Grieving Together After Boston
The damage from the Boston Marathon bombing was far more extensive than the news media grasped. All over our world, those of us involved in interfaith understanding and peace felt a body blow with the news and photos. In the early days of the investigation, we prayed for the victims and prayed also that the tragedy was one not caused by religious extremists.
Our heartache increased when the news of the perpetrators’ backgrounds was revealed. But we knew how we would respond. Through phone messages, emails, and visits, we would assure our Muslim friends that they are not alone in this time of sorrow. But we knew that we could do more.
The Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness movement began in south-central Indiana in August, 2012, as an immediate response to the Sikh tragedy in Wisconsin. Our strategy is simple and similar to that of a volunteer fire department. Whenever we learn of violence in the name of religion, we vow to gather to confront that “fire.” We stand shoulder to shoulder in a public place as we grieve this misuse of religion. We stand together to witness that the role of religions in our globalized world is to build bridges of understanding and compassion, not walls of separation, mistrust, and hatred. And as we stand together in a public place, we offer a vision of the future of the world, when people of different faiths will together build a more peaceful world.
The Boston Marathon tragedy was another “fire” that we in the Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness movement knew that we needed to address publically. The opportunity came on April 25th, when interfaith partners gathered at the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, IN. The original purpose of our gathering had been to anticipate and celebrate the upcoming visit of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, to Louisville, KY, from May 19-22. But our hearts that day held both gratitude for the Dalai Lama’s visit and grief for the events in Boston. We had to honor both.
Our event began with those gathered forming a circle, standing shoulder to shoulder, to witness to one another and the local media present that religious violence can never be accepted as normal. We prayed for the victims of the bombing, for our grieving Muslim friends, but also for those who set the bombs. Their lives, which could have made a beautiful contribution to our world, have also been lost.
Did our strategy “do any good” that day? All thirty of us who participated would say, without qualification, YES. Religious violence has an alarming ability to instill fear, suspicion, and hatred. By grieving and witnessing together, we renew our commitment to one another, to understanding, and to compassion.
The carnage of Boston and an interfaith circle in Bloomington—which will be the future of the world? The answer lies with people of faith, for there is no force in the world greater than religion.
David Carlson, PhD is a professor and the Charles B. and Kathleen O. Van Nuys Deans Fellow in Religious Studies at Franklin College, where he has served since 1978. David is the author of Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World (Thomas Nelson, 2011) which was selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 in the category of spiritual living by Library Journal. He is also the founder of Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness, a voluntary association of people of diverse faiths who stand together whenever religion is exploited and misused for violent purposes.
Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness and the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign are two separate organizations working for similar goals under similar names.