"Almost Amish" for the Rest of Us

Have you ever stopped to think, Maybe the Amish are onto something?

So asks the back cover of the new book, "Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life", by Nancy Sleeth.

"Almost Amish" is an interesting quick read about the lifestyle changes the Sleeth family made following a "spiritual and environmental conversion experience" several years ago. Nancy's husband, Matthew, chose to leave his career as an ER doctor, chief of staff, and director of emergency services, and he then wrote a book, which led to the start of their nonprofit organization, Blessed Earth; the family gave away half their possessions, moved to a smaller home the size of their former garage, and reduced their energy usage by two-thirds.

Explaining the simple, quiet life of the Amish, Sleeth suggests that Amish principles {related to each chapter's topics: Homes, Technology, Finances, Nature, Simplicity, Service, Security, Community, Families, Faith} are beneficial and important for the rest of us to adopt in order to downsize and simplify the typical American Dream lifestyle, "get back to basics", and lead a more focused and relational life.

It sounds good. Who doesn't want a more peaceful, less harried life {and maybe a little self-satisfaction because you're recycling}?

In this sense, I do think there is a lot of truth in "Almost Amish", and I agree at least to a point with many of the principles and suggestions on how to implement them. The focus of "Almost Amish" tends less toward "going green" and more toward the emotional and especially relational benefits of a simpler, slower life. And Sleeth includes not only "real life" examples but also helpful, practical thoughts and tips for simplifying, becoming more environmentally friendly, and building community.

For the most part, though, I wasn't overly intrigued or impressed by the content. To me, the concepts are primarily plain common sense, which is neither new nor inherently "Amish". So really, the Amish aren't "onto something", they just apparently uphold common sense principles in a time when good sense seems to be a rare find. Also, Sleeth fails to paint any different image of the Amish than the stereotypical glossy one, and this rosy, idyllic portrayal of Amish life tended to beg the question whether the author actually knew much about it, rather than convince me of its benefits. {I know the Amish aren't immune to the struggles and sin-issues that we "outsiders" face!} On another note, I found it tiring, and somewhat of a tone of holier-than-thou, to continually read throughout "Almost Amish" about the impressive Sleeth family, whether how seemingly perfect their two children are or how many times a week they invite people over for supper. Honestly, I consider their story ironic: how many families can still afford to "support local" by avoiding big-box stores after the husband leaves {or loses} his job? or pick up and move to within walking distance of campus when their two kids both enroll in college at the same time?

Reading through "Almost Amish", I found myself thinking, what about the rest of us—the normal, everyday families whose garages are smaller than any houses on the market?

After reading all the ways the Sleeths have drastically changed their lifestyle and how they advocate living differently, what can we take away from "Almost Amish" without feeling pressured into doing more than we can really handle or guilt-tripped into being someone we're not? There are several good truths, based more on my personal reaction to the book, that I find valuable to keep in mind.

First, comparison harms contentment. I have to remember that I'm not Nancy, and I'm not going to be able to change everything or do everything mentioned, and that's okay. My husband and I enjoy a simpler-than-most lifestyle already, and it's not right to feel guilty over not having the same ability to give away half of our stuff like the Sleeths. Comparing ourselves to people in different situations only prevents us from living contentedly with all that God has blessed us with.

On a similar note, downsizing doesn't have to be impressive to be beneficial. We should never discount the benefit of downsizing itself, and there are always areas that can be evaluated and then downsized. {I don't have a walk-in closet half the size of our bedroom, but I have a lot of clothes I rarely or never wear that could be part of a garage sale or donated.} Individually, we choose where we can step back and cut back; we should be willing to sacrifice, yes, but we should always be wise in which areas and how much we downsize.

Speaking of lifestyle, Christians should be at least lime green. I'm not a tree hugger; I believe God has no difficulty sustaining the earth we live on and don't think we need to be too desperate to "save the planet". On the other hand, we are to be good stewards of what God gives us and that includes His creation. I don't think Christians should ever be flippant about what God has made, which declares Him. Whether recycling or choosing not to use the dishwasher, we each should be aware of our footprint and consider ways to be "green", at least to some extent.

Earth aside, we should always be radical when it comes to relationships. It is invaluable to have others around us to share life together; primarily this means fellowship with other believers, but it also extends to non-believers we are in contact with and can befriend {and ultimately perhaps lead to Christ}. No matter what size house we have, how much stuff we own, or whether or not we recycle, we should be willing to be radical when it comes to others. This is one area of life where I think it's all right to sometimes "go wild" with giving money, even if we were saving up for a new mattress when we heard someone lost a job, or with time, even if we were headed out the door when someone dropped by and really needed a listening ear.

And hospitality is hospitality is hospitality. I admit feeling a bit envious reading about how often the Sleeths had guests over to their home during the week and on weekends. But there are two things I have to accept: I am not a socialite and money doesn't grow on trees. This is not to say hospitality, or generosity, is not important, because it is; it just looks different for everyone, and it doesn't matter whether it's two or twenty people, every week or once a month, or for dessert in the evening or a full meal. Personally, this is one area that I don't naturally excel at, so I'm taking the hint to get some invites going, choosing to keep my focus on the people not the party.

At the end of it all? Really, the only standard is Christ. The Amish life isn't the ideal. The Sleeths' balance between typical American and Amish lifestyles isn't the answer. And, when all is said and done, it's not about how calm and peaceful we can make our lives, it's about Christ. He is the standard, and He didn't live a quiet, careful life; Jesus got down and dirty with the least of us, never compromised even if it meant "making a scene" on the Sabbath or in the temple, and always kept the focus on the Father regardless of what kind of life that meant. Because He is Life. And He gives us life that we may glorify Him in all circumstances, and that is at the heart of it all.

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