Plain pessimism in Indiana

Lance shared a link to an interesting video on the Indiana Amish post this week.  It’s an unusual look at a nominally Amish family in Indiana.

It’s a bit confusing what’s going on, but this seems to be a born-again Christian family in transition away from an Amish lifestyle.  The father, Elam Graber, is described as Old Order Amish and is certainly not camera-shy.  He’s got a garage full of Amish carriages, but his preferred choice of horse-drawn transport is…let’s just say unorthodox.

“Plain life, simple life, is just about not possible anymore,” says Elam.  The culprit, according to Elam, is high land prices forcing families off the farm.

I don’t think I’d be so skeptical.  For decades now Amish have successfully run businesses and even worked in non-Amish factories while remaining Amish and keeping most of their children in the faith.

It’s interesting to see all the attention paid to threats to the Amish lifestyle, much of it centered on technology (ie, the Amish and Facebook).  I can understand the fascination over Amish involvement with technology.  It strikes at the stereotype of the Amish as technophobes.

But Amish society is not a static thing; even the plainest groups experience change.

Amish do have rightful concerns over the effects innovations can bring.  But perhaps a greater threat than that is prosperity.  Love of money, materialism, a “classed” society…Amish society remains in flux, and Amish worry over the changes wealth may create in their communities.

Here’s the video (now unavailable).  Curious to hear your impressions.  And enjoy the yodel:

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    1. Lindsay

      Loved the yodeling! I too was struck by the pessimism…it seems like if the lands gets to expensive the Amish today search out places where the land is more reasonable. However, I think the key was him saying how the only thing his family would buy was sugar and even then they would barter for it…it’s near impossible to not have to buy certain things anymore.

    2. I was surprised to see the light-colored horse with the white mane. I thought all buggy horses had to be black or brown. But then, that wasn’t exactly a traditional buggy either!

    3. Alice Aber

      I think this is the exception


      I think if this is indeed an accurate portrat of the family it is the exception rather than the popular belief. As Linsay stated many Amish are relocated for better and cheaper land prices. I would think that if this family truly wanted to remain Amish and have a bigger farm they would do like many others and search out something they can afford. Amish to me have not had much problems adjusting to work outside their farms and still remain true to their faiths and beliefs. I do not think this is a complete and fair portayal of Amish in general but of one family.

      I liked the yodeling too and the harmonizing on the old hymn “I’ll fly away”.

      Blessings, Alice

    4. A. E. Beckham

      I think doing farm work in a suit and tie stands out more than anything else!

    5. Faith and Affluence

      It’s too long for my limited broadband – In general, people who become dissatisfied with the Plain life usually are influenced to want more than they have. We, my husband and I, live a life that is very simple, although we obviously have technology of the modern sort, and drive an old truck rather than a buggy. We got here by rejecting the affluent lifstyle. If indeed as you suggest the family has left an Anabaptist/Mennonite based faith and moved into a Calvinist, born-again philosophy, they will start to think differently about the things of this world.There is a strain of Calvinism that encourages enjoyment of prosperity as an indication of God’s blessings. They are still heaven-bound, they believe, but they also believe that deprivation in this world is the direct result of personal sin. I’d say putting on the suit and tie is a very deliberate attempt to move away from the strictures of gelassenheit and to express personal tastes and independence.I don’t think we can separate being Amish from the Mennonite-based life of faith.

    6. OldKat

      Surprised ...

      I had watched it the other day and the surprising thing that jumped out at me then was the negativity of the central character. This seemed somewhat out of the norm for the Amish that I have dealt with, as admittedly limited as that number is. I don’t know, perhaps he has been listening to too much John Mellencamp; with or without the “Cougar”. I understand what he is saying about land prices; only a handful of the guys that I went to high school with were able to go into farming because the price of land was too high & it looks like only one of them will farm all the way to retirement…if regulatory pressures don’t do him in first. There is virtually no way his children will follow in his footsteps, at least without relocating to another part of the country or even another country. Obviously the Amish have figured this out, too though.

      It seems to me that he is equating the “lifestyle” aspects of being Amish as being essential as much as or more than the matters of faith. I think it is pretty telling that only one of his 6 children has elected to join the Amish church. Reading between the lines tells me that something else is at work here. He is bound to know that all sorts of Amish, in many differing locales hold on to their faith and culture while engaging in various occupations outside of pure farming.

      Other impressions that caught by eye and ear;

      1)79 horses! That is a darn lot of horses, way more than most anyone that is farming with horses would generally need. I suspect that he is also a horse trader.
      2) The yodeling was funny. Would the fact that they yodel mean that this family was descended from “Swiss” Amish?
      3) Did you notice what the young man was doing when he was attempting to get the buggy horse to yodel? He was scratching fairly vigorously around the withers or somewhere around the base of the neck. He probably noticed that when he scratched there he got a reaction; lips parted, maybe teeth opening and closing so he just added the yodeling to what was already happening. I have a mare that will part her lips and put her nose right to my face if I scratch under her chin. It looks like she is trying to kiss me. So when we have company I will scratch her chin and when she starts to stretch her neck I say “Rachel, you didn’t give me a kiss today”. Of course (usually) she puts her muzzle to my face & I get a “kiss”. Kind of corny, but the little kids always like it.
      4)The harmony on “I’ll Fly Away” was really, really good.

