In Defense of the Rumspringa

Rumspringa: A term for adolescence among the Amish. In popular understanding, a time of sowing one’s wild oats.

I’ve learned recently that the view of rumspringa as a time of rebellion is not the general understanding in the Amish community. However, it is understood that adolescents are not held to the same higher standards as adults and that some misbehavior will occur.

Even with the rather apocryphal nature of this  idea, I’d like to stand in support of it. In doing so, I make myself terrifyingly vulnerable, more than I ever have, on the public platform of the internet. But it’s a vulnerability I consider to be worth it, a conversation I want to have (I think).

I’ve grown up in a conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled for five years and then attended a private Christian school. I’ve just graduated from a Christian university and am now attending another Christian university for my master’s. I’ve volunteered at a Christian organization, freelanced for Christian publications, held part-time jobs at a Christian bookstore and in Christian schools. This has been my heritage.

And suddenly, recently, all I’ve historically held dear has been thrown up into one giant Question Mark, and in talking with peers  with similar upbringings, I know I’m not alone. And yet, outside of these select few, this wave of radical questioning that I feel doesn’t seem to be accepted by the general Christian populace. In fact, I saw a church sign the other day that stated outright, “Questioning God? He made the brain cells you think with.”

Perhaps this is because it’s not a conversation I’ve actively pursued. And that is probably due to the fact that I almost neurotically crave the approval of others, and I’ve imagined how those closest to me would react if I ever expressed my real thoughts. “You don’t think you believe what?” “You do what now?” “Sinner.” “You’re dirty.” “I’m judging you.” “Just read your Bible.”

But a professor whose opinion I value has said many times, “I don’t trust a Christian who hasn’t rebelled.” And that’s why I defend some kind of rumspringa, some sort of allowance for the necessity  of doubt, even stepping away from what’s universally accepted to be right and holy and What Everyone Does.

Because I wish it were socially acceptable to be socially unacceptable for a time, that spiritual/moral/intellectual exploration was acknowledged and understood. That it wasn’t taboo to say, “I’m going to take everything I have ever valued and believe the opposite just because I can and I want to see what happens.”

It’s not hatred. It’s not antagonism. It’s a lot of malaise with a good portion of “but what if…” thrown in.

The result, in all likelihood, is that in the end I’ll see why I valued it all along. But I wish I could choose not to, with support and without social stigma. I wish I were allowed to be insane, to let things devolve into the question mark, because I will probably get saner later on.

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