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Book Review of "Amish Grace"

How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy

by Karen Bentley

TITLE: Amish Grace
SUBTITLE: How forgiveness transcended tragedy
AUTHOR: Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher
PUBLISHER: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; $24.95 Hardcover
MESSAGE: Forgiveness is Love
: 4.25 out of 5.0

On October 2, 2006 Charles Roberts walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania with a plan to molest and kill the school girls he found there. Armed with a semi-automatic pistol, Roberts ordered the boys and the adults to leave, and then he tied up the girls and lined them on the floor. One of the older girls realized what Roberts was going to do, and she bravely asked him to “shoot me first” in an effort to save the others. When the police quickly arrived on the scene, Roberts was unable to proceed with his original plan. The girls were all shot, execution style, and then he killed himself. Five of the girls died, and five were seriously wounded.

A mass-murder in rural Lancaster County shocked the world and received massive media attention. But the forgiveness and grace demonstrated by the entire Amish community after the killing turned out to be an even bigger media event. The killer was immediately forgiven by the Amish people, and this forgiveness was freely offered without any condition attached to it. The killer’s surviving spouse and her children were welcomed into Amish homes, where friendship and kindness was extended by all.

This book explains the collective act of forgiveness demonstrated by the Amish community and the public reaction to it. Most people who heard about the events were amazed and full of admiration, but some were outraged. The book also looks at Amish culture to better understand the key role that forgiveness plays in their religion and in their daily lives.

Amish Grace
draws our attention to the difference between the social purpose of forgiveness, which is to assign blame and to judge the worthiness of another, and the spiritual purpose of forgiveness, which is to undo hate and experience Self as Love. The Amish do not question God or blame anyone for this crime. Rather, they accept that it is the girls’ time. No apology, no remorse, no repentance, no act of atonement is necessary for them to forgive. They simply refuse to get angry, to hold a grudge or to extract revenge.

There are three major reasons for the public criticism of the Amish act of forgiveness: 1) The Amish practices do not conform to social conventions regarding forgiveness. 2) The Amish practices do not support prevailing pop psychology views of our time regarding “healthy” expression of emotions. And 3) forgiveness is perceived as a weak and ineffective response to attack. The authors remind us that “most of us have been formed by a culture that nourishes revenge and mocks grace.” Consider these responses:

- Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby said “hatred is not always wrong, and forgiveness is not always deserved….He concluded by quoting from Psalm 97: Let those who love the Lord hate evil.”

- Legal scholar Jeffrie G Murphy said that forgiveness is only a valid, legitimate response “if directed toward the properly deserving (e.g.,, the repentant) and if it can be bestowed in such a way that victim self-respect and respect for the moral order can be maintained.”

- Others question whether there are “some acts so heinous that they should not be forgiven.”

The Amish are reticent about drawing attention to self and about being in the public domain, which is why the best and most useful part of this book is the ability to hear their gentle voices:

“Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

“We believe in letting our light shine,” said one Amish father, “but not shining it in the eyes of other people.”

“When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask the Father to forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiving and being forgiven are inseparable. The person who does not forgive others will not be forgiven…The person who refuses to forgive others has cut himself off from love and mercy. We must forgive, accept, and love, if we want God to forgive us our daily trespasses.”

“God will not force everyone to be good. But He will bring good out of every situation, if we allow Him to do so – no matter how evil the deed.”

“Regardless of how many times you forgive, forgiveness must be practiced again and again.”

“It’s not God’s will that people kill each other.”

”We all make mistakes; if we forgive we will be forgiven.”

The Amish give a practical demonstration of forgiveness and show the world it can be a simple, fast and healing process. We don’t need to follow any special forgiveness steps. Or to analyze whether or not forgiveness is appropriate. Or to spend time waiting to feel better. Or to get even to make things right. Or to blame God and each other for our misfortunes here on Earth. And most importantly, we don’t need to understand what things mean or why they happen to act in Love.

Amish Grace has a lot going for it. It’s easy to read. It’s organized in a logical, progressive way. It has interesting information about Amish history, religion and society. Yet, despite this richness, the actual reading experience is flat, without the emotional spark you expect from such a compelling story. The reason for the flatness is because the reader is not allowed to get close to the Amish people or to the authors. Read it anyway. You will be rewarded with a rare snapshot of people who actually walk their talk.

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©2008 Karen Bentley
Karen Bentley is America's Spiritual Reviewer and exclusively reviews books and movies from a love-based perspective. Bentley is the author of several books including The Book of Love, 10 Radiant Ideas, The Power to Stop, The Sugar-Free Miracle™ Diet Handbook and more. Go to 
www.karenbentley.com www.spiritualreviewer.com  or www.sugarfreemiracle.com , for more information.

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