Breaking the Silence: Amish Documentary Series

I watched several of the Breaking the Silence Amish documentary films which were informative. The above video even delves into Amish... witchcraft (23:55)! Happy Halloween! 

I liked the video below the best: 

Pre-Order "GOOD COP/BAD COP" Anthology!

PRE-ORDER "GOOD COP/BAD COP: AN ANTHOLOGY" from FlowerSong Press, forthcoming in early 2021! Includes my poem Old Order Supremacy.  


It must be an election year! If you have not voted yet, visit and #VotePlanPledge! All elections are consequential but this year even more so. As mentioned in my #WritersAgainstTrump PSA I have seen my community under assault, read more here. Thank you to Paul Auster and many other writers for speaking out.

I voted for Joe Biden and I hope you will too for the sake of democracy!


IceFloe Press: Mother/Service/Voice Series

October is the month my mother died so it is fitting for my elegy to join in harmony w/ IceFloe Press' Series: Mother/Service/Voice, w/ a painting by Moira J. Saucer (above). 

"Welcome to our new project Mother/Service/Voice. 70 + contributors will explore this theme in a range of forms and styles and approaches. We launch this project in honor of Black History Month UK.

For October 2020 we invited UK poet Jenny Mitchell to develop a prompt for our New Works Series at Ice Floe Press ( We held an open call for poets, prose writers (fiction, non- fiction), creators of visual work, hybrids and collaborations to submit unpublished work that examines the intersecting themes of ‘the Mother’, ‘Service’ and ‘Voice’." 

To read "The Ninth Garden" click here

Elam Zook Transcript

 Via Elam Zook

Re-upping this. The argument I present here; that the Amish are caught in a non engagement trap that threatens their existence, is of greater significance than anything in the Anabaptist world since the Schleithiem  confession. 

Feel free to disagree, or what is colloquially known as, fight me. 

Here is the transcript of my remarks presented at The Amish Heritage Foundation’s inaugural conference. 

(Note) The historical references in the beginning of this essay are based on oral history, personal lived experience, and parts of the story arc we’re derived from “The History of the Amish” by Steven Nolt. 

The Old Order Amish are a twentieth century phenomenon that owes its identity and survival to social engineering by the state and academia.

My supporting arguments examine three factors that contributed to who the Amish are today. 

First is a late nineteenth century schism that continued to play out, up and into the twentieth century. 

Second is the 1972 Supreme Court case, Wisconsin vs. Yoder, which exempted the Amish from compulsory education requirements, and third is what I refer to as the curation of the Amish by academia.

The nexus and interplay of these factors serve as a catalyst to neuter Amish autonomy and set them up for an identity crisis, with all the ensuing predations and debauchery (seduction from duty) accompanying this condition.

In what was known as ‘the great schism,’ seventy five percent of the Amish, over the course of a generation or two, starting in the 1860s, shed there Amish identity and became Mennonites. Some of that majority group assimilated into the dominant culture through more mainstream churches, or with no religious affiliation at all.

The minority in this schism became what we now know as the Old Order Amish. At first, as this transition was taking place, there was an element of amicability between the two groups. This changed later, but on the minority side, an adherent could move from one group to the other and not be shunned by the group they had just left. 

Another characteristic of this schism was that the majority, while far from functioning as a united group, their stated objective was to seek unity across division. The minority’s inclination was to draw sharp distinctions in opposition to their change minded brethren. Almost from the beginning, the minority withdrew from any engagement that sought to process or transcend division.

This withdrawal from engagement is the authentic origins of what we now know as the Old Order Amish. This self selected non engagement, while it resembled the isolation experienced by their ancestors as a persecuted people, was in fact, a radical departure from the essence of Anabaptism. 

Anabaptism at its core, was the antithesis of non engagement.

Another defining characteristic of this schism was that it became a reoccurring issue on the minority’s side. Continuing through the 1920s and as late as 1960s, schism’s occurred where ordained leaders participated in breakaway movements that mimicked the issues and dynamics of the great schism a century earlier.

Over the course of this time period, the minority group’s identity became more and more reactionary to the breakaway groups. What ever the breakaway groups did, the minority group adopted the opposite position as a point of religious fealty. 

