Friday, November 10, 2006

Devil's Playground

I watched the documentary Devil's Playground yesterday. I'm sure all of you know what movie I'm talking about, but just in case you've forgotten, here is the premise. When Amish teens turns 16, they have the opportunity to be part of "english" culture: movies, cars, fashion, and lots of drinking, smoking, drugs and sex. At the end of this period, called Rumspringa, which can last any length of time, they can choose to commit to the Amish church and be baptized. Like church of Christers, the Amish don't consider you saved unless you've been baptized.

I did not know this about the Amish. Almost everyone they interviewed said that at the first party they went to at age 16, they got drunk. One of the main "characters" in the movie was an 18 year-old guy that used and dealt drugs. He knew he wanted to become Amish, but wasn't ready.

As I was watching the movie, I wondered what kind of retention rate the Amish church has now. I'm sure decades ago it was much harder to get a hold of the alcohol, cigarettes an drugs. Would the teenagers prefer that lifestyle and not want to give up their freedom or would more teenagers miss the simple life? Turns out the retention rate is 90%, the highest since the founding of the Amish church.

I also found out that the Amish church began when they split from the Christian churches in Europe because they didn't believe in baptizing infants. They thought being Amish should be a choice, thus the Rumspringa period.

They talked about being a chosen people, being the light of the world, being known by their good deeds, living a simple life to focus more attention on God's creation and each other. Those are things all Christians believe in or strive to achieve.

One of the girls that was joining the Amish regretted a lot of what she had done during Rumspringa. No one gave an opinion of whether they though Rumspringa was a good idea or not, probably because they don't question tradition. One guy did say he thinks they have this period so they can experience the outside world just enough to not be tempted later in life, and feel like they had a choice in how they lived their life. And once they are baptized into the Amish church, they are expected to adhere to all the rules, for lack of a better term. They didn't really address how many Amish stray, but it seemed like once they made the commitment, they were happy with their decision and maintained the Amish way of life.

The Amish situation is different because they are raised in isolated communities. The rest of us live in the world and are exposed to what the Amish only experience during Rumspringa all of our lives. For us it's a juggling act. Each person decides for themselves how much they can be in the world without being of the world. Do you watch R rated movies? Do you go listen to a band you like in a venue where everyone is drunk? Do you drink a glass of wine with dinner? Do you watch TV during dinner or sit around the table together with your family?

What do you think of this Rumspringa period? Do you think we would see less hypocrisy in our churches if everyone experienced the temptations of the world and then choose to give that up? Technically that's what we do, but I would guess the majority of people raised in the church didn't experience everything that was out there before they made the decision to give their life to Christ. Do you think you have to experience something to decide if it's something you want or not?

Before you think I'm having a crisis of faith, these are just the things the movie made me think about, so I thought I would put them out there for you to think about as well.


Alexis said...

I haven't seen this movie, although I am a little more familiar with the ways of the Amish than most that live in Texas. We aren't exposed to their culture much here. We see Mennonites but no Amish.

My parents, however, live next to a very large Amish community in a rural part of Michigan. You can always tell when you've entered the edges of their community; there are no electrical lines, and the likelihood of seeing a horses and buggies is increased. My parents have even hired the Amish to build a few structures on their property. They're hard workers and excellent craftsmen.

There is a lot of mixed feeling among the 'english' about the Amish, at least where my parents live. There are a lot of people in the village (yes, it's actually a village, because it's far too small to be a town.) who are very suspicious and mistrustful of the neighboring Amish. My parents do not harbor any of these feelings though ... as they've proven by hiring them.

Because of my parents association with their Amish hires, I've discovered things about them I had not previously known. For instance, I do not think I would ever feel comfortable referring to their way of life as simple. They shun most modern technology. It just makes them complicated in a different way.

But, I have also discovered strange ... contradictions, if you will, about their way of life. Yes, they avoid the use of electricity and indoor plumbing but they also have no qualms about using a gas-powered generator at their self-built, self-run bakery. It makes little to no sense to me. Also, while they will not own modern tools, it does not prevent them from using them. During the build for my folks, my father lent them the use of any and all of his tools that they would be comfortable using. Needless to say they used more than a hammer and hacksaw to do their tasks. They were entirely comfortable using the circular saw,cordless drill and countless other power tools.

I don't pretend to understand them.

I have quite a bit of respect for them, really. I think it's great that there is a community of people so strong, that when one member's house burns down, by the end of the next week, they will have a new home to call their own built by the hands of their family, friends, and congregation.

And maybe their way of life is best for them. It seems timeless enough. But rigidity in a constantly changing world might prove difficult to maintain without showing a few cracks here and there. Maybe that is the explanation for the use, but not own rule, and the strange gas powered generator at their bakery. It's possible they've found the need for a little flexibility around the edges to help them maintain their 'simple' way of life.

Elisa said...

Interesting topic.

I've visited a couple of Amish communities and have a lot of respect for people who are willing to be totally different in an effort to serve the Lord. I hope that I will be willing to take that kind of stand for what I believe is right even when it doesn't make sense to others.

I don't really like the idea of Rumspringa because sin is so enticing and it sounds very dangerous. We all have heard stories about people who take a certain drug just one time, but that one time is enough to create a life long addiction or desire for that feeling. That could be applied to heavy drinking or sex outside of marriage or whatever. And if we honestly think that sin hurts God and hurts other people, then it doesn't make sense to pursue that for a year. If the wages of sin is death, then it doesn't make sense to me to spend a year pursuing death. It seems like we all manage to do enough of that without even trying to.

The balance between living in the world but not being of the world is very hard, I think. Do you think it is getting harder? I don't know. I kind of think that the fact that Christianity is falling out of fashion, so to speak, means that those who do pursue lives of faith will have to be more sincere. Was it Leo Tolstoy who said that when everybody is a Christian then no one is a Christian?

Side note: Once we drove way out of the way to visit an Amish community with my parents. It took so long to find this place that I was dying to use the restroom when we got there (this was a store that was supposed to be where the Amish themselves shopped) so I went in to use the restroom and saw that they had Wal-Mart soap and other things in Wal-Mart sacks. I couldn't help but think, "Why am I shopping here if they buy everything at Wal-Mart?" :) All this kind of makes it sound like I don't like the Amish, but I actually do. Part of me longs for that kind of simple life, but like Alexis said there are some contradicitions.