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Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy [Hardcover]

by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 21, 2007 0787997617 978-0787997618 1
On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to "shoot me first and let the little ones go." Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? "I'm angry at God for taking my little daughter," he told the children before the massacre.

The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.

The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world's attention.

Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) to Australian television, international media were opining on Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, "Amish forgiveness" had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.

Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer's burial. Roberts' widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter's family.

AMISH GRACE explores the many questions this story raises about the religious beliefs and habits that led the Amish to forgive so quickly. It looks at the ties between forgiveness and membership in a cloistered communal society and ask if Amish practices parallel or diverge from other religious and secular notions of forgiveness. It will also address the matter of why forgiveness became news. "All the religions teach it," mused an observer, "but no one does it like the Amish." Regardless of the cultural seedbed that nourished this story, the surprising act of Amish forgiveness begs for a deeper exploration. How could the Amish do this? What did this act mean to them? And how might their witness prove useful to the rest of us?

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When a gunman killed five Amish children and injured five others last fall in a Nickel Mines, Pa., schoolhouse, media attention rapidly turned from the tragic events to the extraordinary forgiveness demonstrated by the Amish community. The authors, who teach at small colleges with Anabaptist roots and have published books on the Amish, were contacted repeatedly by the media after the shootings to interpret this subculture. In response to the questions why—and how—did they forgive? Kraybill and his colleagues present a compelling study of Amish grace. After describing the heartbreaking attack and its aftermath, the authors establish that forgiveness is embedded in Amish society through five centuries of Anabaptist tradition, and grounded in the firm belief that forgiveness is required by the New Testament. The community's acts of forgiveness were not isolated decisions by saintly individuals but hard-won countercultural practices supported by all aspects of Amish life. Common objections to Amish forgiveness are addressed in a chapter entitled, What About Shunning? The authors carefully distinguish between forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation, as well as analyzethe complexities of mainstream America's response and the extent to which the Amish example can be applied elsewhere. This intelligent, compassionate and hopeful book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on forgiveness. (Sept. 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The crime—shooting innocent schoolchildren in a one-room schoolhouse—was shockingly vicious. More shocking, virtually incredible, was where it happened, in the heart of Pennsylvania's Amish country, commonly associated with bucolic tranquility, not gun violence. This remarkable book explains, exceedingly well, Amish reaction to the horrific Nickel Mines shootings. The outside world was gravely taken aback by the Amish response of forgiveness. Some in the media criticized the Amish as naive and hypocritical (didn't they shun members of their own community?), but most simply couldn't understand the Amish concept of forgiveness as unmerited gift. How could they forgive humanly embodied evil? The authors, all authorities on Amish culture, emphasize that the Amish response reflected the sect's heritage and deeply embedded faith. They distinguish forgiveness from pardon and reconciliation. Forgiveness relinquishes the right to vengeance, while pardon forfeits punishment altogether, and reconciliation restores the relationship of victim and offender or creates a new one. They discuss the shooting mercifully straightforwardly before exploring the broader perspectives of forgiveness and concluding with reflections on the meaning of forgiveness. At times difficult to read, this anguished and devastating account of a national tragedy and a hopeful, life-affirming lesson in how to live is itself a marvel of grace. Sawyers, June

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (September 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787997617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787997618
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profound book on grace and forgiveness for everyone September 25, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book achieves what most books don't. It combines a rich well of scholarly research on the part of three academicians without sacrificing the soul of what occurred at Nickel Mines during and after the event. In addition to being well researched the book has a poetically lyrical and haunting quality that honors, reflects, and conveys the hearts, souls, and minds of the Amish community. One of the most difficult things a writer can achieve is to step out of the way and allow the pictures and voices tell the story without the writer's ego coming into play. This is what was achieved in this book. I haven't been grasped by anything this powerful in a long time. It challenges me to try to live with intentionality each day and continue to struggle with what forgiveness looks like in the ordinary moments and encounters of my life.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Amish Grace - Must Read September 28, 2007
Amish Grace is a truly amazing and grace-filled book that will reach out to every reader. Written by three known scholars in the areas of Amish culture, history and religion - the early chapters recount the horrifying events of October 2, 2006 at the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse. The agony in reading these first few pages quickly gives way to the amazing story of sudden Amish forgiveness in the wake of tragedy. The authors, writing in one clear and concise voice - lead us through the story that emerges - how can they have forgiven such cruelty so quickly and what does this mean to each one of us? The violence of Nickel Mines has been described by the Amish as their 9/11. What role would such forgiveness have played as we each address the pain of 9/11. While this book does not attempt to solve the ongoing debates over such forgiveness, it goes a long way to help us understand the argument and determine what forgiveness may mean to each of us. This book is a must read on many levels - whether you are a student, teacher, parent, married, single, Christian, non-Christian - we are all human and this book is beautifully written on a human level. Amish Grace is an easy read and paints a broad enough picture that anyone can find the application of forgiveness in their own life - road-rage ring a bell? This is the kind of book that people will stop and ask you about as you read in the airport, doctor's office, and at home. It is also the kind of book that you will be more than happy to share as well.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Five Star Book October 18, 2007
This book is extaordinary, one of the most worthwhile I've read in the past five years. For starters, it is well written. Its prose is crisp, fresh and readable---even rewarding to read out loud.