All of the early twentieth century technology restrictions adopted by the Amish had nothing to do with Anabaptism or fidelity to scripture, but were the result of a church squabble.

Much of what I’ve said so far is basic history, with a little commentary. What I’m going to describe next is one of those, ‘the emperor has no clothe’ issues. It’s right in front of everyone’s eyes. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one will say it.

That issue is the easily definable trajectory of human civilization. Philosophers write of, as humanity moved from accepting the arbitrary rule of kings to some form of representative self governance, our relationship with and our understanding of God changed too. 

Along with all the rest of humanity, the majority in the ‘great schism’ were going through that evaluation process. Given how central Amish faith is in everyday life, what they literally were doing was processing the issues and details of their lives with some modest applications of enlightenment principles.

Consequently though, what the minority ended up doing was the opposite. The people who became known as the Old Order Amish, enshrined stasis as a signifier of piety. Not because it had any relevance to Anabaptism or scripture, but because of their need to define themselves in opposition to their fellow believers. 

For an Amish adherent, engaging the issues and details of ones life, became a form of heresy.

As a temporary response to social upheaval, this was a normal, mostly benign, human response. As someone with the authority to speak to this issue, I’m one hundred percent certain that, had the Amish been left to their own devices, future generations would’ve addressed this stasis and moved on.

But instead of that natural evolutionary process taking place, Wisconsin vs. Yoder happened and short circuited Amish destiny.

Shawn Francis Peters, in his book, “The Yoder Case,” writes of an incident in the New Glarus Amish settlement, (the settlement where the Yoder case originated from) in which an Amish bakery ran afoul of zoning laws. 

He writes;

“An agricultural department inspector ordered that the business be closed because it was operated out of rooms not devoted solely to baking. A disappointed Elizabeth Hershberger initially prepared to close the bakery. “The Bible says we have to be subject to our magistrates,” she explained. But when news of the state’s action spread, she received so much encouragement to defy the inspector’s order that she decided to keep baking.” (end quote)

In many ways, that last sentence defines everything you need to know about  the Amish-non Amish relationship. It certainly was a defining factor in the Yoder case.

In the interest of time, I’m going to stick with a couple broad points on the Yoder ruling. 

# 1, It never was about secular education being forced onto Amish children.

The first judge to hear the case on appeal, stayed the convictions, pointing out that, and I’m paraphrasing, “the Amish were legally free to create their own high schools.  There was no evidence introduced that education beyond the eighth grade was an article of faith and not merely a generally recognized practice. (End quote)

Of course there was no evidence introduced, because none existed. In fact, the early Anabaptists were extraordinarily well educated, for the era they lived in.

At the very first hearing for the Yoder defendants, the district attorney said he’d (quote)“be prone to dismiss the charges, if they made some arrangement with school officials for a workable vocational plan.” (End quote) 

Peters notes that, “such plans were in operation in other states.”

Peters also commented on the reasoning of the first stay. The judge wrote, “If the Amish operated their own parochial high schools, they might be able to maintain their treasured isolation-and with it their religious liberty- while still complying with the law.”

Peters followed that with, “Remarkably, many of the circuit court judge’s colleagues on the bench somehow failed to grasp this fairly obvious point as Yoder made its way through the courts.” (End quote)

The legal philosophy known as “judicial restraint,” is a concept based on the idea that the courts shouldn’t be viewed as having the magical, perfect answer for every situation. If options exist in which a dispute can be resolved apart from intervention by the court, the idea behind judicial restraint, is that the court has an obligation to not intervene. 

As I’ve illustrated, there were numerous avenues available in which the compulsory education dispute could be resolved, short of legal intervention.

At the heart of Amish willingness to pursue a legal remedy in New Glarus, was the fact that, deep pocketed non Amish actors were offering assistance. That assistance came with a price. The price was to surrender control of the Amish narrative. 

 Peters, on page 52,  “the chairman of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom wrote of how the members of the new organization committed themselves to zealously defending the Amish by telling their story......and providing legal defense.” (Emphasis added)

This telling of the Amish story by outsiders, brings me to my second broad point, which is,....while the Yoder ruling is hailed as a great religious freedom victory, a view that is almost universally accepted, for Amish children though, it had the absolute polar opposite effect.

What makes this dichotomy the single most relevant aspect of the Yoder ruling, is that it directly undermined the capacity of prospective Amish adherents to perform a core tenet of their faith, which is to make an informed choice as an adult to join the sacred community. 

For Amish children, the Yoder ruling essentially made the Amish church, a state sponsored church. It brought the Amish church full circle, in complete contravention of their Anabaptist heritage, to what amounts to infant baptism.

In his book, “The Riddle of Amish Culture,” Donald Kraybill assigns Amish motivation for being wary of secular education. 

He writes, “The intellectual climate-rational thought, critical thinking, scientific methods, symbolic abstractions-would breed impatience with the slow pace of Amish life and erode the authority of Amish tradition. Amish youth would learn to scrutinize their culture with an analytic coolness that would threaten the bishops’ power.” (End quote)

Isn’t what Kraybill describes here, precisely what the early Anabaptists were doing,.... threatening their bishops’ power? But of even greater significance, on what premise can the supposition that the state has an obligation to preserve the bishops’ power, be justified?

There’s actually a real life example that illustrates how nauseatingly contrived the premise undergirding the Yoder ruling is. The Old German Baptists, send their children to public schools and don’t dress them plain, prior to baptism, for the expressed purpose of preserving the integrity of adult baptism.

The fact that this issue was never considered by the courts at any point in the Yoder case, is irrefutable evidence that those advocating on behalf of the Amish, were much more interested in winning the case, than they were in keeping an eye on the best interests of the Amish.

Throughout the Yoder case, the rights of the children, was brought up numerous times, and even though legal precedent existed that established a child’s right to counsel in court, none was ever introduced.

Numerous times, judges worried about how Amish youth who left the closed community, would fair in the non Amish world without a high school education. It is telling that, in all of the deliberations, no concern was ever raised whether this turning away from education might be detrimental to the integrity and sustainability of Amish society.

Even though our judicial system is predicated on a prosecution and a defense, in the Yoder ruling, there was in fact no oppositional Amish voice present. The defense had an expert witness, but the prosecution didn’t. 

Are we to assume that all Amish were in lock step agreement with the idea of overseeing their own schools? My mother certainly wasn’t. I remember her voice dripping with contempt in reference to the subject. In a recent conversation with my now former wife, she mentioned her father’s adamant opposition.

Can a fair review of the Yoder ruling, come to any other conclusion, than that it was a profound betrayal of the highest ideals of both Amish and non Amish society. I don’t think so.

At the heart of this betrayal is the premise that, in this contest between the dueling interests present in the Yoder case, the best interests of the Amish would hold sway, without their representation being fully actualized. 

In other words, whatever conclusion they arrived at, to paraphrase a line from the movie, “Cousin Vinny,” there was no one there to contradict the veracity of their conclusions. Or if I may lapse into the vernacular of my profession, they just pulled it out of their butts, and not only did the court buy it, so did the Amish.

What the court and the Amish bought, was the idea that “compulsory education requirements will destroy Amish culture.” That is a direct quote from the defense’s expert witness, John Hostetler. 

As a sociologist who studied the Amish, and also was raised Amish, Hostetler’s testimony commanded influence. The problem though, even if Hostetler’s Amish heritage legitimized his advocacy for the Amish, he advocated one thing for the Amish while living the polar opposite in his own life.

In his book, “The Amish in the American Imagination,” David Weaver Zercher writes how Hostetler, as a proponent of Mennonite rural life, failed to align his personal life with his advocacy work. (quote) “Hostetler and many of his Mennonite rural life colleagues augmented the very situation they decried. By leaving their parents’ farms for college educations, and by pursuing the professions of America’s middle class, they contributed to the Mennonite migration from rural life as much as they stemmed it. Few epitomized this trend as clearly as Hostetler, who was born and reared in an Amish home and retired a full professor from Philadelphia’s Temple University.” (End quote)

In Hostetler’s world, education is good for me but bad for thee.

There is an inherent patronizing condescension in Hostetler’s position.

The great crisis in the work being done in academia on the Amish, is that, academia has become a participant in enabling and reinforcing Amish, “withdrawal from engagement.”

Supporting argument for this can be found in an essay authored by Professor Billig and myself. 

It’s titled, “The Functionalist Problem in Kraybill’s Riddle of Amish Culture,” and published in “The Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies.”

Donald Kraybill’s work admits that Amish education, “restricts consciousness,” and that church membership isn’t a real choice. But instead of honoring the ideals of the institution of higher learning, in which he enjoys an esteemed position, he brazenly portrays these direct contradictions to Anabaptism as benign, even going so far as suggesting that the illusion of choice is beneficial. 

P (186) and P (177) Riddle of Amish Culture

Amish leaders, with the help of the Supreme Court have bought into the idea that stasis, and ignorance for that matter, is a virtue, and Kraybill’s work functions as propaganda in support of their objectives.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

The effect of what I’ve described, leaves the Amish on a shelf, behind glass. 

In terms of, where do we go from here? 

We need to take the Amish off the shelf and out from behind that glass. We need to play with them, even if it means they might get dirty. We need to hold them up side down and shake them, see what falls out. We need to walk around them and do the proverbial tire kick. 

If the Amish are to survive, non engagement needs to be recognized as the religious idolatry that it is. Education must not be synonymous with indoctrination. 

For example, the Quakers are a religious people with reasonably similar values as the Amish. Strong agrarian heritage. They cultivate keeping pop culture and the latest fashion at arms length. But they also founded, or are affiliated with three of the most prestigious universities in the country. 

It is possible to embrace education without losing ones identity and values. 

31st Annual Nisqually Watershed Fest

 A local event from here on Nisqually lands! Full schedule here

"June 2020" Pandemic Chapbook Initiative

 Happy to be a part of this project! Order your copy and download a free PDF copy of March 2020 here

OU #1

Overground Underground #1 is out now!

68 pages of poetry, short fiction, visual poetry, art, photography, and various in-betweens, from some of the most exciting international writers and artists working today. Available in both print and ebook editions.  50% of profits will be donated to YoungMinds children's mental health charity. 

Featuring work from Cailey Rizzo,  Katy Haas, Kat Payne Ware, Declan Toohey, James Schwartz, Mark Goodwin, Emiliano Russianey, Toby Mercer, Lucy Duffell, Thomas M. Tayler, Thomas Crofts, Ian Seed, Gregory Betts, Dan Pounds, Helen Frank, Poppy Cockburn, Emyr Payne, E. Fraser, Mark Bolsover, Izzy Edwards, CDN Warren, Richard Capener, Gareth E. Davis, Matthew Thomas Smith, Nicola Jane Page, Hannah Star Rogers, kerry rawlinson, Claire Orchard, Wilson Koewing, David O’Connor, Dale Cooper Whitfield, Rae Joyce, Rue Baldry, Richard Biddle and Kieran Johns.

OU #1



* Featuring my new pandemic poem "After Making Love to Emmanuel Macron in a Quarantined Paris"! 



* Includes my new pandemic poem "After Making Love to Emmanuel Macron in a Quarantined Paris"!  

Surviving Amish Religion

Amish Sexuality in a Changing World


This obviously groundbreaking new book is now available here


We are American writers who have come together to oppose the racist, destructive, incompetent, corrupt and fascist regime of Donald Trump, and to give our language, thought, and time to his defeat in November. We believe that this presidency is uniquely dangerous to our present and future society. Writers Against Trump collaborates with organizations seeking to encourage voter turnout, promote candidates who resist the Trump apparatus, protect the election from fraud and theft, and mobilize in the event of post-election trouble.

I have joined Paul Auster and many other #WritersAgainstTrump

A recent LitHub article here. Visit & subscribe to WAT on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!  

Remembering Rainbow Farm πŸŒˆπŸ™

With "Burning Rainbow Farm" author Dean Kuipers in Michigan. September is the 19th anniversary of the Rainbow Farm tragedy. 


 If you want to build a nation where We the People truly means #AllThePeople, you need to find the courage to vote outside the two party system. - Mark Charles

Summer 2020 Update

 I am finishing several swriting projects so I can collapse in a heap soon - looking forward to it! My 2019 mixed-media collection PUNATIC has been officially rereleased via Writing Knights Press after their hiatus! Copies are available via Amazon as well in paperback and ebook formats. 

I also have new poetry via SILVER BIRCH PRESS' LANDMARKS series, OVERGROUND/UNDERGROUND literary journal (forthcoming) and SWEETER VOICES STILL is now available for pre-order! 

You can find recent poems via HEADLINE POETRY AND PRESS

Thank you all for checking in with The Literary Party blog - I have a lot of visitors here and I do my best to keep you updated on my travels and publications. 

As with other spoken word poets I find myself suddenly retired.
I miss the poetry slam circuit but do not have any bookings this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic... thank you for your understanding during these times. 

I am so grateful for my readers, my friends and loved ones... here's to new adventures and poetry! 

Anish Population 2020

 The numbers for 2020 are in and (surprise!) the Amish population is growing! Click here

The Anabaptist Spirit

"Defund the Police" is Deeply Anabaptist is a must read article that I recently came across. One of my ongoing projects is studying Anabaptist history. I am amazed at how today's ex-Amish have more in common with the Catholic church-state it once opposed than its own roots.

Today the majority of ex-Amish people support right wing political propaganda and Republican party candidates, at direct odds with their own historical spiritual tenants and values i.e. non-political engagement. 

What other cultures are watching their faith being hijacked by other forces with anti-democratic agendas (in this case  Evangelicals, Southern Baptists and the NRA)? 

Anabaptists were once considered to be so radical they were persecuted by the church and even other Protestants. Sit with that for a moment. 

Today we see the Mennonite Church schism over gay rights and the Amish Church leaders choosing non-engagement and shunning their LGBT minority. Even during a pandemic! 

Today we see the Mennonite Church helping separated families at the border while Amish attend Trump rallies chanting Build the Wall. 

Today we see the Amish ask Native Americans for forgiveness for their historical land theft yet refuse to give any land back. The Amish could know... go back to where they came from! How about it Switzerland? Germany? France? We are Trump refugees. 

Via @ndncollective: Movement Elder, Faith Spotted Eagle: "If you are a U.S. Citizen, you are a treaty signer. So, you, have a part to play w/ the treaties. You have to demand that the U.S. Gov. live up to the treaties. These are not dormant documents. As I speak to you, you are a treaty enforcer." 

This is a time of justice and those of us under the Anabaptist umbrella need to participate in this moment. The silence from both the Mennonite Church and the Amish during WW2 must never be forgotten or repeated.


How far we have strayed from our ancestors! 



Now is the time for reflection and reformation. A time to acknowledge we benefit from the white supremacist system and publicly proclaim Black Lives Matter. A time to honor treaties and give #Landback2020. A time to honor our own ancestors and realign with their values. A time to recognize errors and move forward in truth. A time to share our history and learn from it.  

Glacier Basin Trail

 As glaciers disappear from our 🌏 it seemed like a good idea to see one! πŸ”  @ Glacier Basin Trail, Mt. Rainier National Park. 




Writing Knights Press has rereleased my 2019 mixed-media collection PUNATIC (order a paperback via Writing Knights Press and get a free PDF)! 

(PUNATIC is also available via Amazon


James Schwartz - Author Bio (Updated)

James Schwartz is a poet, writer, slam performer, speaker & author.

His book THE LITERARY PARTY: GROWING UP GAY AND AMISH IN AMERICA was published by inGroup Press in 2011 + nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. Schwartz has also been a PUSHCART PRIZE nominee. 


#R E S I S T (2017)





 In 2011 Schwartz joined the Three Rivers Community Players for a production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, playing a Phantom. 
He appears in the documentary films THE SEAHORSEFROM PAHOA WITH LAVA 4 & the short micro-film #CITYOFREFUGE

A slam performer, Schwartz has read at various venues including The Zoo Bar, This is Fire! Kukuau Studio, La Hiki Ola kava bar + speaking at EAST HAWAII CSL.

Most recently, essays by Schwartz have appeared in RFD MAGAZINE, THE GOOD MEN PROJECTOUR HAPPY HOURS: LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS anthology (winner of a Goldie Award) + short story AMISH ROAD TRIP (2014) in JONATHAN: A JOURNAL OF QUEER MALE FICTION & s
everal Amazon Kindle eBook essays / singles (VOLCANO SUITE). 


In addition to writing Schwartz is an honorary founding father of LGBT AMISH.

He is currently social distancing on Nisqually land (Washington state) & at work on a new poetry collection. 

The /tƐmz/ Review: Pandemic Chapbooks 2 to Support Charitable Giving

Thank you to everyone who purchased a copy of MARCH 2020: A COVID-19 ANTHOLOGY (845 Press) with my poem "Ground Zero"! The sequel is here (featuring my recent pandemic poem "Containment"): JUNE 2020: A PANDEMIC ANTHOLOGY 

“Purchasing” the Second Round of Chapbooks: 

How to "purchase" a copy of each:
  • Given the Black Lives Matter protests against racial discrimination and the rise of domestic violence and other forms of insecurity for women and LGBTQ+ folx during the pandemic, the charitable focus has changed somewhat for this second round of chapbooks
  • Make a donation or purchase that supports women’s shelters, domestic violence shelters, anti-domestic-violence initiatives, organizations supporting LGBTQ+ folx, or organizations supporting racial equality (including American community bail funds). Also eligible are receipts from small presses / indie bookstores for books written by LGBTQ+ authors, authors who belong to marginalized sexes/genders (including women/womxn), and Black authors. There is no minimum contribution amount
  • ​Email your receipt and your mailing address to either 845 Press ( or Collusion Books ( to immediately receive both a PDF copy of June 2020: A Pandemic Anthology AND the access password to view A complimentary hard copy of June 2020 will be mailed to you when the hard copies have been printed
  • Receipts must be dated June 1, 2020 or later

Financial hardship:

We know that this is a very difficult time, with unprecedentedly high unemployment and massive financial pressures for individuals and households. If you are unable to make a contribution, just email either press to let us know (include your mailing address), and we will make one on your behalf! You will immediately receive both the PDF copy of June 2020: A Pandemic Anthology AND the access password to view A complimentary hard copy of June 2020 will be mailed to you when the hard copies have been printed.

"Sweeter Voices Still" Pre-Order!


Edited by Ryan Schuessler and Kevin Whiteneir, Jr.

The middle of America—the Midwest, Appalachia, the Rust Belt, the Great Plains, the Upper South—is a queer place, and it always has been. The queer people of its cities, farms, and suburbs do not exist only to serve as “blue dots” within “red states.” Every story about the kid from Iowa who steps off the bus in Manhattan, ready to “finally” live, is a story about the kid who was already living in Iowa. Sweeter Voices Still is about that kid and has been written by people like them. This collection features queer voices you might recognize—established and successful writers and thinkers—and others you might not—people who don’t think of themselves as writers at all. In this book, transgender women and men are women and men, “they” and “them” can be singular pronouns, Black lives matter, sex work is work, and you don’t have to go to a gay bar to be gay—and it’s okay if you do, too. You’ll find sex, love, and heartbreak and all the beings we meet along the way: trees, deer, cicadas, sturgeon. Most of all, you'll find real people. 

Featuring a foreword by Northwestern University professor Doug Kiel. 

Contributors: Kemi Alabi, Samuel Autman, Neema Avashia, Lars Avis, Joss Barton, Yasmin Bashir, Jeffery Beam, Zach Benak, Taylor Brorby, Jasmine Burnett, River Coello, Edward M. Cohen, Brian Czyzyk, Harmony Cox, Gene Dawson, Patrick Del Percio, Dominick Duda, Joanna Eleftheriou, Aaron Foley, Christopher Gonzalez, Stacy Grover, Elizabeth Harper, Jackie Hedeman, Jessica Jacobs, C.J. Janovy, Jessie Keary, Owen Keehnen, River Ian Kerstetter, Doug Kiel, Jocelyn Krueger, Nichole Lohrman-Novak, Raymond Luczak, Ka “Oskar” Ly, K. Ann MacNeil, Mary Maxfield, Gabe Montesanti, Jennifer Morales, Kalene Nisly, Andriy Partykevich, Robert L. Patrick, Kay Patterson, Angela Pupino, Kai Minosh Pyle, Samer Hassan, Michael Schreiber, Sharon Seithel, L.S. Quinn, Jose Quinones, Sarah Sala, James Schwartz, Gregg Shapiro, Joel Showalter, Carmen Smith, Robyn Steely, Sylvia Sukop, Alyson Thompson, Janine Tiffe, Steffan Triplett, April Vazquez, Evan Williams