This weekend we traveled to the quiet, secluded village of Westcliffe, Colorado for a short respite beneath the magnificent Sangre de Christo mountains. I love this tiny western town, not only because of its spectacular scenery, but because it retains values I see being lost in mainstream America. Westcliffe still stands for family, ranching, community and conservative values. People on the street never fail to ask if you might need help and they always nod their heads with a friendly hello. The few restaurants that are open in the winter close by 8pm and you won’t find any shopping available on Sunday mornings either. Sleepy and refreshing. And thankfully, the owner of the B&B did not hesitate an offer to send back my favorite pillow — the one I so carelessly left behind — without even mentioning the word reimbursement. These kinds of traits are rare in our ever-evolving, self-centered, self-serving culture.
About five years ago, Amish and Mennonite sects began to come to this valley. These groups call themselves “plain” because of their preference to live a simple, unadorned life. Most within the Amish community avoid technology of any kind so I can understand why they might be drawn to a town like Westcliffe. In many ways, I admire their desire to maintain a simple lifestyle — living off the land with fewer distractions.
At the same time, it is hard to ignore my observation that the Amish do not always practice what they profess to preach. For instance, I wonder how the Amish in Westcliffe even knew that Westcliffe was just the very kind of town in which they might be able exist in practice? Do you think, perhaps, that they might have done a just a little bit of research on the internet? Most of the Amish originally hail from Ohio, Pennsylvania and other communities back east and in the Midwest. The West in no way compares to their New England, Midwestern roots. Perhaps they might not have researched well enough to understand that living at high-altitude means that many, many acres are required in order to graze the various livestock necessary for such an unmechanized lifestyle. It is no surprise that many Amish have already left this high, alpine valley. Winters in a high mountain valley can be harsh. Still, there remains a recognizable group of Amish traveling through the streets of Westcliffe in black, antiquated, horse-drawn buggies.
It never ceases to amaze me that the nature of man is so easily seen in towns and cities of every size. In a small town like Westcliffe there is little to distract the astute observer from engaging in thoughtful discernment about life on planet earth. On this particular visit, I watched with interest as an elderly Amish couple pulled their buggy over to the side of Main Street and then proceeded to halt the well-muscled team of horses which labored to pull their buggy. In the next instant, I watched as this “plain” gentleman, decked out in full Amish garb, hurriedly removed a cell phone from his pocket. He then proceeded to engage in a 5 minute conversation while his unadorned, bonnet-clad bride sat quietly next to him on the buggy bench. I recently read on a photography website that “Cell phones are considered a necessity for safety and business due to the space and acreage that separates each family. The Amish community voted to allow both cell phones and land lines.” Truly plain — or convenient? (BTW – there are some beautiful pictures of the Westcliffe valley on that link.)
This event was followed by a visit to the local Amish mountain furniture store. Long known for their craftsmanship, I decided to ask the young Amish store owner if I could see the styles of kitchen tables he offered on his website. (I happened to see a computer in his office.) He told me that they didn’t use computers — yet, there was the computer sitting comfortably on his office desk. Caught in his deceit, he proceeded to dance around his words, explaining that someone else had set up their website — but of course, they didn’t use the computer themselves. Honestly plain?
Further into our conversation with this man, he immediately honed in on our comment — that we were considering building a mountain cabin in the area. We had just finished talking with a couple of reputable local builders and he jumped at the chance to tell us how the local builders charge too much. He then referred us to an Amish friend who would charge half of their price. The reputation of his fellow Westcliffonians was of no concern to him, nor their 30 or more plus years of experience in the valley. He didn’t bother to tell us that the Amish don’t carry insurance on their workers nor that there are certain tax privileges given to the Amish by the government. I would also be negligent if I did not mention the story we heard from a local about the young, 14-year old Amish girl that was molested by an older Amish member of the community — in the very room in which I was standing. Honorably plain?
Our realtor told us another colorful story about the local Amish in Westcliffe. Evidently, he uses them to put up the hay on his large acreage in the southern part of the valley. Westcliffe has some of the best timothy hay in the state because of the abundance of water in the valley, which is a rarity in Colorado. He showed us some pictures from last year’s haying season which showcased a team of four horses driven by an 8 year old Amish girl. Behind her wagon, a mechanical piece of equipment manually cut the hay. Following directly behind the cutter was a baler, but this piece of equipment was powered by a gasoline motor, begging the question: Why is it allowable for one piece of equipment to be modernized while another could only be mechanical? Plain…..or convenient and cost effective?
It is most disturbing to me that the reasons stated for the “plainness” of the Amish is supposedly based on the Bible. I see nothing in my own personal observations of the Amish in Westcliffe that embrace true biblical humility, which more accurately denies self for the sake of others. The Amish I have dealt with appear to care more about the dollar bill than either plainness or humility. The young storekeeper told me stories of the factories back in Ohio where the tables, chairs and swings are made. The swings are made out of a 20-year recycled plastic product which could only be cut cleanly with a powered tool. Further, the furniture is delivered in Amish-owned trucks run by a well-polished Amish trucking company. This same Amish businessman bragged with pride about his own local bartering skills yet refused to honor the 15% coupon we had seen in the local paper over the Christmas holiday. His quickness to speak ill of his non-Amish community members in order to gain our business showed an arrogance and selfishness that Jesus would have surely frowned upon.
All of this is to say that while you can often judge a book by its cover, it’s almost as certain that you can’t. The label Amish and Mennonite describe a chosen lifestyle; it does not represent a lifestyle mandated by the Bible. While the Amish choose to portray an image to the world that they live a humble lifestyle free from the encumbrances of modern day conveniences, their actions often show the compromise of conscience for convenience and profit’s sake. They say one thing — yet often do another.
All throughout the book of Matthew, Jesus points out this kind of hypocrisy. You see, it is not about the works we do — the sacrificial way of living we might embrace philosophically. Rather, it is about what Jesus has already done for us sacrificially on our behalf. His sacrifice was necessary — a sacrifice based on His merit, not our own. In no way imaginable could a fallen human being ever expect to live a life of perfect humility. Our own hearts are much too inclined towards evil to ever do this perfectly. While we can certainly try to keep the cover of our book beautifully maintained and pristine, the pages contained within our human flesh reveal the depth of our sinful nature. However, we are not without hope! God sent a Savior, his very own Son, for our fallen hearts — knowing our inadequacies from before the beginning of time.
I remember my mother telling me to always tell the truth — because the truth would always be found out whether I spoke of it honestly or whether I tried to color it purposefully from view. Hypocrisy, especially when disguised in biblical clothes of human origins, is easily revealed when examined in the context of God’s Word. For example, Luke 13 tells the story of woman who had been disabled for 18 years. In his merciful kindness, Jesus healed her, but because he did so on the Sabbath, the ruler of the Jewish synagogue berated Jesus for disobeying The Law. How did Jesus respond? Read the story: (Luke 13:10-17)
Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (ESV)
After my recent visit to Westcliffe, I continue to find the works-based mentality of the Amish troubling. If you read this page, you will see the hypocrisy of which I am speaking. Yet, their confusion is no different than many mainstream evangelical churches who confuse Law and Gospel.
So — I won’t be buying that dining room table from the Amish store in the beautiful little town of Westcliffe — even though it is a little cheaper than my hometown, local furniture store. I don’t for a minute think that any of us are any better than the Amish in regard to our sin nature, but wisdom speaks to “beware.” When wisdom speaks, the human heart should take notice — even if it means spending a few more dollars. In the long run, dollars fade when glory is kept in view.
First Image: found at this website: http://www.westcliffe-colorado.com/