Oh Brother Where Art Thou

OH BROTHER! Brother, can you spare a dime? He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. What’s up, bro? Brother from another mother. LET ME TELL YA’ SOMETHING BROTHER!

By blood, I don’t have a brother. Just a sister, and you may remember her from here or here. However, with the skewing of the word brother, it is possible–nay, probable?–that I have a brother? And I find myself in a conundrum.

What does brother mean anymore? If I have one, then who is my brother?

Back in the day, you know at Creation, in the Old Testament, when Bruce Willis had hair, the word brother meant a male sibling. It was pretty easy to define. You were there, alive and all. Then mom and dad went to the weirdo store and picked up a playmate for you. Someone you could tie to things and hit with stuff and coax off of the roof with a beach towel for a parachute.

My mom and dad went all “sugar and spice and everything nice” and brought home a sister. I know in this day of modern medical miracles my sister could be my brother in a few short hours but that is not the case. (A huge sigh of relief from my sister’s husband)

Who is my brother? He’s not my sister?

Not long after that, God dropped on the scene with nothing but a young virgin Jew to break His fall.

BAM! New Testament.

Now all these Christ followers were meeting in homes and calling each other brother and sister. They got together, helped some widows and orphans and were persecuted. If the close-knit community wasn’t enough to bond them, the stonings, floggings and beheadings were. We don’t have those things in church anymore. Stoning, flogging, and beheading just gets the carpet in the sanctuary too dirty.

Sadly, we don’t have the community much either but we do still have the “brother.” Oddly the usage of brother in the modern church feels like it establishes distance rather than draws us together. It’s just a tradition these days and not born out of the communal following of Christ.

Who is my brother? He’s not the guy holding me at arms length with a pleasantry while I fill out my tithing envelope.

Suffering through shelling and live rounds in a foxhole somewhere between hell and high water has forged a band of brothers. These people experiencing high definition horror become family.

Who is my brother? I don’t have someone watching my back in a trench, I don’t have a trench (a real one, not metaphorical).

Black Tuesday sideswiped our nation. The Great Depression set into motion an economic avalanche. During the emotional fallout we were given the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Who is my brother? I’m too young to have lived through this and thank God I always had dimes to spare.

The sixties brought the Civil Rights movement. Black people began calling other African-Americans brother.  They had a common struggle and it galvanized their familial feelings.

Who is my brother? I am not black and I haven’t suffered for my skin color like they did then.

It was probably the early 80’s when I first heard a pro wrestler use the term brother. Huge hairy-knuckled guys playing their good-vs-evil parts and shouting out threats to their nemesis.

Who is my brother? Depending on who you ask, I’m not the good guy. I don’t think I’m the bad guy and my knuckles aren’t that hairy.

By this time on the FAR west coast, I mean Hawaii, surfers had run the course with dude.  It came and went but the alpha and omega of their lexicon remained, brah. A highly stylized version of brother reserved for your core group.

Who is my brother? Dude, I can’t surf. I’ve never even been to Hawaii.

So I still don’t know who my brother is. He is not some genetic concoction brought to torment me by my parents. He is not an eighty-year-old usher or a four-year-old pastor’s kid at the local church. He is not that scared-out-of-his-mind, pimple-faced kid trudging through the volatile expanse of hostile foreign territory with me. He is not the steroid infested, adrenaline charged thespian set to enter the ring and sweat in choreographed destruction.

Mark 3:32-35 

32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

   33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Doing God’s will makes you a brother. Am I doing God’s will? It looks like the question isn’t “Who is my brother?” but rather, “Am I fit to be called brother?”

8 thoughts on “Oh Brother Where Art Thou

Add yours

  1. “Am I fit to be called a brother?”

    Wow, great question! Am I fit to be called your brother and am I fit to be called a brother of Christ?

    Thanks Ken!


  2. I like it, Ken! Jesus’ answer is real potent. Challenging.

    I liked your comment too about holding at arms length while you fill out your tithe envelope. Too often that’s the context where I hear “brother” the most. It seems forced and rehearsed for the moment alone (not that I’m innocent of this). I hope we can take this idea to heart and seek to live like “brethren.” (<– that's right, KJV style.)


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