Community is its own value

8 Oct

There has been a lot of carry-on in Australian politics of late about ‘Australian values’, and the demand that people coming to this country, as immigrants or even on a visitors visa should subscribe to ‘Australian values’.
Alas, no one seems to know exactly what these are!
There is a similar concern that schools should be teaching these values.
Meanwhile, in the United States there has been another appalling shooting of school children, this time of children in an Amish community.
Today, a student and colleague circulated the following report from a writer within the Sojourners group.
I am unashamedly copying this, as it has such value to offer.
It speaks of the values of community, forgiveness and peace. It also has helpful suggestions, for those of us who feel there is nothing we can do. There are things we can do!
If only these were the values we could teach and share, with our children and those who come to be part of our nation .

SOJOURNERS                            http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Duane Shank on the Amish School Shootings: The power of faith, the strength of community

Part of my job is to read a variety of news sources each morning, and summarize the top stories in our Daily Digest. I’ll confess that there are times when the violence in our world – from Darfur to Iraq, Colombia to the Middle East – threatens me with numbness. Then, there comes a story that deeply affects me.

On Monday morning, the breaking news bulletins began to flash into my inbox of a shooting at an Amish schoolhouse near Paradise, PA, in the heart of Lancaster County. For me, that’s home – I grew up in the county, and for 25 years my parents lived ten miles from that school. My wife’s grandmother was Amish, and we both still have relatives in the area. As more details came in, the shock and grief grew. A heavily armed gunman, Charles Roberts, walked into a one-room country schoolhouse, ordered all the boys to leave, then tied up ten little girls and methodically shot them in the head before killing himself. News stories emerged of state troopers with their uniforms soaked in blood as they worked with medics trying to save lives. Five girls died, and five are still in hospitals in serious to critical condition.

Suddenly, the media discovered the Amish. A quiet, peaceful offshoot of the 16th century Anabaptist movement who have lived in Lancaster county since the early 1700s, living and farming for the last three centuries without the aid of modern technology. I know the countryside where this tragedy occurred. It’s rolling farmland, with not a power line in sight and farmers with teams of horses working the fields. If you ignore the car you’re driving on the back roads, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the 19th century.

I’ve been surprised at the news coverage. The reporters covering the story have understood and written about the Amish in a generally knowledgeable and respectful way. As I’ve read the news, and reflected on the events, two things struck me as having entered into the news cycle that we don’t often see. One is the power of faith and forgiveness, the other the strength of community. In their quiet way, the Amish families and neighbors of these girls showed a witness to the world that it doesn’t see very often.

The power of faith and forgiveness. A pastor who has been with the Roberts family – the gunman leaves behind a wife and three children – told a Lancaster newspaper of being in the family’s home when there was a knock on the door. It was an Amish neighbor coming on behalf of the community. He put his arms around Roberts’ father, and said “We will forgive you.” The pastor concluded: “God met us in that kitchen.”

Also reported was a statement the family of one of the girls gave to the press: “We don’t know or understand why this happened but we do believe God allowed this to happen. The rest of us, our lives will go on. We will try to work together to support and help the families directly involved, knowing that the innocent children likely need help in dealing with this tragedy of their friends, neighbors, and schoolmates.’’ The girl’s great-uncle added, “There is sadness for everybody involved, including the man responsible for this tragedy.’’

One of this morning’s headlines reads: “Amish families hurt, but find way to forgive.” It is a spirit that I don’t often see in the news. A spirit in complete keeping with Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44) And a spirit that is now being sustained by Jesus: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. … Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:4, 7)

The strength of community. The Amish community is known for its self-reliance. They do not have property insurance, so a community-wide barn-raising is held to replace one downed by fire. They do not hold health or life insurance, relying rather on the community. The news reports this week have told of neighbors, friends and relatives coming to the homes of the families, bringing food and comfort. An AP story quoted a family counselor who was called to talk with the students who had run away: “There is a coming together. That’s how they deal with everything. They come together.” In a time of great grief, there is the strength of family and community.

It is a community that lives by the words of Paul to his churches: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…” (1 Corinthians 12:26) This week, the Amish community is demonstrating to the world the truth of those verses.

What can we do in response to this tragedy?

Pray. For the families and community of the girls who were killed, for the family and friends of gunman, for healing to the girls who were critically wounded, for our society that it learn the ways of peace rather than violence.

Donate. Members of the Amish community have established funds both for the families of those killed and wounded, and for the family of Roberts, who leaves a wife and three young children. Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service are also coordinating support for those affected.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

One thought on “Community is its own value

  1. I received the same report from sojourners, and was struck by the ferocity of their forgiveness. Not a phrase that usually goes together – granted, but what power, what love.
    I was also struck, by the front page of the Herald-Sun about the same time – story of a house belonging to a convicted rapist in a small country town – burning to the ground as the locals (and victim) stood around outisde watching and cheering.
    I may be doing an injustice to the rape victim in this latest case, or the town, but it was an incredible contrast.
    http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,20532818-661,00.html
    Grace is costly – and distinctive.
    I’m reminded of a sermon from a fellow student years ago on Isaiah and the burning coal touched to his lips for forgiveness – and the point that forgiveness hurts. both giving and receiving.
    Blessings,

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