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JOE LAGUARDIA: Amish exemplify how simple living leaves more time for God

If you were to ask me what religious denomination is growing in the United States, I would have guessed the Pentecostals.

Well, my guess is wrong. The fastest growing religious group in America is the Amish.

You know the Amish, right? They are the folks who live on farms, refuse to use electricity and other modern amenities, and live in close-knit communities up in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

I know them well because my mother had always been obsessed with the Amish and their simple way of life.

I remember when I was a child, we took a trip to Lancaster County, Pa., to experience Amish life firsthand. I was enthralled with the old-fashioned wooden gizmos they used to work, cook, and play. Their horse-drawn buggies were a sight to see, and their hats made me laugh.

That they are growing at an alarming rate -- nearly doubling their population every 20 years, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post -- is not surprising. The Amish value children, and they insure that those children are well-educated and assimilated into the Amish way of life.

That way of life makes for a healthy upbringing because they eat what they grow, consume what they make, and want not because they waste not. There is a spiritual lesson to learn in there somewhere.

The fact that they do not have laptops, cellphones, iPods and televisions means that they have to focus on other things in life that are much more important in the long run: family and faith come to mind.

The Amish have to rely on one another for entertainment and recreation; they are forced to do things together in community in order to accomplish goals and make a way for future generations.

Because they don't have car payments or credit card bills, the Amish have more money to spend on things that mean something, like land and family keepsakes.

They are well-connected and complain little about what the government says or does (unlike popular belief, the Amish do pay taxes like everyone else). They buy local, sell quality products, and go to church regularly.

Of course faith is a central aspect of being Amish. The name "Amish" comes from a French Mennonite leader, Jacob Amman, who believed that Mennonites were too relaxed in areas related to church discipline and worship. In 1693 he formed the first Christian community that gained his moniker.

Today, those communities are expanding to meet the needs of flourishing families and a hearty grassroots economy. Thus their religion's record-setting growth.

The Amish, as separatist as they are, remind me of the communities from which John the Baptist emerged. All four Gospels agree that John came "from the wilderness" preaching the kingdom and the coming Messiah that would revive Israel's faith and lead a new exodus to God's liberating freedom.

That he came from the wilderness implies that he probably learned his way of faith from separatist communities like the Essenes, those who wrote and preserved the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

These communities were places of refuge for Israelites sick of the corruption of the Jerusalem Temple system and the occupation of the pagan Roman Empire.

John's preaching had that kind of Amish ethical bite to it as he preached against the Temple and her leaders. John came to "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" (Mark 1:2) as he called people to repentance, baptized them in the Jordan river, and advocated a faith built upon principles of simplicity and spiritual revival.

It's that preparing that I think we lose in our media-saturated, technology-driven society. We have become so consumed by our to-do and to-buy lists, that we have forgotten to let the Lord into our lives Monday through Saturday. We don't let God in, much less prepare our hearts for His arrival.

Despite my appreciation for the Amish, I certainly would not volunteer to live without electricity; but, the Bible does say that Jesus "stands at the door and knocks" (Rev. 3:20).

An Amish-inspired simplicity forces us to prepare room for God, hear the knock and open the door.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net.