ERB, Vol 1 , #16

The Englewood Review of Books

Vol. 1, No. 16    25 April 2008

Diving for pearls in the endless stream of books (Eccles. 12:12B)

Chris Smith, editor



“If you forgive others…”


A Review of Amish Grace:

How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.

By David Neuhouser.


            After the shooting at the Nickle Mines Amish School in Pennsylvania in October 2006 in which five Amish girls were killed and five more wounded, the Amish quickly expressed their forgiveness in words and in acts of kindness toward the family of the killer. This story of this grace and forgiveness soon grabbed the attention of the world.  According to the authors of Amish Grace four themes emerged in response to the course of action taken by the Amish, “amazement at the act of forgiveness, admiration of the Amish who did it, a largely favorable view of the Amish who did it, a largely favorable view of Amish life, and a lament about mainstream American life” [p. 56].  This book – written by three scholars who have published many books and articles about Amish history and culture * – analyzes what forgiveness means, explains Amish culture, and discusses the meaning for non-Amish culture in the United States.  In the preface the authors state “It is not our goal in this book to define forgiveness once and for all.  Ours is a more modest goal: to tell the story of Amish forgiveness at Nickle Mines” [p. xiii-xiv].  However, they do consider scholarly discussions of forgiveness.

            Because many equate forgiveness with the elimination of consequences it is important to distinguish pardon (which does remove consequences) from forgiveness. Although forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation, reconciliation does not necessarily follow.  Forgiveness depends only on the victim; reconciliation requires a response from the offender.  Again many believe that forgiveness minimizes the offense.  However, forgiveness does not mean that no wrong has been committed.  In fact, if the deed was not wrong there would be no need for forgiveness.  “When forgiveness happens, a victim forgoes the right to revenge and commits to overcoming bitter feelings toward the wrongdoer” [p. xiii].  Some believe that feeling love and compassion toward the offender is also essential.  “For their part, the Amish believe that gracious actions extended to the offender are an important aspect of authentic forgiveness” [p. xiii].         

            Amish Grace provides many quotations from the Amish illuminating why and how they were able to forgive.  Amish do not want their names published because they do not want to draw attention to themselves.  As one Amish man said, “We believe in letting our light shine, but not shining it in the eyes of other people” [p. 3].  Speaking of the killer, an Amish woman said, “We must forgive him in order for God to forgive us” [p.45], an attitude based on the Lord’s Prayer and the verses following it.  (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”)  Another man said that refusing to forgive “is not an option.  It’s just a normal part of our living” [p. 49].  They were also aware of the effect of forgiveness on the one forgiving; as another Amish man said, “In forgiveness there is healing” [p. 62].

             In a section on the meaning of forgiveness, the authors state, “Forgiveness is a concept that everyone understands – until they are asked to define it” [p.126].  They give the view of a psychologist, Robert D. Enright that “forgiveness does not and should not depend on the remorse or apology of the offender.  Rather, forgiveness is unconditional, an unmerited gift that replaces negative feelings toward the wrongdoer with love and generosity” [p. 127].  Another psychologist, Everett L. Worthington (as a result of his research) has identified two types of forgiveness, decisional and emotional.  The first is a decision to forgive, and for the Amish as well as for all Christians, this is required by the Lords Prayer in Matthew 6 and the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. Emotional forgiveness, the replacement of negative emotions of hostility or hatred by positive feelings, may take a long time.  However, it can be accomplished.  As a parent of one of the girls who died in the schoolhouse said, “It is only through our faith in Jesus Christ that forgiveness is possible.  He is the one who deserves the praise and glory, not us Amish” [p. 51].

            The publicity and praise in the aftermath of Nickle Mines bothered the Amish.  One Amish woman was concerned that “everybody puts us up so high… We are not exactly like the reporters say we are.  We are being put up on a pedestal as ‘too good’ people” [p. 50].   The authors as well, are aware that the Amish are not perfect.  The Amish admit that it is sometimes easier to forgive outsiders than fellow Amish.  Examples of forgiveness by others besides Amish are given in the book as well as other examples of Amish forgiveness.

            Although most of the responses to the Amish forgiveness were positive, there were some negative responses as well.  Some people claimed that some offenses were so wicked that no forgiveness should be given.  Others said that easy forgiveness showed a lack of proper self respect and was therefore psychologically harmful.  The book discusses the validity, or lack thereof, of these responses. 

            One of the most important insights of the authors is their consideration of what our response should be to this example of Amish forgiveness.  They state that it is not clear “whether the rest of us saw the Amish response as something to emulate, or as just a noble but impossible ideal” [p. 181].  They believe, however, that “willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong.  It does, however, constitute a first step toward a future that is more hopeful, and potentially less violent, than it otherwise would be” [p.181].  The Amish were able to forgive more easily than most of us non-Amish are able to because of the differences in cultures.  Amish culture encourages humility and submission to the community as well as to God.  In contrast, our culture nourishes revenge and individualism.  Our movies, video games, and even popular music glorify violence.  “We are not only the product of our culture, we are also producers of our culture.  We need to construct cultures that value and nurture forgiveness” [p. 182].

            Amish Grace tells the story of the Nickel Mines incident including the Amish response, considers carefully what forgiveness is, and also give a good understanding of Amish history, theology, and life.  I believe that the book is well worth reading just for the insights into the nature of forgiveness with the bonus that it helps us to understand the Amish. 


