On Friday, March 26, my sister and I presented papers at the Eastern Regional meeting of ETS. I had mixed feelings about this meeting; the theme–Amish forgiveness–looked interesting, but not really up my academic alley. I had decided to give this paper at the last minute, and I wasn’t sure even heading into the week before the conference that I had something worth presenting.
But, Bekah was presenting and had no ride, so I was committed to going. The rest of our carpool bailed early in the week (homework and family reasons–pshaw!). I received the last of my PhD rejection letters on Monday. But by Thursday, I finished my paper and felt fairly confident to present it first thing Friday morning. I knew that several friends would be at the conference, so I was looking forward to an encouraging day.
We learned a ton about the Amish from Dr. Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College and Anabaptist expert. I was acquainted with the story of the Nickel Mines school shootings several years ago, but Dr. Kraybill expounded on the story and the tradition of grace and forgiveness in the Amish communities.
I was moved almost to tears when Dr. Kraybill explained that that same day some Amish, even the families who had lost daughters in the shootings, visited the parents and widow of the gunman, Charles Roberts. He said, "Those of you who are parents: imagine that your son had done something like that. The burden you would carry would be even worse than that of the parents of the victims." As an expectant father, this hit me hard. The idea of losing my son is hard enough, and I have never even held him or spoken to him. To imagine him killing someone else in cold blood–it sent chills down my spine. I think that parenthood is going to compound any emotions I experience tenfold: the highs will be higher than ever because I’ll be proud of him, and the lows will be a snake’s belly in the Grand Canyon when he fails. I think I’m just beginning to understand.
Also had some thoughts about the Amish generally that I didn’t get to run by Dr. Kraybill, but I want your thoughts. In the early days of the church (pre-313 CE), Christians largely found their identity in persecution, which makes sense given that they worshiped a crucified Messiah. After Christianity was legalized, Christians had to develop a new way of proving their fidelity. Since the government wasn’t making them suffer anymore, self-suffering–asceticism–arose. The Anabaptists were likewise persecuted in the early days of the Reformation by Catholic and Protestant alike; persecution was an integral part of community identity. When they migrated to America (mostly PA) in the 18th century, the institutional persecution ceased, so they had to find a new way of self-affliction: neo-asceticism, separation from the outside world. Do you think that this narrative have any truth to it?
Back to the conference…
When we received a final e-mail about the schedule, Bekah’s and my papers were marked on the roster as "entries, student paper competition." We hadn’t realized until then that it was a competition; we joked that we hoped neither of us would win, because the other would lose.
Both our presentations went well, with good questions and stimulating conversation. At the closing meeting, Dr. Yoder encouraged us not to jet right away. The chair announced that the region would be giving out "First Prize" and "Honorable Mention" awards in both undergraduate and graduate paper categories. We were surprised and pleased that each of us took first prize ($150) in his/her category. What a blessing and an encouragement!
I’m very proud of Bekah–I told the chairman, Matt Blackmon, that I am trying to stay one degree ahead of her at all times, and we both agreed that this would be a difficult task. Congrats, Bekah–I love you.
If you’d like to see the paper, I’ve posted it in the "Papers and Presentations" section. I still consider it a work in progress, so I would appreciate your comments, as always.