Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Rumspringa, or running around, is an Amish custom in which teenagers are allowed to live, work, and/or socialize in the ‘outside world’ for a time, in order to experience Englisher ways.  Then they use those experiences to decide if they want to be baptized in the Amish church and commit themselves for life to it and their community, or leave the Amish life to join the modern world.  

During their rumpspringa, Amish teens may go to parties, start courting with other members of their district, or live with or work for English families and attend Mennonite or other denominational church services.  Of course, some teens may not need a rumschpringa to help them decide that they are ready to join church and carry on the customs their ancestors have followed.

Along with other Amish customs, this concept seems odd when you’re hearing about it as an outsider, presumably because it is so structured:  it starts when an Amish teenager turns 16.  It varies in length, based on the teen and their desire to explore outside their district.

But is it odd?  Don’t most American teenagers go through similar ‘running around years’ to find themselves or sow their proverbial wild oats before settling down?  I know I did.
Recently, I read excerpts from an Oprah interview with Laura, Barbara, and Jenna Bush.  When describing family nights on their family ranch, Jenna, who is now married and working as a reading coordinator at an elementary school, says “…we sit around and we talk and we laugh and we do puzzles and we get in bed by 9:00.”  Laura quickly interjects that “[the twins] didn’t use to.”  Read full article here.  When I read this snippet I giggled because the Jenna Bush we have seen in the past is the girl who was arrested for alcohol related charges twice within 5 weeks.  This was years ago when she was a college student – she was charged with possession of alcohol under the age 21 and attempting to use a fake ID to purchase alcohol.  

When I was politely told I was no longer welcome as a student at JMU, I started acting out a bit.  I stayed out way later than I ever had, started hanging out with a new group of friends, none of which I would socialize with today, and made some decisions I know I shouldn’t have made.  I was a little reckless and carefree…both of which were fun at the time, but not worth the time I lost being a dumb teenager.  Of course I found my way, and my true inner dork, and I could say it helped make me the person I am today, blah, blah, but I’m not really sure it helped or hurt.  Jury’s still out.

There are a ton of other examples of American teenagers from varying backgrounds and familial situations who go through running around years, just like Amish teens are expected to experience.  We don't have the same decision to make involving baptism and commitment to the church, but our rumspringa helps us decide who we want to be, where we want to live, and how we want to get there.  Maybe the Amish customs aren't so out there...

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