Saturday, October 14, 2006

Forgiveness, grace, mercy

For too many of us, the Amish are an exotic specimen on the American landscape, a curious group of people in period costumes with antiquated practices and an irrational fear of modernity. The recent shootings in Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania and the reactions of the Amish community there ought to bring an end to such caricatures.

School shootings in the 90s were a staple of the 24-hour news networks. They provided unending fodder for pundits and so-called cultural commentators to lament the end of western civilization. They inspired see-through backpacks, the commercial lionizing of victims in books and movies, the condemnation of various social ills without a concomitant concern for the deeper causes behind such unspeakable violence. It was video games or Marilyn Manson or the lack of prayer in schools. The various school shootings this country experienced in the 90s led us to be afraid, to point accusatory fingers. More than anything, though, those school shootings did not force us to look within ourselves and our own culture--a culture of violence and fear populated with guns both real and digital, a culture too concerned with possession and too little concerned with belonging.

Contrast these sundry reactions to that of the Amish community in Nickle Mines. They buried their dead children in simplicity and silence. They tore down the now tarnished schoolhouse so as to create a living pasture as a memorial of those girls' lives. They accepted the aid of their neighbors for to reject the outside world would be to reject God's own grace.

Most shocking to us, even those of us who claim to be followers of Christ, they reached out to the perpetrator of this crime and his grieving family. Their public forgiveness was pure, lacking even a subtle, periphrastic condemnation of such a seeming monster. Recently, the man's family thanked the Amish community for their "forgiveness, grace, and mercy."

To a Christian, no other words from our neighbors should be as sweet. Not "successful." Not "nice." Not "enlightened." Not "dogmatic." Not "moral." Not even "Christian." In the end, "forgiveness, grace, and mercy" are the marks of Christ himself, the marks towards which we ourselves should strive.

The faithfulness and piety of the Amish should put us to shame. May I suggest that instead of a roadside oddity, this Amish community is a faithful remnant of true believers within a country in which most of us have forgotten the path Christ led.