Monday, November 15, 2004

Behold Ye The Amish

The Amish people live in seclusion, cut off in many ways from the rest of society. They live under close scrutiny and tight control. But when they turn 16, Amish teenagers are allowed the freedom to explore the outside "English" world -- including sex, drugs and rock-and-roll -- before deciding whether to join the Amish church for life or leave the community altogether.

I just finished watching a documentary called Devil's Playground. It's about a group of Amish teenagers who are going through this period called "rumspringa" -- when they must choose between the outside world and joining the Amish church.

I lived in Maryland for a couple of years and would often drive up to Lancaster County, PA. The Amish people I encountered there were friendly and easy-going. They make incredibly food -- most of it homegrown. Their arts and crafts are charming. I would find myself transfixed by their pace of life, work ethic and sense of community. But I always felt that something was wrong with being so totally out of step with the rest of the world.

Maybe part of me felt guilty -- like somehow that was what real Christians were supposed to do.

Devil's Playground is a documentary that focuses on several really wild teens. When I say "wild" and "Amish" in the same sentence...well, that can be kind of misleading. Trust me, these kids party like Vikings. It takes a while to get used to seeing chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Amish kids talking on cell phones and playing Nintendo with cans of Coors Lite in their hands.

Their German forefathers must have been spinning in their graves. Coors Lite? If you have to go through rumspringa, must you drink that swill?

Here's what I don't get: After all the running around is done, about 90% of the kids end up joining the Amish church and community. The highest retention rate in the history of their movement. It's like they get it out of their system or something. One person in the movie says it's like being inoculated.

I think their theology is unsound -- even unsafe at times -- but maybe the Evangelical community could learn something from them. Our dropout rate is 65-80%.