'Grace' a popular read

A good portion of the American public is interested in forgiveness or, more specifically, in how to forgive.

Posted on Oct. 6, 2007 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 6, 2007 at 1:08 p.m.

GOSHEN -- A good portion of the American public is interested in forgiveness or, more specifically, in how to forgive.

That became apparent this week when "Amish Grace," a book co-authored by Steven M. Nolt, Goshen College professor of history and an expert on the Amish, received significant national coverage including stories on TV and in newspapers, a first printing that sold out in advance of its Sept. 28 publication date and an overall ranking of 175 on Amazon.com.

On Wednesday, when President Bush visited Lancaster County, Pa., to address the local Chamber of Commerce, the county's convention and visitors bureau presented him with a copy of the book along with several other gifts.

"Amish Grace" chronicles the murders of five Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Pa., and the subsequent forgiveness of the killer by the Amish community.

"I didn't expect it to be like this," Nolt said. "But given the amount of media interest in Nickel Mines (2,400 stories around the world in a two-week period), it's not surprising that there's still so much interest."

Asked if people might look at this as a "how-to" book on forgiveness, Nolt said quickly, "That was not our purpose, but to show how forgiveness was nurtured in one particular culture and to think about how our culture deals with it."

"So often religion has been used for divisive and destructive purposes," Nolt said. "I think this is a warm response to the idea that religion is a source of good."

He hopes it is not just "an inspiring story" because "inspiring stories don't often change the way people live," Nolt said.

Rather, "I hope it prompts people to reflect critically and carefully on forgiveness. It's not just one story, it's all the stories and images we celebrate and the heroes we have. One story isn't going to change things by itself, but we hope it can begin a conversation about all the others."

Jodi Beyeler, GC news bureau director, is not surprised by the success of "Amish Grace."

"We have been anticipating that the general public would respond really well to this book," she said. "People were intrigued with how the Amish responded to the shootings with forgiveness."

"This book crosses religious and political perspectives," said Beyeler, noting its appearance in a recent Charles Colson's BreakPoint blog and a discussion on "Bill Moyers Journal" to air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on PBS.

"The authors (Nolt, Donald B. Kraybill and David L. Weaver-Zercher) are the top Amish experts in the world," Beyeler said. "People frequently ask them for little facts about the Amish. They answer those questions, but in the book they are able to talk about the theology and the faith of the Amish and convey that to a larger segment of the public while they are really interested."

Contact Marcia Fulmer at mfulmer@etruth.com.

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