Saving a Place
Saturday evening it was raining and cold outside but the house was warm and dry. Beth had driven up to Nashville so I plopped down on the couch, threw a blanket over me and finished watching a documentary I’d been viewing for almost a week.
The film is entitled; “The Amish: Shunned” and dealt with Amish children who, when they were old enough to choose, could leave home. Most of us have made the decision to move away from home to go to college, rent or buy a place of our own and see it as a rite of passage into adulthood. For the Amish, however, the choice to leave brought with it stigma, judgement and a loss of family and community.
The documentary followed several young and middle-aged Amish who chose to walk away from their quaint, confined culture and into a big, strange, new world. Some stayed on the outside and never returned, others decided to go back. The stories of families who refused to speak with their “shunned” children, wouldn’t invite them into their childhood home when they visited were heartbreaking. One man spoke of reconciling with his father after twenty-five years of estrangement. Another recounts a family reunion when her parents pulled the curtains shut so no one would see their prodigal daughter was home. To be sure there were exceptions to the strict adherence to the Amish rules of conduct but they were rare. I found myself growing frustrated as the film concluded. I didn’t understand how a parent could choose community over a child. I am confused by the stubbornness and belief that “shunning” saves the Amish way and possibly the child who chooses to leave.
One of the last parts of the documentary was an unseen Amish man speaking, they don’t allow themselves to appear on camera, who describes how each family sets the dining room table with a spot for those who are missing. “Three times a day,’ he says, ‘those who’ve left know there is still a place for them. There will always be room at the table.'” I both loved and disliked the symbol of the empty place setting. I loved it because they hadn’t forgotten the ones who were no longer there. I disliked it because the only way home was conditional, an adoption of particular a way of life the shunned no longer wanted.
Being truly accepted, loved, a part of a family or community comes from unconditional love and irresistible grace.