Reflections on the London Bombings
Bombs and explosions: A Londoners guide to keeping
remember my first-ever religious studies lesson at school.
By way of introduction, the teacher wrote on the blackboard, “How
can God exist if bad things happen in the world?” This
was a pretty testing question for a seven year old, and it continued
to trouble me throughout my theology degree and for many years
afterwards. Today, just a few days since the bombings in central
London, I realized the answer. It has nothing to do with free
will. It doesn’t even have to do with original sin or the
fall of humanity. It has to do with what happens after the bad
things – something my teacher conspicuously failed to mention.
explosion of love that followed the despicable terrorist attacks,
the same explosion that followed the Asian earthquake
and 9/11, resonated louder and prouder than any man-made device
is an old saying that a friend in need is a friend indeed.
When two planes hit the twin towers, I became your friend,
with billions of people across the world. When the timed bombs
exploded in London, there was an almost simultaneous global explosion
of friendship and compassion. Such is the bond of love and empathy
between us all.
many people, especially for those whose lives are directly
affected by these natural and wholly unnatural disasters,
their faith may falter, especially when tragedy is experienced
in isolation. But when we look at the tragedy in terms of
the human and spiritual reaction it provokes, then the tragedy
may serve only to fuel the fire of our faith. This is why the
terrorists can never be victorious – when they explode
bombs, they explode something within us, all of us, which can
never and will never be extinguished.
has been home to my husband, daughter, and myself for
the past eight years. Prior to that, I lived here with
my husband for nine years, moving from the U.S. in the mid-1980s.
Last Thursday morning I drove my daughter from Fulham (on the
north side of
the Thames) to her school in Battersea (on the south side), and
then headed down the street there to a 9:30 a.m. appointment
view some real estate. We are considering moving to
be nearer to the school.
It was drizzling as I waited for the estate agent. He arrived,
showed me the flat, and afterwards I walked down the road to
a cafe. As I took my seat, I noticed "breaking
news" flashing on the television screen on
the back wall of the cafe. The news was not clear -- "power
suspected on the London Underground -- but my gut feeling was
that terrorists had hit my city. There were
simultaneous incidents that had occurred at the height of rush
I first thanked God for allowing me to be near my daughter's
school on this uncertain morning. I was able to get my husband
on the phone, and was assured he was all right. He had ridden
the Underground early that morning but had made it to work safely.
recently relocated to the City of London square mile, not far
from all of the day's tragic events.
By then, people were starting to stop on the
street, watching the news through the cafe's window. I decided
to drive back to the school, the same instinct I followed on
my daughter's fifth birthday, September 11, 2001, when I heard
in the U.S. on my
car radio. Once the Pentagon was hit, I had said to
end of the world is here -- I've got to get to school."
I ended up sitting in the lobby,
just to be near, listening to the receptionist answer calls from
hysterical parents. The phone was ringing off the hook, and she
sweetly reassured each caller that the children were fine
would not be playing outdoors that day, that everything had
been checked and was okay. Parents still turned up and pulled
their children out of class early, though I figured I would wait
until the day's end.
I accompanied my daughter to a playdate that afternoon --
normally I would have collected her at the end of it. My friend's
home contains many Buddhas, and I was consoled
by this. That and the laughter
of the children playing --
true heaven on earth.
There are big Golden Buddhas in Battersea Park at the "Peace
Pagoda," a gift from Japan that was placed on the Thames-side
in 1985. We saluted them on our way home. When my husband opened
the door, we all hugged each other and thanked God for our own
safety. At last count, 74 families of victims and suspected victims
were being counseled by police liaisons.
June 6, 2005
Park has an area just to the right of the entrance at Grosvenor
Square called Speaker’s Corner. It is a great British tradition.
Anyone can stand on a soap box and start ranting about anything.
This morning, as I passed the area on my jog, I had to stop.
There were large crowds (several hundred people) gathered around
speakers. Two of the most popular were a Christian evangelist
from Africa and a Muslim Cleric. I was rooting for the evangelist
but went to hear the cleric. Here was an opportunity
about Islam first-hand instead of having it filtered through
the spin doctors.
all things in Britain there is a certain etiquette to Speaker’s
Corner. The speaker preaches his (there were no women speakers
that I could see) message, and people from the crowd step forward,
ask questions and debate their point. When I arrived, the cleric
was arguing with a young American woman. It was not a friendly
exchange. He was surrounded by a core group of maybe 15 young
men of Middle
They would heckle the woman and anyone else
who disagreed with the cleric. I was fascinated by her courage
and by the things I heard the cleric say.
who respects other faith traditions, I agreed with some things
I was hearing. The cleric's main point was that we must
put God first (he called it the straight path).
With those words, I
thought to myself, “That is encouraging -- following
the path is also the essential teaching of Christ, of Judaism,
and of the
then his words began to rankle. He began insulting other
religions, especially Christianity
What struck me hardest was how little he knew about
those religions-- not nearly enough to offer valid criticism.
He condemned them because their formula did not match
and completely ignored
similitude between their core message and the "straight path"
of Islam. He claimed
that seeking God
through Christ is idolatry, that
Hindus believe that God is a tree.
confused the fact that God is changeless with the idea that
our knowledge of God continues to grow as we move closer to
the Holy Trinity and lampooned the Holy Spirit, insisting that
those who do not call on God exactly as he proscribed were
destined for hell. Since non-Muslims are doomed
to hell anyway, he asserted, Muslims are free to treat everyone
else as inferior. It actually reminded me of fascism. All of
these rants were met with cheers from the core group of young
left Speaker's Corner feeling greatly depressed. I had hoped
to see a positive message and mutual respect. Instead, I
listened to a religious
leader proclaim that his religion is at war with all those who
disagree. Surely, he was a hard-liner, and every religion has
but we know what happens when these voices gain power and the
ability to live out their beliefs. This one cleric was surrounded
others, and I saw heads in the crowd nodding in
found the girl who had been challenging him and told her that
he was wrong.
She looked at me and said, “I know.”