One fateful starless night, 17-year-old Ira Wagler got up at 2 AM, left a scribbled note under his pillow, packed all of his earthly belongings into in a little black duffel bag, and walked away from his home in the Amish settlement of Bloomfield, Iowa. Now, in this heartwarming memoir, Ira paints a vivid portrait of Amish life—from his childhood days on the family farm, his Rumspringa rite of passage at age 16, to his ultimate decision to leave the Amish Church for good at age 26. Growing Up Amish is the true story of one man’s quest to discover who he is and where he belongs. Readers will laugh, cry, and be inspired by this charming yet poignant coming of age story set amidst the backdrop of one of the most enigmatic cultures in America today—the Old Order Amish.">Skip to Main Content
Truly written by an "insider" who has chosen to rise above bitterness from sad experiences in the Amish faith to share about his journey finding himself in Christ! A definite MUST READ!! You won't want to put it down...
A touching (at times heartbreaking) tale, beautifully written, engrossing and honest. I loved this book.
A great summer read with an inside view of a closed society from an courageous perspective . Get ready for an emotional journey as you travel thru the early years of Wagler's life with a front row seat to his observations , fears and joys of Amish life. Well written , my friend!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. Ira Wagler's Growing Up Amish is the story of a man who needed, and then acquired, words and the Word for ballast. The Pennsylvania Deitsch language of his childhood and its use in Amish culture did not provide the literal or figurative vocabulary for his longing, his heartbreaking imperative to define himself apart from his family and culture, or, as he points out, his bout of depression. We must remember that it is only relatively recently, and probably thanks to Phil and Oprah, that ordinary Englisch people have sophisticated ways of talking about their mental states. In Amishland in the time of Wagler's youth, the choices were normal, odd, and crazy. Existential angst coupled with compulsive curiosity were not on the menu. The menu came (and still comes) with phrases that Wagler lambastes, snippets from songs, poems, and Scripture--rote responses that lost their meaning through repetition. So words Wagler had not, a searing irony given his place in the household of one of the most prolific Amish authors of all time. The book circles back to Wagler's father retiring to his office, emerging from his office, retreating to his office, always working with words, always thinking of the next big thing. Wagler responds by not responding, frequently turning from his father in silence. There were deeds but there were few words between these titans, the father and the son of his father's flesh and intellect. One of the functions of an Amish childhood is to "break" a child, break his or her will. The expression is to "give oneself up." Wagler tried and tried to give himself up, to empty himself out so that the collective Amish will and will of God is free to flow in. That he failed in Amish terms is the reading public's glorious windfall, for his is a poetic and singular voice unleashed on the literary landscape. The team of horses "jangled"--yes--yes, they do. A combine's cutting blade "clacked to life." Yup. The Amish "swarmed" in Topeka, IN. The book comes to life through vivid language and, especially in the first half, fleshed-out vignettes that represent formative happenings in childhood and youth. It's in the second half that the book takes off for the finish line with pulsing narrative, lingering over important turning points. At last, Wagler trades a distracted earthly father for the Father whose love pushes out the darkness. Filled by the Word that is God, he finds his own voice, his alone, and sets out to be his own man, a compassionate and honest man, a Christian man, but not an Amish man.
This guy is one of the most honest writers I know. He also has a gift for description of an event, making you feel like you are right there, scene, emotions, and all. Even if you are not interested in the Amish, he is a great novelist of the human condition.
Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler: I did not enjoy this audiobook. He has a contempt & cynicism that wasn't enjoyable to listen to. I stopped listening because the book took away joy
A heart-breaking quest for freedom amid spiritual torment By Mike Hoffman (Idaho, USA) Ira Wagler's "Growing Up Amish" is an impressive book in part because Wagler can really tell a story. The reader gets the impression that it is a true story (though I would love to hear the other side, from those who are still Amish and are mentioned in the book). When it comes to writing, Ira is obviously his father's son. David Wagler is an Amish author renowned for his eloquence and co-founder of Pathway Publishers. This book has universal appeal beyond an Amish interest due to its themes -- the quest for freedom, the struggle against tyranny, the father/son divide, modernity versus tradition and the simultaneous torment and elation that freedom brings. The book's title is not entirely accurate. It is only partly about life as an Amish youth. The latter half of the book centers on adulthood and concerns the author's struggle to free himself mentally from his birth-culture's deep roots and enormous spiritual and psychological hold. "Leaving the Amish" would probably have been a more apt title. If Wagler had not been raised Amish, if he were just another American youth on the path of rebellion against his family and his church, then the villain of this book, aside from the unnamed "mad" Amish bishop in Indiana, whose alleged cruelty struck Ira to his core, would surely have been Ira's father. The son occasionally portrays him as petty, foolish, tyrannical and obsessed with his writing to the detriment of his family. Yet, perhaps in spite of himself, the son adheres to a basic Amish virtue that trumps his resentment -- gratitude. While the book is dedicated to his mother, Ida Mae, on p. vii Ira offers a "special thanks" to his father for "lighting his path." More importantly, the narrative itself gives testimony to his father's humanity and his willingness to sacrifice and suffer on behalf of what he believed was best for his family, beginning with their migration from Canada to Iowa, a "gallingly difficult task." This book in part concerns the Amish sense of duty, stoicism and the Germanic tendency to hold emotions in check. In our "let it all hang out" age and in particular in those Protestant and Pentecostal churches where a premium is placed on emotion, it is easy to revile those who follow an ancient counter-culture that harkens to what was once considered the manly characteristic of suffering in silence and without complaint. Decades ago it was common practice to teach German children of any background the old adage, "Lerne leiden, ohne zu klagen." Part of Ira's anguish is born from this suffer-in-silence ethic. The modern spirit will automatically concur with his dissent from it. How much of this dissent is valid and how much is the product of a fractured zeitgeist is open to debate. In one of the book's most moving scenes, when tragedy strikes one of Ira's siblings, his father wrestles with his grief while leading the family's morning devotions. As he struggles to get through a recitation of the Lord's Prayer, "Abruptly his voice broke, and he faltered. He struggled silently for some moments. Through the vast gulf that separated me from him at the time, and in the grip of my own shock and grief, my heart cried out for him. A tough, stoic, hard-bitten old Amish man. Broken. Hurting. In anguish before God. For his son. Fighting emotions he could not show." The only account to rival this one in impact is Ira's story of his brother Nathan's relationship to his family and in particular, his mother (pp. 159-163). In the departure that is recounted, in the separation that tears at the fabric of this long-suffering woman's life and that of her tormented youngest son, we encounter a profound archetype. Ira's personal struggle is recounted with courage and brutal candor. This is as much a confessional as a "memoir." The story of him toiling on a bleak "English" ranch in Nebraska, of having to confess his most intimate sins to a roomful of shocked Amish ministers, and the cruel jilting of his bright and beautiful Amish fiancÃ©, will not be soon forgotten. Due to the fact that for years he truly believed, in spite of his rebellion and departures, that the Amish faith was the only true salvation from hellfire, the reader observes a frustrating cycle of Wagler's abandonment and return to the Amish church, which is by turns excruciating and fascinating. Most of the people we encounter are identified by their actual names. (The Amish don't engage in lawsuits). A number of embarrassing charges are leveled in some instances. For example, Elmo Stoll, an electrifying Amish preacher and polemicist who replaced Ira's father in a position of authority in Canada, is portrayed as a callous fanatic. To Ira's credit, this severe portrait is mitigated a few chapters later when Elmo rallies the readers of the Pathway publications to send charitable financial relief to the Waglers, who are drowning in debt from medical expenses. This is not a perfect book and one reason for that may be the publisher's editing. On his blog, the author mentions (not as a complaint but as a statement of fact), that about 40% of his original manuscript was discarded by his publisher, Tyndale House. We can understand the need to craft a pithy text that packs a punch by virtue of its brevity, but in this case, the publishers sacrificed too much continuity and closure in pursuit of that objective. Reading this book you will not know what happens to the author's parents, David and Ida Mae Wagler, even though a seemingly ominous harbinger of their fate is dangled before the reader (bottom of p. 188; top of p. 189). There is a brief section devoted to an "epilogue" but it mainly concerns Ira's gratitude to a seminal friend in his life, a man who means more to him even than the friends with whom he grew up. Irony of ironies, this man, one of the few in the book assigned a pseudonym ("Sam"), is in fact Amish. Sam is an American "(English") who converted to the Amish and who, in a chance encounter with the author, leads him