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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Radical forgiveness

Forgiveness and humility can change the world, if we let them. I'm grateful today to Tennessean reporter Anita Wadhwani, who pointed me to this Beliefnet article about radical forgiveness in a blog post. I am astonished by two acts of forgiveness listed there:

The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa. — a pacifist religious community in rural Lancaster County who practice a simple farming life without modern conveniences much the same as their 17th century Swiss-German forbears — suffered a shocking intrusion into their world when a local milkman, Charles Roberts, invaded a one-room schoolhouse, shooting 10 young girls, leaving five of them dead. During the ordeal, one of the girls, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, offered to be killed first in hopes that the others would be spared. A Beliefnet member wrote of this event: “I cannot ignore this unbelievable act of love by a girl this young. In my mind, this little girl did no more or no less than Jesus did for us on the cross.” Within hours of the shooting, the families of the children not only expressed their forgiveness of the killer but reached out to his family, giving food and raising money for his wife and children.

In a Beliefnet video interview, Herman Bontrager, a spokesman for the Amish of Nickel Mines, explained, “The Amish believe that we must forgive because we ourselves need to be forgiven. [They're] trying to live the way Jesus lived. He turned the other cheek, he told us to love everybody, to love our enemies." A Beliefnet member noted, “The message of forgiveness, rather than vengeance, goes to the heart of how we should behave toward each other. This is an extreme example of how true faith and true forgiveness can be awe-inspiring. If the Amish can forgive the man who killed their children, how much more should the rest of us be able to forgive the petty hurts and perceived insults we receive each day?”
I think this is an extraordinary act of compassion, and I am challenged by it. As I look back at an argument I had with my wife yesterday and a months-long disagreement with another friend earlier this year, I am awestruck by this act of kindness.

Considering recent events on the global stage, I wonder what life might look like if we as Americans had responded this way after 9-11 or if either the Israelis or Palestinians had the courage and the humility to respond this way. I wonder how Congress would look.

I cannot help but think that this is how God hopes that we will act toward each other. I believe that he knows that we will struggle--and frequently fail--in this effort, but to our own misfortune. I think maybe God wants us to act this way because of how it will make us feel, liberated by compassion, and because of how this kind of action transforms lives. I would love to know how the Amish and the Roberts family are doing months after this horrible crime, and I can only believe that both parties must be better off for the mercy and generosity extended by this small community of people. This is the path we are meant to follow.

The story of Rwandan holocaust survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza is equally astounding. I hope that all of us can learn to model even a fraction of this level of humility and humanity.

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