You don’t have to go back very far in my linage (two or three generations at most) to find Amish in my bloodline. Which may be why the latest in our nation’s school shootings preoccupies my thoughts and heart. And why, when I read about the response of that community, I can’t stop weeping. While my heart groans from the unbearable pain and loss of those children, it also bursts with an agonizing recognition: I see the Kingdom, and oh-my-good-God it feels like a bitter-sweet going-home:
The girls' families, Amish neighbors and friends are coping with the slayings by looking inward, relying on themselves and their faith, just as they have for centuries, to get them through what one Amish bishop called "our 9/11."Indeed, for many of us, this kind of response in the midst of such horrible grief is incomprehensible. But this isn’t just the “Amish way”; it is the Way of Jesus. It is the Way of the Kingdom.
"They know their children are going to heaven. They know their children are innocent ... and they know that they will join them in death," said Gertrude Huntington, a Michigan researcher who has written a book about children in Amish society.
"The hurt is very great," Huntington said. "But they don't balance the hurt with hate."
In just about any other community, a deadly school shooting would have brought demands from civic leaders for tighter gun laws and better security, and the victims' loved ones would have lashed out at the gunman's family or threatened to sue.
But that is not the Amish way.
In the aftermath of Monday's violence, the Amish have reached out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack in a one-room schoolhouse.
Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Among Roberts' survivors are his wife and three children.
"I hope they stay around here and they'll have a lot of friends and a lot of support," said Daniel Esh, a 57-year-old Amish artist and woodworker whose three grandnephews were inside the school during the attack.
Roberts' relatives may even receive money from a fund established to help victims and their families, said Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster services, an agency managing the donations.
—from an AP article, Amish community prepares to bury school shooting victims, urges forgiveness for gunman.
It can’t come from our own effort. Be we Amish or not, we don’t wake up one day and decide this is how we will live. This kind of Life, heart and response come from living and walking with Jesus. It comes as we realize how good God is, how much he loves us, how much he longs for us. It comes when we share his oh-so-much-deeper-than-we-can-comprehend pain and groans at the suffering and death his Creation endures and his longing and ever-working to bring Life and freedom and grace and love and restoration again. It comes as we learn to and live in trust. It comes as we live in Jesus and his Kingdom.
And this Kingdom doesn’t make much sense sometimes. In fact, it didn’t even make much sense to the disciples who walked next to Jesus during those three years he made his way to that hill and then the rolled-away-stone. But the longer they lived with him, the more they understood and the more the Life exploded outward from them and into the world. And the longer we live in that Life—that Kingdom of the wide open spaces of God’s grace and love—the more responses like those made by our Amish brothers and sisters will seem like seeing a familiar face, like coming home, like this-is-the-way-its-supposed-to-be.
And so we weep. We weep because our hearts break from such suffering and death of our children, from cries of this-is-not-the-way-its-meant-to-be. And we weep because “Life will out”—because life is stronger than death, because Jesus’ resurrection exploded out and consumed death, because we see God’s Life not only in the midst of but bursting through and overwhelming it. Amen.
The Amish School Recovery Fund: Donations may be made by mail to either of the two sponsoring agencies; Mennonite Disaster Service at 1018 Main St., Akron, PA 17501, 717-859-2210, www.mds.mennonite.net; or Mennonite Central Committee (a world relief organization) at 21 S. 12th St., P.O. Box 500, Akron, PA 17501, 717-859-1151, www.mcc.org.
The Nickel Mines Children’s Fund and the Roberts Family Fund: Donations can be made to the sponsoring agency, Coatesville Savings Bank, 717-886-8800.