Daily Reflection
January 26th, 2005
Barbara Dilly
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
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Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, bishops

2 Timothy 1:1-8
Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10
Mark 4:1-20

I suspect that not a lot of our readers are very familiar with Amish bishops.  I happen to know a few of them quite well through my field research in Northeast Iowa.  Over the last ten years that I have done anthropological research in Amish farming communities and studied Amish religious history, I’ve gained a lot of respect for the way they interpret the Scriptures.  They are quite literal in their interpretations and could even be considered fundamentalists.  Bishops don’t go to seminary.  They are chosen from their neighbors by drawing straws.  But despite their isolation from scholarly processes, I don’t think they are heretics. 

The Amish acknowledge that they “pick and choose” what they think is most important, just like the rest of us appear to them to do.  They take some texts more seriously that the rest of us sometimes take more lightly.  As I read the lessons for today, I thought of them.  How many of us try to worship the same way our ancestors did?  And how many of us try daily to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel as a testimony to our Lord without shame?  How many of us try to live a life that allows others to recognize religious truth?   Most of us just work on what is in our hearts and try not to wear our religion on our sleeves for fear we will be found out as imposters of authentic discipleship.  

The Amish are not afraid to distinguish themselves from the world as people who are sincere in their faith.  That does not mean that they try to pass themselves off as less sinful than their Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, and Presbyterian neighbors.  But they do take very seriously the depth of their roots in the word of God.  As their ancestors demonstrated in the 16th century, they don’t quickly fall away when “tribulation or persecution comes because of the word.”  And even if they are not being persecuted by political systems, they make sure they nourish the roots of their faith in community life by avoiding “worldly anxiety, the lure or riches, and the craving for other things that intrude and choke the word” and anything else that restricts them from bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  They keep their lives simple and they are not ashamed to work hard for what they need and to share it with others.  They seek to cultivate the spirit of love and self-control.  They live the way they live, not just as a sacrifice, but because their faith produces many blessings from the fruit it bears. 

The Amish dress distinctively and live in communities apart from “the world” and its temptations and anxieties so that they can not only more clearly hear the word of God, but sustain a way of life where it can be accepted and bear fruit.  The Amish are not concerned that their model of faith rarely converts anyone from the outside to join them.  Nor do they condemn the rest of us for the way we live.  But they do look at us and see all our riches and stresses and only a few of them see our lives as more desirable than theirs.  I’ve studied them long enough now to no longer wonder why they live the way they do.  In fact, I am learning to read the Bible through their eyes more and more and wonder why the rest of us don’t perceive the religious truths they have ears to hear. 


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