Trying to hear the Amish music

smalleramishAs you would expected, some major newspapers used their Sunday editors to dig deeper on issues linked to the Amish school massacre in Lancaster County, Pa. And, as you would expect, some newspapers did a good job of covering the spiritual issues and others used that old, dependable approach that resembles a National Geographic report on an alien culture. I was speaking and flying all weekend, but still managed to see many of the reports online. I was especially struck by the "When worlds collide" feature story in the Baltimore Sun by reporter John Woestendiek. Folks, this story includes all kinds of interesting information about all kinds of valid stories about the Amish. There are details, facts and color galore. Here is a sample:

In a place where tranquillity is savored, hoopla ruled: Helicopters whirred above, and the roads were filled with police officers, TV news trucks, well-wishers and gawkers. Some vacationers went so far as to request their Amish country bus tours add the schoolhouse to the list of sights to see. There were threats from a fringe religious group to protest the funeral, and bikers who showed up to see that they didn't.

In a culture where technology is eschewed, it was everywhere: from the satellite dishes dotting the horizon to the TV cables running alongside the road like spilled spaghetti, puzzling the horses that haul the buggies that carry the Amish, who -- next to violence -- abhor nothing more than being in the spotlight.

So what was missing? It seems that the team behind this story was -- so sadly typical of the Sun -- tone-deaf to the many religious elements of the story. There were melodies of faith and pain all around them and they just couldn't hear the music. This is my local newspaper and this was one of those times when I really, really wished this was not my local newspaper.

I mean, they could have run Daniel Burke's Religion News Service feature on the aftermath of the shootings. I have heard that Burke once worked at a newspaper in the Amish country, and it shows. He visited the Amish, listened and heard the music.

So click here to read "Amish Search for Healing, Forgiveness After 'The Amish 9/11.'" Here is the haunting end of that piece:

But as their family gathered beneath a gas lamp in their living room after dinner, Ben and Mary struggled to explain why a gunman would want to hurt Amish children. They told their sons that he had a "little problem in his head that made him do mean things."

One of the boys stared at his plain black pants, fingered his suspenders and again asked, in a respectful tone: Why?

Settling her hands on her lap, Mary said: "Sometimes we don't understand. I understand that the Lord does let this happen, but I do not know why."

"Really the only way to answer this is to toss it in the Lord's lap and say, 'You take care of it, I can't,'" Ben said after turning to the boy.

"But you may ask him to please carry us through," Mary said.

As the night grew long and the boys began to yawn, Ben pulled a little black prayer book from the shelf.

He pointed to a prayer often read at Amish funerals and provided an English translation.

"Glory Father, we thank Thee for all the blessings which Thou has bestowed upon the departed one, especially now that Thou has redeemed him from this wicked world and brought his sorrows to an end, and as we trust, has taken his soul home to Thee."

AmishDollsIt's all about access and listening, isn't it?

Finally, I know many regular GetReligion readers will want to read Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher's weekend commentary on this event, published in The Dallas Morning News. Click here to read "Amish faith shines, even in tragic darkness."

The key, says Dreher, is that the Amish are not "Anabaptist hobbits" cut off from sin, temptation, tragedy and grief. They are part of the world of faith and they have their own way of dealing with the hard issues of life.

Charles Carl Roberts IV had one way of dealing with loss. The Amish way is very different and contrasts with many approaches to religion that, sadly, produce tragic headlines.

What sets hearts apart is how they deal with sins and tragedies. In his suicide note, Mr. Roberts said one reason he did what he did was out of anger at God for the death of his infant daughter in 1997. Wouldn't any parent wonder why God allowed that to happen? Mr. Roberts held onto his hatred, purifying it under pressure until it exploded in an act of infamy. That's one way to deal with anger.

Another is the Amish way. If Mr. Roberts' rage at God over the death of his baby girl was in some sense understandable, how much more comprehensible would be the rage of those Amish mothers and fathers whose children perished by his hand? Had my child suffered and died that way, I cannot imagine what would have become of me, for all my pretenses of piety. And yet, the Amish do not rage. They do not return evil for evil. In fact, they embody peace and love beyond all human understanding.

Did that part of the story make it into your local newspapers and television broadcasts?

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