Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The First Meeting

When you're not Amish, you wonder what it's all about — being Amish, that is. Your thoughts of black buggies with bright orange triangles, horses hooves on asphalt roads and waiting patiently to pass. You presume that you wouldn't be welcome in their community because you are from the "outside".

The curious thing is, when you find their community, you're surprised at how "normal" everything appears to be. Like stopping off at a country farm house, the paint is worn, but not flaked. The yard is clean and the fields are plowed. Yet there's not a soul in sight.

When I first met Elias, it was a gorgeous Fall day in Minnesota with a cool breeze blowing in from the West. It was close to 5 o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was still bright in the sky. My friend, Brian (my Ambassador to the Harmony Amish) had been here many times before. He's a friend and accorded a warm welcome from Elias who pops out of a machine shed. You see, Brian runs the ByAmish online store that sells the furniture that Elias produces so lovingly by hand.

Stepping out of our car and onto the country worn driveway, Elias cautiously waited for me to shake his hand. I was immediately struck by the power in his grip. Understand, all my life, my father would tease us when at church to make sure to get a good handshake in - you didn't want to have your fingers crushed. To be sure, the "technique" is to "jam" your thumb and forefinger into the nook of the shaker's hand. In this way, your extended fingers never cross knuckles. Had I not this "training", I think my knees would have buckled a bit with the force of Elias' strength.

He's deceptively young, or at least young-at-heart, since he is around 40 (give or take). He smiles broadly and freely. Funny that I should have found that simple fact so startling: an Amish man smiling. There is a tendency to presume that the Amish are always serious. This just isn't so. Elias' soft German accent is sort of a cross between a "Southern German" accent - something near Alsace Lorraine - and that of a Midwestern country farmer. He's a very pleasant fellow and was quick to show me where and how he worked.

His work, it would seem, means the world to him. In a place that eschews pride, it was hard for him to hide it. Even though the sun was dipping, the farm was lit up and shadows were still rather short, but inside, one is struck how dark the interior of buildings and rooms are when there's no electric light to be found. This realization was juxtaposed by the tell-tale screeching of a ban saw ripping through a golden piece of wood. That surprised me. How was the lathe powered? By a diesel engine, I learned. Apparently, this is acceptable, but working off "the grid", is not. Elias and his apprentice John, both wore old fashioned head lamps to light their way, and to keep their fingers attached.

Elias takes me from the workshop and into a storage area to chat in quieter surroundings. There, nestled together — like an old attic without the dust, was the largest collection of heirloom furniture I had ever seen. Wall-t0-wall tables, chairs and dressers. Orders that are ready to be shipped, some that needed just a touch more work and others that hadn't passed Elias' standard for quality. When I asked him how he judged them - he told me, "I just know."

> Look for the next blog post for a continuation of this encounter.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Little Understanding...


A single word that conjurs up thoughts of horse-drawn carraiges with slow moving traffic triangles, old bearded men wearing straw hats, and 200 hard-working folks raising a barn in a single day. All of these would be correct, but would also fall far short of truly describing the people, their lifestyle and their faith.

One word that would not be used is "blogging."

The understanding we want you to have is this... that this blog has been established to bring light to a world that is often misunderstood and to help bring attention to a community that would seldom ask for it. Please understand that our company, ByAmish Handcrafted Furniture, sells the beautiful heirloom quality furniture and accessories that are lovingly manufactured by our Amish artisans. We do so for a profit, but we also do so because we've fallen in love with a people and wish only the very best for them.

The Amish believe that calling attention to themselves is a form of idolotry, taken from a passage from Exodus 20:4 in which it says, "you shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or the earth beneath or in the waters below." This is why you won't find many images of Amish people - even though photographers the world over would love to spend days capturing the charming weather worn faces of the elders and the cherubic smiles of their little ones.

But, as you can surmise, this leaves the Amish is a bit of a pickle. How do you sell the goods you produce, if you can't market them in traditional, or even non-traditional ways? If you aren't passing by our machine shed in Harmony, Minnesota, it's unlikely you'll ever get to know just how wonderful Elias' furniture really is. And, that's where technology can come in to play.

The Amish can sell their furniture to us, and we in turn, can post it online, or advertise traditionally, or, like this blog, begin a new conversation with folks from around the country. In doing so, we help fund the lives of these people we care about so deeply. Understand, it's no charity case, and the Amish would be the first to dismiss the notion. They are a very proud people with a long and resourceful past... it's simply our attempt to help bridge the divide between a culture that chooses to live simply, honestly and in harmony with God and nature with that of a technological world that for all of its advancements, could take a lesson or two on slowing down and smelling the flowers far more than it does.

So to conclude, we don't wish to paint a false impression - of a rogue Amish man typing away at a keyboard to let you into his world. Rather, we aim to be reflective of his thoughts, feelings and prayers for his people, his family and his world. If this connects you more closely with the handiwork of his labor, we thank you. And should it only enlighten you to an better understanding of a world hidden from most of us, then to that, we say "thank you" as well.