THE CHAINSAW STORY – (part a)

 

Having already mentioned the chainsaw story, the story of my past would not be complete without relating it here also.  It seems incredible to me how fast a “Land of Promise” can turn into a land of bitterness, pain and disillusionment. We moved to Missouri with high hopes for our loved ones and ourselves. Our new community would be a model community; one where our somewhat more enlightened views of Godly worship would have precedence over strict legalistic practices. It was not to be. In my young mind it became a first example of the effects of “putting new wine into old wineskins.” Our wineskin was “rent” less than four years after arriving at Pike County.

 

The events of the first few years of our life in Missouri have also been instrumental in helping to teach me that I should not have rancor against the events that God uses to shape our lives and bring us into greater effectiveness to His purposes. I have, at least to some extant, learned, that what Satan “means for evil,” “God means for good.”

 

When new Amish communities are established there is always a lot of debate and decision-making that must take place. Each community establishes for themselves what will and will not be allowed. Most of those decisions are formal; made in church by pastoral recommendations and a vote of the membership. Sometimes, others are less formal; perhaps made by a group of men over lunch after church. Our lifestyle was drastically altered by one of those informal decisions.

 

“Will we allow chainsaws?” someone wants to know. “I wouldn’t know why not, this and that community does, so why wouldn’t we?” In this way a consensus was reached and two members of the group went out and bought saws. Not satisfied to buy a small, used saw like the first two men had done; Dad also bought a saw; a new, four-hundred and twenty-five dollar, two-man McCulloch chainsaw; bright shiny yellow, and with power to burn. Apparently he overdid it. Dad’s new chainsaw must have somehow caught the attention of someone, and it wasn’t very long before the “informal” decision was being replaced by the “formal.” In a highly unprecedented move; an “after-the-fact” vote was taken in that Amish congregation on the subject of chainsaws.

 

At this point, it becomes necessary to explain what we are talking about when we say “vote.” Voting, the way it was done then, (and probably still is today,) was a very imprecise and intimidating process. One might think of secret ballots, slips of paper with your “yeses” and your “nos.” This was not the case. Instead, the ministers would pass through the crowd and you would whisper in their ear how you felt on the matter at hand. The ministers would keep a running tally in their heads, meet in a huddle to sum their remembered results, and then one of them would report back to the membership. From the viewpoint that most of us would have today, there are potentially some serious flaws in this process.

 

First, once a position had been campaigned for from the pulpit, which of us would want to be the person to whisper something else in the ear of their pastor? Secondly, it is hard to whisper something loud enough to the minister to make sure he heard what you are saying without, at the same time, divulging your vote to the person sitting tightly against you on the same pew. And finally, without writing things down, not even hash marks; it would be very easy to skew the results if you were so inclined. The “vote” was taken; the results were shared. “Those of you with chainsaws have this long to get rid of them.” Everyone, except the ministers, seemed genuinely shocked at the results.

 

Dad was not only shocked, he was energized, and on a campaign. Monday morning he jumped on the buggy and took his own “vote.” There was no “whispering” this time; and yes, writing things down was permitted. Having polled way more than half of the male membership without finding even one person who would admit to him that they had voted against chainsaws; he decided to confront the ministers about their duplicity. This action was probably not something he learned from the book about “winning friends and influencing people.” The integrity of leadership was at stake; there was no budge; the “vote” stood; and a deadline was firmly in place.

 

Dad, actually, did try to sell his saw. He found out, right off, that it wasn’t very easy. Thirty-five dollar ‘used’ saws are much easier to dispose of than big expensive workhorses. The first thing people wanted to know was what was wrong with it. He advertised in the Want Ads and by word of mouth, weeks later he hadn’t even had an offer. Desperate, he took it to Claude Miller, the dealer who had sold it to him, and literally begged him to take it back. Mr. Miller claimed to not be a very religious man but when he learned that Dad was getting rid of the saw just to keep peace in the church, he became indignant. “You need that saw to feed your family, and I’m much too religious to take food away from hungry children,” he claimed.

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 The other thing that Dad tried to do during the interim was to get the fool thing paid off before he had to practically give it away. He had committed to sawing down a lot of trees with that chainsaw, and four hundred and twenty-five dollars was an enormous amount of money for us back then. These were some pretty good incentives to keep on sawing. Dad sawed right up to the deadline; and “deadlines” being what “deadlines” are; the ministers reminded him on Sunday that this was the last week to get rid of his saw.

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