I am the older of my two brothers.
One is just 10Â½ months younger (so we share the same numerical age for six bemusing weeks) and the other, the baby of the family, is 2Â½ years younger.
We are close in age, and growing up we were fierce in loyalty. I should add that we were, from time to time through adolescence, just as fierce in antagonizing each other, tussling through our childhood as brothers tend to do.
There is a well-known story in Genesis of two brothers, Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve.
Cain harbors anger against his brother, Abel, that escalates. Inexplicably Cain kills his brother. Immediately in the story, we read that the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” Cain retorts, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
Although the question is not answered, we know the answer is, “Yes, yes Cain, you are your brother’s keeper.” And so am I, and so are you. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.
Yet, much too often we abide more in the isolation with Cain, absorbed in self – pity, narcissism, greed and anxiety.
Cain loses a brother because he was looking out for himself, forgetting that his identity is shared with others. In losing his brother, he loses himself.
We neglect our brothers and sisters in so many small acts.
On Facebook, we “unfriend” those whose words are inconvenient; we objectify according to gender, race, socioeconomics; and we selfishly consume conspicuously because of our steady belief in the god of scarcity.
Who has time for watching out for brothers and sisters while looking out for number one? When you believe only in looking out for yourself, only trusting in yourself, and fearing for yourself, you reject any notion that you are your brother’s keeper.
In a recent newspaper article, I was reminded of the late Jewish theologian Martin Buber, who wrote a seminal work in 1938, “I and Thou.”
Buber writes that we are created in relationship, but when we treat others as objects to be used, vilified, exploited or neglected, we diminish our sacred birthright. The “thou” of the other is reduced to “it.”
The primaries and election of the newly elected president of the United States spawned legions of individuals saying, questioning, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Lines of demarcation and separation were carved out, seeing others as “it” instead of “thou” because of how a vote is cast and which candidate, or political party, is supported.
New York Times columnist David Brooks wryly remarked, “If America were a marriage, we would need therapy.”
I work with individuals with developmental disabilities who are often scorned, neglected, ignored or pitied.
I am learning that my work is not really about serving or caring for those with disabilities who are different than me, but discovering our shared humanity as we participate in the common good together.
We keep each other, brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
And so it is for all of us: Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, abled and disabled and differently abled.
One day God will ask of us, “Where is your brother … where is your sister?” Our life will be the answer, but I hope we will have something more to say than Cain’s anxious response.
Greg DeLoach is president and CEO of Developmental Disabilities Ministries of Georgia. He served previously as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Pilgrim’s Walk, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @GregDeLoach.
Interim Dean at McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University and Director of Development at McAfee School of Theology and College of Professional Advancement.