By Nicole Cameron
It is truly amazing where it is that we we can find resonances in life. Take me for example: I am Jamaican, but the truth is that due to my philosophical and religious beliefs and practices many times I feel as if I am on the fringes of the Jamaican culture - I eat differently, I read differently, I enjoy 'weird' things and in general my lifestyle is not typically Jamaican - even though I am 100% Jamaican and would have it no other way. I love the fruits, the language, the heritage, the history, the vibrancy, the life, the colour and the spirit of the little island I call home.
Yet, when the SUSIJ group visited Amish Country in Holmes County, Ohio yesterday, I felt quite at home. As I listened to our tour guide explain the roots of the Amish, Hutterite and Menonnite people, it resonated with me in a very powerful way.
You see, outside of the particular individuals that were named from which the groups above descended, the exposition we were given was basically that of Christianity in general and as a Christian that is also my roots. While scholars agree that one's sense of identity is a combination of multiple segments of one's self, history and experiences, the strongest shade of my identity is my spirituality. My religious and spiritual beliefs shape practically everything I do - from what I eat for breakfast, to who I marry and even the career I pursue. Therefore, I can totally understand why the Amish's religious beliefs shape their way of life.
Religious liberty is one of the foundation principles upon which the American constitution was built and so after the discovery of the New World, many religious sects from Europe fled to America in the pursuit of the freedom to worship according to the dictates of one's own conscience. The Amish were among this group that fled in order to escape religious persecution from the Roman church. As a Protestant myself, religious freedom is also one of the cornerstone doctrines that I subscribe to. Therefore, like the Amish I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of the separation of church and state. In fact the Behalt (mural depicting church and Amish history) in many respects depict quite astoundingly, the development and progression of Christianity its early years to its expansion into Europe and then to the New World. As our guide explained, I felt as if I were snuggled up in my chair at home reading one of the many volumes that my church publishes on Church history.
As a listened to the basic beliefs of the Amish, I realise that we share so much. I felt as if I was visited spiritual brothers and sisters. You see, while it appears that the Amish are ultra conservative, the fact is my religious faith is equally ultra- conservative. To a large extent if someone has time to sit with me for a while, I would probably argue that I am more conservative than the Amish. For sure, I do not shun the advances of science, education and technology. On the contrary, the church in which my membership resides has one of the largest pool of educational institutions in the world, from Kindergarden all the way up to institutions of higher learning. In addition, we do not live as secluded as the Amish do, but our conservativeness is reflected in nuances such as our diet, adherence of certain biblical principles, interpretation of bible prophecy and of course, our take on eschatology.
While there are some striking differences in practices of faith between the Amish and I, the spiritual resonance that I felt during my time in Amish country went deep. It reminded me that there are many peoples and cultures that I may never meet, but there are some threads that bind us together. It reminded me that we may be strangers but spirituality has a way of transcending all spaces, all times and all barriers.