RUMSPRINGA: TO BE OR NOT TO BE AMISH, by tom shachtman
I can’t remember how I heard about this book. I think it might have been one of those “amazon suggests” things. But, however I heard about it, I was intrigued enough to buy it and read it!
A big of backstory: rumspringa is the old older amish practice of allowing their older teenagers (from 16 years-old, for 2 to 5 years) to experience the world. Many (not all) of the kids on rumspringa, party like crazy, experimenting with alchohol, tobacco, drugs and sex (along with motorized vehicles, cell phones, non-amish clothing, pop music, and all the other things normal teenagers experience). At the end of their rumspringa, the young adults are expected to choose whether or not they will be baptized into the church and become fully amish (theoretically, and normally, for the rest of their lives).
It’s a wild and surprising practice, born out of a staunch Anabaptist belief that the Christian life is one that each individual must choose, completely on his or her own. In other words, amish children are not really considered part of the church, because they are not considered old enough to make their own conscious choice. The idea behind rumspringa, then, is that these post-teenagers have to know what their choosing between. If they have been forced to live the sheltered amish life until the day of their baptism, they won’t really be making an informed decision.
But here’s the other wild and surprising thing about rumspringa: 80 – 90% of the teenagers return to the church, get baptized, give up their partying ways, and become fully-functioning members of the church. That’s a WAY higher percentage than any other segment of the church, protestant or catholic. Sure, there are many other reasons that bolster this percentage (the familiarity of what they know, the threat of not going to heaven, the threat of being cut off from their families). But it’s still a staggering percentage.
Really, the whole amish thing, and the sociology and psychology of rumspringa, is just a context, or a backdrop, for looking at adolescent issues in general. The kids in this book (and it’s LOADED with stories of real kids and their families) are like an interesting test case of adolescent issues. Their uniform pre-adolescent experience makes them a unique opportunity to look at adolescent issues (like experimentation, identity, belonging, affinity, autonomy) with a select group who haven’t been “polluted” by all the cultural bombardment that any other group of teens in American would have had. Of course, this group bring their own, mostly different issues to the adolescent table.
This is an interesting read for anyone – at least in a voyeuristic way. But for parents of teenagers and youth workers, I highly recommend this book. And if I were teaching youth ministry at a college or grad school level, I would totally adopt this book for a course on youth culture, or adolescent issues, or adolescent development.