The next thing to note is the authors' comprehensive knowledge of their subject, which includes not only the events of the Nickel Mines disaster but also the hearts of the Amish people. Their empathy for and rapport with the Amish community are what make this book possible. Though they are social scientists with impressive credentials, they obviously care for the Amish people and have earned their trust. When they quote, one can be confident that their quotes are valid examples of attitudes within the Amish community.

What is perhaps most important is that they have used a teachable moment, albeit a tragic one, to write a probing inquiry into the nature of forgiveness, To their credit they come up with no easy answers, although they do clarify what forgiveness is not. For one thing, it is not easy. It does not mean that the victim forgets or that the perpetrator cannot be punished. It is not the same as reconciliation, which only takes place if the perpetrator repents.

A large question that lurks in the background is how the Amish do it when other Christian groups preach it but seldom practice it. One obvious answer is that the Amish habitualy think forgiveness, refer to it in all of their church services, and teach it to their children from the ground up. In their close-knit communities, doing so may well be a necessary survival tool

The question that follows in our therapeutic society is, "How can forgiveness be healthy when it requires suppression of feelings, feelings that we normally think should be ventilated?
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seventy times seven July 17, 2008
This book is a grace note in an age of religiously fuelled hate crimes and suicide bombings. It is not only about how the Old Order Amish found it within themselves to forgive the killer of their young girls, it is also one of the best books on religion and ethics that I have ever read.

If the reader learns one thing from the Nickel Mines school shooting, it is this: "the Amish commitment to forgive is not a small patch tacked onto their fabric of faithfulness. Rather, their commitment to forgive is intricately woven into their lives and their communities."

The Amish take the Lord's Prayer to heart. If they themselves wish to be forgiven, they must forgive.

"Amish Grace" gives an account of Charles Carl Roberts IV and the instruments of cruelty and death that he brought to the small Nickel Mines schoolhouse on October 2, 2006. But as the authors put it, the biggest surprise "was not the intrusion of evil but the Amish response." How and why the Amish forgave the killer in their midst is the main focus of this book.

One of the contrasts I couldn't help drawing from this story was the Amish response to the murder of their children, versus the way John Walsh, dedicated host of "America's Most Wanted" reacted to the murder of his six-year-old son, Adam. Since that horrible day in 1981, Walsh has devoted himself to bringing criminals to justice, and has been instrumental in rescuing abducted children. In 2006 President Bush signed a new bill into law that changed how Americans protect their children against sexual predators such as Charles Carl Roberts IV. The law is called "The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act."

If John Walsh had been Amish, would any of these good and necessary deeds have been accomplished?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about forgiveness
This book was used in our church book club. It was an amazing study of what forgiveness really looks like. Inspirational.
Published 7 days ago by Linda H. Wright
1.0 out of 5 stars The most boring book I have ever read
I thought this book would be interesting, but it turned out to be the most boring book I have ever read. I have never fallen asleep during reading a book until now. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Rylan
4.0 out of 5 stars incredibly touching and sensitive to a very harsh reality.
This book was hard to read but recommended by my counselor. It helped me understand what true forgiveness means in actions more than words. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Bonita C. Distad
4.0 out of 5 stars A grace beyond the familiar
Amish Grace is a non-fiction work that illustrates the incredible grace & forgiveness practiced by the Amish people. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Katrina
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
This was a difficult subject very well presented. The discussions on forgiveness were thought provoking and intriguing. The book was in the condition as advertised.
Published 1 month ago by Ruth A. Mckay
4.0 out of 5 stars Opens new doors to understanding the Amish
This was a facinating read. I learned a lot about the Amish faith and ultimately, the Christian faith because of the way they view passages of Scripture.
Published 2 months ago by badbabs2020
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tender Walk Through a Dark Day
We all need help forgiving those around us - especially those closest to us. The story of how the Amish have integrated forgiveness into their daily lives is remarkable. Read more
Published 3 months ago by V. Vasquez
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Worth Reading
This book is so important in truly understanding another culture. Their faith is so strong..they are a model in many ways!,
Published 4 months ago by Linda B. St Clair
5.0 out of 5 stars a good lesson for all
i found this book very thorough and a good study on forgiveness ; helps us to know the Amish better too. there is a lot to learn from this book, and from this story.
Published 5 months ago by R. Serge
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and sensitive examination of the Nickel Mines School...
This is a scholarly, yet very readable study of an historic and tragic event and all that came from it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lydia C. Hews
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