Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Almost Amish

Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life, by Nancy Sleeth.

I read this book last October, for our book group*. I wrote this review at the same time, but for some reason, never posted it. Oops.

Overall, I thought Sleeth had good ideas, although I thought she had to stretch her analogy pretty far, to link them to an Amish lifestyle.

She introduced ten general principles that lead to her "slower, simpler, more sustainable life:"

1.    Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean: the outside reflects the inside.
2.    Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master.
3.    Saving more and spending less bring financial peace.
4.    Time spent in God’s creation reveals the face of God.
5.    Small and local leads to saner lives.
6.    Service to others reduces loneliness and isolation.
7.    The only true security comes from God.
8.    Knowing neighbors and supporting local businesses build community.
9.    Family ties are lifelong; they change but never cease.
10.    Faith life and way of life are inseparable.

In the chapter on homes, she emphasized that “No big house or yard care means more time for family, friends, and God.” She also talked about the importance of hospitality - which is easier if you aren't stressed about all the aspects of keeping a home running. She pointed out that soup makes a great meal, and is easy to prepare and serve - that idea has stuck in this non-cook's head!

She made an interesting statement about technology:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends just nine minutes per day in religious and spiritual activities. This disparity between how much time with technology and how much time we spend with God says much about our priorities. I think it indicates that technology is supplanting God in our hearts and affections.  We are pursuing technology with an abandon and intensity that should be reserved for God alone.
If true (she didn't cite references for her stats), this is very telling. (I know that I spend a disproportionate amount of time on social media.)

In her chapter on simplicity, she stated, “Simplicity involves cutting back on two major kinds of stuff – the kind that fills our houses and the kind that fills our calendars.” We all struggle with this, and our book group spent a good bit of time discussing the challenges inherent in this effort.

Regarding service (chapter 6), she wrote
[God] wants us to serve him with a glad heart, not because he is lacking anything, but because the very act of getting outside our selfish, small concerns enriches us. Service is the agent through which we act out our love for God and for one another. Serve God: serve your neighbor. In doing one, we are doing the other.
This made me think of Mosiah 2:17: "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

I think that's the most important side effect of simplifying our lives - we have more time and energy to serve others. Certainly the principles that Sleeth shares can help us in this endeavor.

* We chuckled when one member of our book group confessed that she had read the wrong book. She had grabbed it quickly from the library, without looking closely, and read a book with the same title, but by a different author (Kathryn Cushman). It was a novel about two sisters participating in a reality TV show, and not at all what our reader was expecting. Oops!

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