book response: Growing up Amish by Wagler (2011)

Last year we took a family vacation in Lancaster County about the same time this book, Growing up Amish by Ira Wagler, came up as a pre-pub review option. I heartily recommend the Old Summer House we stayed at, and I was so intrigued by the culture we visited that I really wanted to get into this book back then. But I was too late, all available copies were claimed, and I put the book on my Amazon wish list. But I didn't get to it until it recently showed up on sale on Amazon's Top 100 Kindle titles. I'm glad I did.
Ira Wagler is not a Lancaster Amish but was born in Canada, to an Old Order Amish family that had relocated from an Indiana Amish town. He enjoyed his childhood, but not the religious cultural restrictions. His older siblings also had difficulties and left the community to the shame of his father, an influential writer in Amish circles. So he relocated the family again to another community in Iowa. But the change in scenery, did not address the heart issues. Ira left his community multiple times, living an "English" life without those restrictions. He also self-medicated with nicotine, alcohol, and further illegal substances, in addition to the friendship of the opposite sex. Even those things left his soul empty, so he kept returning to the Amish fold of his family and community, hoping that getting those passions of the flesh out of his system might enable him to finally embrace his culture. The religious culture of his home community never addressed the hunger in his soul. He found the traditional prayers and hymns of the faith beautiful but the beauty was not enough to bring his soul transcendence. Even an engagement to a lovely Amish woman did not satisfy his soul. He feared that the marriage would trap him forever in a culture that not only did not satisfy him but dehydrated him spiritually. He entered into depression and decided to leave again.

Still, he could not liberate himself from the pull of the Amish, so he decided to try another community in Indiana. Yet there he encountered the worst Amish religious leader in his life, bitter and hateful. Out of the dryness of his soul, he broke all his conventions and prayed independently and casually, asking God to help him. God answered. He met an extremely rare person among the Amish, a convert. Wagler was intrigued by someone who would choose the Amish straitjacket. But this man also lived a life in God's grace. Both these things drew them into a close friendship. As they discussed religion and life, even as the straitjacket continued to again suck the life out of Wagler's soul, his new friend filled it again with the grace of God that flowed out of him. God's grace changed everything for Wagler.

Miraculously, a seed of faith sprouted in his soul, and he was able to believe in the Jesus he had heard about his entire life. But he also realized something else, "The box of Amish life and culture might provide some protection, but it could never bring salvation." This was everything Jesus railed against in his disputes with the Pharisees, whom he called white washed tombs, pretty on the outside but full of internal corruption and death. Not that every Pharisee was a hypocrite, Nicodemus, nor is every Amish person one either, Wagler's friend, but Wagler realized one did not have to wear that label and live that lifestyle to live in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Wagler did not go far from the Amish way, he is Mennonite now and he blogs. His story gets as depressed as he was. This reader could not detach from Wagler's emotional journey. The trip down was long and terrible but the resolution and joy was all too brief. I'm glad to hear that Wagler is working on a second book that goes into more detail about his life after his conversion.
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