I was gone last week on what we in this country refer to as a “vacation”. The word vacation dates back the the 14th Century. It has both Latin and French origins (no big shock that the French would have coined a word that had something to do with doing nothing). The original meaning for the word was “freedom from obligations” and “being free from duty”. In the late 1870’s the word began to be used in our American context as it became our parallel for the British word “holiday”. As I’ve thought about the original meaning, “freedom from obligations”, I am compelled to believe that I’ve never been on a real vacation; and I’m not sure I’d like it if I ever found myself on one.
Nonetheless, this post is not a mere etymological dive into rest and relaxation. I had the privilege of going with my family, my parents, my in-laws, and some family friends to Pennsylvania. We stayed in Lancaster for the week and had a great time. If you are familiar with that part of Pennsylvania there is likely one thing that comes immediately to mind: Amish. Lancaster County is heavily populated with Amish. I saw more corn fields last week than I’d seen in all of my thirty-six years on this earth put together; it was amazing.
One of our excursions was to take a horse & buggy tour of an Amish farm. It was a very informative and enjoyable experience. We found ourselves in the carriage with a family from Massachusetts which basically meant that each family spoke in a strange and foreign tongue and much gesturing was required to finally arrive at a dialectical middle-ground. It was during this conversation that a bizarre fact came to the forefront and seeded this post.
Amish, if you don’t know, among other traits, do not use electricity as it becomes a connection point to the evils of the world. They attempt to isolate themselves from temptations that come through radios, televisions, and the like. This isolationist mentality wears pretty thin in my thinking when they are letting heathens of all stripe come into their homes, farms, and businesses; but I suppose even the most devout of separatists tend to re-think their position for $17 per head ($12 for kids). But, the financials notwithstanding, I was still pleasantly intrigued by these people’s dedication to their beliefs. Or at least I was right up until our older Amish guide whipped out a cellphone in the middle of our tour. Yes, a cellphone.
I was unaware that we were in the Amish Network on the particular farm that we were visiting. “Can ye heareth me now? Dandy.”
For most of us on the buggy smiles played at the corners of our mouths. An Amish man with a cellphone is sort of like a Politician reading a Bible; it just doesn’t look right. And it wasn’t long before someone jokingly said, “hypocrite”. Now I’ll have to admit, I was thinking the same thing and I laughed when it was said, I’m pretty sure I joined in with the joking that followed. No one was being mean spirited about it, it was just an unexpected scene. What it did, to a certain degree, was cause us all to sigh to ourselves and collectively wonder, “what is the world coming to?” Now I know that sounds harsh, and it isn’t intended to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with cellphones, no intrinsic evil in them. But when the Amish have started relaxing their standards it really should make us think long and hard about the rest of us.
And for me, at least, it did.
“Hypocrite” is one of the first things that comes into the minds not of those who have never been to church, but of those who have been and no longer go (which, to be blunt, is a hypocritical thing to think). While this over-used caricature is really more of an easy excuse than a legitimate complaint, there is a seed of truth in it. But I believe that we have brought the brunt of the blows inflicted upon ourselves.
It is when we begin to assault the culture with rules, regulations, and requirements that we have, in bursts of what I believe are legitimately compassionate outpourings, created standards that the Bible – not to mention Jesus – ever intended to become. And so the big lesson here would seem to be simple: don’t hand out ammunition to people who are aiming guns at your chest. But alas that would be a wrong interpretation as well.
There are some things that we must hold to with a such a firm grip that our arms must be cut off to separate us from them. There are points of doctrine, both theological and practical, that we should proclaim with a fervor that is unrivaled by any interest group in the world. And we do this at our own peril, indeed, but so did our Lord. There are some points of Christianity that should firmly tie us to the stake that we would be burned at by the world. We were told to take up a cross, not pad and paint one.
But, with that being said, it is also critical that we not shackle ourselves to stupid things. If the Bible doesn’t say it we would do well to shut up about it. If we are convicted then we should most definitely live our convictions, with robust passion, but to weigh down the rest of the world with things that God wants to do uniquely in us is where problems begin. Instructing people with wisdom is a perilous cliff and one that anyone in a role of spiritual leadership should approach with unceasing prayer and infrequent words. If you think this isn’t the best course of action I encourage you to read Matthew 23.
At some point we will wind up getting talked about, or at, like Amish people with cellphones. The issue is whether we are being talked about for reasons that are worth it or not.