Almost Amish
One woman's quest for a slower, simpler,
more sustainable life
Nancy Sleeth
Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois (USA), 2012 (2012)
245 pages, including resources, recipes, etc.
ISBN: 978-1-4143-2699-3

While the present book is a good introduction to the philosophy of simple living taking the Amish lifestyle as an example, I find that it relies too much on the Christian sacred texts for my liking. To be clear, I do not see anything wrong with finding inspiration in the Christian Bible (or any other religious text, for that matter) in order to live a more meaningful, ethical and moral life. As long as one's own behavior abides by certain fundamental ethical rules (which, in my case, I'd say align pretty well with the traditional golden rule), I'm fine with any belief. However, I cannot understand how quoting this or that sacred text could amount to proof of anything as soon as one goes beyond the borders of the social group that accepts said text as sacred, and that is precisely what Nancy Sleeth does all too often in this book.

Other than that, Almost Amish is a fairly good introduction to the topic at hand, and it does include some good advice on how to simplify your life and (mainly) why. For if you are looking for a practical book that provides instructions or advice on how to switch from a regular life to a simple life, I think there are better books out there. This one offers mainly the reasons why you should switch, in particular if you are a Christian.

Thrift, delayed gratification, self-control, and sharing are the hallmarks of Amish finances. But what's interesting to me is that these principles are based on a worldview of abundance rather than scarcity. When a couple gets married, friends come over to help pain the house. If someone loses a job, neighbors share produce from their gardens. When a family faces unexpected medical bills, the community takes up a special collection.

What I find most beguiling about Amish finances is the underlying principle of humility. They do not buy things to impress or to draw attention to themselves or to win love. They understand that every single thing on earth is a gift from God, meant to be shared with others. And they act from the certainty that the most important things in life cannot be found at "the mall that has it all."

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 52)

Some popular Amish proverbs:

  • We live simply so others may simply live.
  • Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.
  • Take all you want, eat all you take.
  • He who has no money is poor; he who has nothing but money is even poorer.
  • There are no degrees of honesty.
  • A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to leave alone.
  • If you are true to your faith, there are things you give up for your faith.
  • Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs at your door forever.
  • Generosity leaves a much better taste than stinginess.
  • Before we can pray "Thy Kingdom come," we must first pray "My Kingdom go."

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 54)

We do have an innate love of nature (biophilia): God loves his creation, and we love what God loves because he made us in his image. But there is ample evidence that green time is being replaced by screen time (videophilia). Four minutes of unstructured play outdoors versus more than six hours of screen time each day certainly does have a profound effect on our children —physically, mentally, and emotionally.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 78)

The Mennonites, one of those groups that go back to the same Anabaptist roots as the Amish, value simplicity just as the Amish do. Less obviously distinguishable than the Amish, many Mennonites dress in regular —though not flashy— clothes, drive cars, and work normal jobs. The one quality that universally sets both the Amish and Mennonites apart from the world is their holistic approach to simplicity.

What does a holistic approach to simplicity involve? Decluttering your home is a great starting point, but it's also about building a less complicated life. It's about supporting local farms and businesses, getting to know your neighbors, and building a relational faith community. Keeping things small and local leads to a saner life.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 94)

Half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon entitled "Paul's Letter to American Christians". In it, King warns that moral advances are not keeping abreast with our technological advances: "Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood."

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, pp. 145-146)

Local economies thrive in Amish communities because the Amish support small, family-owned businesses. Although they are known for their frugality, friendship is valued more than lowest price. Because they do not drive, they depend on a robust local economy. It's in everyone's best interest for neighbors to support neighbors.

Unfortunately, such support and loyalty are dwindling in much of America. Soon after a supercenter moves in, the small-town grocery, hardware store, and pharmacy close. COnsumers opt for so-called "bargains," which end up costing more than they could imagine: the life and livelihood of their town. The town begins to erode from the inside out.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 151)

Submission, self-surrender, and yielding to the will of others is inverse of modern American culture. We live in an excessively individualistic society. Originality is king: we worship trendsetters. Frank Sinatra crooned out theme song: We insist on doing it our way.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 153)

The Amish view church as a body of people, not a building. Yet even more than the most beautiful cathedral, church is at the core of the Amish community.

