Friday, October 06, 2006

What we can learn from the Amish

from the October 06, 2006 edition -

The Amish protest against evil
The Monitor's View

The Amish of Lancaster County, often seen as living in an idyllic but archaic past, have given a powerful example for the future. Their actions since the school shootings that killed five Amish girls provide one of many ways to prevent such tragedies.
Previous school shootings, notably the 1999 murders at Columbine High School, have led to calls for any number of useful, preventive measures, such as tighter security, more federal gun control, antibullying training for young children, more parental vigilance in communities, and closer screening of wayward students. And perhaps, as a result, many shootings have been prevented.
Those Old Order Amish who live a secluded life near the school at Nickel Mines, Pa., have a different idea.
Their faith in the power of forgiveness led them to invite the widow of the nonAmish killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV, to the funeral for four of the slain girls. One Amish woman told a reporter, "It's our Christian love to show to her we have not any grudges against her."
This isn't surprising. It is common for the Amish to invite car drivers who have killed one of their community members to the funeral. Such a compassionate response reveals a belief that each individual is responsible to counter violence by expressing comfort - a sort of prayer in action.
After Monday's killings, the grandfather of one of the slain girls went to the home of Roberts's father, consoling and hugging him, pouring forth a love and innocence of the kind remembered of the girls in the school. "He extended the hope of forgiveness that we all need these days," said a Roberts family spokesman, the Rev. Dwight Lefever of Living Faith Church of God. "'God met us in that kitchen."
Such examples of forgiveness are often inspiring because, to many, they are so difficult and so rare. After previous school shootings, some families of victims have also sought to extend forgiveness to the killers of their children. The Amish, although known for a rigid shunning of members who adopt other ways, are emphatic about forgiveness, perhaps making it easier for them. It's one way they've held their communities together since the 18th century.
Like everyone, the Amish also seek justice for a crime, even as they struggle to forgive. Even so, as Abraham Lincoln said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."
Such qualities are a corrective to the tendency to see evil as a real possibility and fear of it as necessary. "I don't understand it," said one Mennonite woman, speaking of the shooting, "but it's not from God. He wants us to love one another." Forgiveness helps resist the impression that humans can act like animals. It spreads a sensitivity to the needs of others, especially those whose inner torments might lead to shootings.
Some Amish saw Roberts as someone in need of help. Despite the guilt of his act, he was probably a man who needed to regain his child-like innocence, and heal his anger and the mental demons of the past.
While Roberts is now gone, the Amish example of forgiveness is a reminder that real safety lies less in acting out of fear to prevent violence and more on qualities such as forgiveness that better connect people. Such compassion reduces fears and reaches those prone to violence.
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Thursday, October 05, 2006
Duane Shank on the Amish School Shootings: The power of faith, the strength of community

Part of my job is to read a variety of news sources each morning, and summarize the top stories in our Daily Digest. I’ll confess that there are times when the violence in our world – from Darfur to Iraq, Colombia to the Middle East – threatens me with numbness. Then, there comes a story that deeply affects me.
On Monday morning, the breaking news bulletins began to flash into my inbox of a shooting at an Amish schoolhouse near Paradise, PA, in the heart of Lancaster County. For me, that’s home – I grew up in the county, and for 25 years my parents lived ten miles from that school. My wife’s grandmother was Amish, and we both still have relatives in the area. As more details came in, the shock and grief grew. A heavily armed gunman, Charles Roberts, walked into a one-room country schoolhouse, ordered all the boys to leave, then tied up ten little girls and methodically shot them in the head before killing himself. News stories emerged of state troopers with their uniforms soaked in blood as they worked with medics trying to save lives. Five girls died, and five are still in hospitals in serious to critical condition.
Suddenly, the media discovered the Amish. A quiet, peaceful offshoot of the 16th century Anabaptist movement who have lived in Lancaster county since the early 1700s, living and farming for the last three centuries without the aid of modern technology. I know the countryside where this tragedy occurred. It’s rolling farmland, with not a power line in sight and farmers with teams of horses working the fields. If you ignore the car you’re driving on the back roads, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the 19th century.
I’ve been surprised at the news coverage. The reporters covering the story have understood and written about the Amish in a generally knowledgeable and respectful way. As I’ve read the news, and reflected on the events, two things struck me as having entered into the news cycle that we don’t often see. One is the power of faith and forgiveness, the other the strength of community. In their quiet way, the Amish families and neighbors of these girls showed a witness to the world that it doesn’t see very often.
The power of faith and forgiveness. A pastor who has been with the Roberts family – the gunman leaves behind a wife and three children – told a Lancaster newspaper of being in the family’s home when there was a knock on the door. It was an Amish neighbor coming on behalf of the community. He put his arms around Roberts’ father, and said “We will forgive you.” The pastor concluded: “God met us in that kitchen.”
Also reported was a statement the family of one of the girls gave to the press: “We don’t know or understand why this happened but we do believe God allowed this to happen. The rest of us, our lives will go on. We will try to work together to support and help the families directly involved, knowing that the innocent children likely need help in dealing with this tragedy of their friends, neighbors, and schoolmates.’’ The girl’s great-uncle added, “There is sadness for everybody involved, including the man responsible for this tragedy.’’
One of this morning’s headlines reads: “Amish families hurt, but find way to forgive.” It is a spirit that I don’t often see in the news. A spirit in complete keeping with Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44) And a spirit that is now being sustained by Jesus: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. … Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:4, 7)
The strength of community. The Amish community is known for its self-reliance. They do not have property insurance, so a community-wide barn-raising is held to replace one downed by fire. They do not hold health or life insurance, relying rather on the community. The news reports this week have told of neighbors, friends and relatives coming to the homes of the families, bringing food and comfort. An AP story quoted a family counselor who was called to talk with the students who had run away: “There is a coming together. That’s how they deal with everything. They come together.” In a time of great grief, there is the strength of family and community.
It is a community that lives by the words of Paul to his churches: “Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…” (1 Corinthians 12:26) This week, the Amish community is demonstrating to the world the truth of those verses.
What can we do in response to this tragedy?
Pray. For the families and community of the girls who were killed, for the family and friends of gunman, for healing to the girls who were critically wounded, for our society that it learn the ways of peace rather than violence.
Donate. Members of the Amish community have established
funds both for the families of those killed and wounded, and for the family of Roberts, who leaves a wife and three young children. Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service are also coordinating support for those affected.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.


Pure & Simple
An insider's account of the Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren people's Stephen Scott

Strong Faith and Community May Help Amish Cope With Loss

Forgiveness in the wake of Amish school murders

Amish grandfather: 'We must not think evil of this man'
FROM cnn
Amish display the true meaning of forgiveness
Even after the horrific tragedy, elders preach forgiveness
By Ann Curry
NBC News


It seems to me that what you keep seeing and hearing about is their faith, teaching, and showing forgiveness. We also hear about the strength of community. This is not to say that they will not grieve, because they will. This is not to say that forgiveness will be a one time act, rather it is a process and goes through stages just like grief. But what does standout is they are being Christ like in the midst of a terrible tragedy, and showing others how Jesus wanted his Christians to be in the world. Would that we that call ourselves Christians could be and act the same way.

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