Putting it to Rest: Unitarian Universalists Should Bury Tsarnaev

Unitarian Universalists, especially those in Massachusetts, have been presented with a profound way to demonstrate our faith this week.   We have a number of congregations close to Boston that have cemeteries.  One of them should offer to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Cambridge, Boston and Worcester have refused to bury the criminal.  Worcester in particular needs to show more respect to Graham, Putnam, & Mahoney the funeral home in Worcester tasked with the burial. This business has a reputation for helping those who don’t have the means to pay for funerals and is well known in the community for their  compassion in this area.  Other famous killers have had similar issues as noted by Tim Murphy  in Mother Jones.

In granting permission to bury Tsarnaev we can make clear that neither the local congregation and minister, nor the Unitarian Universalist Association as a whole condones the Boston Marathon bombing.  We can also note in the same statement, however, the issue of burial is not one of a criminal making a personal request to use church property. It is a family, grieving and shocked and not unashamed of their deceased relative that must go about the business of, at the very least, taking appropriate care of his remains according to their religious beliefs, which in this case happen to prohibit cremation.  This offer takes nothing away from the horrible quality of Tsarnaev’s crime nor does it offer a sentimental forgiveness.  An offer to bury Tsarnaev comes from our deeply held belief that ultimately all are and can be reconciled to what is holy, divine, and good. An offer to bury Tsarnaev calls our community to be its best self.  We call people away from trying to punish his family,his uncle,  his undertaker, or anyone else who is of and by necessity involved in the process.  When we continue to rant and rave about how such a monster as Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve to have his remains put in the ground and forgotten, we demonstrate our anger, our grief, and our painful loss but we also continue to give a murderous criminal more press than he deserves as we continue to re-traumatize  witnesses and survivors by continuously keeping him and his crime in the news.   Our Unitarian Universalist faith community has already begun to call for dealing with the situation of Tsarnaev’s burial in an appropriate manner.  Rev. Fred Small took to the NPR airwaves to encourage the city of Cambridge to allow his burial with this interview.

We have at least three congregations that seem to have cemeteries (there are probably more): First Parish Northboro (Rev. Dr. Judith Wright), North Andover’s North Parish (Rev. Lee Bluemel) , and First Church Jamaica Plain (Rev. Terry Burke).   If any of these congregations and ministers might consider this,  they can do it relatively quietly. There is no need to make big news of it and Tsarnaev certainly doesn’t need any more press.  We can show the depth, mercy, and courage of Unitarian Universalism by handling a difficult task our society doesn’t seem to want to attend to while at the same time continuing our support of justice, peace, and the families who lost loved ones to Tsarnaev’s horrific crime.

The burial of Tsarnaev gives us the opportunity to be who we say we are.  We are people of justice and justice involves giving everyone what they deserve.  Tsarnaev’s family including his uncle Rusian Tsarni, the funeral home, and whatever cemetery has the guts to allow this burial deserve to be able to do this deed of mercy in the quiet obscurity that such difficult and painful tasks require. Tsarnaev himself certainly does not deserve fame, notoriety, and sustained attention – the very things continued controversy over his burial bring.

Jesus told his followers it is no great credit to you to love those who love you, as even sinners do that.  Rather,  he said to his followers, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)”

Should this admittedly very courageous offer be made by one of our congregations, we can demonstrate that acting out of love towards those who have hurt us, doesn’t need to come with casual forgiveness nor does it mean we cast aside justice or the pain caused by our enemies.  Perhaps we can offer a quiet example that we save our own souls and humanity when we act compassionately, even when the beneficiary of our mercy may not seem to deserve compassion.

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6 thoughts on “Putting it to Rest: Unitarian Universalists Should Bury Tsarnaev

  1. I couldn’t agree more and thank you for putting into words a lot of thoughts I’ve had about this situation. Blessings to you Tony and we look forward to seeing you in Texas again.

  2. If you feel so strongly that UUs should bury Tsarnaev, perhaps you should figure out a way to get the body to Texas so your local congregation can bury him, instead of saying that the people who were closest to his violence put aside their emotions and live some ideal, theologically pure faith. The bombings happened within a block of one UU church and within a one mile radius of two others. I don’t think it’s fair or compassionate to put the onus of his burial on them. This is like telling a rape victim to invite their over for Thanksgiving to mingle with the relatives.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation, Jinnie. I am sorry for your pain and anger. I don’t know exactly what yours is and has been like, but it is not foreign to me. I currently serve a congregation about 15 miles west of Boston. On the day of the marathon, I was scrambling like many in and around the city to find out about members of the congregation who were running, families who were spectating, and family members who lived in and around the city. A friend’s wife was out of the country and I went to watch his children while he went to the airport and waited to hear news about when or if his wife would be able to come back that day. I was in shock like everyone else and I was scared and angry and fed up with the violence, the uncertainty, and the pain. Please don’t assume because I am calling for all of us, myself included to be our best selves, that I didn’t cry, wring my hands, get angry have my life disrupted. I have family and friends who had their lives disrupted after the bombing when the pursuit of the criminals turned Boston into a police state. I beg to disagree, it is not like telling a rape victim to invite their attacker over for Thanksgiving dinner. Please stop the hyperbole of anger. It is not even close to that. If your pain and anger lets you actually read my post, you will find I bear no great love for this criminal nor do I lack understanding of the pain others are suffering. I make no claim that we should condone, applaud or approve of this crime in any way. What I suggest is that refusing burial is both individuals and communities acting out of pain, fear and hatred. The killer’s body is dead. We do him no honor by making sure a funeral home, an undertaker, and a family who are not responsible for his crimes have to suffer for them. There has been enough suffering.

      • It’s not hyperbole. Those churches with cemeteries are family churches dating back centuries. You are asking people to inter someone who brought violence to their community next to Grandma and Grandpa. For eternity. It extends compassion to Tsarnaev’s family while dismissing the people who have lived there and have had their sense of safety and security compromised by him. There has indeed been enough suffering. Tsarnaev’s done with it, he’s beyond the mortal plane. Have some mercy on those who have survived.

  3. I recall the Amish community response to the murder of their children in a school shooting in 2006. I remember thinking at the time that there was a case of faith really informing life and actions. I was similarly moved by UUA President Bill Sinkford’s response following the shooting at the Tennessee Valley UU Church in 2008. agree with the suggestion that this would be an important way to act on our faith. And I am willing to be called upon to help underwrite the burial costs if that would help the UUs in Massachusetts know that they stand in the love and support of their fellows around the country.

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