I confess that Mose Gingerich was my inspiration behind Still Life in Shadows. But the blurb in a magazine about Ira Wagler's memoir, Growing up Amish, is what I kept inside my desk. What moved me about a memoir I had yet to read?
The book description from the magazine read:
"One fateful starless night, 17-year-old Ira got up at 2:00 a.m., left a scribbled note under his pillow, packed his earthly belongings, and walked way from is Old Order Amish community in Iowa. You'll be riveted by this powerful memoir of what led him to leave, his search for personal freedom, and his conversion to Christianity."
Coversion to Christianity! I loved the way that in that moment of reading about Ira's book, I felt an affirmation within my own heart. Because, for so long, I had wondered how a religion who preached that leaving it meant an eternity in Hell, could be considered as pure and perfect as we English folk make the Amish out to be.
While many may see the Amish as quaint and simple, those who have left their Amish communities show us another side of the plain people.
Saloma Furlong, a former Amish, and author of Why I Left the Amish, says on her blog: "When I left the Amish, I only saw what I felt is the punitive nature of their religion — one belief in particular posed a problem for me. I was taught, from the time I could understand the concept that because I was born Amish, God wanted me to stay Amish, and if I left, all hope of my salvation would be lost. This belief was reinforced with fire and brimstone sermons."
In my soon-to-be-released novel, Still Life in Shadows, my ex-Amish characters struggle with what they were taught and wonder what they should believe about God now that they are no longer part of the old lifestyle. My character, Gideon Miller, wrestles with grace and forgiveness. Is he really headed for Hell since he left his home in Pennsylvania? And can people who profess to be Christians know God even if they are not Amish?
And even deeper lies the question: Why do the youth featured on the recent TV documentary, Amish: Out of Order, focus so much on the afterlife? Heaven or Hell? Is there nothing to be said for life on this earth? Are we not commanded to walk in faith, to love one another, to preach the good news, to show compassion, to feed the poor? Where does scripture tell us that we are doomed to Hell if we leave the Amish? Does this mean that the Amish believe they are the only ones chosen for Heaven?
Then, if this is so, where does that leave the rest of us people of faith, in their minds?
For too long we have idealized the horse and buggy images, even dreaming of what it would be like to be free from the modern constraints of life. But when it comes to a faith that saves the soul, no amount of plain living will get you closer to Jesus Christ. For it is not about the clothes we either wear or don't wear, it's not about covering our heads, but about opening our hearts.
Everyone has to come to Him with a contrite heart, and a desire to be forgiven.
And He is there, patiently waiting to welcome us----all of us, from all nations, races and cultures.
With God, we all matter, and we belong.
Order Still Life in Shadows today by clicking this link.