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I’ve delayed posting my project for the month of March, simply because I’m not doing very well.

For the month of March, I decided to become a Good Samaritan. I decided that I would take the initiative and get involved.

I’m sure you know what I mean—every day, we see “things” we could help with. People or events that need our help. The man walking down the road with a gas can in his hand. The old lady trying to load groceries in her car. The person in line in front of us at the grocery store who is $1 short on their bill. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I usually don’t step forward and help out in these situations. I always have some great justification why I can’t get involved: I’m running late, I don’t have any money, I shouldn’t pick up strangers, etc etc—but we all know these are simply excuses. The bottom line is that I’m inherently selfish, and stopping to get involved would probably mess up MY plans for MY day. Subconsciously, I’ve simply decided that “I” am more important than anyone else (and honestly, I don’t like that the fact that I can live with that reality).

Psychologist Rollo May once said, “Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.”

This is where it starts to bother me. I’m familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in Luke 10 (if you need a refresher, it’s Luke 10.25-37). And while some scholars claim that this story is an allegory (where the characters symbolically represent other things), I interpret it literally. That we should physically stop, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s a stranger and even when it’s people who “aren’t like us”, and get involved. Maybe Jesus meant it as an allegory as well, but I also believe he meant it literally.

14 days into the month, I’m not doing very well. I’ve only had a couple of opportunities---actually, let me rephrase that. I’ve only taken advantage of a couple opportunities thus far, but I’ll try to be more deliberate and intentional in the remaining 17 days of the month.

"The Good Samaritan"; William Hogarth (1736)

"The Good Samaritan"; Jan Wijnants (1670)

"The Good Samaritan"; Jose Tapiro y Buro (date unknown)

"The Good Samaritan"; Pietro Benvenuti (late 1700's)

"The Good Samaritan"; unknown artist & date

"The Good Samaritan"; Rembrandt (1630)

"The Good Samaritan"; Aime Morot (1880)

"The Good Samaritan"; Rembrandt (1638)

"The Good Samaritan"; Fetti Domenicol(date unknown)

"The Good Samaritan"; stained glass in the Church of St Eutrope; Clermont-Ferrand, France

The Amish; Part III

Here is a collection of Question & Answers sent in by the curious public.

Q: Does the term “Rumspringa” have anything to do with the hip-hop song “rumpshaker”?
To the best of my knowledge, the term (discusssed previously in "Part II") has nothing to do with the 2003 album “Rump Shaker” by Suburban Legends, or the 1992 rap single by Wrecjx-n-Effect.

Q: Have the Amish ever produced championship cyclists?
I do not believe that the Amish have ever produced any championship cyclists, but there was at least one from a Mennonite background. America Floyd Landis grew up in a devout Mennonite family in Pennsylvania before he got into cycling (true story: Landis showed up at his first bike race wearing sweat pants, since shorts were frowned upon by Mennonites). Landis went on to success as a professional bike racer, and gained more fame when his 2006 Tour de France victory was revoked upon testing positive for enhanced testosterone levels. I suspect he might also be one of the few Mennonites to ever be banned from international sports due to performance enhancing drugs.

Floyd Landis, in happier times.

Q: Why did the Amish name the town Intercourse?
Intercourse, Pennsylvania was founded in 1754, and was originally named Cross Keys, after a local tavern. The name was changed to “Intercourse” in 1814.
According to the town’s website, several theories are given for the origin of the name, “Another theory concerns two famous roads that crossed here. The Old King's Highway from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh (now the Old Philadelphia Pike) ran east and west through the center of the town and intersected the road from Wilmington to Erie. The joining of these two roads is claimed by some to be the basis for the town 'Cross Keys' or eventually 'Intercourse'. A final idea comes from the use of language during the early days of the Village. The word 'intercourse' was commonly used to describe the 'fellowship' and 'social interaction and support' shared in the community of faith, which was much a part of a rural village like this one.”
According to my mother, who clearly explained the meaning of Intercourse to me at the tender age of 39: It’s a farming community and the roads lead into town to the market. The more direct route was called the Inter-course ( or Business route) the other being the long way around, or Outer-course.

Q: Is Weird Al Yanovic Amish?
No. Weird Al (famous for such parody songs as “Eat It” and “I Love Rocky Road") was born in California of Yugoslavian descent. He did record a single in 1996 entitled “Amish Paradise”, but he is not Amish.

Weird Al (no more glasses--he got LASIK!

Q: Why don’t they have curtains?
Actually, they do use curtains. As mentioned previously, some of the lifestyle choices chosen by the Amish vary from community to community. While some communities choose not to use curtains (my guess is they perceive is as being too “fancy”—remember that the simple, unadorned life is highly sought after), others use curtains and all are the same color, shape, etc. This would be in keeping with their desire not to draw attention to themselves.

