Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reflections for the New Year by guest columnist Craig R. Smith

A Lesson from the Amish
By Craig R. Smith © 2006

Reprinted by permission
Posted at on October 9, 2006

The difference between being ordinary and extraordinary is simply a choice. A choice to be great is never easy and may take sacrifice, but that is why there are plenty of ordinary folks in America yet very few truly extraordinary.

When I think of extraordinary athletes, I think about the time and sacrifice that went into the training that produced the great homerun hitters and the touchdown scorers. The world record holder of the 100-yard dash made a choice to get up very early each day and brave the weather to put in the hours necessary for greatness. The concert violinist spent countless hours practicing scales and reading music. The world-class heart surgeons dedicated hours to study and practice. In all cases there was a conscious choice to do what needed to be done to be extraordinary.

This week America witnessed this principle in the most profound way. A group of peace-loving, hard-working, self-sufficient, faithful citizens laid to rest their precious children who were cut down in their early years at the hand of a man in Nickel Mines, Pa. We all know the story. The Amish community was shaken to its core as a man entered a schoolhouse, tied up 10 young girls and then proceeded to slay them. Methodically, one by one they were shot execution-style until ultimately the shooter turned the gun on himself and the horror-filled air rang silent. I can't imagine what the scene must have been like, much less what that scene looked like in the minds of the parents who loved those children.

After the smoke settled and the reports started to pour forth, we watched as a group of extraordinary people responded to this tragedy as only extraordinary people would. They mourned and cried and then went about the grim task of hand digging the graves in which their children would soon be laid to rest. Afterwards they arranged, by meeting all the requirements of the state, to make the sorrowful trip to the coroner's office to take possession of the lifeless bodies so a funeral and subsequent burial could take place.

They drove their horse and buggies to the gravesites and buried their dead. Every last shovelful of dirt was gently placed on the coffin with the same care and attention as it was removed by the love of a father, brother or uncle. All the while the state offered transportation, counseling and various services in hopes of making this tragedy less burdensome. The response was "Thank you, but all we ask is for our privacy and your prayers".

The most remarkable part of this sad story is not what was visible but what was invisible. The invisible shows the extraordinary character of these fine people. During this whole process you never saw a finger of blame being pointed at anyone, including the gunman who took innocent life from the Amish community. The most you heard was an Amish spokesman's prepared comments read by a policeman. The comments were filled with love, understanding and forgiveness for what took place. Comments that talked about how this man made a bad choice and they forgive him for making that choice. They didn't blame guns, politicians, media, society or any of the other normal targets that we ordinary people look to blame. They didn't blame God or look to make sense of what is a truly senseless act. They made a choice to live their faith and trust in God. Knowing full well God loves them and has forgiven them, in turn they forgive others – even when it means the loss of something as precious as a child. They chose not to allow hate to fill their hearts. They know hate produces darkness and eclipses the light of God in man. They chose to walk in light and not in darkness. Walking in darkness can only produce more evil, and for the Amish that wasn't even an option.

Some may suggest that is a sign of weakness, but I know that it is the sign of ultimate strength. Make no mistake, however; it was a choice. They could hate and seek revenge. Instead they returned evil with good. They choose to love and not hate. Their natural reaction was to reach out to the family of the killer and invite them to the funerals of their slain children. The Amish have been more concerned about the pain of the killer's survivors than they are themselves. Perfect love and forgiveness has sprung forth from this truly extraordinary group of people.

What a great life lesson we could all receive if we choose to do the same as we watch Democrats criticize Republicans and Republicans criticize Democrats. We see no forgiveness from either camp for mistakes made or poor choices. Instead all we see is the constant straddling for political advantage. Who can trip up the other versus trying to heal each other's pain. How elections mean more than truth. Human decency loses out to advantage and politics.

This week was a rather extraordinary week to me, for I watched Americans all across this country choose to either be ordinary or extraordinary. A man chose to walk into a school and kill innocent kids. A group in D.C. postured and played political gamesmanship to beat an opponent. They both walk in darkness because their motive is hate. Then there is a group of folks who chose to be extraordinary simply by living their faith in a God of love. They didn't blame or criticize. They didn't look to gain advantage in order to destroy their opponent. No – they loved and forgave and chose to walk in light.

Some call the Amish old-fashioned. They don't watch TV or listen to the radio. They don't fill their minds with the toxic waste coming from Hollywood. They work hard, love their families and love God. I think we all owe the Amish a collective sense of gratitude, for they have shown us this week what America could be if we shut off the iPods, turned off the TV, ignored the agenda-driven media and simply walked in light. They chose to love and not hate. I can only hope each member on Capitol Hill and across the nation heard the message coming from Pennsylvania this week.

To the Amish, I express my heartfelt sorrow and mourning for your loss. The nation grieves with you. But we also rejoice in knowing your faith proves to us all there is more than this life. We know those beautiful young ladies are walking with Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They have now spent time with Paul, James, Peter and Silas. They have all now seen HIS face.

Craig R. Smith is an author, commentator and popular media guest because he instantly engages audiences with his common-sense analyses of local, national and global trends. Serving as CEO of Swiss America for nearly 25 years, Craig understands that Americans want solid answers to the tough questions and that real leadership begins with servanthood. Craig's most recent book is "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil," which he co-authored with WND columnist Jerome R. Corsi. For media interviews please call Holly at 800-950-2428.