With the growing season underway, we've been stepping up our Amishing around the neighborhood, buying onions and strawberries and other delicacies from their local roadside stands.
One day I decided to give back, just a little. I planted dozens of tomato seeds this winter, with seedling mortality in mind -- but all of them flourished, and I wound up with many more than what I needed. So when we went on our weekly round of the farms, we stopped at a couple of the visibly poorer farms and asked the ladies of the house if they'd mind taking our extra tomato plants.
The reaction was interesting. "What do you want for them?" both women immediately asked, frowning.
I explained our predicament. "We don't want anything," I said. "You're doing us a favor. And we're thanking you for all the good food we get here."
That broke the air of formality in both households, and we had some enjoyable discussions about tomato husbandry and farming in general. The women seemed a little surprised, and approving, that I'd started the plants from seed, and wanted to know if they were heirlooms or hybrids. (I always feel woefully incompetent in survival skills when I deal with the Amish, so it was frankly satisfying to show off my modestly green thumb.)
Afterward FT noted, "I wonder why we get more out of our relationships with our Amish neighbors than the 'English' ones."
We live in a community where people with life competency of any kind are in short supply -- long gone, thanks to Michigan's protracted economic doldrums -- so our 'English' neighbors tend to be, as our friends in social services say, lacking in coping mechanisms and a support network...fancy talk for My Big Fucked-Up Redneck Life. And, ironically, as gay folks, even though we know we'd not be accepted in Amish society, we also seem to have a common set of detractors and harassers -- fundamentalists and good ol' boys, both groups possessing a dangerous mixture of ignorance, inferiority complex, entitlement mentality and xenophobia. When we see a group of 20-somethings in a pickup truck trying to run an Amish buggy off the road, or read hysterical screeds by fundamentalist pastors bleating on about saving the Amish from the dangers and dysfunctions of their "cult," we nod and think, We get that too.
At the same time we hold no idealistic allusions about Amish society. We understand that their community is not immune from spousal and child abuse, addiction, out-of-control teenagers and the vagaries of an economy that affects even these most self-sufficient of people. We obviously have difference of opinion about everything from gender roles to the wise use of technology.And looking at the Amish through my Lutheran lenses, I might point out that, no matter how "called out" from the world Christians might presume to be, we're all still sinners, and no amount of good-works points is going to change that. Despite the grace I see in their actions, I don't always see a lot of grace in their theology.
But -- we still like 'em. We just do. And we love the kids, who -- unlike the sort of Stepford fundamentalist-homeschool kids I've encountered, or the jaded, prematurely "adulted" and technology-numbed children of the rest of the neighborhood -- actually act like kids; like the little boy who played hide-and-seek with us around his parents' roadside stand, or our furniture-maker friends' toddler daughter who, while we were talking bidness with Dad, was trying unsuccessfully to write on a bemused family dog with an ink pen, or the self-assured tweenage counter girl at the Amish bakery who, taking a marketing cue from McDonald's, always goes for an extra sell: "If you like that bread, maybe you'd like some cinnamon rolls too."
Our corner of Michigan may not be the hippest or the most scenic or the most historic. But our Amish community helps make it a better place to live.