to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Though Ira says Sam cut him off after Ira quit the Amish for the last time, and it has been 20 years since they last met, he offers his undying gratitude to him. This loyal act of friendship is a fine thing of course, but as an epilogue it is wholly inadequate. What happened to Sarah, his fiancÃ©? What of Ira's parents? Elmo Stoll deserves a brief mention in any epilogue (Stoll left the Amish and founded a reform movement in Cookeville, Tennessee that preserved Amish forms of spirituality and discipline, using English as the language of worship and inviting "seekers" from outside the Amish to join; he died of heart failure while bicycling to assist a farmer in need). The last chapters focus on Ira's inner thoughts and philosophy, departing from the book's earlier structure, where such musings are mixed more judiciously with the people and events that give "Growing Up Amish" such a powerful narrative drive. I gave this book five stars even though I am conflicted by some of its premises. In pursuit of his personal freedom Ira broke his solemn promise before God to join and then, after his numerous abandonments, to re-join the Amish. In an American society plagued by divorce wherein promises are "made to be broken," what sort of testimony is Ira offering to the Me generation? That he is one of them? Where does the pursuit of freedom end and the aggrandizement of ego and pride begin? The Amish are under assault from various "born again" Protestant groups who make much of their "new birth" compared with Amish tradition and yet who have themselves departed, in at least some cases, from the Christian path of peace and non-conformity. I wonder to what extent this book will serve as ammunition for those worldly "missionaries"? On the positive side, "Growing Up Amish" will serve as an antidote to saccharine Amish hagiographies written mostly on the fly by journalists with pixie dust in their eyes, for whom the Amish can do no wrong and where a great deal of the misery caused by heartless bigots masquerading as Amish bishops and ministers is passed over. As you can see, I neither canonize nor condemn the Amish. It is a valid Christian path for those called to undertake it. It is in need of a return to original Anabaptist zeal; an English-speaking branch that is Amish in all other respects except language, should long ago have been founded. Having perused his blog, I have learned that Ira Wagler's life since leaving the Amish is anything but a tidy, happy ending. He still struggles mightily with his pursuit of freedom and to a certain extent has been lacerated by it. He has an appetite for intellectual adventure and controversy. He seems to be constantly on the move mentally and spiritually. I hope he finds the peace that he is seeking. In the meantime, he has bequeathed to history a searing account that cannot be disregarded; a page-turner that cannot be put down, by a restless spirit who cannot be ignored. Mike Hoffman spent six years (1989-1995) in Old Order Amish settlements in Ohio, New York and Montana. Ira Wagler's father, David, is the author of thousands of pages of magazine articles and the books "Stories Behind the Newsâ€ and â€œThrough Deep Waters."
This book could have been titled "Finding real spiritual life in the midst of a suffering religious community." Not a title to sell; but this may be the lasting legacy of this book. It is right on target for today's meandering generation, tired of religious bromides and looking for authentic community. But the book is no tract; it is a real life, honestly told, fascinating to read, hard to forget.
Various times I found my mind exclaiming, BRILLIANT! About halfway through, I began to feel that even the ordering of events was poetic. Yet this is very honest, down-to-earth personal writing. It does not try to be flowery, unlike some descriptive novelists. He simply makes you feel you are there. It is a thoughtful human interest story that is instructive in itself. But on top of that, because he grew up in the Old Order Amish, it is full of inside glimpses of Amish culture and church practices not written about elsewhere. Ira speaks of things that cannot be obtained even from "English" people who have Amish neighbors. Much less could any avid tourist ever delve into their world so intimately. Not to mention how this is superior to "Amish" - admitted - "fiction." Besides this, Ira Wagler is quite simply a stunningly good author, very excellent in his style and its ability to draw you in and make you "be there." Not just the sights and sounds, but the emotions. He does not describe them. You feel it along with him. This is an author with a rare gift. The writing flowed; striking pictures remain in my mind to make me ponder life lessons. To add a purely personal opinion, this book would be strikingly good for anyone who grew up in a conservative church context, even if they no longer attend church. (They will be able to relate to Ira's emotions. His experience will likely touch them.) He never moralizes; just sets the charge in your mind. You will be glad you bought this book.
Filmmakers, academics, and novelists have offered depictions of Amish life. This memoir offers a nuanced account from a man who straddled both Amish and “English” (non-Amish) worlds. Wagler recounts his Amish upbringing, from dating conventions and worship services to local gossip and schoolyard bullies. The simplicity of everyday life may seem quaint on the surface. Yet Wagler bravely goes on to expose pervasive dissatisfaction among both youth and adult Amish living in what he characterizes as a stifling, formulaic world. Such unspoken displeasure sparked a cycle of coming and going for the author, who repeatedly crept away from his community only to return, if reluctantly, for its familiarity. It was a “paradox that would haunt me for almost ten years: the tug-of-war between two worlds.” His tale of restlessness looks acutely at the clash of family ties with love of freedom. The memoir is worthwhile as much for its Amish insights as for its exploration of one man’s emotional turmoil, regret, and shame. Wagler, who now works at a building and supply company in Lancaster County, Pa., deserves praise for his honesty.