Our most interesting adventure during our stay was to Ethridge, TN and visit a community of Amish. The Amish are a faction of Mennonites who, for reasons of faith, reject modern technology. Valuing humility, they travel by horse and buggy rather than automobiles and wear modest clothes of a 19th century style. While I love the exploration of different cultures, I always feel a bit strange being a tourist of people; gawking at other human beings simply because live differently than I do. My fears calmed a little, though, as their children also stared at us in open curiosity. I supposed we were novelties too. I can live with that.
On our visit we rode in a horse drawn wagon, though the business was run by the “English” (non-Amish). The inhabitants of the farming community were Old Order Amish who didn’t run businesses per se, though they happily interacted with us outsiders visiting their farms. As our wagon would stop at one farmhouse after another, family members would sell us jams and candies, canned vegetables and woodworked crafts and furniture.
We bought raspberry and huckleberry jelly, more chocolate candy than was good for us, and a wooden yo-yo and top for the kids. We took in the serene beauty of the farm life, though the hard work involved in daily routines was clear. For all their simplicity, the Amish make their lives look lovely. Their crisp white houses, and their carefully constructed barns housing well-cared-for animals speak of a life of dedication.
I don’t know if I could be Amish, but I think too many of us brush off such a possibility too easily. With a roll of the eyes, we disdain the commitment that makes such a life not only possible, but even a good idea. By contrast, I think of how difficult we find commitment today, especially to religious practices. We attend church when our work or our children’s sports schedules permit. We give things up for Lent, but mostly feast on every good thing the rest of the year. We work our faith in and among our other things to do. Though we may name it among our top priorities, our faith can be the grudging recipient of our most precious commodity: our time.
We act this way, because we know we can. We can push our faith practices to the back of the line because we know we will be forgiven. We can miss worship because we know services will still be going on when we return. We know that God will hear our prayers whether it has been an hour or a year since we last gave them our attention. Here we find the irony of grace. Grace makes it possible for us to be lax.
Sure, there is nothing magical about worshiping at the 11:00 hour on Sunday morning. True, God doesn’t require of us a certain amount of scripture reading every day, or an exact number of minutes spent in prayer or service. But all too easily, the practice of our faith becomes like a gym membership which, by itself, won’t make us lose weight or become one iota healthier. Faith is a lot like exercise. The only penalty for non-participation is self-imposed.
A problem we face in our modern culture is that we are told by a thousand different sources that we really can have it all. Then the things which aren’t directly measured are often the things that lose out; family loses out to work, faith community to recreation. It is to our disadvantage that there is no tally kept. No book – at least no visible one – where it is all written down so that we can see how we are doing. The total is only fully known when it is well past changing.
To what are we really committed? We shift our schedules all the time to accommodate our shifting priorities, but what in our lives is so important we are willing to sacrifice? We may not surrender electricity or modern convenience, but what will we give up in order to gain something greater? If our Creator isn’t very high on that list, then why on earth not?
Let’s change things. Let’s knowingly choose what matters and commit to that. You may not have to give up your mobile phone or driving in cars. But you might choose to close the laptop and turn off the Blackberry every once in a while. Cook a meal for your family or friends, or worship in a sanctuary on a day you would rather sleep in. Like exercising, you will find that the effort is worth it.
Wanda’s Grilled Beef Steak with Sauteed Onions
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 large onion (about 2 cups)2 pounds beef sirloin, strip or rib steak, cut into 8 pieces
1 jar (16 oz) Pace Roasted Pepper & Garlic Salsa
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender. Remove onions and keep warm. Heat remaining oil in same skillet. Add beef and cook until browned on both sides. Add salsa. – Wanda Barnes