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The Real Complexities of the Simple Life

The Real Complexities of the Simple Life


Nov 4 2013
Amid romanticized portrayals of Anabaptists, 'Blush' doesn’t skip over the tradition’s true convictions.

Stopping in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was a religious pilgrimage of sorts for me, with its lush farmland, horse and buggies, and large Amish population connecting me to my deep Mennonite roots. (For my husband and children, members of an evangelical Friends church, the adventure was a lark, one they entertained out of kindness more than curiosity.)

Our tour was cut short by a billboard promising Amish pretzels and root beer, served up alongside a souvenir shop filled with Amish kitsch: quilts, cookbooks, toys, and decor. It was the carved wooden signs that caught my attention, their patriotic slogans on flag-themed backgrounds, reminders to pray for our troops and assurances that God blesses America, a clear indication that they could not be authentically Amish.

Although Anabaptists—a religious movement to which Mennonites and Amish belong—have existed since the 16th century, they are a hot commodity in contemporary culture, and even more so among evangelicals.

As Angie Ryg acknowledges in her discussion of Amish romance novels, evangelicals constitute a ready (and large) market for Amish-themed products, drawn to the "plain" lifestyle, the Amish dedication to their faith, and the sense that the Amish view of family fulfills a biblical model about which the rest of us can only dream.

I've long found this idealizing of plain people—in essence, of my people—troubling, if only because Amish products tend to ignore those beliefs that have been central to Anabaptism, and crucial to my own faith, but held uncomfortably, if at all, by evangelicals.

Case in point: those who see no dissonance in a patriotic slogan like God Bless America deemed "authentically Amish." Ever since Anabaptist literature developed a significant evangelical following, I've hoped for an antidote: a text that might interest evangelicals while also expressing the beliefs that have shaped my understanding of Jesus and his ministry. In other words, something truly authentic.

I was thrilled to read Shirley Showalter's recently published memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets The Glittering World, about her childhood in Lancaster County. Rather than sugarcoating her upbringing for evangelical audiences, keeping at a safe distance those tenets at the core of Anabaptist thought, Showalter offers an unalloyed view of Anabaptism's deeply held convictions and the ways they shaped her life.

Blush traces Showalter's coming of age as a conservative Mennonite; a child of the '50s and early '60s, Showalter remains grounded in a home and church steeped in Mennonite thought and practice. Her memoir explores the tensions between being in what she calls the "glittering world" and hewing to her Mennonite faith and the traditions that nurtured and raised her.

Related Topics:Amish; Anabaptists; Mennonites

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The Real Complexities of the Simple Life