Tuesday, February 23, 2010

From the Ashes

How many Bible verses or stories can you think of that teach us to forgive? What other stories of forgiveness can you call to mind from any source–other faiths, the news, movies, books, poetry, fables? Take a few moments and see how many you can list.

Here is one that made a big impression on me. On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV held ten Amish girls, ranging in age from 6 to 13, hostage in their one room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He tied them up and made them line up against the wall. There was evidence that he planned to sexually assault them. However, whatever he planned to do to them was thwarted by the quick arrival of state troopers. But the troopers were unable to stop him before he started shooting. The oldest girl, only 13, asked to be shot first, hoping that some extra time might save her friends. He shot her first. Then shot them all, killing five, and finally shot himself.

Imagine. I can’t. But if the crime itself was unfathomable, then even more so was the response of the Amish community. Within hours of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the slain girls was heard admonishing others not to hate the shooter or to think evil of him. They quickly reached out to his family and offered forgiveness and condolences. They attended his funeral and invited his widow to attend the funeral of one of the girls. They invited her and her children to become members of their community.

The accounts of forgiveness flashed around the world. I read everything I could read about it and found sites in many countries marveling at a faith that most of us would believe beyond human capacity. Certainly beyond our own. Beyond my own. I knew I was witnessing a gift. A vision of what is possible.

What would our lives look like if we could forgive like that? What would our communities look like? Our world? What would the Amish response have been to 9/11?

The following year I read a book titled Amish Grace, in which the authors put the community’s response in the context of their faith culture. Many Amish, when questioned, replied with puzzlement, “Amish forgiveness is just Christian forgiveness.” One person, after hesitating a moment, wondered, “Is it different from Christian forgiveness?”

Is it?

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