The front cover of Amish Values for Your Family includes a photograph of an Amish family. When I was reading it, my own kids noticed the book on my nightstand and asked about it. I explained it was a book about the Amish, who are a group of Christians. My older daughter knows a bit about the Amish since she is studying American history and has read about the Anabaptists who settled Pennsylvania.
After my summary explanation in answer to their question, one of my children looked at the cover photo and asked, “Are the Amish poor?” This question actually sort of devastated me. My husband and I try hard to emphasize Christian values over materialism. We talk to our kids all the time about people who do not have the basics. We often shop at second-hand stores. We get hand-me-downs from friends, and when we are done with our belongings, we given them to other families or donate them to second-hand stores. We talk with our kids about saving money and giving it away to help others. We try to not emphasize presents overly at birthdays and Christmas. We try to emphasize time together as a family as being superior to material gifts. But we don’t live in a closed Amish community. Most of our kids’ friends have iPads, MP3 players, DS games, as well as their own TVs and computers. (Our kids don’t have any of these things.) I thought the cover photo of Amish Values for Your Family looked charming. But my children’s question about the featured family being “poor” saddened me. I was a bit crushed that would be their first reaction.
The photo shows the family walking down a paved road. The image of them is taken from the back. (The Amish, as I understand, typically shun photographs.) There is a mom and a dad in the photo; each is carrying a small child. There are four young girls in between them. They are all wearing traditional Amish clothing. The adults have shoes on, as does one of the children being carried. However, the four girls who are walking are all barefoot. They are on a modern paved road, but they are walking. One of the girls who is walking is carrying a paper bag—perhaps a picnic. The road appears to be in a rural setting. It is a two-lane road without much of a shoulder. There is grass on both sides and several trees are in the image.
I asked my kids why they thought the Amish family in the photo was poor. Apparently, the Amish kids’ lack of shoes was the big tip off. And I suppose that is understandable. But I tried to explain that the Amish think that being together and spending time together as a family is the most important thing. It is more important than working all the time to be able to buy a lot of clothes or TVs or other unnecessary stuff. Maybe the Amish girls in the photo didn’t really need shoes or walking barefoot was just more fun. My own kids’ reaction was noncommittal to these brainstorms despite the fact that they themselves always like their own shoes to be off—sometimes even when we’re away from home.
To me, in reading Amish Values for Your Family, it seemed that the Amish had a very rich life style. They worked hard and did not have a lot of cash. But they had the luxury of spending a lot of time together, which is something that many American families today do not. Many of us mourn that reality and the absence of much family time. One of the difficulties of being a non-Amish parent in today’s culture is raising kids to understand the wealth of a simpler lifestyle like the Amish and the empty promises of consumerism.
Proverbs 13:7 (Common English Bible)
Some pretend to be rich but have nothing,
while others pretend to be poor,
but have great riches.