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After the Fire

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I came across this title while researching a post on proposed highway-building through the unspoiled and productive lands of the Lancaster County Amish. The roads were being built to ease the traffic congestion caused by tourists who were coming to see the Amish. The Amish were pointing out that if the highway were built, they would have to pick up and move their community elsewhere. Catch-22.

Randy-Michael Testa is a committed Catholic who decided to write his Harvard doctoral dissertation on “explicit education in a belief system — a faith community.” He spent a summer living with an Old Order Amish family in Lancaster, falling in love with their view of the world and growing increasingly anguished at the way the modern world was eroding their community. This book chronicles his months with the Stolzfus family and the political, environmental, and moral issues being wrangled at the time.

Testa writes extremely well and his chronicle brought me close to tears, both of joy and of sorrow. Though his heart is full of passion for this community, his prose is far from purple, which makes it all the more effective.

He tries to present a clear and balanced view of the perhaps inevitable end of the Amish of Lancaster, which is being developed massively and at an increasing pace as Philadelphia and its sphere of economic influence grows. The Amish way of life requires more land in every generation as sons grow up and need farms of their own. Even though it is the most fertile farm land in America, the soil of Lancaster County is being paved over by developments and shopping malls. Property there is now priced for townhouses rather than cornfields; the taxes are high and there are convenience stores, factories, new neighborhoods and other barriers to farming at every turn.

Read this book to get a feeling for what the modern world is losing. The Amish are in the midst of a gradual migration to Indiana and other less-populated states where they hope to stave off strangulation for a few more generations.

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  • People don’t understand that more than animals and insects are being displaced by macadam and stupid shopping malls. The effect on the population, Amish or otherwise, is far more detrimental than its citizens know. I wonder how widely this book will be read, and how many who read it will take it to heart enough to protest the loss of an entire human community to the cold, ignorant push of progress.