Yesterday marked a year since the school shooting at Nickel Mines—a small Amish community located in the heart of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it seems that school shootings are becoming more and more common. My sister, who teaches in St. Louis, often has children in her class who bring weapons to school. But, obviously, it’s not just in the inner-city. Violence happens everywhere, the evening news is full of death and destruction.
How we respond to violence is a question that our youth, and, for that matter, everyone, should face. We live in a society where, I believe, retaliation is encouraged. The sayings of Jesus: “Turn the other cheek and Love Your Enemies” are easily forgotten. In terms of violence and retaliation you have to turn no further than yesterday’s conversations in Congress.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, or even justifying, violence. But yesterday, on the drive home to work, I was touched by a story on NPR. Joseph Shapiro recalled how the victims of family members at Nickel Mines attended the funeral of the killer. Amish families who had buried their daughters the day before hugged the killer’s widow and family members. Wow. I am honestly at a loss for words. I don’t think I could offer, or even pretend to offer, the same grace and forgiveness.
Jonas Beiler, a member of the Amish community (and founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center), says, “Tragedy changes you. You can't stay the same…Where that lands you don't always know. But what I found out in my own experience if you bring what little pieces you have left to God, he somehow helps you make good out of it…” Beiler also notes that the Amish can experience healing because they express forgiveness and carry no grudges.
I think this is a lesson we can all carry with us. We need to learn how to heal and forgive. It’s impossible to escape tragedy in life. How we respond to such tragedy will likely shape not only us, but also our ministry.