I've enjoyed Barbara Cameron's Coming Home Series especially for the beautifully crafted narratives and for the way she places the reader in the story as a close observer. Unlike (probably most) readers, I've also been viewing and assessing these tales of Amish "Pennsylvania Dutch" family, community, and church life through an ecumenical lens. Lancaster County Amish characters in this series interact much more with the dominant secular "Englisch" culture than many other Amish groups in the USA do, yet in the course of any given week, managing their houses and barns off the electrical grid, dressing in distinctive garb, having bishops (ecclesiastical leaders) without any formal theological education, along with riding in petrol-powered vehicles, retail shopping in town, working at a women's shelter are aspects of their rich lives. For each of the trio of young men in these novels who spend time in a Rumschpringe rite of passage mostly away from Amish life and in the end decide to return, join the church, marry and raise another generation, the safety and relative predictability of interwoven church and family values draws them. By the way, young women also sometimes run around in a Rumschpringe year, but in this series the author mentions only one or two in passing.
This final Coming Home offering focuses on lifelong friendship, romance, separation, re-kindling and eventual marriage between youngest Zook girl, Rose Anna and John, the youngest Stoltzfus boy. I'll admit I knew not too far into the story that in the end John would inherit his employer Neil Zimmerman's farm and horses, marry Rose Anna, and then begin a happily ever after. But the author weaves and unfolds events with such skill and delight, I had to keep reading to find out exactly how it would happen! Home to Paradise comes packed full of descriptions of tantalizing, very locally-sourced meals not directly beholden to any empire, though just as with the power grid, at many nodes down the line we easily can discern connections and inter-connections that ultimately link the Amish of Lancaster County on countless levels to many worlds beyond theirs. (And oh, to help connect readers to the Amish world, there are six recipes at the end!)
My intro paragraph mentioned I'd been applying an ecumenical perspective to these stories; "ecumenical" for me means primarily the ecclesiastical tradition I know best—generic mainline protestant. We tend to take scripture seriously yet almost never literally; we emphasize the public witness to God's love, justice, inclusion, and equality. At times we vaguely refer to "living in the world but not being of the world," yet over the past few decades any observer will have noticed far too much accommodation to popular cultural trends, too much relativism in terms of lifestyle and scriptural interpretation. Not often the concentration on large physical plants and attendance numbers characteristic of independent and loosely affiliated mega-churches, yet measurable dissonance with Jesus' lifestyle and demands. We need to look at ourselves and probably ask those casual observers how we appear to them from their side?
Despite Christianity's Near Eastern origins two thousand years ago and counting backwards, we still need to contextualize its offensively radical ways of grace and obedience to the commandments where we currently reside—or, if we happen to be a missionary, a student, a short- or longer-term visitor do our best to contextualize it there. It never will be perfect, always a "do our best." On the one hand it's best not to come across as too too startlingly different at first glance; on the other, it's best not to blend in too thoroughly; it can be disastrous to activate cultural chameleon mode! I seriously wonder to what extent most Lancaster County Amish will change their clothing and modes of connecting to neighboring Englisch lifestyle and culture over the next few decades? I seriously wonder how much longer too many "progressive mainline" Protestant (and Roman Catholic, since liberal, activist Christianity basically is "all the same" wherever it goes, wherever you encounter it) individuals and sometimes entire congregations will continue to emulate and imitate their secular counterparts to such an extent they're close to indistinguishable from each other?
Returning to the substance of Home to Paradise and the Coming Home series it belongs to, I'm sad it ends here, but I also wonder if Barbara Cameron will imagine the Zook sisters and Stoltzfus brothers into the next decade or two as their families grow larger and older? I'd enjoy that a lot!
Blog Content not in my Reviews
Resonating well with family-farmed and harvested meals throughout the Lancaster County Amish world, some churches, schools, and non-profits sponsor community gardens on campus or on a nearby lot. Sometimes they assess a very low rent, sometimes you get the land as long as you work the soil. One also hopes any person who follows Jesus of Nazareth on any level wouldn't find themselves too beholden to McMansions, expensive clothes and bling, fabulous vacation getaways. But it also appears to me that plain attire to the point of retroactively funky is not essential, maybe an undesirable way to mark the community as different and set apart? A few years ago clothing guidelines for LDS sister missionaries required plain long dark skirts and plain light colored tops (though I believe mission presidents had final say for their particular mission area). I liked that simple, cleanly classic look, but I heard that some people investigating the Mormon church – and culture – wondered if or even assumed that they'd need to start dressing ultra-plainly if they decided to join. Still retaining modestly, utility, and reasonable cost, female missionaries now wear bright, lightly accessorized, street length dresses and skirts, pretty much what you'd find in a business casual office.
I've been in the general Lancaster County area only once, long ago when I spent a week with a classmate whose husband was a (mainline protestant) seminarian. As we drove around I noticed a lot of buggies on the road, but the restaurant meal of seven sweets and seven sours was my highlight. Was this authentic? Check out this interesting article that tells us:
It's the height of tourist season in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and tourists are getting fed a load of inauthentic "Dutchified" food. That word — "Dutchified" — shows up in the first paragraph of [William Woys Weaver's] book, As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine. ... It's "slang for anything that is gussied up to look, taste, or in some way made to appear Pennsylvania Dutch whether or not it really is." Locals use "Dutchified" to refer to tourist schlock such as barns covered with neon hex signs, but it can describe food, too.He missed a category—German Roman Catholics! I've known quite a few, and they loved sauerkraut, too!
Take the "Seven Sweets and Seven Sours" myth. Family-style tourist trap restaurants often serve spreads featuring seven sweet and seven sour side dishes or "relishes" such as cinnamon bread (sweet) and pickled beets and eggs (sour). But this tradition was created at a hotel in Montgomery County — it's not Pennsylvania Dutch at all, Mr. Weaver said. "It was created by tourism." Some dishes are what he calls "halfway foods" — perhaps originating elsewhere but quickly subsumed under the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine umbrella. So what are the hallmarks of real-deal Pennsylvania Dutch cookery? Mr. Weaver can sum it all up in a single word: sauerkraut. "It's the one food that holds it all together," he said. "Whether you're Lutheran or German Reformed or Mennonite or Amish, you eat sauerkraut."
my Amazon review: Sad this Series Had to End!