The Amish; Part II

Questions and Answers in my month long study of the Amish.

Q: What do the Amish believe?
The Amish are a Christian community. They believe in all the tenets of Christianity, and their differences primarily come from their strict interpretation of the Bible in terms of worship (corporate & individual), dress, language and non-violence & pacifism. Many modern Christians read Biblical passages and interpret them as a cultural requirement of the day (for example, consider the teaching in Exodus 20.4 : “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…”). Many modern scholars consider that to be a cultural issue for the OT church, but the Amish take that very seriously and forbid the use of photographs, which would constitute a graven image,

One overarching idea that guides much of the Amish life is the idea of “conforming” to the world. In Romans 12:2, it is written, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The Amish take this very literally, and consider the use of “modern” things (such as electricity, telephones, cars, tractors, etc) to be conforming. While travelling through Amish country, you can almost always identify an Amish home from the lack of electric wires, satellite dishes, and phone lines on their houses.

Here’s an important thing to remember: the Amish voluntarily choose to separate themselves from the world. They don’t consider it a necessary means to salvation, but a way of separating themselves from the modern (read: sinful & corrupt) world. If some situation dictates that an Amish person needs to use a phone, or travel some distance in a car, they can and often will. But the use of a phone would be a utilitarian choice (for example, the need to call a doctor) versus using the phone to socialize with a friend. The Amish belief not to use electricity isn’t a belief that electricity is evil, but because it could lead to temptations and the deterioration of church and family life.
Most of us today would think it impossible to live without the modern conveniences such as electricity and cars. What makes the Amish unique is not that they get along without modernity, but that they choose to do without it when it would be readily available. The Amish value simplicity and self-denial over comfort, convenience and leisure. Their lifestyle is a deliberate way of separating from the world and maintaining self-sufficiency. As a result there is a bonding that unites the Amish community and protects it from outside influences such as television and radios.

Q: Why the funky beards (and no mustaches)?
This is a good example of a cultural practice adopted by most Amish. The Amish believe that a beard is a symbol of wisdom and maturity and at some long forgotten moment in history, they decided that after an Amish man gets married, he would no longer shave his beard (obviously, marriage is the moment when a man gets wise and becomes mature). The mustache issue is a little cloudier. According to multiple sources, a mustache (in the 1700 & 1800’s) was primarily worn by people in the military (someone just reminded me that George Washington didn’t have a mustache!), so the Amish adopted a “no-stache” rule. I guess we know where that puts Tom Selleck.

It’s worth noting that some of these cultural requirements vary from community to community. For example, there are some Amish communities that allow a young man to grow a beard after he has been baptized, regardless of his marital status.

Q: Is it true that teenagers have a period of time when they can “sow their wild oats”?
The period is referred to as “Rumspringa” (also seen as Rumschpringe or Rumshpringa, derived from the Pennsylvania German term) and loosely is defined as "running around". This period loosely correlates with what most American’s would term “adolescence”. It begins around age 16, lasts for a few years, and culminates with the Amish youth either choosing to be baptized and become a full member of the community or leave the Amish community for life in the modern world. Not all Amish communities use this term, and within the Amish population, it is commonly a time for courting and finding a spouse. Modern society tends to paint a picture of a rebellious youth, engaged in all sorts of lewd behavior (and to be fair, that may happen on occasion), but the reality is much tamer.

The Amish; Part 1

To thoroughly understand the origins of the Amish, we have to go back to 16th Century Europe. (I’ll try to simplify this argument for the sake of clarity). At that time, some in the church began the movement known as the Protestant Reformation, primarily a broad reaction to the theology and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. A key teaching in the Roman Catholic church was that baptism was necessary for salvation, and since it was necessary, it should be done as soon as possible. Thus, the practice of infant baptism arose during this time. In contrast, the group of “Reformers” affirmed that baptism should not occur until a believer was old enough to know and understand the tenets of salvation through Jesus Christ. This group became known as the “Anabaptists”, or “re-baptizers”.

Anabaptist were outspoken against many things they believed to be theologically incorrect, among them infant baptism, the taking of oaths, wedding rings, endorsement of any type of violence in society (including membership in the military or police force) and participation in civil government or even secular society.

An early leader in the Anabaptist movement was Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who struggled with his Catholic faith (interesting note: in 1526, Simmons began an exhaustive study of the Scripture to try and understand the Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation”. He admitted that prior to this time, even as a priest, he had never really studied the Scripture). In 1536, Simons left the church and fully adopted the Anabaptist movement; his followers became known as Mennonites.