Church services are held every two weeks in someone's home. The location rotats, but the ceremonies, songs, and traditions remain unchanged. Worship time is followed by a community meal.

Unlike the outside world, "church shopping" is unheard of. You attend the church in your district, period —usually for life. One reason is purely practical: without cars, church hopping becomes problematic. But the main reason is more philosophical: worship is about God, not us.

A friend recently told me about a discussion between his pastor and a member of the congregation. The member told the pastor that he really enjoyed the sermon, but the songs that week weren't so great. "The worship today just didn't do much for me."

The pastor's reponse: "I'm sorry to hear that, but the worship wasn't meant for you. It's for God." That may sound harsh, but it's a message many of us need to hear.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 162)

Unlike most modern Americans, the vast majority of Amish families have remained intact. By staying geographically close and continuing to observe centuries-old traditions, they have avoided many of the ills of modern society. Within Amish communities, the divorce rate is less than one percent, illegitimate births are nearly unheard of, and the suicide rate is about half the American average. Families take care of their disabled and elderly relatives, and men and women have clearly defined roles. Even where farming is not the primary source of income, families often work together in a home-based business.

Because the Amish do not drive, everyone tends to keep close to home. This means families eat most of their meals together, children are not running off to after-school activities, and couples work in tandem. Amish independence from technology means that leisure time brings them closer, rather than driving them apart. Instead of being wired to digital entertainment, they spend downtime together.

Not being dependent on cars or technology also has significant health benefits. Walking and physical activity are built into Amish lives. Tending horses, gardens, and woodpiles keeps family members together while keeping them healthy. According to a study at the University of Tennessee, only 4 percent of the Old Order Amish suffer from obesity, compared to 33 percent —a third— of the American mainstream population.

Health and well-being are central to all aspects of Amish family life. When parents have differences, they discuss them in private. Couples do not air their disagreements in front of others. Children are expected to speak and act with respect toward elders, and adults model respectful behavior in and out of the home.

The Amish transition from dependence (childhood), to independence (adolescence), to interdependence (adulthood) includes a period called rumspringa. In many Amish communities, rumspringa is a time when adolescents are allowed greater freedom. During rumspringa, many youth experiment with worldly behaviors, such as driving a car, wearing modern clothes, watching TV, and going to the movies. Teens are not under the authority of the church untuil they choose to be baptized, sometime after the age of eighteen. Following this brief fling with worldly activities, most Amish young adults return to the church. Because the decision is theirs, the period of rumspringa ultimately strengthens their lifelong commitment to family and faith.

A common theme of these Amish traditions is harmony. Instead of family members working against one another, they work together. What is good for the family is considered good for the individual, and vice versa.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, pp. 175-177)

In Amish families, men and women have different roles. Not better, not worse —just not the same. Within their spheres, both sexes are accorded great responsibility and great authority. In our age we are accustomed to looking at this with skepticism, if not derision, because of the negative connotations we have with defined gender roles —it looks to us like putting people, male or female, in a box. So what is the advantage to the Amish way of clearly defining the roles? Knowing what your role is, learning from a young age how to fill that role competently, and not having expectations turned around 180 degrees at some late date avoids much confusion, anxiety, and confrontation.

I am not saying that we need to revoke the right to vote or that women should be seen and not heard. What I am saying are the simple facts, nothing new: children do best when they have a healthy relationship modeled by both a father and a mother; having two parents working a combined eighty or more hours a week outside the home is not good for personal or family health; and divorce is costly, with single moms and children often bearing the brunt.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 185)

While the Almost Amish guidance throughout this book may not sound hip or politically correct, it is thoroughly scriptural and relevant. On our Almost Amish journey, each of us can take small steps toward a life where,

  • Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean; the outside reflects the inside.
  • Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master.
  • Saving more and spending less bring financial peace.
  • Spending time in God's creation reveals the face of God.
  • Small and local leads to saner lives.
  • Service to others reduces loneliness and isolation.
  • The only true security comes from God.
  • Knowing neighbors and supporting local businesses build community.
  • Family ties are lifelong; they change but never cease.
  • Faith life and way of life are inseparable.

(Nancy Sleeth: Almost Amish, p. 214)

List of resources from the book:

Entertainment: 6/10
Content: 6/10