I am proud of Moise and his family – all of them.
Today, they finished the brutish hard work of building wooden casements and pouring concrete for the foundation walls of their new home and the basement floor.
They only left space for a root cellar, but otherwise, the walls are up and secure.
It was a remarkable thing to see what these eight or nine people from two families did over the last two weeks, from digging an enormous hole to building scaffolding for the concrete walls. I saw firsthand how ambitious a thing this is; only builders know.
No heavy machines, big trucks, giant concrete platforms. There weren’t even any ladders, just long thin planks the workers climbed up and down like rabbits. They know how to do it.
They did this without electric-powered machines. For one afternoon, they hired a tractor to dig through the shale for the basement; the horses couldn’t pull through the stone.
They worked from dawn to dark, pausing for a brief lunch.
I brought them Mountain Dew and ice cream in the afternoon for energy in the last week or so. Barbara brought them coffee, cookies, and cake. The girls and boys worked alongside the men and one another; this was a family project.
Delilah said they were all proud and happy to help build their home; today, they were filled with joy. Nex comes to the outer walls, but Moise says this was the hardest.
The Amish don’t like praise, they fear it will undermine their humility, no one wants to be singled out more than the others. But Moise was very proud of himself and his loyal family and pleaded with me to walk on the long plank to get the closest view of the foundation.
No way, I said, I’m not going back to the hospital this year. It was just too frightening for me. I admire you, I said, but I can’t be you.
He was a bit hurt, I think, but he understood. Later, I regretted not letting him help me across. I don’t think I could have made it. I asked permission to take a photo, and he just nodded and turned the other way.
(Lunch break at the worksite)
For the Amish, this kind of hard work is a moral object and obligation. In the Amish faith, moral objects fall into four distinct categories, the most moral of which fill a landscape they call the “vestibule of heaven.” Moral objects are one of these things: desirable, forbidden, ambiguous, and neutral.
There are more than 20 Amish sects in America, each sect has its own definitions of what is and isn’t moral.
Among the desirable are the building of homes and the planting of fields. There, we find humility, obedience, community, family, friendship, carpentry, hard labor, planting, plowing, and a belief in angels, Satan, and divine creation. It is not widely known, but the Amish are mystics.
All of these things fit into the morality of building a new home or barn.
Here, in their hard and continuous work, they deepen and build and worship friendship, obedience, community, family, and faith. All of those things are built into this house as deeply as concrete or walls. The amount of work this took my breath away, it is difficult to conceive what fewer than a dozen people did with their hands and hammers and bodies in so short a time.
What strikes me, again and again, is how well they work together, there is no conflict, argument, resentment, or complaining. It has the air of a very serious country fair. Everyone has a role to play, everyone participates.
For Moise and his relatives, this was a moral, not a practical, undertaking, a pathway to heaven, a nod to respect for parents, family, community, and God. A celebration of all those things.
It is holy work, when I arrived today on the farm, the work had just finished. Moise slapped me on the back and said, “Johnnie, we are done with the foundation.” This, he said, is the hardest part of building a home.
In a few weeks, Amish church members from all over the region will come to help him raise the barn.
This work is what the Amish call a moral object. It teaches children the love and support of family, the holiness, beauty, and the value of hard work. It teaches obedience to God, parents, and elders – the ultimate goal of Amish Life.
Building their own home with the family’s blood, sweat, and faith is what they are about it. It isn’t work, it’s pure faith. They were so happy, tired, and mud-covered they were practically dancing, gulping down the bottles of Mountain Dew I had stacked up in my car.
The work on the new house personified the core of Amish morality, and morality drives their lives. Today I saw once more in their hard and joyous work the values, practices, and things that clearly contribute to their belief in the heavenward goal.
In the Amish faith, there are no guarantees of entry into heaven, you don’t get in my belonging or going to church every Sunday. God will decide whether each individual person gets to enter based on the love and morality of their lives.
I can’t share this idea of spirituality, but I can feel it and see it.
That was the feeling that swept over me on their hill on this beautiful Fall day as they gathered up their equipment and began the clean-up. As I left, I turned around and saw all the children, dancing and clapping on the hill about what will be their new home. Then, they started cleaning up.
It was a powerful feeling that left me close to tears, and my heart racing. The Step-Dad was full of pride.
When the work for the day was done, the children began another round of hard work and it looked and felt like a celebration, not a chore. There was a sense of great joy and connection. I was grateful for the experience of watching.