Menno Simons; (1496-1591)

In 1693 Jacob Amman led an effort to reform the Mennonite church. When his efforts at reform fell through, Jacob and his followers split from the other Mennonite congregations and became known as the Amish Mennonites (based upon his name, Amman).

Mennonites and Amish suffered terrible persecution in Europe through the 1500 & 1600’s, with many fleeing to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. It was here that the strong farming tradition and home worship services began to form (as ways to avoid persecution from society).

The Amish name derives from the founder (Jacob Amman), similar to the way “Lutheran” derived from Martin Luther or “Wesleyan” comes from John Wesley.

Jacob Amman; (1656-1730)

Q: How did they get to the United States?

In 1682, James Duke of York , the future James II of England, handed over a large piece of his American holdings to William Penn. Penn believed strongly in religious freedom (due in large part to being persecuted for his Quaker beliefs) and insisted that his land (which would later become Pennsylvania and Delaware) be a haven for the religiously persecuted. As such, he promoted his new colony in the Americas heavily throughout the Mennonite and Amish communities, and the first Anabaptists came to Pennsylvania as early as the mid-1700’s. Tens of thousands of Mennonite and Amish families (some say in excess of 100,000+) came to the United States in the 1700 & 1800s, settling primarily in Pennsylvania, but also other states in and around the area.


A new month is here, and with it, a new challenge. Lots of people have been suggesting food-related tasks, but I’m on the road for much of this month, and I was looking for something a little more cerebral.

My idea occurred on the last day of January. I found myself in western Pennsylvania trying to pass a horse-drawn Amish buggy on a narrow road. I started thinking about the Amish people, and realized that I don’t really know much about them. So my task for the month of February is pretty simple—I’m going to learn everything I can about the Amish. Where they came from, where they live, what they believe. . .in addition, I’ll answer some of the most common questions, including:
1. Why do they paint their doors blue?
2. What’s up with those funky beards the men wear?
3. Did they have anything to do with the naming of Intercourse, Pennsylvania?

If you have any questions about the Amish community, feel free to send them my way and we’ll get to the bottom of this subject.


I’m a touch late posting this, but for the month of January, I’ve given up two things: Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Here’s why (and I'll try to take out all the complex chemistry and make this super-simple):

Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) are formed by passing hydrogen- through liquid oil. By “partially hydrogenating”, the oil develops into a butter-like consistency—but at a fraction of the cost of real butter. It’s gives food a richer texture, but very cheaply. It also serves as a preservative; have you ever wondered why some processed foods (especially things like Twinkies and those delicious little white powdered donuts) can stay fresh forever? It’s because they are loaded with PHOs. Food producers get a double dose from PHOs: food is cheaper to make, and it can stay on the shelf longer, both of which add up to more money for the producer.

PHOs have been linked to increases in multiple types of cardiac disease, diabetes, obesity, and a myriad of other health problems. There’s no good reason why you should eat anything made with PHOs, but the reality is that they are everywhere—a huge majority of breads, cakes, pies, crackers, soups, and cereals are loaded with PHOs.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a little trickier. Here’s what happens to your body when you consume “normal” sugar. Your body produces insulin, and a side-effect of insulin production is appetite suppressant (technically a chemical called “leptin”). In other words, when you eat something sugary, you “feel” full and you eat less. This is where HFCS comes in. Since HFCS isn’t sugar, there’s no insulin production—and as a result, there’s no natural appetite suppressant. So why do candy and food makers use HFCS? It’s simple---so your appetite will not be suppressed and you’ll eat more (translation: you will buy more). An added economic bonus is that HFCS is cheaper than sugar, so producers save on the initial food production.

HFCS has been tentatively linked to the rise of obesity in the United States (especially childhood obesity), poor dental hygiene, and a list of other health problems. In the 40 years since the introduction of HFCS into the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed (In 2010, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese). It certainly isn’t fair or accurate to place all of the blame at the feet of HFCS, but that certainly is a factor.

When you start reading labels, you’ll find HFCS in lots of things you would expect (candy, ice cream, sodas, fruit drinks, condiments) and some things you wouldn’t expect (bread, yogurt, and even some lunch meat!)

Both of these are small ingredients that are easily lost in the list of other ingredients. But they can have a lasting impact upon all of us, and I’ve decided to begin this year by cutting out all foods made with those ingredients. Stay tuned for an update.

A Year of Months

Many of you know that for many years, I have chosen a year-long project for the New Year. From the mundane to the exotic, I have met with varying degrees of success (a pic every day of 2007) and failure (a ban on ice cream back in 2004.) For 2011, I’ve decided that rather than having one project for the year, I’m going to have 12 different projects, one for each month of the year.

It might be something culinary (vegetarian for a month), social (being a spontaneous extrovert) or something in the community (volunteering with a local organization). Stay tuned for January’s quest.