An Amish Way

In 1911, perhaps still hung over from the fumes of the Industrial Revolution or simply doubling down, Frederick Wilson Taylor penned The Principles of Scientific Management. "In the past, man has been first," Taylor said, "in the future the system must be first." Frederick believed that the system made the person, not a person the system.

I'll leave it to you to decide what you think of Frederick's assertion. I'll only say that there's no system I've found that can make my boys embrace their manhood or that can fuel tender love in my heart for my wife. No efficiency regimen I know of tells a friend "happy birthday, I'm glad you were born." The General System is not going to shut down sex trafficking in Bangladesh or Atlanta. Each of these requires a woman or man with heart and soul, a person of courage and character.

Contrast Frederick's musings with the recent PBS documentary on the Amish. Watching this piece carried me back to my childhood when we'd travel once or twice a year to Nappanee, Indiana, to have work done on our portable house. We lived in a forty-foot travel trailer, and the factory was in Amish country. We'd visit Amish Acres and stuff ourselves with family-style old world food. Amish Acres is not an actual Amish business, but rather, something like the Disneyland of Amish culture (an irony beyond measure). Still, we enjoyed it, as well as the Mennonite donut shop. I mainly loved all the black buggies and the posts for tying up the horses around town. To a kid who always imagined himself smack in the middle of a Western movie, it didn't get much better.

It would be a mistake to think of the Amish as simply Luddites who idyllically resist modern advancements. Rather, the Amish have made many of their lifestyle choices because of their guiding commitment to being a people who live in community. When grappling with cultural change and new technology, they wrangle with this question: how will this adaptation impact our community? They don't allow phones in their homes – not because they believe Satan arrives via electrical wires but because they believe that once they get accustomed to calling their neighbors on a device from their kitchen, they'll eventually stop dropping by to see their neighbor for a chat in the kitchen. If they need to talk to their friend, they have this odd hunch that it's best done face-to-face.

Amish don't use mammoth, gas-powered farm equipment because they want to depend on their neighbors, not a machine, come harvest time. The Amish don't own cars – not because they believe that hell arrives on wheels (they can ride in a car, they just can't own one) but because they believe that once their life conforms to traveling distances further than a buggy can carry them, they'll begin to work in far-flung towns. Eventually their family and communities will scatter. As one Amish man said, "If you want to love God — and live simply and close to the land — and if you want to live within 20 miles of your family your whole life, being Amish is a good way to do that."

I'm obviously not Amish. I couldn't be. It's not my life or story, not to mention the embarrassing fact that I'm completely incapable of growing facial hair for something as amazing as those Amish beards. But I admire the Amish. I admire their rooted sense of life and land and place. And I think Frederick Wilson Taylor was a doofus. 


3 Replies to “An Amish Way”

  1. These are good words, Winn…ya know, maybe those Amish families were able to forgive so quickly a few years ago because they were so much closer to the source of forgiveness…we, on the other hand, have so much detritus to wade through that forgiveness or mercy or even grace takes years if not a lifetime to find, much less offer.

    And thanks for the bday call…it wasn’t efficient, therefore it was holy.

    1. I think you’re right, John. And thanks for noticing the inefficiency. I try to follow that path as often as possible.

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