Sunday, December 20, 2015

Barbara Cameron, Crossroads

Crossroads by Barbara Cameron on Amazon

crossroads book coverIn some physical or experiential crossroads one pathway or highway sometimes lies at right angles to the other, so logically they begin and end in different places at different directions on the map. At other times one road intersects another road here and there, but both have the same origin and destination. You truly could claim every moment is a crossroads, every moment contain kairos possibilities, though deciding the basic trajectory of the rest of your days when you're still in your teens or barely our of those years is scary. And honestly, these days most middle-class North Americans don't need to make most of those major decisions quite that young.

Barbara Cameron's well-written, leisurely-paced Crossroads is mostly about Isaac and Emma, a personable, young unmarried "Pennsylvania Dutch" (Deutsch) Amish couple. You may have heard that some teenaged and early 20-something Amish take months or a couple years away from the Amish ways to participate in non-Amish "Englisch" customs to help them decide whether or not to join the church and spend the rest of their lives as Amish insiders. The novel brings us closeup views of Isaac's Rumspringa (Rumschpringe, Rumshpringa, "running around') as he cuts his hair, rents his own abode and stakes out at least a temporary existence some distance away from the people and the place where he grew up. We also get a lot of Emma's reactions to Isaac's running-around!

Cameron depicts people and overall environment well with her prose, though I kept longing for visuals—drawings, photos, videos of everyone and everywhere, but reading this book encourages me to find some of my own. The glossary at the end explains that the Ordnung, or order of living, is somewhat different in every Amish group. The bishop, or ecclesiastical leader defines a lot of the rules and regulations for the community he pastors. Just as with any other organizational leaders, some bishops are more approachable and less legalistic, others are the opposite. In a first or second world country, no one truly can live completely "off the grid," but I assume the houses in Emma's and Isaac's community didn't have electricity, but used candles and lanterns, cooked with wood—or maybe coal? Pennsylvania is coal country. Like young people almost everywhere – and it doesn't end when chronological youth comes to a close – Isaac and Emma find themselves needing to sort through the complexities of relationships, the future uncertainties, the difficulties of making binding decisions (baptism, marriage) without as much information as they wished they had.

I found it interesting and surprising that although families and characters in Crossroads aren't assimilated or integrated into the surrounding "Englisch" /American Pennsylvania culture, they hover on its periphery and (for example) take advantage of tourist dollars and pizza parlors, though I'd guess that varies widely between Amish communities. Back of the book includes recipes, but only four! Again, pictures would have been an asset, though the author's vivid food descriptions in the book were quite mouth-watering. The glossary explains some terms; we get a short rundown of the Amish Roads series concept, and a teaser for the third book of the series.

my amazon review: winsome characters; interesting culture

blog notes not in my review:

A long time ago I visited Lancaster County to spend a few days with a former classmate whose spouse attended seminary in the area. We drove around sight-seeing and later enjoyed dinner at a restaurant where they served a huge delicious meal that included Seven Sweets and Seven Sours. Beyond that memory, I tend to aggregate "Amish Mennonite Brethren" into a run-on sentence without commas. I know just a little about the Radical Reformation whose initiators believed reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin did not re-form and re-shape the church to an extent sufficient to recreate it back into the highly counter-cultural reality of the earliest New Testament communities. After all, among other details, in the wake of shedding the Roman magisterium Luther and Calvin both became beholden to another magisterium. Plain People include Amish and some old order Mennonites, although there are other Christian groups that aim for a more basic, far simpler overall lifestyle than the typical North American, Western European or Northern European's – Christian or not.

Just as with the Amish, any leaders in any church tradition, whether bishop, pastor, council president, clerk of session, committee chairperson / chairpeople? vary immensely in their gifts and skills, in their openness to new ideas and new people, in their support of others taking the lead. LIttle difference there!

The Ten Commandments apply to every Christian; logically so does Jesus' Great Commandment synopsis to "love God with heart, soul and mind; to love neighbor as thyself." Then there's Martin Luther's reminder every violation of every commandment transgresses the first command to have no other gods. In every denominational and other expression of Christianity, and then in every local church (congregation, parish, ward, assembly) unwritten, unspoken rules and expectations gradually come into being and typically stay put a very long time, often forever. A visitor or newcomer will note differences from their previous churches, sometimes the differences and literal "rules" hit them by surprise when they break one. So Amish church communities with their detailed Ordnung aren't all that different from churches in the more mainline mainstream. Nor is the fact the rules of the Ordnung at times seem to supersede the commandments! Book of Order on top of the Bible?! Oh, that's almost minor.

Cultural anthropologists remind us communities and organizations with solid rules and clear expectations have a certain appeal for certain people, and sometimes as certain stages of their lives. The complexity of the world around us with its choices, demands, uncertain outcomes may make any situation with less ambiguity and fewer choices appealing. The immense benefits of real community one gets after deciding to be baptized (always a seriously considered, very adult individual decision rather than one decided spontaneously or semi-arbitrarily by parents or because of reaching a certain age such as 6 or 8 or 13) and remain within the tradition sets the Amish way far apart from most others.

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