Amish forgiveness is about ‘actively making peace’

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 18, 2006

The recent Amish example of forgiveness in the wake of unimaginable tragedy has certainly grabbed worldwide attention. A Google search I did on the Internet just a little more than two weeks after a gunman murdered five Amish school girls in Pennsylvania yielded nearly five million links related to the event.

Around Cochrane, virtually every coffee chat I’ve had in the past week has included reference to the Amish response to the death of their children. Many of our local readers, aware of my special interest in this story, have volunteered updates and words of amazement, often concluding with statements such as: “I wonder if I would be able to respond with such forgiveness.”

Cochrane coffee companion Mike Veloski, writing from Pennsylvania, where he was visiting family, responded to my column of last week on the Amish reaction: “Their actions are the essence of Christianity for me, an ‘example,’ as you wrote, for all of us.”

Buffalo, N.Y., coffee companion Don Cornell agrees with Mike. He wrote that he was intending to use the Amish community’s example in a class he’s teaching on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “That is how we as Christians ought to live,” he wrote.

Cochrane’s globetrotting consultant with the World Bank, Heinz Unger, wrote from Aceh, Indonesia: “This is a wonderful story full of hope despite the sadness, and I loved your (or actually, Jimmy Kaquitts’) way of teaching us what an example is.”

Edmonton coffee companion Colleen Chapman was traveling in the United States when the shooting occurred and listened to many broadcasts on the Amish acts of forgiveness. She wrote:

“I heard one young woman from CNN actually say, ‘How could they do something like that?’ as though there was something wrong with the Amish!”

Colleen went on to say: “Those of us who attempt to live that way know that forgiveness is the shortest route to healing our own pain – I often think of it as a very selfish act of the best kind. Hopefully, the children of the man who committed the crime will be strengthened by the acts of that wonderful community.”

Commenting on the opinion out there that the Amish should be put in charge of the war on terror, Colleen said: “The problem with the Amish running things is that they desire no power and would, undoubtedly, turn the job down!”

Speaking of putting the Amish in charge of the war on terror, several of our coffee companions directed me to an essay by writer/scholar Diana Butler Bass which appeared on the Jim Wallis blog, God’s Politics. In “What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?” she reflected on how Amish forgiveness was expressed in four public acts in the week following the murder of their children:

“First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief monies intended for Amish families be shared with Roberts and her children. And, finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, more than 30 members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer.

“As my husband and I talked about the spiritual power of these actions, I commented in an offhanded way, ‘It is an amazing witness to the peace tradition.’ He looked at me and said passionately, ‘Witness? I don’t think so. This went well past witnessing. They weren’t witnessing to anything. They were actively making peace.’”

Marie Roberts and her three young children have been deeply moved by this act of peacemaking. According to an Associated Press article of Oct. 14, the murderer’s widow sent a letter to the Amish community:

“‘Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need,’ she wrote. ‘Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe…. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.’”

In my March 29 column on Iraq hostage James Loney, a Canadian peace activist, I noted that Loney had listed washing dishes among his greatest longings upon being set free. I reflected on that in a subsequent column, commenting that the simple act of washing dishes indicates that the future matters.

So with the Amish example of forgiveness. Because the future matters, their acts of forgiveness have helped make it possible for the hopes and dreams of tomorrow not to be contaminated by the bitter legacy of yesterday.

Our world leaders would, indeed, do well to pay heed to the Amish example.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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