You don't have to wear a bonnet to go "almost Amish." You can do it by increments.
Take a walk. Detach the Blackberry and iPad from their death grip in your hand, maybe for a whole day each week. Plant a vegetable garden. Quit recreational shopping. Get to know your neighbors. Send your kids outside to play.
Author Nancy Sleeth doesn't suggest in her new book, Almost Amish (Tyndale, $14.99), that you raise a barn, but that you walk lightly on the Earth and honor the God who made it.
For Sleeth and her husband, Matthew, who live near downtown Lexington, it's a way to ensure that the planet we enjoy is still here for our descendants.
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The Sleeths started out with the affluent lifestyle of a physician and his family. But then they changed their ways, becoming Christians who decided to live in a much smaller house, and ultimately to move to Kentucky. The couple lived in Wilmore while their two children, Clark and Emma, attended college at Asbury University.
Then, the Sleeths started Blessed Earth Ministries, which helps people learn how to live more simply by buying less and cultivating a closer relationship with God.
Now the Sleeths live in a townhouse in Lexington. It's a simple place with comfortable couches and restrained technology. It's neither a man cave nor a ladies' lair, but a place for conversation, shared meals and personal reflection.
Nancy Sleeth insists that her new book is not a way to directly compare her family to the Amish, but a way to point out how the Amish possess admirable qualities that are not so hard to emulate if you want a slower, simpler life.
Some examples: Try to stay married. Remain close to your family, geographically if possible. Avoid fashion fads and invest in well-made items of timeless quality that can be passed down to your children. Eat simply and locally. Make worship a central tenet of everyday living. Spend money cautiously. Respect the Earth. Enjoy nature.
Sleeth emphasizes that being careful with money doesn't mean being cheap. It's important to help those in need, she said, as well as to pay a fair price to local merchants and farmers. That is money well-spent, she said.
Sleeth does not use clothes dryers, preferring to commune with God as she hangs her damp clothes. Everybody needs an activity during which they engage in deep thought, she said, and this is one of hers. Also, she's saving the electricity that goes into drying the clothes, and saving the clothes themselves from the lint that is skimmed off the clothes as they electrically dry.
"Best of all, hanging up clothes gives me a chance to hang out with God," she writes.
Other ways of living simply are to cut back on personal vanity. Sleeth estimates that her entire makeup stash could fit in a pencil case. Her clothes are almost all secondhand, and she rarely goes to the mall. Her husband has only a few outfits: a navy blazer, khakis, a sweater, a few shirts.
Nancy Sleeth is not an avid TV watcher or video gamer. She lives within a few blocks of her grown children: Clark is a medical student who was recently married to Valerie, who is becoming a physician's assistant. Emma works with Blessed Earth and is the author of It's Easy Being Green (Zondervan, $9.99).
Nancy Sleeth raises a garden in a group of community plots and starts each day with a 45-minute to hourlong walk — another opportunity to meditate and inspect what she calls God's creation.
Sundays are times of worship and fellowship and no email.
She suggests, "If you are not already a member of a church, visit those that are closest to your home. Once you commit to a church, see if they have a small group you can join."
On Friday nights the family invites others over for a meal and conversation. To make that easier, the book includes several of her recipes including honey whole wheat bread with poppy seeds, my best mushroom soup and Nancy's honey mustard vinaigrette.
"We get to know our neighbors, we get to know our community," Sleeth said. Otherwise, "We're not going to have that peace that God promises us."
The book Almost Amish is packaged in a kind of chick-lit come-hither way.
The cover model is holding a whopping loaf of homemade bread in a rustic basket, her nails a well- tended bright red and sporting a ring that looks as if a Kardashian dropped it while fleeing the paparazzi, a tattoo of a bracelet on one arm. Her black blouse is stylishly notched, and her apron/skirt is the sort of awesomely gorgeous Etsy-riffic thing for which you, too, would go almost-Amish if only you could find and purchase it. If you had that apron, you could eat fresh kale by the leaf and feel perfectly content.
It is a stunning book cover.
But the book is not without some assertions that could be bumpy. Sleeth mentions the Amish adherence to gender roles and their reluctance to allow too much choice in family life.
She said women can be overcome by the stress that accompanies the desire to be all things: workers, wives, parents, volunteers. She said women need to give themselves the ability to make the choice that they cannot be all things during all seasons of their lives.
"As adults we get overwhelmed by too much choice as well," Sleeth said. "I think having limits helps us too."
Of the Amish teachings on gender roles, she said it's not that women should be subservient but that's it important to pace your life:
"You can grow up and be what you want to be, but you can't be everything you want to be at the same time. ... There are many seasons to life."
Raising children who want to remain close to their parents is an accomplishment of which she is proud.
Said Sleeth: "We feel really blessed that our children still like to hang out with us."