* Donald B. Kraybill, Ph. D., is senior fellow at the Young Center of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.  Steven M. Nolt, Ph.D, is professor of history at Goshen College in Indiana.  David L. Weaver-Zercher is associate professor of American religious history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.


David L. Neuhouser is the Scholar in Residence at the Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University (Upland, Indiana).


Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.          

Kraybill/Nolt/Weaver-Zercher.  Hardcover.  Jossey-Bass. 2007. 

              Buy now from:    [ Doulos Christou Books $20]       [ ]



[ A note on buying books: We offer you the opportunity to buy the books listed here, either directly from our little independent bookstore (Doulos Christou Books), or through  The prices listed for our bookstore do not include shipping or Indiana sales tax.  Local folks can arrange to pick up their books from either our Lockerbie or Englewood stores.  If you want to buy a book and are having trouble with the links in this email, drop us an email – – and we’ll see that you get the book(s) you want. ]




The overstock sale

at Doulos Christou Books

announced in the last issue of

the Englewood Review (#15)


has been


until later this year.



Used Book Finds


The bread-n-butter of our bookstore business is the sale of used books, and we do a fair amount of scouting around for used books each week.  In this section we will feature some of the interesting books that we have found in the past week.  Generally, we will only have a single copy of these books, so if you want one (or more) of them, you’ll need to respond quickly.



An Infinity of Little Hours:

Five Young Men and their Trial of Faith in the

Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order.

              Nancy Klein Maguire.  Trade Paperback.  2006.

            Very Good Condition.  A few notes in ink inside front cover.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $6 ]


True Spirituality.

Francis Schaeffer.  Paperback.   Tyndale House.  1973 printing.  

Good condition. Clean pages / Moderate wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $6 ]


The QPB Companion to the LORD OF THE RINGS.

Trade Paperback.   QPB.  2001. Very Good Condition.

Clean Pages / Moderate wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $3 ]






Reviewed Elsewhere


The New York Times reviews Pamela Paul’s

Parenting, Inc.: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education,

Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper

Wipe Warmers — And What It Means for Our Children.


“…As Pamela Paul chronicles in her occasionally frightening account, Parenting, Inc., my generation of parents has fallen into the grips of Big Baby. Pushed by a host of factors — the guilt and exhaustion of working parents, the dispersion of family networks that once passed knowledge from generation to generation, the pressure of admissions from preschool to college, and a culture that worships all things celebrity (including its offspring) — we are intimidated or bamboozled into buying all sorts of goods and services that we not only don’t need, but that may harm our children. Slaves to legions of professional advisers and predatory entrepreneurs, we are rendered unable to recall the advice Dr. Spock issued our parents: Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.


Paul has tapped a real concern. An entire industry preys on parental anxiety, and succumbing to it, we risk raising children who don’t know what to do with “free” time and who will measure their value by what they can buy. Most parents will recognize a bit of themselves in Paul’s introductory complaint: ‘No matter what I do, someone else seems to be doing enviably more or improbably less, and either way, their child and family seem all the better for it.’   …”

Read the full review:

Pamela Paul. 

Parenting, Inc.. 

            Hardcover.  Times Books. 2008.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]      [ ]



The University Bookman reviews

Dante Alighieri: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man.


“…In this latest work, Reynolds seeks to present “a new look at Dante,” which necessitates a new look at Dante’s Italy, as well. This is ambitious indeed, for at a remove of 700 years, the violent history of medieval Italy—with its clashes among the Ghibellines, White Guelphs, and Black Guelphs—may seem to modern, predominantly secular-minded readers somewhat like the battleground of the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians. How to make this world fresh and understandable to the modern reader? Not to worry, for in Reynolds’s detailed retelling, informed by her sure knowledge of medieval Italian history, the milieu becomes immediate, tangible, and understandable, a stage set for high drama. As for Dante himself, the author explains, “After a professional life spent lecturing and teaching Dante, dutifully passing on what was then received opinion, I decided to read all his works again, this time with an independent mind. This is difficult to achieve. We carry a lot of excess baggage when we set out on such a journey, and I still cling to some of it. Nevertheless, I believe that what I here present is a portrait of Dante, the poet, the political thinker and the man, which has not been seen before.” This also is an ambitious task, especially when considering that almost every factual statement about Dante’s life has been disputed for centuries, and many, as Reynolds notes in her introduction, continue to be controversial…”

Read the full review: 

Barbara Reynolds.  
Dante Alighieri: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man.

       Paperback.  Shoemaker and Hoard.  2007.
Buy now from:    [ Doulos Christou Books $16]       [ ]




Michael Pollan’s NY Times Earth Day piece on

personal engagement in reducing our carbon footprint.


[ OK… so this isn’t a review… but it’s a wonderful piece that everyone should read…]




“… But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.


A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food, we forget, comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago the cheap-energy mind discovered that more food could be produced with less effort by replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce. It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.


Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we’re counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you’re getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labor that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.  … ”


Read the full piece:


[Pollan’s latest book on food issues]

Michael Pollan.  In Defense of Food.

            Hardcover.  Penguin. 2008.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $18 ]      [ ]


Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities
and the life of the church." 

-Karen Swallow Prior

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