the Sovereignty of God. The book consists of two-to-three page segments followed by short reflections covering take-away ideas based on the Amish examples described.
Books that draw lessons from Amish life can be tricky in that they rely on the example of a people living within a unique socio-religious system quite unlike the modern experience, thus rendering some ideas difficult or impossible to implement. However, I feel the lessons Suzanne draws are measured and reasonable.
A few suggestions she makes include the idea of doing an occasional manual task or taking a moment for slow-paced leisure, to gain an appreciation for time. Suzanne prescribes practicing the art of face-to-face visits instead of Facebook in the section on Community.
Amish Peace is a quick and enjoyable read, and also quite informative on Amish life.