Monday, May 17, 2004

word of the day: rumspringa

any idea what it means? no, not a reference to our country's greatest defense secretary [sic]. it's a pennsylvania dutch (ie, amish) word that means "running wild" and describes the break that amish youth take when they turn 16 -- they are allowed to experience the 'outside' world, testing the youth's faith by unencumbering them from the rules that permeate the normal day to day lives of the amish. if they choose not to return, they are forever shunned from their communities.

growing up next to a large amish population, i remember seeing a bunch of amish kids at the go-kart track when i was younger. i thought that they had snuck off the farm, but i guess they were on their rumspringa.

the period is probably most famously portrayed in lucy walker's documentary 'devil's playground'. some choice snippets from the description and reviews:

This Sundance Festival sensation has attracted attention because of its jarring images of Amish kids immersed in debauchery: plain-dressed girls in white bonnets slugging back beers and flicking ashes from their cigarettes, boys passing out in the back of pickups after all-night parties, even Amish teens in bed together

When given their first taste of adult freedom, Amish teenagers do what any other teenagers do: they drink too much, have sex, and spend a lot of time driving around in cars. For most teenagers this is just a phase. For the Amish it's the preliminary to the most important decision of their life: whether or not to join the Amish church. The subjects of Walker's documentary are no better prepared for the trials of adolescence than any other group of sixteen year olds, and it comes as no surprise that most of them, after a few tumultuous years, seem ready to return to a way of life that represents family, security, and a rock-solid sense of identity.

npr also has a report on the film and the practice, but the thing that reminded me of rumspringa is the future upn show 'amish in the city'. sometimes, i wish i watched when the olsen twins hosted snl. i still can't believe i gave up seeing my girls for ideological reasons.

UPDATE: i just finished listening to the npr bit on the movie, and ms. walker points out that the 85-90% post-rumspringal return rate is the highest that it has ever been in the almost 400 year history of the church. perhaps this points to a degredation or an emptiness of the 'english' world. although, perhaps the amish on rumspringa still believe in the soul/afterlife, and they return to the amish church more out of a fear than out of a desire. in any case, interesting stuff.


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