Today's Menu: Legalism with a side of tradition bondage

Well, now that I've got your attention...

Recently I did a google to locate a diagram or instructions on how the Amish/Mennonite folks set up their indoor drying lines for the winter. I know it's not rocket science, but I thought a visual (diagram or writing) might help. My dryer's been on the fritz so I'm planning on installing a laundry line or two, take some of the workload off the dryer. Of couse with the recent tragedy of the schoolhouse shooting in the Amish community, there were a lot of 'current event' type of articles to wade through before I could find some comprehensive Amish/Mennonite lifestyle articles.

I never did find what I was looking for, but what I did find was somewhat interesting. I think a lot of us "Englishers" (this is what they call us) are fascinated with the Amish lifestyle for no other reason than they seem to be the closest we'll ever come to seeing the results of a time-machine. Especially within the Old Order Amish/Mennonite communities, these are a people who have stopped the clock for the last 300 years or so. To be sure, their lifestyle is interesting especially if you compare it to the way most North Americans live, and waste massive amounts of time on absolutely pointless persuits and/or entertainments. While most all of the Old Order women are spending their days cooking, gardening or sewing - many of their English women counterparts are painting their toenails and watching Oprah. Okay, not all of us watch Oprah or paint our toenails but I think you get my point.

What was even more interesting to me were the reasons behind a lot of the lifestyle specifics of the Amish. Some of the most unusual reasoning goes into what they do:

- Clothing does not have buttons, because the Amish were persecuted by soldiers that wore bright, shiney buttons on their uniforms. Buttons represent that to them - so buttons are out.

- Underclothing is hand made, because store bought underclothing is snug fitting (especially with the elastic in it) and causes temptation.

- Most Amish do not have their pictures taken due to the graven image commandment given in Scripture.

- Some Amish communities still practice what is called "bed-courtship". The young man who is courting the girl will arrive at her house after the parents have gone to bed for the night and he will stay overnight in her bed. They believe this practice prevents the young couple from running around, and gives the parents the assurance of knowing where they are. (I am not making this up, I assure you).

- Part of the reason some Amish communities do not have church buildings, but hold church in the homes of the community members, is so that the entire community can keep an eye on the family and see that they're lifestyle is in accordance with the Church Ordnung (church order).

These are just some of the things that stuck out to me as I reading through Amish lifestyle sites. One of the sites I read was that of a man who grew up Amish, left several times and modernized, and finally left for good and spent the next many years fighting the legal system to get protection for his abused neices and nephews, within the Amish community.

It seemed obvious to me as I read, that while most Amish live that way because they prefer it, the ones that have the biggest problems with that lifestyle (and end up excommunicated, shunned and miserable within their Amish communities), are the ones that rebelled against the legalism of the lifestyle. Maybe a young man was caught with a radio. Or a young woman might have been discovered to be wearing undergarments with elastic in them. A boy might have his sleeves rolled up too high toward his elbows. A girl might get this fancy idea in her head that she wants to continue her education past the 8th grade. Any number of things like this would fall into the category of "sinning" and would be met with strict discipline within the Ordnung. While these things are indeed a "sin" within their own community, they are in fact not a sin against our Heavenly Father. They are man-made traditions that keep the people in bondage to a certain lifestyle, and strict adherence to the rules of the community out of fear of being physically disciplined (if a child) and publicly humiliated if an adult.

Like with any "ex" of any religion, they are the ones who have the most to say about such rules and orders, and why they left. In many cases, they didn't necessarily desire to leave their faith or belief in God, they just couldn't reconcile the forced lifestyle with who they understood God to be.

As I was reading and thinking about all of this, I thought of a lady I know of (through a friend) that is not Amish, but has the very same kind of legalistic pattern to her thinking. She is a professing Christian just like the Amish, but at the same time she is so caught up in the man-made traditions handed down to her by her own parents, and there is no joy in her Christian life. No joy in actually being a redeemed person, walking by faith, thankful for His grace. It's all about control, rules, power-struggles, etc.

I went through a little of this myself, early in my own Christian life. It's not a pretty place to be. It's also not what we're called to live like, when Jesus said take up your cross and follow me.

I don't really have any kind of stunning conclusion to this post. I just wish it weren't so easy to get caught up in legalism and bondage to man-made traditions that cloud our view of what it really means to live in Christ. It was an eye opener to read of these legalistic rules within the Amish communities, but it really made me think of us Englishers, and our own made up rules and guidelines that we tend to defend as if they were Scripture.

Maybe there's a lesson in here somewhere for all of us to take a closer look at our own traditions, and see how we're doing?

Have a lovely Monday.