Who is Your Brother?

16 10 2008

“Hey dude.” “Hey man.” “Hey bro.” Call phrases which all mean, “Hey friend over there.” The first two I tend to hear more often than the third. And maybe it’s because of this infrequency that makes me pause when someone does call me “bro.” I think less about it when it’s a cultural tendency for the other person to call his/her friends “bro” but when I hear it from a person from an Asian background, I think, ‘Is that really how he talks or is he trying to be cool?’ Then, inevitably the next question that enters my head is, ‘I wonder what they mean by brother.’ I believe my thought sequence is triggered and ordered thus maybe because I don’t have any blood brothers of my own, or I, myself, don’t use the term. Maybe it’s really just simply that my cultural background is more used to “hyung” than “bro” and between the definition of those two terms, there’s mountain of a difference in hierarchical connotation.

Regardless of what your definition of “bro” or “brother” is in your mind, one way to discern your functional definition of the term is to ask ourselves, “Who do we consider as our brothers (or sisters)?” I know in a non-religious context its a rather foreign question to ask and the answer might simply be, “Those people who have the same parents.” But at the risk of diluting the concept of ‘brother’, we can rephrase to ask, “With whom do we associate?” or more colloquially, “With whom do we hang out?”

Several recent events and conversations have brought up this question of who we consider as our brothers and sisters, mainly in a religious setting, but for those who are not religiously inclined, one can similarly (but not exactly) consider the following discussion through the concept of intimacy. I had a conversation a few weeks back with Joe about the motivation of Christian action, or the motivation of why we engage in Justice and Mercy or even just works of Charity. I was having trouble understanding Pastor Paul’s method of motivation, where he said one must look to the promises of God to be moved to Christian action, and he said my methodology seemed erred in that it was primally selfish. He wasn’t sure the philosophy of “because Jesus died for me (a good act), I must act good to other people.” The words “for me” in the phrase was why He considered it a self oriented way of motivating oneself (The sake of length, ask me separately if you want the full discussion). So I asked Joe if there was a way to keep my methodology and eliminate the so-indentified selfish component. In short, Joe said that he wasn’t uncomfortable keeping that selfish component and to him, I don’t think it was a primal component. I forget the exact explanation that he gave me but his simplified example was what stuck to my mind. He said that if we are fellow Christians, then we are fellow brothers (or sisters), and accordingly, we are supposed to act in such a way to treat them as imtimate, as close as a brother. His principle, hopefully I’m not misrepresenting was “What I want for myself, I also want for my brother.” And that how he was ok with the “selfish” component. (yeah, he definitely explained it better.)

On top of that conversation, the recent event of the possibility of Renewal Church moving to a new location (not that far) raised the same question in my mind, “Who do we consider as our brother?” I had a discussion with a friend, both of us wondering if Renewal Church was considering the impact on the local neighborhood to which they would move. Then, I got thinking about the type of people that make up Renewal and wondered if different types showed they would considered them as “a brother.” If there was to be a difficulty in the situation where different people showed up, I would think it because we still think of Christianity or Religion as “rules”, “set of morals” or “the right way to live.” How often does it enter our minds to do something for a brother because it is good for them. I would think very rarely. I think our selfish natures turn our morals towards ourselves so that when we do something right, we don’t do it because it’s good for another but because it gives us the status of having done the right thing. Hmmm, there’s that selfish motivation again…. But anywho, here’s an excerpt (a bit long but good) from the Letter from Birmingham Jail sent by Martin Luther King, Jr. explaining how we often fail to see others as a brother. It is especially challenging when he asks, “What kind of people worship here?”

“I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious. irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Walleye gave a clarion call for defiance and .hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great- grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

So my question I guess is for myself, Renewal Church, and for all of us and other churches, “Who is our brother and sister? Is the person living in the house next to the church building a brother? Or at least a neighbor?” Will we be a church where when the neighbors look in, they will at least say, “I might not believe in the same things they believe, but I’d hate to imagine this neighborhood without them.”


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