Which Boston is #BostonStrong?

ImageSilence and stillness are my reminders of the Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath. From the first train in the early morning to the last train at 12:30am, I can both hear and feel the rumble of the subway line from my apartment. The slight rattle of the dishes, the hum under my feet are the regular rhythms of life in my Boston. But during the manhunt for the suspected bombers, the city was placed on “lock-down” and the trains ceased to run. The buzz of the train stopped, and the silence was punctuated by the hovering of helicopters overhead. We we told to “shelter in place,” but nothing about our sheltering felt safe. It took months for me to stop twitching at the sound of helicopters above. The rhythm of the trains has returned. But every now and then, I become aware of the trains and pause to remember when they stopped.

Boston is a divided city, like most cities. We each experienced and re-experience the Boston Marathon bombing in a different way depending on where we live and move. I was in Gloucester on vacation for the week and immediately returned to my city to start working on the interfaith response. I didn’t experience the chaos at the bombing site. My experience of the Marathon bombing was mostly in the aftermath, the lockdown, the manhunt. Something entirely different happened for those present along the route and at the finish line. But because of the scale, many people sense that we experienced something together. Yet, at some point, the cheers shifted from away from the unified claim to “One Boston” to “Boston Strong.”

This past Friday night at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church on Warren Street in Roxbury, I joined about 100 people, mostly from Boston’s predominantly black neighborhoods to pray for all those who have suffered violence in the year since the Boston Marathon bombing.  We prayed hard. We sang fiercely. The collection was taken up to pay for the funeral for a young man in the neighborhood who had just been killed. A Mother asked, “Where is our One Fund? Why does his death mean less than any other death? What is my son’s life worth?”

I was convicted. I was embarrassed by my own blindness. I was heartbroken. I didn’t hear jealously, but genuine wonder and grief of a mother who lost her son. For those of us who strive to follow Jesus who says that none are forgotten in God’s sight, how do we reconcile the invisibility of some lives with Jesus’s promise that God knows even the “number of hairs on your head” (Luke 12:7)?

The sinful truth is that in my beloved Boston, some lives are invisible. Jamarhl Crawford, creator of Blackstonian, said recently “when things that happen to white people, or things that happen to ‘white places‘ where violence is not supposed to occur is seen as this affront to everything that is sacred and holy.” Crawford speaks of the “regular violence,” a violence that becomes expected in “those places, to those people.” Part of what made the Marathon bombing so communally disruptive was that we don’t expect such violence on Boylston Street as we do on Bluehill Ave. Since the Boston Marathon, 235 people have been shot in Boston, 35 people senselessly killed in “those places, to those people.” How is that “Boston Strong?” I grieve the collective trauma, suffering and senseless deaths of the Boston Marathon. Yet how is 35 dead any less senseless? When we chant or buy “Boston Strong,” which Boston are we talking about? Boston is a divided city. Which Boston is strong?

Decades of Boston racial and economic history play into these divisions. As a nation, we have grown to tolerate violence to some people in some neighborhoods. We bring no healing, we do one another no good if we turn this into “oppression Olympics” or contests of who suffers more. I believe there is no cap on the amount of empathy we can expend. Many people suffered enormously during and following the Boston Marathon bombing. Some people suffered unseen, with far less sympathy and resources. And if we dig underneath, maybe we find a embarrassing presumption that we actually expect some people to suffer more because of where they live and the color of their skin. With a regularity that rumbles along like the subway lines, we take for granted that violence will always be a fact of life in some communities. We perpetuate the insidious logic of violence in our own hearts if we divide further as our fellow Bostonians suffer.

ImageThe Boston Marathon is and can be a potent symbol of our common life: pro-participation in many forms. The Boston Marathon invites global participation on American soil. During the Boston Marathon, people run into the city, not away from it. The Boston Marathon is a world class event that’s free to view. As you stand alongside the route that leads into the city, spectators help cheer the runners along. You hold up your sign to be seen. That’s what I heard these families asking for: to be seen. They are asking to be seen in their grief, in their need, in their mourning and loss. They are asking for their dead to be seen as fully human.

On the anniversary of Tuesday April 15, and the Marathon on Monday April 22, there will be many tributes. When you pause for a moment of silence, remember all who grieve the dead in Boston. Maybe learn the names of the dead (including the 19 people killed in Boston since January) and pray for their families too. Pray that the blindness might be removed from our eyes. Commit to walking in the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace on Sunday May 11.  Our divisions are deep, and the violence systemic and the work to overcome such division will probably take decades, but there is no possibility of healing if we cannot see one another.

Published by RevEverett

I'm a pastor in the United Church of Christ here in Boston. I serve as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. Cycliss, seamstress, my book is "Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels." NJ by birth, MA by choice. Opinions are my own. Love abounds.

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  1. Wonderful reflection, as usual – so glad you were at St. John’s on Warren Street and could only hope [but not with much optimism] that other White clergy were with you … and not just the usual few. The wrap on this morning’s Globe: Deborah and I both commented to each other on how White it is. Another sign that there are several Boston’s … to our grief and detriment. I imagine we are not alone among people of faith, with whom you are one of the leaders, to notice this – but wish we could over the years have done something about it. [Which is partly why we feel more comfortable worshipping in a racially mixed community with a majority of people from African descent, -Caribbean and -American … and a dreadlocked priest too!] Blessings. Hope your sister has found some discomfort relief with the coming of Spring. David

    Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:00:15 +0000 To: davidwmalone@hotmail.com

  2. Thanks for this–and it was eye-opening to look at the Blackstonian site again.
    I count 50 homicides since Marathon 2013–31 from April 15-Dec 31 last year and 19 so far in 2014. Some were stabbings, so that may account for the difference in statistics.

