Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Amish Fiction

I've discovered that I feel a sense of concern about the budding genre of Christian fiction that I would call "Amish Fiction".  You see, I live near Pennsylvania where the majority of Amish live in the United States.  I had a friend who was a Christian while we lived in Pennsylvania whose family was Mennonite.  I remember her sharing with me how her family ostracized her when she married a man who was a Christian, but not a Mennonite.  

The Mennonites, Bretheren, and Amish are all Anabaptists.  If you saw a family tree of Protestant Christianity, there would be five branches:
1. Orthodox  Greek and Russian Orthodox churches 
2. Anabaptists - Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren 
3. Lutheran 
4. Anglican - Most denominations trace their roots to this branch: Baptists, Methodists, 
        Pentecostals, Episcopal, etc. 
5. Reformed - Reformed Church in America, Presbyterians

Interestingly, when I looked for a family tree online, the Anabaptists were placed in several different places in the Protestant line.  On one they were even listed as reformed from which they are significantly different.

Most people don't realize that the Anabaptists have some beliefs that are very different than other protestant denominations.  I think the recent rise in Amish fiction idealizes their "simple" lifestyle.  What they believe is also very shrouded behind closed doors, so to speak.  Both Amish and "English" alike make a living from their chosen lifestyle. 

Why would this concern me?  When Eve was in the garden, she fell for the Serpent's twist that she would be wiser if she ate of the forbidden fruit.  You see, the saying that "the grass is always greener on the other side" is as old as time.  It stems from the fall. 

When we portray a culture as being the perfect life, it encourages in our own hearts a discontent with the life we live and what is before us.  I believe that we, and I mean I, have to be careful about what I ponder and set before my head and heart. 

In an attempt to dispel my idea that Christian Amish fiction generally idealizes Amish culture, I chose to read The Search by Suzanne Woods Fisher.  Ms. Fisher lives in California and hosts a radio show called Amish Wisdom.  She has written several other Amish novels. 

Here's the storyline:  Bess' grandmother tricks her son into sending her granddaughter to stay with her for the summer by claiming she needs help on her farm while she's recovering from a medical procedure.  Lainey's car breaks down in Stoney Ridge and she gets a job at a local bakery frequented by Amish and "English" alike.  The two are connected and their families are intertwined which is what the plot of the story is all about.

Writing:  The writing is fine. The story is well told and easy to picture except for the glitches I mention under the plot.

Plot:  The plot is more the interweaving of the characters and how they're really connected to one another.  But, there are several inconsistencies and one oddity.  The story is actually set in 1971, though you don't know that until 3/4 of the way through the book.  I live near the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area where the story is set and the story could have been set in modern day.  It was disconcerting to realize this so far into the book.  The inconsistencies are in how the Amish culture is potrayed.  Amish people don't associate with "English".  For Bertha, Bess' grandmother, to have taken Lainey under her wing as a child is not plausible.  The forgiveness in the Amish sect is also in contrast to what they believe, I've read, about the New Testament.  The forgiveness they have for others outside their community has received much attention last year due to the heartbreaking killing at an Amish school in that area.  But, they hold themselves to a very high standard.  It is believed that when we are dead to sin, then we should sin no more--that it is possible to live a perfectly righteous life here on earth and that is what we are to pursue.  The simple life is to prevent them from feeling vanity and pride.  Individualism is discouraged. 

Scripturally, God created us all the way He did.  If he had wanted us to all be carbon copies of one another, then he would have made us that way.  Isn't that logical? 

Unfortunately, this book completely idealizes Amish culture.  An "English" person even becomes Amish.  I don't believe that life in the Amish culture is quite as it is presented in this book.  I know it is fictional, but when you set a fictional book in a real setting, the story and characters need to be consistent or else the reader will realize it isn't quite real after all and awaken from the dream.  I know that we do read books to escape life and enjoy an imaginary story.  It is one of the biggest reasons we read.  I think my concern is not simply with this book, but the idealization that this book represents to me.  I don't know about you, but I struggle so often with the thought of the grass being greener and it can feed a feeling of jealousy and a longing for something other than my life is and that isn't God's best for me--to feel that way.  

I was reading a verse from the Message yesterday as we rearranged our house and it said something about being exactly where God wants you to be.  It's so easy to chafe against that and yet we are to find contentment in what God has for us.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Revell Publishing.

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