CNN interviewed one employee of his former high school, a man who took extensive photos of the young wrestler and had come to know him well. The photographer was clearly astonished by these allegations and deeply saddened to think that the athlete he had liked and respected so much could intentionally hurt anyone. In his view, expressed in a voice trembling with emotion, such a thing was not compatible with the exemplary person he had befriended.
Peers admired and respected this classmate, fellow wrestlers praised his work ethic, teachers described him as a good student and a good example. He was never in trouble himself and never made trouble for others. In every way, he appeared to be no different from any other nice kid in any other friendly community.
The questions haunting me today are these: (1) How does the degree of violence allegedly manifested by Dzhokhar at the Boston Marathon co-exist with the degree of virtue others perceived in him? (2) How prevalent is this dichotomy of character in our society? and (3) What, if anything, can we do about it?
I don't pretend to have the answers, but a thread keeps running through my thoughts as I begin to search for some. Our culture is one that increasingly condones violence by the very act of not eschewing it, and every child born today is exposed to culture and media that permeate the consciousness with sights and sounds that previously would not have been countenanced in this country. Desensitization does occur, and it should come as no surprise that aggression is on the rise. Couple that growing aggression with an increasing lack of respect for the religious and political beliefs of others and a decreasing tolerance for their right to differ from our own, and you have a powder keg waiting to explode.
At this point, it is unclear whether this act of terror was inspired by Islamic extremism or not. Time will tell, but one thing is certain. Religion that parts ways with a love for all men ceases to be religion and becomes fanaticism. I repudiate the notion that religion can ever be righteously wielded as a club or brandished as a sword in behalf of God, Allah, or any other entity. My personal example is Christ, who taught what He knew to be truth yet allowed and still allows each person to accept or reject it. His exercise of religion was and is based on service and sacrifice, freedom and forgiveness, respect and redemption.
These are my strongly held beliefs: We are all children of God, no matter what religion we espouse or choose not to espouse. Each and every life matters...to Him and to us. We are brothers and sisters, taking this journey together according to His plan. We will not walk in lock step, nor were we meant to. All are granted the ability and agency to find our way back to the loving Father who created us, and ours is to love and support each other as best we can along the way.
What can we do to brighten the world while we are here? We can endure in faith, believing that goodness is stronger than evil, holding up whatever light we have against the darkness and asking for more. If we are willing, Christ's words in His Sermon on the Mount can be revealed in us, as individuals and as a nation:
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).
Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Jew or "other," you don't have to be a follower of Christ to live like one. Goodness is goodness. Light is light. Darkness is darkness. Which will we choose for ourselves, and how are we willing to live to support that choice?
Shining a light is not and never can be a passive thing. It requires energy, effort and no small amount of valor, especially when shadows loom large and threaten. But there are more light-bearers out there than we might think. And they are far easier to recognize when we are standing among them.