Keith Backhaus

Keith Backhaus

So many questions are going through my mind. Stay home? Shelter in place?

The comment is often heard, “We are in this together.” Yeah, right. That’s a song title! A tag line on multiple TV ads! I see it on Facebook! Everywhere!

But I also see people with guns filling public buildings and shouting in the public squares, protesting against this answer, carrying signs demanding their own personal freedom from any restriction.

This raises the age-old question posed thousands of years ago by Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

What do we believe? Should the old and vulnerable die so that someone can go to the beach? Should others be willing to sacrifice themselves just so I can go get a haircut?

Do we believe as individuals and as a community that acting on this idea of mutual caring is the responsible and honorable action in this pandemic?

Where does my freedom end and others’ freedom begin? Am I responsible for the other person no matter who they might be? Even at some cost or inconvenience to me?

Whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Buddhist or any other faith community, our great teachers tell us that nations that care for each other, for the vulnerable, for their brothers and sisters, these will enter the Kingdom of God. Those which ignore “the other” are condemned.

All religion works at making some ultimate sense of this crazy and often flawed and tragic world. And these great religions insist that the test of true spirituality is practical compassion.

Jesus instructed us to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. He even commanded us to love our enemies.

In the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the Beatitudes, Jesus taught:

“Blessed are the justice cravers, the merciful, and the pure in heart ….

“Blessed are the peacemakers ….”

The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of rules, but rather a way of seeing the world and living a lifestyle of loving one’s neighbor.

The Buddha said it another way: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Islam says: “No one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”

Judaism says: “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”

We find this Golden Rule in all faiths. Each in one way or another answers the question of Abel — “Am I my brother’s keeper?” — with a resounding and overwhelming Yes! Yes!

As I watch the TV news or read the newspapers and sit alone in my apartment at Village On The Isle, I see and experience the many hundreds and thousands answering that question by helping others at great danger to themselves.

Doctors, nurses, CNAs, EMTs, police, sanitation workers, bus drivers, food service workers, grocery clerks, pharmacy workers, on and on, put their belief in the dignity of every human being into action.

Surely you and I can stay home, “social distance” and wear a face mask.

My hair is long. I am bored with TV. But in the days, weeks and maybe months ahead as we face new challenges, we cannot just protest against the selfishness of some, but honor these amazing men and women by not going to the beach, not going to religious services, not going blithely back to the way things were. These are minor inconveniences and sacrifices we can make with very little effort.

Any society can only operate effectively if some degree of individual freedom is sacrificed for the good of the group.

Traffic laws have a purpose. Freedom comes at a price. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness involve my brother.

This war we are in does not call for guns. The battle calls for compassion. It calls for a radical new way of living, at peace with our neighbors.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters call this Shalom: a lifestyle of peace, completeness, welfare, soundness, safety, harmony, wholeness and prosperity.

This war we are in calls us to see others as our brothers and sisters. The war calls me to choose to love my neighbor as myself.

Father, in my fear to love my neighbor, heal me. Let us all find the lost, the sick, the sad, the lonely, that they may be healed and cheered.

Open our mouths to defend them in the public square as well as in private deeds. Give us openness of soul and courageous hearts to stand up, speak out and take action in loving our neighbors.

We come together in awe at the Creator who loves us so much that we are invited and urged to be co-creators of a new world in the care of our brothers and sisters.

Pray that we have the will to act.

Keith Backhaus is a deacon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Venice.

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