Arthur G. Gish became influential in my life nearly forty years ago, so I am writing this to praise his life and work—and partly to talk about his beard.
Gish was born into the Amish community of Lancaster County, PA, in 1939. He later became a member of the Church of the Brethren (CoB) and graduated from Bethany Theological Seminary, a CoB school in Richmond, IN. Gish’s first book was titled The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970). That book was written when he was about thirty years old and very much involved in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement.
Gish’s next books were Beyond the Rat Race (1973) and Living in Christian Community (1979). “Simple Gifts,” the old Shaker hymn that begins, “It’s a gift to be simple, / It’s a gift to be free,” appears at the top of the very first page of text in the former. (Those same words are also quoted at the beginning of “Enough Is Enough,” the sixth chapter of Jim Wallis’ new book, Rediscovering Values, which will be discussed on October 13 at the Vital Conversations meeting at Antioch Public Library.)
In his first book, Gish contrasts the political “new left,” which was very active in the late 1960s, with Christian radicalism, especially as seen in the Anabaptists. I had long been a “fan” of the Swiss Brethren of the sixteenth century and others in that pacifist tradition, but I became even more enthusiastic about them after reading Gish’s book.
At the beginning of the chapter on Anabaptism, Gish writes,
The beard of the protester gave me a new appreciation for my Anabaptist grandfather’s beard. His beard symbolizes for him something very similar to what the beard means for the protester. When I asked my grandfather why he grew a beard his reply was that it was to show that he was different from the world. The beard of the protester is to demonstrate that he is not a part of the establishment. My own beard is a conscious attempt to bring together these two radical perspectives (p. 49).
Even though he ceased to be Amish, Gish kept his beard to the end of his life, as you can see from the fairly recent picture on the left. And even though I have never been, or had any relatives who have been, Amish, I have worn a similar beard since 1972—and I made the decision to grow an “Amish” beard partly because of reading what Gish said about his beard.
Just two or three weeks ago I heard the sad news that Art Gish had died earlier this year in a farm accident. For decades he had lived and worked on his farm in Ohio growing organic food. But in July the tractor he was driving turned over and caught fire, and he died in that tragic accident.
Thank you for allowing me to share these few words in memory of, and in praise of, Art Gish (and his Amish beard).