“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, yes, you are.
I recently watched the movie Spotlight about the investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe that broke the story about priest abuse coverup in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 2000s.
At the end of the movie, the team and the Boston Globe leadership are discussing how they had all the information they needed for years and no one put it together until now. The pointing of fingers begins, which causes Liev Schreiber’s character Marty Baron, editor of the Boston Globe, to say this haunting quote:
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around.”
Once the pieces are all together, we see how much responsibility we bear for the situation we are in.
The light has turned on
The light has turned on for White America, and we don’t like what we see has been happening for decades/centuries to Black America.
African Americans are killed for buying skittles. For asking for help. In front of their parent. After a ride in a van. After participating in poverty economies like selling cigarettes or CDs. For having a concealed carry permit. For a broken tail-light and for making an illegal U-turn that ended in death in a holding cell. For reading a book. For seeking help for their broke-down car. For existing while black. All in the last five years, and the list is still missing many of the high profile ones.
The lights come on, a little crack each time, each bringing a little more revelations that we cannot explain away. Earlier this Summer, it also claimed five police officers lives and wounded seven others in one of the cities with the highest levels of fruitful and respectful engagement between African Americans and the police department.
We cannot look away. The light is on, it cannot be taken out of the room, and we are called to look, to listen, and to act.
Overcoming Our Selves
The light comes on, and we don’t like what we see. And I speak personally that I don’t like having my own prejudice pointed out.
Over a decade ago, just after college, I was living in downtown Oklahoma City. I came home late at night and headed to my apartment. It was on the second floor with an outside staircase. As I was walking towards my staircase, three African American men were walking towards the same staircase. I picked up my pace so I would get there and to my room before them. But as I went up the stairs, my shoe got caught, I pitched forward, and my shoe came off.
As I sat on the step trying to get my shoe back on, the three men walked by me and one said “you okay there?” I said “yeah, shoe came off.” And he said “huh, it looked to me like you were scared.” He looked at me with bemusement for an eternal second, then they walked on to their apartment, leaving me sitting on the steps with my prejudice in full view.
The light came on and I didn’t like what I saw.
Sin of Cain
The Lord said to Cain, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!
I’m forever thankful to my neighbor for naming what needed to be named to me. Whether it was race or simply three guys much larger than me late at night, I responded with fear rather than respond as their brother in Christ.
In Genesis 4, we see the story of the first siblings, the children of Adam and Eve, named Cain and Abel. In a fit of jealousy, Cain kills his brother Abel. When God asks Cain where Abel is, Cain denies knowledge and challenges God by asking “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, oddly for Cain, is yes, yes he is.
- I wonder if the light ever came on for Cain and if he realized that, yes, he was his brother’s keeper. He failed at the first job he had: to watch over his brother.
- We need to remember we are our brother’s and our sister’s keepers. It’s not someone else’s job. We can’t outsource this to the Government, to the Church, or to the next generation. We need to do our part now or it will never get done.
Overcoming our Original Sin
The light is on, and it will only fully known if Americans take seriously that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. By embracing and owning our connectedness, our obligation to one another, we overcome one of the inherent sins of humankind.
Albert Einstein wrote in a 1950 letter to a man distraught of the loss of his son to polio:
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion, but to try to overcome it, is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”
(Albert Einstein, February 12, 1950)
We see Cain suffered from this original delusion: believing he was separated from his obligation to his brother. And we see by the mark given to Cain by God both protected him from harm and likely kept him from truly connecting with others. He became the story’s embodiment of disconnectedness and the death that comes from it.
What is happening to Black America affects White America, and all the rest of the Americas in-between. The nationalism and white supremacism in White America are symptoms of a belief that their race or nation ought to subjugate others. I don’t know how, but if we don’t stop it, if we don’t remind each other to live into our interconnectedness and our obligation to “watch over one another in love,” there will be more of our brother’s and sister’s blood crying out from the ground.
The light is on, the broken connection is laid bare, and we are called to heal these delusions of separation before their symptoms take us over.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading and your shares on social media.
I think I am going to quote you often in Sunday’s sermon!
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Hei, nÃ¥ er det lenge siden jeg har lagt igjen spor her, men jeg leser stadig. Hihi, sÃ¥ flink mannen din er som hjelper til 🙂 Stemningsfulle julebilder! NÃ¥ er det ikke lege til julaften. HÃ¥per du har hatt en fin bitte bitte lille julaften 🙂 Stor klem fra meg.
Do you mind shifting from brother and sister language to brother, sister, and sibling language so that you are not reinforcing the gender binary and limiting your post to only include those who subscribe to the binary. I would add a footnote to why are are doing so in the first few posts you do this as well. Thanks as always!
Emily Nussbaum, TV critic for the New Yorker, once tweeted: One thing I like about “woke” is the generous and gentle assumption that everyone else is just asleep and an alarm MIGHT go off.
Whether it’s right or not, it’s how we white people need to be handled: with a generous and gentle assumption that we’ve been asleep and once awoken need time to shake off the cobwebs. It’s a pretty great dream we are awoken from (even though white privilege hurts white people too–albeit in VERY different ways from ways people of color have been harmed).
Cobwebs are annoying but easily overcome. There is nothing holy to lose by ending systemic racism, and ending racism is white people’s work.
Emily’s tweet: https://twitter.com/emilynussbaum/status/709838184453160960
Thank you, I appreciate & agree w/ your fundamental premise:
YES, Yes, yes, We are OurBrother’s
FYI: Rev. Jeremy Smith, I found your article researching an inspired-question that came to me regarding “Original Sin”. Regarding Able & Cain: They seem to possess such different natures & I wondered about the possible reason & root- cause. That’s when I wondered: Is it possible the theology of “Original Sin” possibly may have only applied to the descendants of Cain, The Canaanites & not necessarily to Able’s??
Please do not think/judge my question as mal-intended, or heretical. I’ll appreciate any constructive personal intuitive feedback & professional theological instruction you may care to offer, inorder to help me discern This Great Human(e)Kind Mystery.
Sincerely w/ JesusChrist’s Love in MyHeart,