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Strong community bonds make a big difference

AurorPolice Lt. Kristen Ziman

Aurora Police Lt. Kristen Ziman

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Updated: June 21, 2013 6:23AM

While attending New England Congregational Church a few weeks ago, I listened to the Rev. Gary McCann deliver a thoughtful and compelling sermon titled “Confirmed in Community” where he told the stories of two sets of brothers.

The first set of brothers came to this country from Bosnia to escape the bloody slaughter of Muslims in their homeland. Their father was a successful businessman in Bosnia but he could only find work in a fast food restaurant in America. They were able to come to the U.S. through the concerted efforts of several religious groups and within their faith-based community, they found much support. The brothers thrived despite their displacement, persecution and years of poverty because of the stability of their parents, and help from the many and diverse guardian angels of all faiths.

McCann told another story of two other Muslim brothers who came from the same area of the world to escape the same horrors. He explained that these brothers, in their despair over their plight, poverty and prejudice against them, allowed anger to swell up in their hearts and minds, which led them to align with a radical Muslim community. Theirs was not a happy ending in that one brother died from gunfire while the other is incarcerated. They are the prime suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.

In both scenarios, there was strife and adversity to overcome, but in the former story, the brothers were aligned with a strong community whose many members welcomed them and offered them support and love without judgment.

The latter turned to a community as well, but it was comprised of people filled with hatred and darkness and the brothers’ anger perpetuated and boiled over into the streets of Boston.

The stories were compelling and made me draw a similar parallel as we try to understand why some youth turn to gangs and criminal activity and others don’t. The Boston Marathon bombers acted on a larger scale but when you break it down, it is easy to see how a lack of community and belonging causes people to seek security from whoever will provide it.

Both sets of brothers were born into unfortunate circumstances. There is a legend that speaks to this: An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “the other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Says McCann: “We must never underestimate the effect of even small gestures of friendship, for seemingly insignificant acts of camaraderie and love are large investments in community.”

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