Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
Galatians 6:1 MSG

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

One of the most poignant scenes in the 90’s classic movie “New Jack City” was the clip where Nino Brown and G-Money are on the rooftop and their drug empire is crumbling. Right before Nino takes the life of his best friend/partner who has become a liability by being drug addicted he’s asked a desperate question which rings with rhetorical redundancy in the minds of all black people…” Am I my brother’s keeper?!”

Four young men were arrested for shooting outside the Wolfchase mall in Cordova, Tennessee. It’s an all too familiar reoccurring scene in the Memphis area. Young men seem to have no issue taking aim at their brothers. The older established generation of African Americans are exasperated as we see this bad movie play over and over and we keep asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?!”

Are we?!

Who’s responsible for these children? Who created Nino Brown? Who cares about G-Money? What are their real names? Who is their family? Has anybody ever had a conversation with them?

What does it mean to be my brother’s keeper?  Of course this is the question Cain answered God sarcastically after he killed his brother Able in a jealous fit of rage.  Brothers have been at odds since the beginning of time. God intervened in the conflict of men by inserting Jesus.

When we have surrendered our lives to Jesus we take on the responsibility to reverse the curse and become our brothers keeper. We are supposed to make our sisters’ and brothers’ problem our problem and solve them together. Poverty created Nino Brown and pain created a drug addiction for G-Money. How do we collectively deal with the pain of poverty that creates a pariah culture?

  1. If someone falls into sin lovingly restore him. I get just as frustrated with our young people as anybody but I have to figure out a way to restore them. In order to do that I have to see them as God sees them. I have to see them as redeemable. Nino brown no longer saw G-Money as a brother. He saw him as a liability. When we overlook the circumstances that created the character it becomes easy to condemn them to death.
  2. Don’t be overly critical because you will need forgiveness one day. I understand our frustration over senseless violence but where do we go beyond critique. We have to live creatively.  Anybody can critique but can you create viable alternatives for young people to find their way out of the pain of poverty?
  3. Reach down and help bare the burdens of the oppressed. The Greek word for burden is “boulder.”  When we look at poor people and ask them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we are in essence asking them to move boulders. When we come together collectively to attack systemic racism we are attacking boulders. Then after boulders are dealt with we should hold young people accountable to bear the weight of their own behavior. 

There’s a devotion I found by Joe McFadden that breaks this down even better:

Many times, people in our lives have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us. This is being responsible “to.”

On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry his own load.” Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.”

The Greek words for burden and load give us insight into the meaning of these texts. The Greek word for burden means “excess burdens,” or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders — those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

In contrast, the Greek word for load means “cargo,” or “the burden of daily toil.” This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like backpacks. Backpacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort.

Problems arise when people act as if their “boulders” are “backpacks” (daily loads), and refuse help, or as if their “backpacks” (daily loads) are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

Dear God,

Help us to know the difference between backpacks and boulders. We realize more than ever that it’s going to take collective work and responsibility to solve our communities wicked problems. Give us compassion for those who are oppressed and have fallen into sin. Show us how to do the redemptive work of being our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Thank you for sending Jesus to reach down to pick us up. We too were lost, blind and could not see, far from the distant shore but the master heard my despairing cry and love lifted me. When nothing else could help… love lifted me!  Help us all to realize more and more that he’s not heavy. He is my brother and she is my sister and I am their keeper.

In Jesus’ Name,