Part Six: Security & Recreation
While in government and modern society we look to the police and military for our local and national security, these areas are of little concern to the Amish. Indeed, the State has been the cause of many of the problems the Amish have faced, from the time of their persecution in Europe through the school controversies in America in the 20th century, when some Amish men were put into jail.
The Amish are pacifists and do not serve in the military. During times of war, they have been conscientious objectors, and some were even beaten and abused in the C.O. (conscientious objector) camps. The Amish cooperate with the government as long as it does not infringe on their beliefs. However, they do not normally sue or go to court to resolve conflicts.
In "the old days," security for the elderly was a place in their children’s household. Indeed, children were a kind of "old age insurance." In Amish society, the aged are respected and cared for by the family and community, often moving into a special addition to the house. The Amish generally do not accept Social Security and try to avoid the use of nursing homes. Security is found among the Amish in being part of the family, and children in large families find security as much with their siblings as with their parents. With several generations often living under the same roof, there is both a sense of continuity and participation in family life.
Security and protection also come from the community itself, most outwardly visible in the barn-raising. But the Lancaster Amish have created other ways to help church members in time of need. An Amish Aid Society was formed by which members are assessed and money collected to help rebuild after a disaster. This is a modest system of fire and storm insurance. In 1965, a similar Amish Liability Aid system was established in the area, as author Donald Kraybill explains in his Riddle of Amish Culture, to "resolve the dilemma of providing protection against lawsuits without being ‘unequally yoked’ with commercial insurance."
National Steering Committee was originally organized to deal with problems relating to the draft, but "more recently, the committee has mediated legal disputes between the government and the Amish on Social Security, hard hats, unemployment insurance, workmen’s compensation, and other matters." Finally, those with medical bills to pay are helped by church alms. Again, in Lancaster, for serious problems an Amish Church Aid was developed as an informal version of hospitalization insurance.
Another traditional family function was to provide recreation for the child. Amish children in particular enjoy playing many games. Rather than going away from the home to parks or movies, children enjoy activities in the house and around the farm. With animals and wide open spaces, the farm is an exciting, although sometimes dangerous, playground. Amish children I observe find games everywhere---swinging a cow’s tail, chasing each other around the barn, climbing in the hay, pulling wagons, and imitating their parents. Children also get together at school and after church. Baseball is the most popular activity in the school yard.
It is perhaps the very fact that recreation is tied so much to the home, that some teenagers rebel before they join the church by participating in "worldly" recreation. This may include owning a car, drinking parties, attending movies, playing on a (non-Amish) baseball team, or going to the shopping mall. Many activities normally considered work are forms of recreation for the Amish adult. Quilting bees and frolics are an enjoyable mixture of work, socializing, and recreation. I once attended a straw frolic, now something of a rarity in Lancaster County. Straw was sorted and cut, later to be used for making straw hats. The men and women sat at their respective tables, talked, joked, and at times acted like children, stealing cushions and playing with the window shade.
Some Amish do travel, making trips to visit Amish in other states, but also sometimes to museums, the zoo, or places of interest. Members of one Lancaster family like to make a visit to the airport, simply to watch the planes taking off and landing. They rent a bus and driver for the trip. Some Amish enjoy an occasional trip to eat out, or a birthday party at a local restaurant. The most popular leisure activity for the Amish seems to be visiting. This may include everyone from relatives and the sick to non-Amish friends. Some tourists to Lancaster ask those of us with Amish friends what we "do" when we visit them. Tourists are sometimes baffled with the answer that "we just sit and talk for three hours." No TV set is turned on and no staged activity is needed to pass the time.
Part 7 and the final post of this Amish series will be posted next Friday.