Monday, March 26, 2018

Post 9--Poverty and Wealth--Comments, Final Thoughts, and Telling

Thanks to everyone who followed this series of posts on poverty and wealth.

The subject struck a nerve, and I hope there are lots of spinoff conversations in churches and homes about how we deal with money and all the other types of poverty and wealth.

I haven't caught up with all the messages and comments yet, but I want to address just a few of them here.

"And could you put it into book form?"
--Rosa Miller
"...I feel like I'm walking right beside you as I read your posts. This would be a great book."
--Linda F. Miller
"Loving these Posts!! Please publish them all together when you’re done!!!!"
--Charlotte Good
"Maybe someone has told you this already, but I feel like there has to be some book potential with this series you're doing."
--Ben Smucker

Answer: Maybe.  I asked Ben if it should be more of a Amish-childhood tell-all or a book on Anabaptist finances, and he said one makes a good framework for the other.

Feel free to email me with your ideas of what such a book should include.

Some recommended books and resources:
"For another example of valuing community (in another culture), check out the movie McFarland, USA, which is about a white coach & family who move to a town that is almost entirely hispanic farmworkers. There are some significant weaknesses in the dominant culture in our country, and strories like yours illuminate them."
--Donna McFarland

"The book by Erik Wesner, "Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive" answers some of the questions you ask about why Anabaptists tend to be financially successful. Here are the main points from the book that come from a review on Amazon by Joshua Crews: 1. Low personal expenses. It's easy to bootstrap a business without debt when your life is simple; you have few gadgets; and your entertainment is family, games and visiting friends.
2. A fear of God. This persuades away from idleness, and into productivity and investing in the good of others.
3. A commitment to excellent craftsmanship. It glorifies God to make a thing well. That alone motivates quality and a reputation for quality and service that can command premium prices.
4. God, family, community before business. Business is used to fulfill your calling to God, to family and to community. The American mantra assumes that business success is THE goal. The Amish don't see it that way."
--Merle Burkholder

"Byrant Myers book "Walking with the Poor" is an excellent resource for understanding poverty and my definition of poverty comes from his book"
--Merle Burkholder

"Have you seen any of the research or books on the topic of poverty by Ruby Payne? She has done a lot on the topic."
--Patricia Ann Lewis

Some further thoughts on various subjects:

"Imagine my surprise, after growing up in that community, when I discovered nepotism is frowned upon in the great wide world.  šŸ˜® Talk about culture shock!"
--Jarita Bavido

"The other thing I think is HUGE is a good name....I think the word spreads that Mennonite young people are good workers and can be trusted. Our dentist told us that he knows many professionals that would hire our youth in a heart beat because they know our youth haven't ruined their brain cells with drugs and alcohol and they would be willing to even invest in training them rather than hire someone more educated who they don't know if they can trust... Makes me think of the verse, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.""
--Twila Smucker

"In the 'world,' Republicans emphasize personal responsibility and Democrats think society should take care of people. But Mennonites are kind of a mix of the two."
--our son Ben

"Affluence, however, can result in discontentment. I sometimes wish my children would be as thrilled with a new bike or a box of 64 crayons as you would have been. We now sometimes struggle to come up with ideas for birthday and Christmas that 1. aren’t junk and, 2. will produce excitement for them. 
I’m not meaning to complain. I’m extremely grateful for the blessings I’ve been given. I just know there’s some value in learning serious frugality that my kids are probably missing out on."
--Rodney Troyer

"I thought you might enjoy reading up on Black Wallstreet in Oklahoma. Basically, they were forced to do business with each other because of discrimination, becoming extremely wealthy, until they were destroyed by a hate crime. The Anabaptists do the same thing out of loyalty to each other--patronizing their own people. The longer a dollar circulates in a community, the more its wealth creation is compounded, which explains another piece of wealth among our uneducated people."
--Matthias Miller

There are dozens of great, insightful comments both on the blog and on Facebook. I can't do justice to them all here.

And the moral dilemma of Telling:

Someone asked me privately:
You are saying a lot of personal things about your dad/ childhood in this last series on poverty. Will he read it? Have you already discussed it with him? I was just wondering how he'd feel about the negative (but honest) things referring to him specifically?

No doubt lots of you wondered about this. I've had a growing desire to write more honestly about my childhood, and a number of people had been urging me to, but I planned to wait until after Dad was gone. Then I decided to post about poverty and it gathered a momentum and story of its own without my quite knowing what was happening.

I don't know if he'll read it, and I didn't discuss it with him. We get along pleasantly enough today, and he spent the last four summers here, but he and I have never been able to have a conversation about any of this.

I've tried to paint in broad strokes, and I've been very gentle and minimal with the truth, writing here of less than 5% of what actually happened. Also, it's been 40 or 50 years. It's probably time to begin talking about it, and the moment seemed right.

If you disagree, I'm open to a conversation.

The best thing to come out of these posts was that family members found it validating, the grandchildren were sending their parents "we finally understand" messages, and people who have been through similar experiences felt understood. Like this anonymous woman:

Wow Dorcas. I'm struck...with HOPE for my future! I was that little sister and now, at 28, married to my "Paul", with three little girls, I'm incredibly blessed!! God and the Gospel have saved me from the pit of destruction! But this wrestling, struggling, forgiving, conscious and intentional change take effort and energy and gets overwhelming. Hearing where you come from and seeing where you are today gives me so much hope for myself! God does have a beautiful plan for me, whether it feels like it or not.

