Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Amish Grace and Quakers

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher focuses on the Amish capacity to forgive after a troubled non-Amish man shot 10 and killed five Amish girls in the Nickle Mines schoolhouse in 2006. To explain the Amish ability to forgive, the authors delve into Amish theology.

I am struck, as I have been before, by similarities between the Quakers and the Amish. Both are peace churches that believe in simplicity, community and integrity. Both seek to "finish" the Reformation by bringing the Christianity back to its earliest beginnings, stripping it down to its essentials.

But the Quakers and Amish have also forked away from each other. Most Quakers don't express simplicity through distinctive dress, habits or transportation. Most Quakers have gone the way of the wider culture in valuing individualism over community. Quakerism from its start embraced equalitarianism, whereas the Amish have always been patriarchal. About 15% of Quakers have moved away from the centrality of Christ to embrace a full-fledged universalism, while the Amish are all devoutly Christ-centered. Many of those Quaker churches that still embrace the centrality of Christ have moved away from Quaker distinctives that Amish groups share, such as no paid clergy, opting instead to hire a minister.

As with the Amish, the Quakers, I believe, put forgiveness at the heart of their faith practice. Peace churches, almost by definition, replace revenge and retaliation with forgiveness. But what if the Quakers adopted some of the Amish practices to underscore forgiveness? Would this help us?

1. "In the Amish faith, the authority of the community overshadows the freedom of the individual."(92) "'Individualism,' said a 40-year-old Amish father, "is the great divide between us and outsiders.'" (93) The primacy of the community is stressed in the following ways:

a. verbal expressions of personal faith are seen as prideful, as if one is showing off one's religious knowledge. Individual interpretations of the Bible and personal testimonies are seen as "haughtiness." "For the Amish, genuine spirituality is quiet, reserved and clothed in humility, revealing itself in actions rather than words. Wisdom is tested by the community, not by an individual's feelings, eloquence of persuasion." (94)

b. crafting your own prayers is seen as prideful. They use the Lord's prayer.

Some of the practices that Amish Grace pinpoints as laying a groundwork for forgiveness are:

2. Emphasis on the New Testament, and especially the gospels. The Lancaster Amish Lectionary focuses on Matthew 1-12, which includes the Sermon on the Mount, for the first 12 weeks of every year. What if we focused on the Sermon on the Mount for three months of the year?

3. Frequent recitation of the Lord's prayer, as noted above. This would bother some, as a rote prayer might seem a "counterfeit" faith, but a thoughtful and frequent recitation--a mindful praying-- might be helpful.

Given that a roomful of Quakers can be markedly lacking in humility, would we do well to adopt some of these practices?


Hystery said...

I find the historical (and creative) tension between community and individual expression of spiritual belief among Friends deeply interesting. We liberal Friends are clearly in a period leaning toward universalism and emphasis on individual expression but I also hear growing challenges to this which can tend toward reactionary. In fact, both sides of the debate can sound more reactionary than thoughtful. I wonder what would happen if there was more community attention to religious education among Friends so that young people (and older folks too) were becoming committed individuals within a community context. I think this blog post could make an excellent starting point for some truly fruitful conversation in many Friends meetings. Really cool and interesting questions! I really feel drawn to them.

Diane said...

Thanks Hystery,

I agree that both sides of the debate can sound more reactionary than thoughtful, and I think people often feel caught in a trap--at least I've seen that in my meeting back home, where practicing community can be seen as interfering and intrusive and people really don't know how to navigate that.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

To adopt the practices is, I think, to mistake the outward for the inward. Friends have historically had their own avenue to humility — the avenue of quietism, a stilling of our selves inspired by a powerful recognition of our own fallenness, and by a sense of our tremendous every-moment dependence on our Lord. It is to this, and not to outward tactics, that Friends need to turn.

If we truly practice quietism, no expression of faith, personal or otherwise, verbal or otherwise, will come out of us that holds any pride in it at all. And our approach to the Bible,
to prayer, and to our faith community, will become one of deep humility as well.