boston bombing

Death Has Lost Its Sting: Conflicted Response to Tsarnaev's Death Sentence

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial, by H. Powers on Flickr.com.

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial, by H. Powers on Flickr.com.

His guilt is clear. He posted offensive, arrogant messages all over the Internet. He carved a manifesto of revenge into the boat where he hid as police captured him. He flipped a bird at the camera in his jail cell.

The evil he is responsible for is horrific. More than 250 people injured. Seventeen people lost their limbs. Four people died — one of them 8 years old.

It’s no surprise that a jury found him guilty, and still no surprise that they sentenced him to death.

What’s remarkable is the lack of enthusiasm that accompanied Tsarnaev’s death sentence. One person after another had mercy on their lips – from victims of the Boston bombing to the legendary Sr. Helen Prejean who met with Dzhokhar and spoke of his heartfelt remorse.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev Buried in Undisclosed Location

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

An undisclosed community on Wednesday accepted the body of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which is now “entombed,” according to police in Worcester, Mass.

Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, found a funeral home in Worcester to handle the body, but had struggled to get a cemetery to accept it. The Boston Globe reported that the body is buried in a community outside Massachusetts.

“As a result of our public appeal for help, a courageous and compassionate individual came forward to provide the assistance needed to properly bury the deceased,” read a statement posted on the Worcester Police Department’s website.

Where Are the Christians on Burying Tsarnaev?

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Soon after the Boston Marathon bombings, local Christian leaders stepped swiftly into the public eye, convening vigils and urging peaceful healing in the wake of senseless violence.

But their public voices have fallen mostly silent as noisy resistance grows to the prospect that suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev could be buried in local soil.

Cemeteries and even some mosques have refused to take his body. His city, Cambridge, has urged family members to bury him elsewhere. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez and local talk radio host Dan Rae want him dumped in the ocean, like Osama bin Laden. Clergy have largely kept mum.

“The only signs of people who are showing some sort of moral conscience are those few who stand with a card near the funeral home saying [burial] is a corporal work of mercy,” said James Keenan, a moral theologian at Boston College. “To say, ‘we won’t bury him’ makes us barbaric. It takes away mercy, the trademark of Christians. … I’m talking about this because somebody should.”

Experiments in Love

Boston bombing suspects, via FBI

Boston bombing suspects, via FBI

When I got off the plane at O’Hare Airport in Chicago on my way home to Boston on April 15, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Televisions blaring everywhere showed my beloved city at her premier event of the year, the Boston Marathon. Everyone knows the rest of the story.

“Is this for real? How can this be?” I asked, unable at first to face the reality of what had occurred. Feelings of fear and anger followed quickly on the heels of the denial.

Leaders responded quickly: the mayor, the governor, the president. “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice,” promised President Barack Obama.

What is justice? Vengeful words immediately spewed from talk shows and bloggers’ keyboards. “We must catch them alive and make them suffer as much as possible. That will pay them back for what they did,” spewed those who equate justice with revenge.

Of course, violence begets more violence. Gandhi put it succinctly: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Paul exhorted the Romans, “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. . . Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. (Romans 12:17,19.)”

President Obama, Mourner in Chief

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

President Obama bows his head at the West memorial service held at Baylor University April 25. Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Five men who know what it means to be president of the United States shared a stage in University Park, Texas. Then the incumbent among them flew to Waco, to mourn 11 first-responders, killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas.

All presidents try to rewrite history to burnish their brief place in it. And in his new presidential library, George W. Bush will have his turn.

Barack Obama’s legacy is still a work in progress, though even sympathetic commentators are seeing him now, in his fifth year, as too slow to act, too cerebral to brawl, and too little respected by his political enemies.

In one role, however, Obama has excelled: “Mourner in Chief” — not one of his constitutional duties but oddly important.

What We Find On Higher Ground

Higher ground sign, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

Higher ground sign, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

Here in the Upper Midwest (I live in Minnesota), the importance of higher ground is not just metaphorical, as snowmelt-fed flood waters rise to envelope communities. People, quite literally, are forced to higher ground by floods.

It is interesting, too, what happens when that higher ground, the literal higher ground, is sought. Necessarily, there are more people in a smaller area; that’s the nature of it. Diverse groups are forced together. We know these images from the news:  the floating cars, and then the displaced people together in a school gym, talking.  The power of that second image is that it shows an unexpected, shared space. People have grabbed what they could and fled to this place, often by walking uphill, and now they find themselves together.   

When the metaphorical waters rise and destroy what we know or count on, people do the same thing, but that higher ground is a broad mutual faith that encompasses the belief that there is something greater than ourselves, that there must be a reason for these tragedies; we turn to God. Recently, we have seen this happen in Boston and in West, Texas. At the memorial for the victims of the explosion in West, held at Baylor University, President Barack Obama spoke openly about faith.  

Boston Amputees Face Long Spiritual Struggle Ahead

 Photo by Holly Thornton

Mike Norrell and Woody Thornton ski in a pyramid with Gloria Walker at the top. Photo by Holly Thornton

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured, perhaps none face more significant adjustments or a longer road ahead than the 14 amputees who lost a limb.

For these victims, the path forward involves relearning almost everything, from getting out of bed to getting in a car. Whether they go on to lead satisfying lives depends largely on how they handle the spiritual challenges at hand, according to amputees and researchers.

Losing a limb is like losing a family member: It involves grief and mourning, according to Jack Richmond, a Chattanooga, Tenn., amputee who leads education efforts for the Manassas, Va.-based Amputee Coalition. When one’s body and abilities are radically changed, questions of meaning are suddenly urgent: Why did this happen? Why am I here?

“You’re wondering: Why did I live?” said Rose Bissonnette, an amputee and founder of the Lancaster, Mass.-based New England Amputee Association, a support organization for amputees.

Surprising Our 'Enemies:' What If We Flipped the Script?

Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com

Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation on what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

What if we surprised our enemies?

I mean, really surprised them. What if we surprised them with something totally unexpected? When our personal, political, and national enemies strike us, they expect us to strike back. That’s been the human script since the foundations of human culture. We mimic violence blow for blow. Only each side wants to be the side who delivers the final blow.

What if we surprised our enemies and changed the script?

Isolated in America

davesimon / Shutterstock

Small rowing boat with single fisherman on lake. davesimon / Shutterstock

I wonder if social isolation — not extremist religion or Chechen roots — explains the two brothers who set off bombs during the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding more than 170.

The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was quoted as saying “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.” One emerging theory is that, he dealt with isolation in America by seeking his heritage in Chechnya and there, some think, found purpose in violence against his unwelcoming home.

In feeling isolated, the alleged bomber isn’t alone. Isolation is the new normal in America.

Boston Mosque Says Bombing Suspect Had Outbursts But Wasn’t Violent

FBI Photo

A photo released by the FBI shows Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, left, and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After two troubling outbursts at a local mosque, leaders there told Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev he would no longer be welcome if he continued disrupting services.

Leaders at the Islamic Society of Boston‘s mosque in Cambridge say Tsarnaev, 26, who died early Friday after a shootout with police, “disagreed with the moderate American-Islamic theology” of the mosque, but they never had “any hint” the brothers might be violent.

On one occasion in November at weekly prayer, Tsarnaev challenged an imam who said in his sermon that it was appropriate to celebrate U.S. national holidays, such as July 4th and Thanksgiving, the statement said.

Tsarnaev argued that such celebrations are “not allowed in the faith.” When the preacher met with Tsarnaev after the prayer, Tsarnaev “repeatedly argued his viewpoint, and then left,” the statement said.

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