The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
Living in northern Indiana does have its benefits. One of them is to be in close proximity to a fascinating group of separatists: The Amish. In a world where technology surges ahead at terabyte speed, the Amish attempt to freeze time and create an organic way of life. In a way that would make Heidegger proud, the Amish focus on cultivating a simple community of love and brotherhood. This is no small task in the middle of the United States, where technological innovation is unprecedented. So, to ensure that their way of life is preserved, the Amish have Ordnung.
"The Amish blueprint for expected behavior, called the Ordnung, regulates private, public, and ceremonial life. Ordnung does not translate readily into English. Sometimes rendered as ordnance or discipline, the Ordnung is best thought of as an ordering of the whole way of life … a code of conduct which the church maintains by tradition rather than by systematic or explicit rules. A member noted: The order is not written down. The people just know it, that's all. Rather than a packet or rules to memorize, the Ordnung is the understood behavior by which the Amish are expected to live. In the same way that the rules of grammar are learned by children, so the Ordnung, the grammar of order, is learned by Amish youth. The Ordnung evolved gradually over the decades as the church sought to strike a delicate balance between tradition and change. Specific details of the Ordnung vary across church districts and settlements." [Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture cited in Wikipedia article Ordnung]
Ordnung, then, is essentially Law. It is Law translated into life; behavior of conformity for the greater good of community, self, and God.
"The Amish, believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and the Ordnung is meant to ensure that members of the church live life by following the Word of God. The Ordnung contains a set of behavioral rules. A person is expected to live a simple life devoted to God, family and community according to God's laws. Once a rule has been adopted, it is nearly impossible to have it rescinded or changed.
"Some of the most common rules are: separation from the world, hard work, a woman's submission to her husband, mode of dress, refusal to buy life insurance, and many more. Outsiders often think in terms of restrictions, i.e. no electrical power lines, no telephone in the home, and no personal ownership of automobiles. However many of their guidelines are for the purpose of guarding a person's character. The attempt is to prevent pride, envy, vanity, laziness, dishonesty, etc.
"The foundations of the Amish life are: an unassuming character, the love of friends and family, respect for the community, and separation from the rest of the world. The Ordnung defines who the Amish are. This code's purpose is to guide the behavior of the church's membership into Christ-likeness. Disobedience of these integral lifestyle regulations are punished by disciplinary actions initiated by the church leaders. Shunning (Meidung) is one of the most severe actions that the Bishop can mete out." [From Wikipedia Ordnung]
From the above, I highlight the following: many of their guidelines are for the purpose of guarding a person's character. The attempt is to prevent pride, envy, vanity, laziness, dishonesty, etc. Ordnung exists to create a community of righteousness and love; it guards against what the Apostle Paul terms "the desires of the flesh." It is a safeguard: Law counteracts the Flesh. Ordnung reigns the vices of our most base inclincations.
Ah, but the desires of the flesh will not be so easily tamed. In fact, when Law is put in place to stop the flesh, it often stirs the flesh all the more. Paul knew this well:
"I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.' But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." (Romans 7)
According to Paul, when Law is used to regulate the flesh it produces more desires. Tell someone not to covet something and the desire for that thing increases. We want what we cannot have; it is human.
The Amish seemed to have recognized this at some point in their development. No community of the blessed can exist if its members never understand what might have been. The outside world, the devil's playground, holds mystery and fascination. In his classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde puts it this way: The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing...
"Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the word take place also."
The above citation is a critical turning point in the novel. These words spoken by Lord Henry to Dorian Gray embed themselves in Dorian's imaginations and stir his wonder and curiosity, leading to his wish that he could sin forever without consequence and live as an eternal youth.
The Amish know the Apostle Paul, and whether or not they have read Wilde, they understand what is at work. For this reason, they have Rumspringa.
Rumspringa is a time for the flesh. It is an opportunity to quench the thirst, satisfy the curiosity, and taste the forbidden fruit. It is a time in the life of a young Amish to explore. This time comes prior to being baptized into the community and is something of a rite of passage. If a youngster comes through Rumspringa and is then ready to live under the Ordnung of the community, then they are welcomed into the fold.
There are a variety of different levels of indulgence during the period of Rumspringa. Not all Amish youth are rebellious; it all depends upon your opportunity, your group of friends, and your desire for experimentation.
"In large Amish communities like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Holmes County, Ohio, and Elkhart and LaGrange Counties, Indiana, the Amish are numerous enough that there exists an Amish youth subculture. During the rumspringa period, the Amish youth in these large communities will join one of various groups ranging from the most rebellious to the least. These groups are not divided across traditional Amish church district boundaries. In many smaller communities, Amish youth may have a much more restricted rumspringa period due to the smaller size of the communities. Likewise, they may be less likely to partake in strong rebellious behaviour since the anonymity offered in the larger communities is absent." [Wikipedia "Rumspringa"]
So, the Amish balance Law and Flesh with Ordnung and Rumspringa. They cultivate a strict community where vice and lust are forbidden and the community and family are the priority. But in order to do justice to the desires of the flesh, they follow the insights of Oscar Wilde and allow room for the young to explore and indulge temptation. The result? According to the film Devil's Playground, 90% of Amish youth return to the community after Rumspringa.
A LOVE SUPREME
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.