Many say they’ve wanted to become Amish for “as long as [they] could remember,” though most of them say they have only seen Amish people on a few occasions, and don’t know much, if anything at all, about Amish theology. Some talk about wanting to find an Amish partner, others, about the fear they won’t be accepted into the community because they are single parents, or divorced, or have tattoos or once dabbled in drugs. Many are hesitant that they won’t be able to fully adjust, and so wonder if it might be possible to stay with an Amish family for a week or two, just to try out the lifestyle. Although a few commenters say they’ve taken the initiative to make their own lives more Plain–given up television, say, or started to dress more modestly–most of them appear to be banking on integration into the community to transform them, like alcoholics who decide to wait until detox before examining the deeper motivations behind their drinking.
You can read the whole account here. It is the story of people who are in love with an idea, perhaps more accurately, an ideal. These are the wishful Amish and Mennonites of the internet who have a fascination with the plain life clearly separate from the world but have not quite found a home among the Amish. One 2013 book suggests a hundred or less have become Amish and stayed Amish since 1950. People come and go and the Amish and their similar groups seem welcoming enough to those who dream the dream even though they find it hard to stay. Perhaps the difficulty lies more in the fact that the ideal they search for is not the reality of what they find. They are less enticed back into the world with the prospect of watching The Voice or Bluebloods or Facebook than they they are disappointed when Amish life does not match up to its imagination. They are not alone.
Many are searching for a church in the same way. They read the websites and survey the literature and decide I am Lutheran or whatever and then when they find a Lutheran congregation or find out about the Lutheran jurisdictions, they find the mental image more satisfying than the reality of it all. I know exactly what disappointment and disillusionment they find. Every pastor worth his salt finds it and finds it just as hard to swallow as the newbie who wants Lutheranism and Lutherans to be perfect. There are not a few Lutherans who are working with every finer sieves to strain Lutheranism from the less than Lutheran until they are left with the true blue Lutherans. I am not unsympathetic to that either.
The reality is that people are messy and they are a mess. Lutheranism in theory is wonderful. Lutheranism in practice is always less, mostly less Lutheran but also more human -- read that fallen human. We come with our conflicts and frustrations about things less than doctrinal that are too often more important than doctrine. We come with our fascinations more with things non-Lutheran than our real working knowledge of what it means to be a Lutheran. We know everything about the latest among the popular Christian authors or singers but we know little about our own Confessions or our great Lutheran chorales. It is not because we have not been taught -- many have tried to teach us. But we are not sure we want to be taught. Not if it means giving up our own pet perspectives!
Many come to my parish in search of the Lutheranism they read about in Confession and catechism. They look for a true catholic community with evangelical center that has a high view of Scripture and a high view of liturgy. They want a pious people who both know and love their own identity as Lutherans. What they find is that the acolyte occasionally picks his nose, cell phones go off during prayer, people talk incessantly during the liturgy, the people hold grudges and are too easily offended, and their pastors are sinners (mostly amateur but some professional class). What a bummer. The Lutheranism they love is a dream. The Lutheranism they find in parishes is a nightmare. Well, maybe not that bad but you get my drift.
Lutheranism is always a work in progress -- even when it is in regress. We cannot build a tower of Babel as testament to our accomplishment. We come as pastors and people both sinners together to meet at the foot of the cross. God is not finished with us yet and, in most cases, He has barely begun to bring to completion what He first began in the water of baptism. Our jurisdiction is as sinful and problematic as our parishes and our leaders have feet of clay, too. But we do not posit our hope or our confidence in people -- not even pastors. We have hope and confidence in the One who was perfect and is perfect, the crucified and risen Lord. As long as we have good theory, there is a chance for some good practice. That is Lutheranism's genius. We have Confessions. We have good bones on which to build the living tissue of the Church. God has given us this gift even when we fail to recognize it as a gift and complain about it as if it were a curse. But every generation and every age is call to our roots, to remember who we are, to join our voices with the confessors of old, and to worship and sing with our ancestors. To carry with us the living memory of our tradition while we live out the living work of the Kingdom in our homes and churches, neighborhoods and nation.
What we have to learn is that there is no Nirvana for Lutheranism -- not in history and not in reality anywhere. We struggle with different challenges and the same old sins. We fight new and old battles side by side. We pray "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief..." It will always be this way. That neither excuses our sin and failure nor finds contentment with it. We struggle every day to be who we are -- the people declared righteous in Christ in the splash of baptismal water and the churches filled with those baptized people. Do not lose heart. God is faithful and He will do it. That is not a wish. That is His promise.