“What I Learned from the Amish with Donald Kraybill”: Community

“This is not a sales pitch for the Amish team, but an invite to tap some of their communal wisdom.”

I’m happy to share that Donald Kraybill has a new book coming out soon, called What The Amish Teach Us: Plain Living in a Busy World. It’s a bit different in its approach than his many previous books on the Amish:

It sounds audacious, but it’s true: the Amish have much to teach us. It may seem surreal to turn to one of America’s most traditional groups for lessons about living in a hyper-tech world—especially a horse-driving people who resist “progress” by snubbing cars, public grid power, and high school education. Still, their wisdom confirms that even when they seem so far behind, they’re out ahead of the rest of us.

Having spent four decades researching Amish communities, Donald B. Kraybill is in a unique position to share important lessons from these fascinating Plain people. In this inspiring book, we learn intriguing truths about community, family, education, faith, forgiveness, aging, and death from real Amish men and women. The Amish are ahead of us, for example, in relying on apprenticeship education. They have also out-Ubered Uber for nearly a century, hiring cars owned and operated by their neighbors. Kraybill also explains how the Amish function in modern society by rejecting new developments that harm their community, accepting those that enhance it, and adapting others to fit their values.

Pairing storytelling with informative and reflective passages, these twenty-two essays offer a critique of modern culture that is provocative yet practical. In a time when civil discourse is raw and coarse and our social fabric seems torn asunder, What the Amish Teach Us uproots our assumptions about progress and prods us to question why we do what we do.

In a series of podcast episodes paired with the book, he discusses different aspects of Amish life. The first episode of “What I Learned from the Amish with Donald Kraybill”, is on community, and it includes a conversation with Amish friend Ben. There will be nine episodes. Here’s the “Community” episode description:

Professor Kraybill explains how the horse-driving Amish, can teach the rest of us in a me-first world a lot about community. An Amish man describes the pros and cons of his Amish community. This is not a sales pitch for the Amish team, but an invite to tap some of their communal wisdom.

And a snippet from the episode:

“So, no matter how many troubles beset an Amish family, their church-community takes care of them to the end of life. It’s sort of like our modern, continuing care communities for retirees. Think about that. When young Amish adults get baptized and join the church, they are covered by their “continuing care community” for the rest of their lives without paying a dime for an entrance fee. That’s a pretty good deal in my book. Sometimes we might think that we can make it on our own, we might think that we’re smart enough to figure out everything by ourselves, and think that we have the stamina to go it alone. Going it alone has its freedoms, but they get stale after a while; they wither over time, and too often, loneliness waits at the end of the road. The Amish have taught me, that personal well-being, requires a proverbial village. We all need a village of one sort or another.”

You can listen to the full episode here, as well as at Spotify, Amazon Music, and Apple Podcasts.

We’ll be sharing several more of the upcoming episodes, and having a Q-and-A with the author in the coming weeks. What The Amish Teach Us is scheduled for release October 26th.

Donald B. Kraybill is professor of sociology emeritus at Elizabethtown College and senior fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. An internationally recognized scholar, he has published many books and professional essays on the Amish and other Anabaptist communities in North America. His most recent book, What The Amish Teach Us is available from Johns Hopkins University Press and Amazon.

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    1. David Stear

      Another example

      I have read that the average wedding in the United States can cost upwards of $30,000 which is absolute insanity. I have also read that Amish weddings are very low cost yet manage to feed as many as several hundred people as they prepare their own food from their own resources, often roast chicken with mashed potatoes plus all the desserts which includes pie, cake,doughnuts and/or cookies among other things. The Amish woman makes her own wedding dress which will also be used for wearing on Sundays when there is church and the Amish man might wear a suit handed down through several generations. Can anyone imagine non-Amish Americans having a sensible wedding like that?

      1. I’m kind of replying in reverse order here but good point on the wedding cost David, I was thinking along similar lines. Yes I think you are going to get a lot more bang for your buck (in significant part by tapping into that community, of course) and also the Amish definition of over-the-top is a lot different than the English one.

    2. Sunflower

      Donald Kraybill

      Looking forward to this very much! Thanks for telling us about it Erik. The Amish way of putting on a wedding seems so much better than what most people have been doing. Even though it’s still a lot of work (all that cooking) it’s like the wedding/reception is a gift from the whole community to the newly married couple. And they don’t start out their lives together in debt.

      1. Gladly, I am happy to share this. I know both of the people in this podcast and there is a lot of good info and wisdom to share there. Well said on the Amish wedding. They are also big affairs, but I think not over the top in the ways some/many English events are. There is a multi-multi-billion-dollar industry built up around English weddings and I’m not sure they’re delivering nearly that much value.

    3. Larry Clarence Lewis

      Kratbill : Community

      Dear Erik, Thank you very much for bringing this publication, What the Amish Teach Us, by Donald Kraybill,to our attention. You are always on top of these publications and give us notification. I very much look forward to reading it. Given its author, I know it will not only be very good but also very timely. I might add that Rod Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option, although never explicit, points strongly to the wisdom of the whole way of life Amish for our time. Christians across the board have many lessons to learn from the Amish, not least to emulate how well they hand on the Faith to each generation. No Christian denomination comes close to the Amish’s ability to hand on the Faith intact. It is for this reason I look forward to reading Donald Kraybill’s upcoming book. Thanks, again, Erik, for bringing it to our attention.
      Sincerely, Larry Clarence Lewis, Ontario, Canada.

      1. Gladly, Larry! And I’m happy to mention there will be another publication announced here tomorrow – the latest issue of JPAC (Journal of Plain Anabaptist Communities) is coming out.

        I am looking forward to reading Don’s book myself. Thanks for mentioning the Dreher book as well I have heard of it but have not had a chance to look at it yet.

    4. Romain S.

      In France also?

      Will the book also be released in France?
      Very interesting!
      Erik, check your mailbox, I had sent you several unanswered messages some time ago.