And a relative messaged me

I can only imagine how many other women are weeping over their smart phones this week.

Before I start sniffling again, re-reading that, let me close with what I see as the best gifts my parents gave me.

Dad gave me curiosity, a love for learning and literature, and a precision with language.

Mom gave me a sense of humor, creativity, lots of hands-on skills, and a love for storytelling.

Even though I felt silenced as a child and teen, God has given me a voice and a platform, and I use all those gifts from my parents in what I do today. 

That is the wealth of redemption and the power of the Gospel.


  1. In the craziness of life I haven't been reading blogs. What a delight to find a whole series here on such an important topic. I've read through the whole series, some more than once, and am blessed by your insight and honesty. Thanks for being vulnerable. You make me wish I could have been there with you fifty years ago to give you a hug (and a huge pack of socks in every size) but I also know that you are the person you are today because of the pain you experienced then. Thanks for allowing God to use your story to give hope and start a work redemption in the lives of other women.

  2. If you write a book on this subject I suggest you include a chapter how one can become prosperous without becoming arrogant. I have seen it I mentioned something on this topic to a non-Mennonite and he agreed that local Mennonites have become arrogant...Or, maybe Mennonites do not handle affluence well.

    1. Non-mennonites also handle affluence badly.

  3. Much of your story could have been my story. My father was very light weight; but academically he could have done anything. He tried farming, because it was the thing to do. But it never brought any satisfaction or even a decent income. I still have nightmares about chores at home. My wife and I struggled financially - we never got on top. Now finally forced to look for a mortgage from private sources, I went to an old friend, and brother in the church. He has been very successful but was willing to help out. If only I had not been too proud to keep on trying for private, Mennonite money. To hear over and over that our biggest problem in the church is prosperity, when we were struggling, was hard. And yet, after being turned down several times, I was too embarrassed to keep on trying. So i borrowed where I could - everything I tried to make things better only added to our difficulty. What I really wanted to add was that my benefactor has not become arrogant.

  4. I do not read much anymore but I like the thoughts in this series. I'm also seeing a number of people encouraging you to put this in a book. I at one time wished that the Amish Mennonite principles I grew up with could benefit so many more people living in inner city poverty and the third world. But life experiences and walking in others' shoes has caused me to pause those thoughts.

    I find it interesting that someone mentioned Greenville, Oklahoma. Even though Greenville was a prosperous and wealthy African American community, what ultimately happened to Greenville is what happens continuously on a daily basis to African Americans today. I just read an article that purported that if a white male child is wealthy, he will remain wealthy his entire life. If a black male child is wealthy, the studies indicated that 100% of the time that black child will be poor as a man. In Africa, anyone who is wealthy or white or new American must support the entire extended family back home or face the consequences. That will make a person poor fast.

    I know it takes a lot of work to research this stuff but it is useful to at least have an awareness of the realities others in poverty live in and how the Amish principles may not fit. I also have enjoyed my dumpster diving days for reasons I will not speak of publicly. :) And I wish your father could have found a more respected place in that Grove City community. Sometimes these communities were gardens for the gifts and talents of some and graveyards for the gifts and talents of others.

    1. Very true about the GC and other communities. I will say that that church is a much more nurturing and honest place than it was 40 years ago, and Dad is listened to and respected today. I just remember before Mom's eye surgery, one of the youth girls came and gave her a hug and said she'd be praying for her. At that age, I wouldn't have dreamt of hugging an older lady in church or caring about her surgery. Which is awful but honestly I didn't know that was an option.
      As I said, things are different now.
      As for further writings or a book--I am well aware that you can't superimpose the Amish system on another culture. I would hope to tell a story and convey information and if someone wants to configure it for their culture and situation, they can figure it out for themselves.
      The Gospel is for everyone. The Odning is not.

    2. I apologize Dorcas. I misspoke. All I really meant to say was I thought it was particularly effective when you interacted with thinkers and statistics from outside the community or gave them a nod. As a reader it grabbed me. (Like the reference to Mrs Erenrich) Also, there was a piece you wrote a long time ago that sticks in my mind for this reason. Certainly, authors can’t be all inclusive. Take care.

  5. I've followed this series with great interest, and I commend you for your honest telling of painful events while still focusing on the redemption you've experienced.

    After listening to the audiobook "Hillbilly Elegy", my husband and I have had many conversations about the "social capital" Anabaptists possess, and how this privilege is so easily taken for granted when you've grown up within one of their communities. Working in the medical field, I've seen so many patients who literally have NO ONE to turn to in hardship. Sometimes that just blows my mind, because I've always had the security that even in tough times, someone would have my back. Instinctively, we know that we have a safety net to fall back on, if ever needed, within our own Anabaptist community. Are there some downfalls to the tight-knit, take-care-of-your-own spirit ingrained into our Anabaptist circles? Of course. Your own story demonstrates some of them, and I'm not going to expound further on that here. Yet as a second generation "transplant" into a Mennonite community, I want to value the blessings that come with that way of doing life, especially the bearing of one another's burdens.

    Thank you again for sharing, Dorcas.