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Friday, October 06, 2006

Forgiveness and the Amish

Of course, Christianity's supreme example of forgiveness is the dying Christ who reaches out from the cross on Calvary, "Father, forgive them."

Yet, I've never felt as intimately close to the concept of forgiveness as when I felt the anguish of the Amish families of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. They led us into deep felt feelings of forgiveness by their extraordinary example. In the absence of any hesitation or time removed from the horrible massacre of their young school girls, the Amish elders offered forgiveness to the murderer's family. In so doing, the Amish thereby helped release guilt from other innocent people, the family members of the perpetrator, who couldn't have stopped the evil doing crazed mission of the murderer, who killed children - girls - in a one room schoolhouse.

Sociologists will no doubt try to explain this phenomenon of forgiveness from the secluded Amish, a group insulated from the modern world by their choice of lifestyle living close to the land. I submit their willingness to forgive is driven by their commitment to living the Word of God and caring for their community. There's simply no time to waste dwelling on a past they cannot control. Certainly, their strict bond to one another and to Holy Scriptures supports the Amish ability to reach out and say, "Father, forgive them." At least, it appears that way.

We are surely taught a lesson in peace and forgiveness from this horrible shooting of innocents. As stories of violence permeate the news, this particular murderous incident should have caught the attention of those who speak in sound bites about "cut and run" in the Iraq War or "eye for an eye" revenge for other injustices.

Although I'm not a pacifist, the Amish forgiveness response to the murder of their children by an unprovoked attack has caused me to wish I were one.

Forgiveness begins the process of emotional healing, so grief therapists tell us. Certainly, the Amish response of reaching out - "Father, forgive them", helps all of us to deal with this unspeakable tragedy. Otherwise, we're left feeling like the sickening string of copy cat school shootings has no cure.

Let's pray that forgiveness is also helping those who are burying their young daughters this week.

It's a bittersweet thank you, for sure, but I certainly appreciate the lesson the mourning Amish taught us. It isn't easy to forgive. Moreover, many of us never really learn how to do it, despite our understanding of Scripture.

Father, please forgive us all.

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