One hundred years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, there was very little to distinguish the Amish from everyone else. Horses, carts, mules, buggies, horse-drawn plows, wood stoves – all rural Americans had them. As for telephones, the Amish used them from the start in the 1890s. It wasn’t until the telephone was perceived as a threat to community, as a means for gossiping about others, that it was removed from Amish homes. But other than that, all people looked pretty much the same in Lancaster County.
Then came the motorcar from Mr. Ford. The Amish debated it and finally rejected it – you could be a passenger in one, but you could not own one or drive one.
And then came the aeroplane. It was bad enough that the car took people very fast on the ground. Now the aeroplane could take you very fast in the air.
And on the heels of the plane and car and phone came electricity – harnessed, run through wires, and ready to hook up to your house and allow you to use electric fridges, electric ovens, electric washers – just about anything that had been done by hand for hundreds of years could now be done more quickly by a machine running on the power of the lightning storm.
No to the phone and no to the car. But what about the plane? What about electricity as a public utility?
The Amish discussed and debated.
Then came 1917. And America entered the First World War.
In a matter of months, it became clear that not having phones did not set the Amish apart – not everyone had them yet anyway. Nor did not owning a car – most Americans didn’t. Planes? Well, who had planes in their backyard? How many people had even seen one? Electricity? The war slowed down its arrival. It would not come to Lancaster County until 1919.
So there really was not so much of a difference between the Amish and their neighbors, not like the sort of differences that would be obvious in the 40s and 50s when most others did have cars, trucks, tractors, radios, electric ovens and, eventually, TV.
It was things that had nothing to do with phones and cars and technology. That was what set the Amish apart. It was what had set them apart all along. It’s just that few of the neighbors had taken much notice.
With the coming of a world war to America, they did.
The Amish did not fly the American flag. Did not celebrate the 4th of July. Did not permit their sons to enlist in the army or navy or in law enforcement. The men did not grow mustaches because that was what soldiers did. They did not support the war effort, did not buy war bonds, because war was wrong. And they spoke German. Just like the enemy.
That was what set the Amish apart in 1917. Not buggies or horse-drawn plows or cooking on wood stoves.
Beliefs set them apart. Their beliefs about how a person should live the Christian life. Which were at odds with how many other American Christians felt a person should live the Christian life.
Americans did not understand why there should be such a difference between themselves and the Amish. And some became angry.
That is where my book, The Wings of Morning, begins.
It will be published by Harvest House in February of 2012.
For those of you who pick it up, I hope it will be a profound and powerful read for you.
God be with you.
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