In some historical fiction, the reader can identify specific individuals, events and dates as the backdrop of a story. Others tell stories about a people and time in general, rather than a specific event or person. Considered the queen of Amish romantic historical fiction, Beverly Lewis scored again with The Rose Trilogy: The Thorn, The Judgment and The Mercy. One could not help but compare / contrast our lives with that of the Amish. To review this trilogy, I have chosen to do just that compare / contrast “The Plain Life and the Fancy Life.” As writing students progress essays expand beyond five paragraphs.
The Rose Trilogy: The Thorn, The Judgment, The Mercy
By Beverly Lewis
Beverly Lewis introduces us to the Amish of the Pennsylvania Dutch region, the People, through this trilogy and over 80 books. While the story of Rose Ann Kauffman begins in 1985, we can easily find ourselves in similar situations. God’s people of all times have found themselves faced with the challenge of living in the world, but not of the world. Amish talk of this struggle as the contrast of “the Plain Life with the Fancy Life.” Looking at three areas we will examine this challenge: separation from the world, courtship in this world and discipline in the church.
Rose Ann Kauffman or Rose lived with her parents in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her grandparents lived in one of the “Dawdi (grandparent) Houses” on the property. Over ten years earlier, her mother had suffered an injury when her buggy tipped over and she fell in a ravine. Though constantly in pain, she refused to let her husband take her to a specialist. Later, as part of the story, she did decide to go and regained some health and no longer had pain. They had chosen, as a People, to live very simply. Church leader, the bishop of the district, allowed the Kauffman family to have indoor bathrooms because of Emma’s injury. Generally, modern conveniences such as motor vehicles, electricity, running water, telephones and televisions in a home have no place in the “Plain Life.” Further, the People dressed and kept their hair in a way in keeping with their lifestyle. While they did not own motor vehicles, at times they hired drivers of motor vehicles to get to places such as a hospital and rehab center. My question: “Are these things evil in themselves or is it what they may do to a person? If these activities represent sin, in and of themselves, why the exceptions? One answer to this question: The modern “conveniences” represent an attempt to draw people, especially the young, away from their way of life and ultimately destroy their entire community.
For an example closer to the “English” lives, as Amish call us, I graduated from high school in 1967. During high school and college I went to churches who taught against going to movies. One of the reasons given involved not wanting to support the movie industry. I now know that they can track sales and know which kind of movies sell. At some point I would not even watch a movie on television, though I would watch television shows. That made no sense, but I wanted to obey the “rules.” Over the years, things have changed and now preachers use movies as illustrations in sermons. Content should guide us in what we watch. We must consider if the content steers us away from the Lord; if so we should discontinue it. As seen in the story of Rose, the People and “English” evangelicals meet the challenge of “separation from the world” with gradual change. I John 2:15 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Amish practice of courtship stems from their idea of separation from the world. In this trilogy, young people of courting age attended Sunday evening “Singings.” Family members would get the young ladies to the “Singing” and afterwards the young people would pair up and young men would offer to take a young lady home. Young men of courting age must acquire a special “courting buggy” which was open to avoid improper behavior. During cold, Pennsylvania winters, the young men would have heated bricks and blankets to help keep their gals warm as they drove around the countryside “courting” or getting to know each other. One aspect of the whole process that seemed especially interesting involved the secrecy. While parents knew that their young lady spent time with someone after the “Singing” and presumably someone from one of the respected families of their community, the custom required secrecy. While the young couple may agree to marry, they do not announce it until a couple of weeks before “Wedding Season” at the beginning of November each year. Our protagonist, Rose, would have benefited from the guidance of her parents.
Apparently, Amish young people discuss whether to kiss on the lips before their wedding or to save it for that special day. “English” or evangelical young people have similar conversations. Parents of both groups want their children to marry believing people. Probably, most Amish demand more exclusiveness in this area. In one of the books, Rose’s grandparents questioned the wisdom of young people being out late at night. In a way, this surprised me because I expected that generation to be more entrenched in the custom. Rose’s older sister had married an “English” man and left the community for five years. Her departure from the People began to bother her only when her husband thought nothing of exposing their young daughter to worldly influences. Hen (short for Hannah) took Mattie Sue to spend some time with her parents and began to dress and act Amish. Brandon did not like this change. It pleased me that the Bishop and Hen’s father allowed her to stay there for a short time, but they encouraged her to do what she needed to restore her marriage. Certainly, we would see a bigger difference contrasting how non-believing people in our society would address these issues.
Finally, I address the issue of discipline in the church. In this trilogy, the first title, The Thorn probably refers to the foster son of Bishop Aaron. From the beginning he rebelled showing no interest in submitting to his foster parents or to the People. Nick and Christian, Aaron and Barbara’s biological son, never got along. At one point, Christian took Nick out and began to cut off his pony tail, a scuffle ensued and Christian died at the bottom of a ravine. Nick took him back to the house and then ran away. Not getting all of the information, everyone blamed Nick. Several Bishops in the area, placed Bishop Aaron on suspension; they relieved him of all his ministerial duties and he could only function as a member of the People. The Judgment develops the story of this act of church discipline. Finally, in The Mercy, a number of twists represent God’s mercy to His people.
In the epilogue and word from the author, Beverly Lewis mentions the heritage of the Amish as related to the Anabaptists of old and Mennonites of our day. In my experience one Baptist distinctive is the autonomy of the local church. While a local body could request help from nearby churches, no hierarchy exists like illustrated in this story. Members of the district in question did not agree with the decision of the other bishops. In the end, the bishops lifted the suspension as the truth came out.
This compelling story reveals how much alike and how different God’s people are. Of course if we would compare God’s people with the world, the differences would abound. Just looking at the areas of separation from the world, courting in the world and discipline in the church give us a good idea of these differences and similarities. May God grant us wisdom to be in the world, but not of the world!