Yearning for simplicity

by Victor Doughty, Major – 

by Major Victor DoughtyIt is Saturday night as I once again tune in to my favorite radio broadcast, A Prairie Home Companion, with host Garrison Keillor. A clever skit is in progress. The announcer sets the stage: “They used to be a happy family. They did things together, ate meals together, had conversations, and then ‘IT’ came into the house.” (An evil presence known only as “IT” can be heard breathing ominously in the background.)

“They got ‘IT’,” explains the announcer, “so they could keep in touch with loved ones through e-mail, and instead their family got caught in ‘IT’.” Through creatively crafted dialogue, we learn that “IT,” the World Wide Web, has taken over the lives of everyone in this household. (Suddenly, there is a knock at the door.) “Excuse me, ma’am,” the visitor announces, “I’m Walter Dortmeister and I’m here to unplug your computer. I’m gonna wrap you up in this warm quilt and take you out and put you in my buggy.” Stunned by the dark computer screen, the woman recognizes her rescuer: “You’re Amish, aren’t you?” To which her hero responds: “Yes, I am. And I’m taking you to Amish Camp.” “What’s Amish Camp?” our hapless housewife asks. “It’s where we teach you about simplicity,” explains Mr. Dortmeister. “At Amish Camp you’ll reconnect with life’s basic values. Here’s your homespun dress and your plain shoes and here’s a reflective triangle to wear on your back so people don’t bump into you.”

Although the thought of actually sending someone to “Amish Camp” is outrageous fantasy, there is a sense in which we all yearn for simplicity. We long for the opportunity to “reconnect with life’s basic values.” In his book, Amish Society, John A. Hostetler observes that “the Amish have taught us something of the human cost when old values are cast away, when parents are alienated from children, when neighbors are treated as strangers, and when man is separated from his spiritual tradition.”

One day a few years ago my mother and I headed south out of Atlanta stopping first at Warm Springs, FDR’s summer White House and then on to Plains, Georgia, hometown of former President Jimmy Carter. We followed the signs to the old high school, which is now the official visitor’s center and signed up for the guided tour of Plains. As we boarded the 15-passenger van, we were surprised to discover that we were the only ones taking the tour. We were somewhat amused by our friendly and knowledgeable driver who was unaffected by the size of his tour group. Born and raised in Plains, our guide beamed with pride as he spoke of his personal relationship with the Carter family.

And so we received the royal treatment on that grand tour as we passed by the Carter family peanut farm, the clinic where Jimmy Carter’s mother, a registered nurse, cared for everyone regardless of race. We saw the humble Carter family homestead out on the edge of town, the railroad tracks President Carter walked along on his way to school. We drove past the public housing project where Jimmy and Rosalynn lived when he was first discharged from the Navy—the only President to ever live in public housing (unless you consider the White House public housing). A bronze plaque marks the unit.

We saw brother Billy Carter’s gasoline station, the Carter country store where six-packs of “Billy Beer” are still on sale. And, of course, we passed by Maranatha Baptist Church where Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school class whenever he is in town. Our helpful tour guide pointed out that it would not be uncommon to drive past the church on a weekday and see the former President astride a riding lawnmower cutting the church lawn.
Not long after that trip, I purchased a book by Jimmy Carter entitled, Sources of Strength, a collection of 52 Sunday school lessons taught either in Plains, Georgia or at the First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., while Mr. Carter served as our 39th President. In a lesson he entitled “Unseen and Eternal,” President Carter references the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

In his lesson on this passage, Carter makes reference to the dramatic social changes he has seen take place in his lifetime: “greatly increased mobility, instant communications, throwaway marriages and broken families.” He writes, “In such a world, it’s easy to lose the anchor of our lives, to become confused and uncertain about what really matters, or so ob-sessed with the rapidity of change that we lose sight of the changeless values that give our lives meaning.”

“In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses the same issue. He knew nothing about jet planes or the Internet, but he, too, lived in a world that seemed filled with complexities, troubles and changes that were often unwelcome.”

“What is seen is an ever-changing, confusing world, in which the only thing certain is that more change will be coming tomorrow. But there remain unseen things that are truly permanent. The unseen, eternal things Paul had in mind are the values of which Jesus spoke: humility, compassion, justice, truth, friendship and sacrificial love. When the world we live in today has passed away, the glory of these gifts will remain, unchanged and as precious as ever.”

Perhaps learning more about simplicity and life’s basic values may not be such a bad idea after all. Maybe a week or two at “Amish Camp” would do us all some good. At the very least, it should be added to the list of lifelong learning requirements for all officers. Barring that possibility, a trip to Plains might just do the trick.


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