Welcoming Tsarnaev home

People are quite adamant that the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev not be given a burial ground.  Even people within my faith community are questioning why any Unitarian Universalist might offer a grave site to this man who caused so much pain in his last few weeks of life.  Here is my response.  It will not be a popular one, I am sure.

Unitarian Universalists ever since the shooting within one of our congregations in Knoxville have redoubled our  insistence to respond with love.  A whole new movement sprung up within our faith about Standing on the Side of Love and not allowing hatred or violence against us thwart us in our pursuit for justice. And so the reasons for that shooting became the motivation for us to be even more public in our support for equal marriage rights, immigration reform, and reproductive rights.

Being on the side of love, however, does not mean doing the popular thing or even the feel good thing. It does not mean doing the thing that will win the cheers of people the world over.  Being on the side of love means doing the hard thing, the thing that is right because we believe as our Universalist heritage teaches us that all people are loved, that all people are received back into their eternal home.  Yes, even mass murderers are welcomed home to god.  We all return to that which we were before. And being on the side of love recognizes this.  All people are saved.  All people are loved and embraced by god. All people go to heaven. Love wins. That is what our Universalist forebears taught.  And so to respond with compassion for a body, to grieve for the unseen unrealized potential of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and provide him with a burial ground is very much in line with our tradition of unconditional love.  It is very much in line with our values.

We may never know what Tsarnaev true motivations were for the acts of violence he committed.  But the truth is each of us have the same potential for violence within us just as we have the same potential for love.  So providing a burial site for Tsarnaev is a very strong proclamation of the Love that loves us all–inspite of his sins, inspite of all the hatred he spewed in his acts of violence.  He is still that little baby boy that his mother held close to her breasts when he was born. He is still that laughing child on his father’s knee. He is still that child of god. And the god that loves unconditionally, our Universalist forebears taught, welcomes him home.

I understand the repulsion people are feeling towards him.   But the reason I understand that repulsion is because I recognize within my self the same potential for committing evil given the right circumstances.  And the repulsion is a denying of that potential for evil that lies within.  We know it and we want to distance ourselves from it. So we abhor it when we see it committed by another, especially another who claims to be one of us.  Anyone who denies their potential for committing evil has not truly looked into their own hearts and reflected on what is there. They have not recognized that righteous indignation and the acts of violence Tsarnaev committed come from the same root within us.   This is  the 40 days in the desert where Jesus wrestled with temptation / the evil one,  this is the internal demons that Gandhi talked about wrestling. It is the harnessing of nuclear power for good and then building a weapon of mass destruction and releasing that destruction over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This potential for evil lies within each of us.  Yes, I mean you and me.

Tsarnaev expressed the potential for evil instead of the potential for good. It is sad. It is grievous.  It is painful to witness and experience. But in spite of it all.  He still is welcomed home into the hands of a loving Universe. His body will return to mother earth whether we bury him or not.  I can bury his body as I grieve the lost potential of his life.

My faith teaches me to love.  That does not mean I condone his actions.

What is the compassionate thing?  What is the most loving thing?  What is the thing that will bring about healing for the living–his family, his victims of violence?  Certainly it cannot be to leave his body to rot in a cooler. I applaud those who are offering to bury his body and return him from whence he came.  Back to the universe, back to mother earth, back to the loving hands of a creator who loves unconditionally and also grieves over this child’s lost potential for creating good.




  1. good, Rev. Fred, though I do understand the concerns of those in MA who were concerned the grave might be desecrated…by those who do not get the larger picture.

  2. Thank you, Fred, for the rigor of your faithful analysis

  3. Standing on the side of love isn’t always easy or popular.
    In our heart, though, we know this is the right thing to do.

  4. a very loving and gracious word, I could not agree more, thank you Fred

  5. As an atheist I disagree with the idea of being returned to a creator. It is my idea that what matters is what takes place here, during ones life. Following that thought how can one stand on the side of love and discredit what seems to represent the life of an individual. Tamerlane was responsible for great violence, that will be his historical signature. But he obviously acted out of a cause. That cause is directly related to his own cultural-faith group. While it is nice of UUs and other like-minded faith groups of the Christian branch of Abraham to wish he could be buried, at some point it must be recognized that this is not our fight. It is his communities task to resolve his actions with his life and that complex with its faith community. An enormous task, obviously. But I would think that for respect as much as for love it would be left to them to work, work, it out.

    As a Non-theist myself, my use of the word creator is metaphor for the earth/universe. The elements which make up our bodies do indeed come from the earth/universe and when we die if we allowed our bodies to disintegrate instead of embalming and entombing them, they would indeed return to the earth and be fodder for new creation be it plant or animal. I do not believe in an entity that is a creator.

    My writing here reflects the Universalist side of our heritage. It is inline with that theology. Agree or disagree, that is the theology of our Universalist forebears. And as Unitarian Universalists we need to understand how that theology would be played out in our current realities.

    Your thoughts are also important in this conversation. They reflect, whether you meant them to or not, another wise man’s thoughts read metaphorically–“let the dead bury their dead.” Ultimately, the family of Tsarneav did work it out within their faith community albeit under continued controversy.

    • Thank you for your response. My idea is not so grand as to ask of mourners to become evangelical, but only that when recognition is made at departure it is the business of those who can most honestly address meaning in the life of the dead. This may be difficult to identify in many cases, but in this case it looks direct. In general “cultural misappropriation” stirs up a lot of nit-picking, but I do feel that is what the burial by a Christian oriented faith would be. I do not want to sound snarky, but I’ve been to funerals where a minister unacquainted with the dead goes on and on saying pap. And I’ve been to funerals where the family and friends conducted the service. The second style just seems a better fit.

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