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Suzanne Woods Fisher, Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2009), 218pp.Suzanne Woods Fisher, Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2009), 218pp.

           Suzanne Woods Fisher, whose grandfather was part of the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, has written a simple book about the "Plain People" of her Amish heritage. The Amish, like the Hutterites and Mennonites, are only one of numerous Anabaptist groups that trace their heritage back to 1528 and the Austrian hatmaker Jacob Hutter, who founded a radical Christian community based upon the complete sharing of possessions (see Acts 2:44–45), adult baptism, and non-violence. For that he was burned at the stake in the Innsbruck town square eight years later. His fledgling followers, although likewise persecuted, survived. The Amish population, far from being assimilated, has tripled since 1950. Every year more than 8.3 million tourists pump $1.5 billion dollars into the economy of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (pp. 33, 209).

           Fisher organizes her forty-seven mini-chapters (two or three pages each) around five Amish themes — simplicity, time, community, forgiveness, and the sovereignty of God. Most of her book consists of real life stories that she's gathered from her interaction with the Amish. Each "chapter" begins with an Amish proverb or witticism for which they are justly famous (eg, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"), and then, after the brief narrative, concludes with questions for reflection and a "factoid" about Amish plain living (eg, Today about half of the Amish households are engaged in farming). In this way, Fisher introduces many of the themes for which the Anabaptists are rightly revered, like multi-generational family life, thrift and hard work, seeing the sacred in the simple, and honoring the dignity of manual labor.

           Fisher doesn't quite romanticize the Amish way of life, nor does she dig very deep into critical questions like why beards are acceptable but not mustaches, why formal schooling ends at the eighth grade, or why telephones are prohibited in one's house but not in the booth at the end of the street. In fairness, Fisher does include passing explanations for such practices (36, 122), and it's not her purpose to offer fuller treatments that some readers might want. So, you'll need other resources to dig deeper into Anabaptist history, theology, and life. I highly recommend two recent works — Mary-Ann Kirkby, I Am Hutterite (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), and Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress; A Memoir of Going Home (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009), both of which are written by Anabaptist insiders who write with respect and fondness, but also critical ambivalence, about growing up Anabaptist.

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