This weekend I saw a film, ‘Amish Grace’, about the Amish School House shooting in Pennsylvania in October 2006. It was an amazing film which I highly recommend, available on YouTube. I found it not only an inspiration, but a comfort because the actions and choices made in 2006 teach us a lot that applies to 2019.
Although sparing the viewer gruesome scenes of violence and death, the film is not without emotion or inspiration. It is unusual almost from the beginning, because immediately after the deaths of the school girls, the Amish families went to the home of the killer to forgive. In fact, the entire film has a theme of the importance of, and need for, forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook. Forgiveness did not change the fact that Charles Roberts shot ten Amish school girls and killed five of them. Forgiveness is about not allowing toxic emotions to poison your heart and your thinking. I think this was what Christ was teaching. It has never been about allowing someone to avoid punishment or judgement. As a religious and ethnic minority, the Amish have been persecuted for centuries, and have never struck back because they forgive.
As I watched this film, I saw clear examples of anger and even rage – against Roberts, even against God. Some of the children experienced survivor’s guilt, and I have no doubt that although it wasn’t mentioned, PTSD has become a part of some young girls’ lives. It shouldn’t be surprising that even a lifestyle based on simplicity and devotion still includes human vulnerability. Some would say it makes it even more prevalent.
I couldn’t help see parallels between the events of October 2006 and to-day. The Amish community, and other isolated ethnic communities, have been the target of hate crimes, simply because they’re not like the rest of us. Children have been targeted in different ways, but not so different from 2006. The slaughter of innocents by angry or deranged individuals is not unknown to-day.
Throughout the film, I recognized examples of faith and hope. The Lancaster County community was confident of there being better days. They never forgot – that would be impossible – but they forgave. They recognized that every day has the potential for new joy and new possibility, and they believed.
Faith and hope. Hope is the acknowledgement that potential exists. Faith unleashes potential and allows it to happen. The confident believer isn’t weighed down or infected with destructive thinking (because in every possibility, there is the potential for evil too, if we allow it.)
I can’t help but think there are a lot of things people in 2019, in times that are increasingly hate-filled and evil, could learn from the past.
Better days will come.
Paul TN Chapman
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