    7. Alice Mary

      Where there's a will...

      The same thing “stood out” to me as it did A.E.Beckham—the suit & tie. Is that reporter required to dress that way for all stories he reports on, or was it specifically meant to illustrate differences between the “English” (literally English, it seems)and Amish? It just looked ludicrous—I don’t care where a farm is, who wears a suit & tie to pitch hay?

      Judging by the horses kicking, working with that many would seem to be a dangerous occupation (maybe that’s a reason why only one child remains Amish?).

      I do agree that “if there’s a will, there’s a way” (staying “plain”). I’d be interested to know the other family dynamics going on here, too.

      Very interesting, and my thanks to Lance & Erik for the post & clip.

      Alice Mary

    8. Al in Ky.

      According to Youtube, this video is from July 16, 2009. It would
      be interesting to see a video of this family almost two years later. If the family is really Old Order Amish as the narrator
      introduced them,I would think by now their church district’s
      ministry has visited them to discuss their not keeping the
      ordnung. So, by now I’d think either they have repented
      and changed some of their ways (like not using such a fancy
      buggy) or have been excommunicated.
      It seems like there continues to be much misinformation about
      the Amish being distributed through various types of media. Thanks
      for keeping us informed of what our larger society is being given.
      And thanks for keeping this blog alive where good education
      about the Amish is being done.

    9. Lindsay

      I was confused too, whether they are truly Old Order Swiss Amish or not…they yodeled, the name according the this website is Swiss Amish surname, but their buggy looked like the Cadillac of buggies lol.

    10. Ed

      Kind of sad, but then...

      I’m not in a position to watch this video, but I’ve watched a few others about people leaving the Amish church, and they kind of strike me as sad. People lose the community of the church they are have beeen in life and pick up some rather unusual theologies that seem rather uninspired or just weird by comparison.

      However, who am I to talk. I’m not going through what they are. A lot of people I know have gone through rather extreme changes in their religious outlook over a lifetime, such as from atheism to born again Christianity to something else. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

      That said, there are many elements of Amish theology that strike me as very unique and inspired within Christianity. Such as the non-proselytization. The lack of pride. Expressing a “living hope” for salvation rather than a proclaiming a guarantee. The focus on non-violence and honesty. I feel that other denominations have much to learn from the Amish, more than the Amish could gain from them. I can’t help but feel those who leave the Amish for a non-Plain denomination are making a bad trade.

      Finally, as interesting as this kind of life-story video might be, it is not where I’d go to learn about the Amish. No more than I’d expect a conversation with an ex-Roman Catholic to teach me about Catholicism or a fundamentalist Christian to teach me about the finer points of Buddhism.

      So…to conclude, I’ll just say — I hope the folks in the video find whatever it is they are looking for.

    11. Kristi J

      Not just the Amish

      Land prices are painful all around. I would imagine “english” farmers are seeing the same problems. Even if you inherit your land rather than purchase it there is still the taxman to deal with and he comes around every year whether it has been a good harvest or not.

    12. Christina

      That certainly was an interesting video. I’m guessing they are from a Swiss Amish community because of the yodeling. Something else I found interesting, the father Elam did not seem to have an accent. He sounded like an everyday plain old American English speaker to me. All of the Amish I’ve heard speak have had a different kind of lilt in their speaking. Did anybody else pick up on this?

      Oh yeah, the host wearing the suit and tie while doing chores cracked me up! So proper!

    13. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Yeah, the reporter really was a fish out of water. He should have gone all John Book on their ploughs. The best part with him was when the woman jumped to help out when the tumble happened.
      I am no expert, but I believe that the plain lifestyle will continue, and the farming lifestyle will remain, I think that the father’s concern is more for his family and less for the community.
      In my family the farm was something that they did to survive, because my ancestors knew it, and it could sustain them, from what I’ve been told, they grew or raised all most all of their foodstuff, or if it wasn’t available on their farm, they went to someone who did, and only went to the store on the odd occasion to by this or that, or a part. My uncle owns a farm now, but its more of a play resort for him and the grandchildren. I should have gone tubing down the river when I was there, that did look awesome.

    14. Sara

      Been a while...

      Since this was posted but noticing the veils the girls wore, the harmonising in the song, the way the boys dressed, I wonder if this is a mostly Charity-church attending family’s attempt at converting possible Amish who might see this to their denomination by highlighting all the negatives of Amish life. I’ve noticed this in the media lately, where Charity fellowship members represent themselves to the media as Amish. Since I know they do missionary work to convert Amish to their churches, I wonder if this was an early example. I could be wrong about the entire thing though of course! The repeated emphasis on Amish life as “a LIFESTYLE” has me wondering, too.