Sunday, December 27, 2009

Amish Grace and forgiveness

I hope everyone had a good Christmas.

In the book Amish Grace, which is about the shooting of 10 and killing of five Amish girls at the Nickel Mines schoolhouse in 2006, we see the Amish dwell with some wonder on how much easier it can be to forgive someone you don't know for a big crime than to forgive the people in your community for small transgressions.

I was a religion reporter at the time of the shootings and the Christian News Wire overflowed for awhile with Christians (white, privileged males) stunned and brimming with revelatory enthusiasm for this display of ... Christianity inherent in the Amish forgiving the killer and his family. I remember not being too forgiving of these pundits ... This Amish forgiveness is a revelation? Huh? Isn't this, like, .... you know, "dude," your FAITH? You've been bombastically blowbagging on this wire service about Christianity the whole time I've been a religion reporter and it takes the Nickel Mines shooting for you to "get" what forgiveness is ... ie, the heart of Christianity, what Jesus-died-for?

I remember after 9/11, first hoping fervently that it would be found an act of domestic terrorism, ala Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing. My thinking was that if it were domestic terrorism, we'd avoid a war. When I discovered it was Islamic terrorists I realized OK, being a military state, the US will have to drop some bombs on Afghanistan, but let's pray it's short and quick. Beyond that, the passage about "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" and ... significantly... your lap will be filled with good things, pressed down and flowing over ... rose unbidden to my mind almost constantly. I did feel a forgiveness that had nothing to do with reason and everything to do with living in the spirit. I was surprised to find the rest of the world--even the Christian world--not with me on this.

At that time, I thought, as the Amish later did, well, who am I to forgive? I didn't lose anyone in the attacks. And--how is it that I can forgive this horrendous act and yet become incandescent with homicidal rage when a teenager cuts me off on the highway, causing me to fishtail into the lane with the oncoming 18 wheeler? I would certainly have vaporized that clueless teen, though he clearly had no malice towards me, in an instant. Or why was it so hard for me to forgive the person in my old meeting who stood up shaking with rage over the FUM employment policy but who couldn't see that I felt just as marginalized as a gay person when I heard an Easter message denying the resurrection? When that person told me I was wrong to feel marginalized? When that person dismissed the Israelis and the Palestinians and said they "just have to learn to get along," but then attacked FUM in the most scathing terms and said we had to split from them? Was that such a big deal?

I think of the Browning poem," Soliloquy of the Spanish Courtyard," in which one cloistered brother hates another for no good reason: "Grr, there go, my heart's abhorrence! Water your damned flowerpots do! If hate killed, Brother Lawrence, God's blood would not mine kill you!" Brother Lawrence's offences include needing to go trim his myrtle bush and inquiring after the Latin name of parsley ... in word, he innocently grates on his antagonist's nerves.

When I first read this poem as a college freshman, I saw the narrator as completely other ... and while the intensity of his hatred is extreme, I now realize we all have a touch of him inside us.

I think it's popular to denigrate the Amish--perhaps they speak too strongly to our longings, so we have to keep reminding ourselves that evil patriarchs and pedophiles mingle among them, as well as liars, drug addicts, oppressors and scoundrels... but I think, collectively, the Amish have much wisdom to offer. I do ponder, as they do, how we can be so unforgiving over the small stuff. Any thoughts?

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