RANDY HUFF: Plain And Simple

Deeper bonds meant creating obligations,” she said. “I longed for a group whose members needed and made demands on each other.”

Do we know what it means to be plain and simple? I don’t think I do, but I think I can appreciate the idea, and want to learn.

book entitled Plain and Simple has given me much to think on. Sue Bender, the author, was enchanted by an Amish quilt in 1967. Mrs. Bender — artist, married with children, holding graduate degrees from no less than Harvard and Berkeley — could not escape a virtual presence in the plain nine-patch patterns. They spoke, she said, with a “silence — a silence like thunder”. And they had a mysterious quality that illustrated and spoke to the incredible balance of life between “tension and harmony.”

The book artfully tells of Mrs. Bender’s visits to Amish homes. On two separate occasions she lived with normal Amish families for a span of weeks. She joined in the simple life they lead, hemmed carefully with unbending rules, hard work oriented around home and land, the unspoken constant: “do not seek to be special.” And of course, community.

I cannot do justice to the book — I am not sufficiently plain and simple to allow enough time for that task. But one comment on this matter of community really spoke to me. Mrs. Bender, musing on the wonderful sense of Amish community, said, “My friends and I had been taught to value independence, not to impose on each other. If we needed our house painted, we hired a painter; if we needed a cup of sugar, we drove to the market.”

Too true in most of our lives, I suppose, and the internet world, ironically, disconnects us all the more, moving us from real human interaction.

The Amish know about community, though, says Mrs. Bender: “Deeper bonds meant creating obligations,” she said. “I longed for a group whose members needed and made demands on each other.”

I am thinking this idea is rare, but necessary for a healthy life. And of course the Amish are not perfect at it. But maybe we could learn from them.

To whom are you willing to be obligated for the sake of community? By whom am I willing to be served for the sake of community? Mutual obligations are necessary if there are to be deeper bonds. And the more “plain and simple” we learn to be, the more likely we are to find ourselves enjoying life together like that.

Something to think on, during the holidays, and always.

– Randy Huff raised his sons in Roanoke 2010-2015, where he used to also serve as dean of students at a Christian school. He now lives and pastors a church in North Pole, Alaska.


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