    Still…two Bostons. Young people from St. Stephen’s Youth Programs have created an amazing art piece as part of the Ubuntu Art –Transforming Violence project of Wheelock College. The multi-media piece is their artistic statement on how the media responded differently to the Marathon bombings than the every day violence that happens in their neighborhoods. The art opening is tonight.


  3. “when things that happen to white people, or things that happen to ‘white places‘ where violence is not supposed to occur”

    This sort of rhetoric has some pretty disturbing subtexts, including: that the Boston Marathon is intended for white people, that victims of the bombing who weren’t white don’t matter and didn’t really belong there, and that people senselessly killing each other is fundamentally a black problem. With progressives ideas like these, who needs white supremacists?

    (“But that’s not the point of the rhetoric! Don’t pretend these problems don’t exist!” = failed straw man attempt to claim that intent is magic and that words don’t really matter.)

    1. But this was stated by Jamarhl Crawford, not the author. This was the point of view of an African-American who laments the lack of concern for the everyday violence in their neighborhoods. Are you implying Jamarhl Crawford has white supremacy views?

      I don’t disagree that the rhetoric has some disturbing subtexts that need to be addressed. However, the nature of that disturbing subtext is vastly different when taken out of context and attributed to the wrong person. Is this just another way of dismissing a viewpoint from the African-American community and not dealing with the implications of his statements?

  4. I loved this blog post that you wrote! I really appreciated the themes of unity and your challenge to the readers to our cry “Boston Strong.”

    I was wondering if we could have permission to re-post your blog on UniteBoston? I think our readers would really enjoy it. We would post it in its entirety, include you & Mass Council of Churches, and write that it was originally published on your blog site.

    This is a great opportunity for more visibility to the Greater Boston Christian Community! Let me know your thoughts and if there is anything else we can do to support you & Mass Council.

  5. My wife and I were just talking about why the four killed in the shooting in Mattapan in 2010 or the four killed in the shooting in Dorchester in 2012 don’t receive the same sort of memorial as the victims of the bombing. I like what you said about how there should be no cap on our compassion. It’s not that the victims of the Boston bombing don’t deserve to be memorialized; it’s that these others deserve it as well.

  6. Oh Laura, Thank you so much for putting my feelings in such eloquent and thoughtful language. I have wrestled with this & have kept them to myself because I was too afraid to say anything (working on the brave issue:) ). My pastor is Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade so it was great that she linked this & hers was the first reply I saw.

    Thank you again.

  7. “And if we dig underneath, maybe we find a embarrassing presumption that we actually expect some people to suffer more because of where they live and the color of their skin.”

    For a Christian, you really suck at understanding people’s charitable intentions. If tragedy comes to a small community, we expect the community to take care of it – pass the hat for a funeral, erect a memorial, and help a widow pay her bills. There was no One Fund set up for the white victims of murder in white communities, just local efforts to pitch in and help out. It’s not racism for Mattapan to help Mattapan without Newburyport donating money.

    This was a terrorist attack that also results in millions of dollars of expenses – little Jane Richard will need a lifetime of prosthetic limbs, and new ones as she grows. That cost is unfathomably more than the cost of a casket for a victim of a shooting. Also, you know, terrorist attack: an attack not on a person or a town, but on all of us.

    Lastly, the One Fund donations go to Mery Daniel just as much as they go to Celeste Corcoran. Maybe you ought to take off the “racism” blinders and calm the eff down.

    1. “It’s not racism for Mattapan to help Mattapan without Newburyport donating money.”

      However, it is racism if Newburyport donates money to Back Bay (where the bombings took place) while Newburyport does not donate money to Mattapan.

  8. I don’t discount racism or the feelings of a grieving mother. Victims of violence everywhere should be honored and our goal should be to stop all violence and work toward a more peaceful society. That said, I think it’s difficult to argue this without context being taken into consideration.

    Boston is America’s city. There’s not a child in this country who goes to school without learning about the history of Boston.

    Boston is the world’s city. Thousands come here from all over the world for tourism, for school and for the marathon.

    Boston’s history makes it unique among cities. It’s past is rooted in bravery and courage.

    The people who run the marathon are exceptional, strong and have great tenacity.

    For a few hours every year, the Boston Marathon unites people from all over the world.

    The attack at the marathon was a terrorist attack. It was an attack on
    our way of life, our country, our city and yes, the innocents who were
    injured and killed.

    In short, there was no single victim of violence here.
    The entire greater Boston area was under siege. The magnitude
    of the event cannot be understated.

    I could go on but what I’m suggesting is that you can’t ignore the context
    In which the violence occurred.

    The One Fund was successful at raising money because of the the multiplicity of factors involved. Those factors converged to hold up the city, it’s people, it’s survivors and this years runners as a symbol of faith and courage.

    Again, I agree that we should work to end all forms of violence. I’m just not sure you can effectively make the argument about 2 Boston’s without looking at the context in which the events occurred.

    Instead, I’d like to argue that we use this time to focus on the good, love and deceny that came out of the tragedy. People ran in. They ran in.

    Here we stand a year later ready to show our love and courage to the world. Let’s do it together. Peace.

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