Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Review: "Amish Grace"

TITLE: AMISH GRACE - how forgiveness transcended tragedy
AUTHORS: Donald B Kraybill, Steven M Nolt, and David L Weaver-Zercher
PUBLISHER: San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended TragedyThis is an extraordinary book that gives the world a valuable insight into the Amish community. What the world sees as impossible, the Amish demonstrates as possible. What the world views as out of this world, the Amish proves it in a matter of fact way. What the world deems as extraordinary, the Amish dishes them out effortlessly in their ordinary lives.

What the Book is About
The authors, led by an expert in Amish studies, Donald Kraybill, has given the world a precious insight into the daily lives, beliefs, practices, spirituality and background to the intentional level of forgiveness after a major tragedy. On October 2nd, 2006, the Amish community in Pennsylvania experienced their own version of 9/11. A shooting spree by a disturbed gunman, led to 5 deaths, 5 critically injured, and evoked multitudes of emotional shockwaves. What is shocking is not the shooting incident. The world is astonished by the speed, the consistency, the earnestness and the honesty of forgiveness extended to the family of the gunman, who killed himself eventually.

There is no shortage of selfless heroism amid the tragedy. 13-year old girl, Marian sacrificed herself by asking the killer to "Shoot me first" in order to fulfill her duty to watch over the little ones in her care. The Amish community also treat the family of the killer, as a victims themselves. Through all of the events, one word stands out sharply and clearly: FORGIVENESS.

This book opens with a re-telling of how the whole series of events unfold themselves. It lists the reactions, the surprises and how the Amish behaves so unlike the world we know. The authors then trace the roots of forgiveness, and how Amish faith and spirituality shapes the faith and vitality of the Amish community. It ends with a clarion call for the rest of us to learn from the Amish.

The book also deals with the emotional struggles. The Amish struggle very hard with the tragedy. It does not come easy. Their attitude is that of letting God judge. They distinguish forgiveness from pardon and reconciliation. Forgiveness means forgoing their right to vengeance. Pardon means releasing the offender from punishment. Reconciliation means a restoration of relationship with the offender.  Forgiveness is made possible because the Amish has all along been brought up to learn and exercise forgiveness. In one story, the mother of a critically injured 5 year old boy kept pestering the police officers to take care of him. As the police officers are trying to assure her that they will be doing their best, the mother continues her request. In her own words, she said:

"I mean the driver. We forgive him." (72)

Stories like these turn 'Amish Grace' into 'Amazing Grace.'

Some of the memorable quotes from the Amish community are: (note the anonymity)
  • "We believe in letting our light shine, but not shining it in the eyes of other people." (Amish father)
  • "You mean some people actually thought we got together to plan forgiveness?" (Amish grandmother)
  • "Not forgiving is not an option. It's just a normal part of our living." (Bishop Eli, not his real name)
  • "I forgive them, and I'd like to forget. We all make mistakes." (Amish robbery victim)
  • "We don't believe in pressing charges or going to courts. Instead, let's sit down and be friends and try to prevent this from happening again. That's the way to solve things." (Amish spokesman after the tragedy)
  • "If we don't forgive, we won't be forgiven."(Amish carpenter)
  • "The acid of hate destroys the container." (Amish farmer)

My Comments
If you want to learn forgiveness, there is no better book to read that "Amish Grace." Learn from the Amish humility, self-denial, reverence, responsibility and a lifestyle that places God above all. Unlike modern Christians who merely profess forgiveness, the Amish PRACTICE forgiveness. One of the reasons why there is such a natural and forthcoming attitude toward forgiveness is because the Amish literally lives out the Lord's Prayer. In this prayer, forgiveness is the only one given in relative detail.

At several times during the reading of this book, the stories of forgiveness make my eyes wet. How can ordinary humans behave in such extraordinary ways? It is not natural, but certainly supernatural, like what the Amish will claim, "It is trusting God." The Amish impresses me with the following attitude:

  • They forgive with speed, and without hesitancy;
  • They forgive with consistency over and over again, believing that forgiveness is unlimited;
  • They pray humbly, seeking God's will be done;
  • They let stories and tradition guide them;
  • They believe that self-limiting is the key to sustaining a life of humility.
  • They have learned never to question God, but to wait in hope for God to show Himself one day.
  • They plead for mercy constantly for those who had harmed them.
The list goes on. At various points, I feel uncomfortable about the pacifist approach. How can the Amish simply let go of the hurt so quickly? How can they forgive without even letting everything sink in? How can they even extend grace and help to people, and even treat outsiders better than their own? In fact, they often seem to be harsher to their own kind. Isn't there a time to exact justice and punishment? Forgive yes, but so soon?

Despite the misgivings I have, I feel there is a lot more to learn, especially how the Amish community supports one another, and not having to rely on outside help. This book only highlights how strong they are, and how weak the rest of the world in. We may claim to be self-reliant and independent. Yet, the Amish community of interdependence fare much better than the rest of the world. Through it all, the Amish way of simple living and humble acceptance of life shows the rest of the world how much we lack. We may have the modern technology, the best know-how, and a freedom to be creative, to be surrounded by choices. Yet, these are the very things that make us selfish, self-centered, and self-obsessed. The Amish on the other hand, by intentionally limiting themselves, they have discovered a way of freedom that we can all learn from. In our mad pursuit for self-satisfaction, happiness and worldly things, it is high time to learn from the Amish.
"To the Amish way of thinking, a respect for limits builds community, brings a sense of belonging, and shapes identity - three important keys to human satisfaction and happiness." (203)

To these three keys, I give three nods. Each.

Rating: 4 stars of 5


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