The Amish

Yesterday on NPR’s Newhour, I heard this essay on the ways of the Amish.
Tom Davenport, Folkstreams.net project director.

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We have spent our week as heartbroken voyeurs of a way of life foreign to almost of us. The simple life of the Amish — no cars, no cell phones, no electricity — a life so unfathomably simple to so many of us. Quaint — kids in hats, women in bonnets, horse drawn buggies. But what is most unfathomable of all is something that became apparent as the Amish community struggled this week with the ghastly schoolhouse murder of five young girls by a deranged, distraught father who then took his own life.

The modern media world descended en masse into this rural enclave as if dropped back through time, poking and prodding the grief of the families and of the community as a whole. And what they found and what we hear from that community was not revenge or anger but a gentle, heart-stricken insistence on forgiveness. Forgiveness, that is, of the shooter himself. The widow of the shooter was actually invited to one of the funerals, and it was said, she would be welcome to stay in the community.

In a world gone mad with revenge killing and sectarian violence, chunks of the globe self-emulating with hatred, this is something to behold — this insistence on forgiveness. It was so strange, so elemental, so… otherworldly. This, the Amish said, showing us the tender face of religion at a time and in a world where we are so often seeing the rageful face. This was Jesus’ way, and they have Jesus in them — not for a day, an hour, not just in good times, but even in the very worse. “The freedom contained in Jesus’ forgiveness,” wrote the German philosopher Hannah Arendt, “is the freedom from vengeance.”

We have seldom seen this in action. So many tribes and sects in a froth of revenge from Darfur to Baghdad and in our own country so many victims and victims’ families crying out in our courthouses for revenge.

To this the Amish have offered a stunning example of the freedom that comes with forgiveness –a reminder that religion need not turn lethal or combative.

I for one as this week ends, stand in awe of their almost unfathomable grace in grief.

Ann Taylor Flemming.

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