October 7, 2006

Amish Grace

Donald B. Hawthorne

Thanks to John Podhoretz and Peter Robinson on The Corner for the link to Rod Dreher's beautiful words entitled Amish faith shines, even in tragic darkness:

Is there any place on earth that more bespeaks peace, restfulness and sanctuary from the demons of modern life than a one-room Amish schoolhouse? That fact is no doubt why so many of us felt so defiled there is no more precise word by news of the mass murders that took place there this week. If you're not safe in an Amish schoolhouse ... And yet, as unspeakable as those killings were, they were not the most shocking news to come out of Lancaster County this week.

No, that would be the revelation that the Amish community, which buried five of its little girls this week, is collecting money to help the widow and children of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the man who executed their own children before taking his own life. A serene Amish midwife told NBC News on Tuesday that this is normal for them. It's what Jesus would have them do.

"This is imitation of Christ at its most naked," journalist Tom Shachtman, who has chronicled Amish life, told The New York Times. "If anybody is going to turn the other cheek in our society, it's going to be the Amish. I don't want to denigrate anybody else who says they're imitating Christ, but the Amish walk the walk as much as they talk the talk."

I don't know about you, but that kind of faith is beyond comprehension. I'm the kind of guy who will curse under my breath at the jerk who cuts me off in traffic on the way home from church. And look at those humble farmers, putting Christians like me to shame.

It is not that the Amish are Anabaptist hobbits, living a pure pastoral life uncorrupted by the evils of modernity. So much of the coverage of the massacre has dwelled on the "innocence lost" aspect, but I doubt that the Amish would agree. They have their own sins and tragedies. Nobody who lives in a small town can live under the illusion that it is a haven from evil. To paraphrase gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil does not run along the boundaries of Lancaster County, but through every human heart.

What sets hearts apart is how they deal with sins and tragedies. In his suicide note, Mr. Roberts said one reason he did what he did was out of anger at God for the death of his infant daughter in 1997. Wouldn't any parent wonder why God allowed that to happen? Mr. Roberts held onto his hatred, purifying it under pressure until it exploded in an act of infamy. That's one way to deal with anger.

Another is the Amish way. If Mr. Roberts' rage at God over the death of his baby girl was in some sense understandable, how much more comprehensible would be the rage of those Amish mothers and fathers whose children perished by his hand? Had my child suffered and died that way, I cannot imagine what would have become of me, for all my pretenses of piety. And yet, the Amish do not rage. They do not return evil for evil. In fact, they embody peace and love beyond all human understanding.

In our time, religion makes the front pages usually in the ghastliest ways. In the name of God, the faithful fly planes into buildings, blow themselves up to murder the innocent, burn down rival houses of worship, insult and condemn and cry out to heaven for vengeance. The wicked Rev. Fred Phelps and his crazy brood of fundamentalist vipers even planned to protest at the Amish children's funeral, until Dallas-based radio talker Mike Gallagher, bless him, gave them an hour of his program if they would only let those poor people bury their dead in peace.

But sometimes, faith helps ordinary men and women do the humanly impossible: to forgive, to love, to heal and to redeem. It makes no sense. It is the most sensible thing in the world. The Amish have turned this occasion of spectacular evil into a bright witness to hope. Despite everything, a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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Thanks for the commentary Donald. This unspeakable tragedy in the Amish community is such a stark reminder of the frighteningly broad spectrum of human behavior. Sadly the world over we see far more examples of the unspeakable violence than of live and let live godliness of the Amish.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, whose philosophy and teachings about the power of God I've found particulary interesting and valuable in my own life has a favorite quote (not sure who has original ownership), "when you change the way you look at things the things you look at change". It's a very applicable quote in this instance because most of us cannot understand the almost instantaneous forgiveness of the gunman and outreach to his family from many in the Amish community. However were we to see this act through their life experience and deeply religious lens then our reaction to these very same events would have a different focus.

Posted by: Tim at October 9, 2006 8:27 AM

"Fred Phelps and his crazy brood of fundamentalist vipers even planned to protest at the Amish children's funeral,"

Fred Phelps is crazy like a fox. He's no more Christian than Bill Clinton. But showing up at military funerals, and in this case an Amish funeral, does get him some priceless publicity from the single digit IQ MSM, which in turn attracts more left-wing fringe followers, all with money in their pockets for the collection plates. Its quite a scam once you sit down and think about it.

Posted by: Vulgorilla at October 9, 2006 9:24 AM

----Fred Phelps is crazy like a fox-----

For a group of fewer than 25 people Hannity and O'Reilly sure give them a lot of airtime.

Posted by: Mike at October 9, 2006 2:51 PM

I would disagree with you about a small town being a haven from evil. I grew up in a city (Albuquerque) and now live in a small town in Arizona. I'm not saying that bad things don't happen here but it's a much better place to raise my kids.

Granted, this is an L.D.S. community (Mormons are more willing to come together to help their neighbors than some other religions I've seen, including the one I was raised in, though I still look with envy at the faith and grace that the Amish showed); However any small town, of whatever faith is still a better place to raise children than any big city. Simply put, small town folks look out for each other.

Now, a question. I am hoping to collect links to local political blogs from all fifty states on my blog. It appears that you only cover Republicans, do you know of any Rhode Island local bloggers who provide commentary on all candidates and trends in the state? Bias is OK (I'm certainly biased), as long as they provide accurate commentary on what is going on in the political scene statewide.

Posted by: Eli_Blake at October 14, 2006 12:43 AM