Over the last couple of weeks the media has highlighted the response of the Amish community to a crazed gunman who brutally murdered six innocent school girls. Admittedly, there is something unbalanced about the amount of coverage of this murder has received when in the same period of time 4-5 times as many murders have occurred in Philadelphia alone. On the other hand, the response of the Amish to this crisis has been instructive, as they have embraced both the family of the victims and the murderer, offering forgiveness, compassion and support in the name of Jesus. Numerous observers have raised questions suggesting that perhaps the Amish have something to teach us about how we as human beings can and should live together. Diana Butler Bass raises one such interesting question. She asks, “What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?” As she points out the Christ-like actions of the Amish were not only witnessing to the gospel of peace, they were “actively making peace” in a situation where most people would be talking of revenge.

Bass’ comment took me back several months to a time when I was in New Orleans helping with post-Katrina relief. An article in the local paper reported a debate among several politicians running in the Democratic primary for mayor. They were discussing how slow various government agencies were moving in rebuilding the sections of the city devastated by the hurricane and subsequent floods. One of the candidates sarcastically said: “Maybe we ought to hire the Amish to come and rebuild our houses.” I thought to myself, ‘Truer words could not have been spoken. They would get it done a whole lot faster than FEMA! And the houses would be sturdier too.’

So often people, even Christians, look at groups like the Amish, and say, “The teachings of Jesus are nice in an ideal world, but this is the ‘real world.’” Too often we pay lip service to the gospel when it suits our purposes and backs our plans, but we don’t seriously consider that Jesus may have had it right all along. Maybe we ought to take another look. Maybe forgiveness, non-retaliation, serving others, loving the enemy and offering grace is more “realistic” than the violent, power-grabbing, self-righteousness that characterizes the realpolitick of our age.

Thinking of the U.S. response to the war on terror, Diana Butler Bass puts it this way:

“What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of the September 11 Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief?”

In other words, what if we took Jesus seriously and lived as he called us to live?

Recently, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove spoke to our church in Philadelphia. Jonathan is one of many (mostly) young Christians across the country who are seeking to live and work faithfully in community together as faithful followers of Jesus. Speaking of his community (Rutba House) in Durham, North Carolina, Jonathan writes :

..[W]e are excited to learn more all the time of ways in which the Spirit is moving to address the social crisis we feel when we talk to our neighbors or read the morning paper. We are encouraged by the Catholic Worker Movement, the Bruderhof communities, Shalom Mission Network, Word and World Alternative Seminary, the Ekklesia Project, and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), among many others. Despite an absence from mainstream media, God has not left the world stage. The Holy Spirit is alive and active, moving among God’s people to produce creative new forms of resistance against the powers of evil. At the same time, God is creating new communities that, though imperfect, give us a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is an exciting thing to see.

People like Jonathan and the Amish remind me that Jesus was on to something. Jesus had it right about we are to live in the “real” world. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if we listened…and then gave it try.