A large black truck approached on the Lancaster County gravel road, as it kicked up a cloud of dirt. Levi and Jude stopped raking and shoveling, pushed the ends of their tools into the dirt, and propped their tired bodies on the handles.
“I reckon it’s Zachariah,” said Jude.
“I’ve never seen that truck before,” Levi replied.
The two carried the tools they had been using to work on a patch of the large farm and approached the truck which had stopped in the driveway. When the truck door opened, a slender tall man in his mid thirties stepped out. He was wearing jeans and an unzipped camouflage coat over a graphic t-shirt. He looked out on the field he used to work in his youth, and teens, and early twenties before he left the order.
“Hey brothers,” he yelled out. “Like my new ride?”
Levi and Jude took a long gaze at the giant truck. It looked large driving up the road, but in person, it was much larger. “What was wrong with your last one?” Levi asked.
“Ah, I just wanted a change. Something bigger you know.” Zachariah (or Zach as he preferred to be called) motioned to the large bed behind the cab. Check out how much this can haul. This baby has 283 horsepower. It would be like tying 283 horses onto your buggies over there. Could you imagine that?”
“Seems a bit much, I’d say,” responded Jude. “What’s your church got to say about you driving around something so ostentatious?”
“See there you go again,” Zach replied. “If it ain’t plain and simple, it ain’t right. Look fellas, I don’t expect you to approve of my decision to leave the order, but I hope you can at least appreciate me doing things that are right for me and my family.”
“I’m sorry brother,” interjected Jude, “I didn’t mean no offense. I was just curious about how your church felt about a vehicle such as this.”
“It’s black ain’t it?” Zach said. His brothers nodded. “Well, there you go.”
Levi briefly pondered the arbitrary nature of a rule that required everyone to have a black car so as to appear plain and unworldly, while ignoring the type of car or the amount they paid for it. He immediately recognized that he probably would never understand and moved on to other business. “Come on brothers. Let’s go inside and see if we can figure all this mess out.”
The three brothers walked into the old family home that Levi and his family now occupied. “Have a seat,” he said, pointing to the living room couches.
“What’s the latest about the pipeline?” Zach asked.
Levi grabbed some papers and held them up. “Here’s their latest proposal.” He handed the papers to Zach who quickly scanned it.
“It seems like they’re willing to shift closer to the far side of the property. And check out all those zeros. That’s a lot of money. Boy talk about providence, having a piece of land in just the right place.”
“I don’t know if I’d call it providence,” responded Jude. “It’s more of a matter of terrain. They can’t go east because of the river. The land to the west is a challenge for putting in a pipeline. Besides, you know the folks over there are never going to let them put a pipeline through their property.”
“Old man Stoulzfous still alive over there?” asked Zach. Jude and Levi both nodded. “Yeah, they’d have to kill him before he allowed a pipeline on his property.”
“Our father would never allow it either,” said Levi.
“Yeah, but Father is gone,” responded Zach. “This ain’t his land anymore. It’s ours… well mainly yours. You all maintain it, which is why I don’t collect any profit.”
“Yeah,” responded Levi, “but you are a legal, equal owner of the land. Father made sure it was that way even though you…” he paused. “You know.”
“So what do we do?” asked Jude. “Take a vote?”
“Father stipulated that whatever we decided to do with the land had to be unanimous,” explained Levi. “I say we start by hearing what everyone thinks about it.”
“You start,” Jude said, motioning to the oldest brother Levi.
Levi took a deep breath, and stroked his beard with his left hand. “I think having an oil pipeline on our land is a bad idea,” he began.
“Why?” asked Jude.
“Because this farm isn’t just about us. It represents our community. Nay, it is a part of our community. Our great, great grandparents owned and tilled this land, and because of what they did, it paved the way for our other Amish brothers and sisters to have a part in this society.”
“The same community that shunned me,” Zach interjected.
“You knew the rules,” responded Jude. “You knew the consequences. You chose a different life. You chose that path.”
“Look brothers,” continued Levi, “it seems like modern society is creeping up on all sides of us. You don’t have to go far to see modernity. Every time someone sells their farm, a subdivision or a shopping center pops up. If we all sell out, we’re just ensuring that our descendents won’t have the community that we have.”
“But this is just a pipeline,” responded Zach.
“But it’s more than a pipeline.” argued Levi. “It’s symbolic of a growing problem in our Amish community. It’s taking money in exchange for giving up something important to our lives and our community.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Jude said. “You know Father never taught us to be isolationists. He never told us to shun society. Even when Zachariah left, we were told that he is still part of this family and that we were not to shun him like others in the church did. Every week, we take our produce and sell it at the market, and who buys it? Our land hasn’t just benefited the Amish. It’s benefited everyone, including the English. We produce on our land, and they pay. I just don’t see how this pipeline is any different.”
“I agree,” added Zach.
