Boston Marathon

Continuing to 'Run the Race With Perseverance'

Silhouette of young man running, KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

Silhouette of young man running, KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

I finished my first Boston Marathon in 2002, running with two parishioners to raise funds for our church. The experience was exhilarating, and I’ve run the course six times since, relishing each year the cascade of powerful moments. Speaking as a preacher, the marathon was the sermonic gift that kept giving: the challenge of Heartbreak Hill, the boost even we slow runners get from cheering multitudes, the necessity of water and salty snacks. And Hebrews 12 gives us our text: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …”

With last year’s Boston Marathon, however, everything changed. Our church did have a runner in the race — he crossed the finish line six minutes before the first bomb exploded — but any interest in locating metaphorical gems was overshadowed by the real-time incursion of evil. Some parishioners knew victims, others were near the scene, and everybody joined in the immediate grieving of our city.

When we learned later that the perpetrators were Muslim, we felt another round of anguish, fearing that the incident could trigger a wave of religious prejudice and bigotry. 

Tragedy Begets Resilience

via TED Conference / Flickr.com

Dancers Christian Lightner and Adrianne Haslet-Davis at TED2014 - The Next Chapter, via TED Conference / Flickr.com

Among the many images of the marathon victims that emerged shortly after the attack, I remember being most struck by the photographs of the injured victims, missing their once sturdy limbs, lying in hospital beds. For me, those images perfectly conveyed how our city was feeling at that moment. We had just had something ripped away from us. We were assaulted, grieving for our loss, and outraged that any human being could dare do this to us.

How would our injured victims respond? Within days, the answer was clear. They would remain resilient. Adrianne Haslet-Davis would dance again, now with a prosthetic limb. Never a runner before, Celeste Corcoran pledged to run a marathon, now on her two prosthetic limbs. And, shaken by the tragedy, Amanda North would quit her job and launch the dream of her own artisan business.

Embracing Life, Letting Our Children Go in the New Year

Marsmet532/Flickr Creative Commons

Jesus didn't teach that we could keep our children safe always Marsmet532/Flickr Creative Commons

April 15, 2013 — it wasn’t tax day that got my attention. It was during my lunch break, in the teacher’s lounge that I first heard of the explosions in Boston. My heart sank. I knew our son, who attends college in nearby Cambridge, was planning to visit the finish line with some of his friends to enjoy watching and cheering on the runners. One of his dreams, to run among them, postponed for a future year when more hours and more miles of practice were available. They had explored much of the course the day prior and especially wanted to see the élite runners cross the finish.

Amid the unfolding awfulness of that day I felt a tinge of guilt as we breathed a sigh of relief at news of his safety. Safe by two blocks and two hours owing mostly to large crowds that had kept him out of close proximity and a study ethic that sent all four of them back to class prior to the 2:49 p.m. calamity. Over the next couple days in my mind, I toggled between distraction and dread as I tried to go about the normality of life while asking God both “why?” and “why not?” questions.

Twitter and Tragedy: A Revamped American Religious Experience

On my first Patriots’ Day in Boston, I was enjoying lunch with several colleagues when someone rushed into the restaurant: There had been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Moments later, caravans of ambulances and police cars raced, and the reports of casualties rolled in.

In the hours and days that followed, social media became for me, and many others, a sacred space to share our prayers and words of disbelief.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Burial Angers Va. Muslims

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Photo courtesy RNS.

Officials and local residents of a rural Virginia county say they’re surprised and angered that the body of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was buried in a local cemetery.

Tsarnaev, 26, died following an April 19 getaway attempt after a gun battle with police. His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured and remains in custody and is charged with the April 15 bombings that killed three and wounded more than 260 near the finish line of the race.

Their uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Maryland, took responsibility for the body after Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, Katherine Russell, said she wanted it released to her in-laws. He said his nephew was buried in a cemetery in Doswell, Va., with the help of a faith coalition.

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.)”

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.  

The Demonization of 'Terrorism'

marsmet547 / Flickr

A photo taken during the bombing at the Boston Marathon. marsmet547 / Flickr

The recent explosions at the Boston Marathon and subsequent media coverage exposed yet again a dangerous trend in U.S. culture: rushing to judgment in labeling and prosecuting crimes, and throwing away long-held U.S. American ideals and legal principles of due process.

Terrorism — a form of communication and a military tactic, not an ideology — is the systematic use of violence against civilians to intimidate them for a political purpose. Too many media outlets, elected officials, and community leaders have prematurely labeled the Boston Marathon bombing an act of terrorism. Some people were upset President Obama did not label the acts "terrorism" in his address just hours after the explosions.

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