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.
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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit