Life with and without the Amish

Ezekiel, who grew up in an Amish household, describes his journey from the Amish to where he is toda

I am 33 years old. 33 was a big number to reach. Bigger than 21, or 30, because 33 is the year I have officially been living out in the World longer than I lived amongst the Amish.

I saw many of the people I grew up with, went to school with, and worshipped with do a lot of wild things on Rumspringa – the time when Amish teens get to live outside traditional Amish society without strict rules. I wasn’t nearly as adventurous as many of my friends, but ironically now live a life as a musician that perhaps many English (non-Amish) would consider wild even by their standards. Though, from what I have seen on television, still relatively tame compared to most musicians.

I loved a lot about the Amish lifestyle. I still do. The focus on family is something I will never lose. Rejecting Hochmut (arrogance) and embracing Demut (humility) are two things I learned being Amish that I will always practice and believe. Gelassenheit is something I try to hold on to in every day life. Calmness. Patience. Especially considering the boisterous nature of my profession, I need that quiet time. While the Amish take it to be submitting to the will of God or assertive, in my life here in the World (apart from the Amish)it has taken on a deeply personal meaning for me just as many of the beliefs I was raised with have.

While I loved the Amish life, I chose to leave it for reasons that became as strong to me as the love of what I left behind. Foremost among then was my wavering belief in God and the spiritual aspects of the life. I don’t know when this doubt first lit inside me. I was devoutly spiritual as a child, up until my teens. When I left on Rumspringa I came to a great appreciation of music, learning, and reading. I moved to New York when I was 18 and acquired my Certificate of General Educational Development, which allowed me to get a diploma from high school because Amish education stops at the 8th grade. I went on to four years of college, studying literature. The more I learned, the more I read, the more I questioned. That is not to say that people who still embrace God and religion, of any faith, are wrong in their faith. But the questions that came up for me were deep cracks in the foundation of my own. I came to believe that there is no right or wrong in religion. An individual’s faith is what is right for him or her, and no one else has the right to dispute that. If there is a God, I believe there is one God, but he or she is the God that each person chooses to believe in.

Then, as I have heard so many stories go in books and movies out here in the World, there’s always a woman. That was the case with me as well. I met my now-wife when I was 20 years old and working as a waiter. I had been through roughly two years of college and was still a bit “on the fence” as to what I was going to do with my life, but meeting her was, ultimately, the deciding factor. As it’s forbidden to marry a non-Amish woman, unless she joined the faith, I knew then and there that I was not going back. I had found my calling, and was lucky enough that she found love with me as well. Most Amish come back from Rumspringa to find a spouse and join Church. Rumspringa ended for me when I found a spouse and decided not to join Church.

A question I am often asked is if I am still Amish, and I am. It is part of who I am, and always will be. I still visit my family. I still embrace much of my Amish upbringing. I still value most of what being raised Amish has taught me. I will never lose sight of that, as surely as those who decide to join Church after Rumspringa will never lose sight of God. But just as their faith is strong with Him, my faith is strong with my family, my friends, and the people and life that I love.

Ezekiel was born Amish and grew up in Lancaster County, PA. He has now left the Amish and resides in New York with his wife.
Getty
Show Hide image

Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle