PBS did it again - loaded the channel with enough fascinating presentations to make the possession of a TV set nearly worthwhile.
The public channel last week alone brought intelligent, entertaining programs, including the final episode of "Downton Abbey," Masterpiece Theatre's opus for Anglophiles, then went on to a chilling expos of the near disastrous Japanese nuclear meltdown; a tribute to Cab Calloway; and a stirring documentary about 11-year-old hopefuls for a NASCAR future by learning the sport with souped-up go-karts.
But most fascinating of all PBS events featured the lives of the Amish in their rural communities, where faith and adherence to 400-year-old traditions have both captivated and baffled Americans.
The two-hour film intruded as tactfully as possible into Amish communities throughout the farming regions of the United States - revealing their daily farm chores, their spontaneous singing of joyous hymns, eating healthy meals from their fields and suffering indignities from outsiders who see them as oddballs in homespun clothes and with black buggy transportation. The fiercely proud, secretive people ignore taunts and suffer persecution as a test of faith.
The Amish live a hard life with rules set centuries ago in Germany, but everything they do, in contrast to our over-indulgent, egocentric society, often appears not only practical but envious.
They practice nonviolence, love and patience. As opposed to the importance we place on self, they live in communal harmony. We change rules to suit our contemporary desires while their rules, once set centuries ago, remain the same (minor differences may occur from one community to another - in the "ordnung" code of dress, for example - but always with practicality in mind).
They do not believe in war, revenge, being photographed, holding grudges or anything else that might tempt them to disobey the Word of God. That means no strife nor competition and definitely no material luxuries.
The father is the head of the household just as Christ is the head of the Church; the mother remains at home to govern the daily home life. Obedience to family and the "ordnung" rules is primary; should anyone disobey, the punishment is to be Shunned until repentance is proven.
There is no church. The community meets for the entire day every other week at a family home for a traditional religious celebration in German, concluding with food and friendly visiting.
Every act in the adult lives is made with the family, and especially the children, in mind. Buying land for the future, making every daily decision in favor of their descendants, is paramount.
Children use their imaginations for play, usually in natural surroundings. There is no need for "things" to pass the time. They dress as their community "ordnung" dictates, appearing as miniature replicas of their elders. The youngsters learn early in life their duty with daily chores, usually working in tandem with their elders - the boys in the barn and fields, the girls in the home.
At age 16, they are given permission to practice "rumspringa," to blend in with their non-Amish peers - up to a point. They can wear fashionable (but not ostentatious) clothes, smoke, socialize with outsiders in public and look for a mate within their community. Almost 90 percent return to the fold after this test of dedication.
As farming economically dwindles, men must turn to alternative occupations, using farm-taught skills in construction and building. Because of their rigorous farm training, they are welcomed for their honesty, sense of responsibility, willingness to work hard, fast and with accuracy. Some leave the community to live Shunned lives, but most return to the simple life, which they prefer to selfishness, materialism, overweight people and greed.
One Amish adult summed it up: "We owe allegiance only to God; this life is just a speck of sand compared to eternity." They may not always be happy, but they are content - and that, it seems, makes all the difference.
We could learn from them.
Rotten Tomatoes averages: "The Descendants," B+; "The Lorax," C+; "Project X," D-