Stories of Conversion

Kelsey Osgood asks: “Can an Outsider Ever Truly Become Amish?

In this collaboration between Longreads and Atlas Obscura, Osgood profiles two cases of Amish conversion: one successful, one unsuccessful. She writes of her experience in an Amish church:

I sneak a few furtive glances around the room, and then look up to Alex, who is kneeling in a back nook, where there is built-in bleacher-style seating. His eyes are closed and his hands are clasped. I wondered how natural prayer feels to him, how fervent or lyrical or intimate in tone his outpouring is, but his face betrays no fiery mental activity. He looks serene. For a person raised religious, prayer can become routine, even robotic, but for the convert it can also be understood as a skill to be honed, and your facility in it can come to measure, for yourself and those around you, your worth as a Jew or an Amish-Mennonite or a Muslim or whatever the case may be.

It reminds me of my own hyperactive sense of self-awareness when I was once a convert. Like becoming a part of any group, you fret over and scrutinize every movement when you’re a convert among the veterans.

The crux of the article comes when Osgood posits:

Does love inevitably draw us further into our loved one’s orbit, or can affection thrive from a distance? Can you admire something without eventually wanting to imitate or even become it? And if you do try to become it, can you ever really belong? Or do converts always feel a little like anthropologists, knowing that if things ever got too tribal for their tastes, they could dust off their old clothes and take up residence in their old lives?

Which evokes the inverse: When you shed those traditions, can you don them again?

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