Brother’s Keeper

May 30, 2020

Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin

Vigil of Pentecost

There was much that I enjoyed about my time spent living in the Dominican Republic. As much as I had anticipated missing the passage of summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer, I actually adapted to the near endless flow of pleasant days quite nicely. Nonetheless, I am glad to not be there now. At this time when much of the world seems frozen in place, the changing temperatures and blooming flowers signify an important aspect of time’s onward march. These shifts in nature inform part of my response when a distant friend asks me what’s new. I can’t predict for you when exactly the irises or peonies will flourish, but I know to expect them. Their eventual wilting will signal another passage of time, and there is some comfort I take in all of this.

Human behavior is less reliable. Some combinations of predictable individuals will generate unpredictable group dynamics and behaviors, while some predictable groups will include erratic outlier members. Regardless, we human beings frequently surprise one another or even ourselves, for better or worse.

Our new and shifting understanding of COVID-19 has frustrated the efforts of many people to stay reasonably informed in order to exercise prudent precautions. Just a few months ago, the general public was specifically advised to not wear masks to avoid diminishing the supply available to medical professionals. Now, of course, the guidelines are quite different.

Some of the current best practices are very simple rules to follow: keep your distance from anyone outside your household, wear some kind of facial covering when close to others, wash your hands as much as possible, etc. None of these behaviors would normally be my preference, but we conform to these norms not primarily to safeguard our own well-being but that of those around us.

Except for those of us who don’t.

I suspect most of us have seen news stories of people getting belligerent or even violent upon being told to wear a mask while shopping. I’ve only personally seen one such person in the local Stop & Shop who yelled about his rights and the Constitution, etc., etc., etc. but thankfully did not get physical. Did he realize that in claiming a supposed right to flout CDC guidelines, state law, and store policy, he was effectively positing a right to endanger the people around him?

Am I my brother’s keeper?” The first person in the Bible to deny social responsibility was also the first murderer. There are undoubtedly some people in this country maliciously cynical enough to explicitly endorse the idea that their convenience is worth the lives of others. I would suggest though that those numbers are actually quite small.

While some of us see this as a time of hope, we must recognize that it is also a time of fear for all. We fear different things, however. Some of us especially fear the threat of disease, particularly when it has hit close to home. Some of us especially fear the threat of economic instability, particularly those who have lost income or even their livelihoods. Some of us simply fear the loss of our accustomed way of living. Some of these fears lead to atrocious and intolerable behaviors. Nonetheless, I am inclined to think that sensing the pain and fear underlying such troubling choices can help us to address them more productively. Even when we cannot excuse the inexcusable, discovering the circumstances and motivations that could provide some explanation must be helpful in some way. Can empathy replace suspicion without undermining the capacity to condemn that which must be condemned?


While fear is a salient theme for our whole world right now, we continue to witness the injustices resulting from the absurd fear of black people that afflicts so many of our societies… and how the preponderance of such injustices continues to terrorize innocent individuals and communities of color. Mindful of this, the ‘ear candy’ I recommend this week is Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet’. The ‘brain food’ details yet another incident of another innocent black man senselessly threatened with police action—and his remarkably sensitive response to the white woman who had reacted so fearfully toward him.

Ear Candy: “Fear of a Black Planet” by Public Enemy

Brain Food: “Christian Cooper Is Asking People to Stop Making Death Threats against the Woman Who Called the Cops on Him” by Christina Maxouris

Come back next Saturday for a new post!