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God’s Grid

February 25, 2024

My neighbor’s grandson Logan is the hardest-working kid I ever saw. He is really no longer a kid. Still hardworking. Now grown up. I rarely see him anymore and even when I do, it is not the same as when he would visit or play with my grandchildren.

Logan had a wonderful innocence. I used to call him an unfiltered kettle of curiosity. My wife got a kick out of that but she also knew it fit. He would ask us all kinds of questions. Nothing ever inappropriate but quite often unexpected of a little guy. Awkward. I hope he didn’t grow out of it but I know the world has a way of thrashing innocence out of youth.

I tried to encourage that in my adults when they were still children. Nothing was out of bounds. When it was time for the ‘talk’, we had it. Not sniggering like something was dirty. Anyone can talk about anything if done with maturity. I am very curious and I’m sure I exasperate people with questions in the presence of things I don’t know. Which is most of the time. One place I frequently have questions is when dealing with the Amish. I can research but I’m often not in front of a computer when questions occur.

To Amish, I’m considered ‘English’. It doesn’t matter why. I had to ask what Amish consider Mennonites, a religion with Anabaptist roots common to the Amish. The person I asked said:

“They drive cars, don’t they? Yes, I suppose they would be considered English.”

It was opinion. Not authoritative. The important thing was that I was asking a question. Respectfully, without intent to entrap or ridicule.

I was at Yoder’s Antique Mall just outside of Punxsutawney… home of Phil the Groundhog. While wending my way, I came upon poker machines. I had to wend my way back to the front of the store and give the Amish lady at the counter some good-natured grief. I said it was the last thing I would ever expect in an Amish-owned business. She explained. They rented the space to a vendor who owned the machines. They did not profit from the machines, only from the space rental. They required that there could be nothing dirty on the machines. Still, I needled her a bit, always within the boundaries of respect.

I asked her how she got to work that day. I was waiting to hear that she had driven. Still good-natured. She and her husband paid a non-Amish person to drive them. That is common. I have been asked for a ride though I was not able to accommodate on that occasion. Amish don’t drive but they will accept rides. She said they were not allowed to use horse and buggy because it was considered cruel to have the horse stand outside all the time (due to weather). I countered that they stood outside at home. She said, “Yes, but we have a barn.” I made sure to convey respect in my questions.

Respect is key in dealing with people, particularly with things that could serve as vessels for criticism. Contention. That is never my intention when asking questions and I work hard to present my questions, down to expression, inflection, and tone of voice, respectfully.

On my next trip to Yoders, there was a non-Amish cashier and I asked her some questions I had intended to ask the original Amish lady. First, I asked her if the owner was in fact Amish. That had not come up before. I wondered how this Amish business used electricity and cash registers and accepted credit cards. If they were Mennonite, it would have explained everything.

An Amish community is known as a ‘settlement’. I learned that from a nearby Amish craftsman who makes seamless gutters. Rules are not necessarily the same from one settlement to another. The cashier at Yoder’s confirmed the owners were Amish. She said, to another question, that most of the Amish in that area used cell phones. They used electricity, at least in businesses. Amish that I’m familiar with use gas-powered engines to drive things like sawmills and washing machines, etc., but not electricity.

I have been dealing with the Amish for years now. They made my shed, milled one of my trees into lumber, and sell me ground meat and sausage every year. Jonas, from whom I buy my meat, welcomes, or at least tolerates my curiosity, and he has answered many questions.

The Amish in our area are not allowed to use electricity. I respect their rules. I see some of them using what I believe are candle-powered lanterns on their buggies. It has been a harsh decade for the Amish on our roadways; At least two have been killed by “English” drivers inconsiderate of Amish drivers. Lights can sometimes mean life.

In Lancaster, buggies use battery-powered flashers and even turn signals. Around here, I have recently seen what I believe are battery-powered lights but not turn signals. Turn signals are usually an Amish head peeking around a buggy side wall.

I asked Jonas once why they don’t use solar lighting on their buggies. He kind of deflected… they “just don’t.”. I get the electricity thing… they must stay off ‘the grid’. It makes perfect sense. When the world ends, the Amish are going to be well situated; Untethered to gas stations, power lines, and Point-of-Sale machines. (I have read recently that many Amish are now embracing electric scooters. Times are a-changin’.) However, to Jonas’ point, solar power is on God’s grid. I’m going to bring it up again someday. Solar power seems to be a natural fit.

The point of all of this is not Amish nuance. There is a way to talk to people. A way to ask questions. To explore differences with a view to understanding. Acceptance. Not reduction or scorn. Respect in unfiltered kettles of curiosity.

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