Levi spoke up, “I think there’s a big difference though.”
“How so?” Jude asked.
“Think about it. When we provide produce, what are we doing? We are giving people
resources that are necessary to life. It’s simply food that people can eat in order to live. We don’t believe cars and electricity are necessary to life, and we’ve chosen to exclude that from what we produce and consume.”
“But the rest of society feels it’s necessary,” Zach interjected. “They rely on it.”
“That may be so,” replied Levi. “But why should their insistence on modernity be our responsibility?”
Zach shifted uneasily in his chair. “What happens if my home doesn’t get heat?” he probed defensively. “My wife, my kids… your nephews will freeze. The same is true with others.”
Levi shook his head, dismissing the comment. “I’m sure this one pipeline is not going to ever cause that,” he said. “But remember, you chose to buy a house that required electricity. What you are asking of me is to be charitable to try and solve a problem that could have been avoided altogether. I don’t blame people for wanting to live different than us. I just don’t think it’s justice for people who have chosen a different path to expect us to alleviate the problems they bring upon themselves because of their choices, especially when what they’re asking of us has moral, ethical, and environmental implications.”
Zach could see that Jude was nodding, as though his viewpoint was aligning with Levi’s. He abruptly stood up. “Well, it sounds like you’ve already made up your mind,” insisted Zach. “I don’t know why you made me drive all the way out here if you’re unwilling to compromise.”
“Hold on now Zachariah. We’re willing to compromise,” Jude assured.
“I was hoping to hear a compelling reason today,” added Levi, “but I haven’t. I’m willing to compromise. I’m just not willing to compromise on moral issues that are central to our community and our beliefs.”
“Well, others have. I don’t see why we shouldn’t as well. Let’s keep being stubborn.” Zach said sarcastically. “Soon old man Stoulzfous will die, and his sons will definitely take that money.” With that, Zach left the old farmhouse, got into his truck, and drove away.
“I wish that went better,” sighed Jude.
“Me too,” Levi responded, pushing the papers across the coffee table.
“You know we had a real opportunity to try and bring Zachary back into the fold.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I was hoping that if we could have shown him that we are willing to compromise on some things that he would be willing to see that we’re reasonable and maybe…”
“Become Amish again?”
“Do you really think he would give up his English lifestyle- his suburban house, his car, his tv, his way of life to be Amish again?” Levi asked.
Jude shrugged. “I guess I was hoping.”
“And more importantly, do you think it’s worth sacrificing our morality to do so, whether it were a certainty or even just a glimmer of hope?”
Jude didn’t respond. He didn’t have to. The two brothers sat quietly feeling the weight of a complicated discussion that went far beyond a pipeline.
The next day was Sunday. As Levi and Jude rode in their respective horse and buggies to their designated meeting house for worship, Zach drove his family in his new truck to their Mennonite church.
Passing through a town, Zach’s wife Sarah noticed a church with a gay pride flag flying out front. “I don’t understand that,” she said.
“Understand what?” Zach asked.
“That church. The gay pride flag,” she whispered so as to shield her voice from her two sons in the back seat.
“I don’t agree with it either,” Zach shrugged. “I guess by trying to be welcoming, they’re hoping to show people the Gospel.”
“Yeah, but they’re totally misrepresenting Christianity,” Sarah insisted.
“Maybe they don’t think so,” responded Zach. “Maybe they think our doctrine is just splitting hairs.”
Sarah glanced over at the dashboard and interrupted the conversation. “How long has that gas light been on?”
Zach glanced down nervously, “I don’t know. I didn’t notice it until just now.”
“Do you think we have enough gas to get to church and then back home?”
Zach looked at the gas gauge that had moved past E. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Maybe you should pull over at the gas station up there and get gas,” Sarah suggested.
“Come on Sarah; you know I’m not going to do that. It’s Sunday. We don’t make people work on the Lord’s Day.”
“I just don’t want the children to have to walk in this cold.”
Zach let his foot off the gas hoping the Lancaster county rolling hills would help him conserve gas in an otherwise gas-guzzling truck. A couple of miles later, he had run out of gas, and the truck coasted to a stop at the top of a hill.
“Darnit!” Zach yelled.
“I told you we should have stopped for gas.”
“It’s the principle of the matter Sarah. I’m not going to stop and get gas on Sunday. What do you think people would say about me if they saw me doing that.”
“Didn’t Jesus say something about it being justifiable to get your donkey out of a ditch?” Sarah argued.
“Yeah, but that was a donkey, a live animal…” Zach paused as he watched the horses and buggies trot on the surrounding roads, taking their owners to their respective Amish places of worship. While pulling out his cell phone to call someone for help, he contemplated his former life on the Amish farm. It wasn’t an easier or more convenient life, but one thing was certain. “It sure was simpler,” he mumbled to himself. “It sure was simpler.”