By Steven Norris
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is a chilling question for those familiar with the opening chapters of the Bible (see Genesis 4). Adam has come to his eldest child, Cain, asking about the whereabouts of his brother, Abel. Those who know shudder, for we remember that Cain is trying to change the subject rather than admit his complicity in his brother’s disappearance.
I thought about this passage during my recent mission trip to Uganda. I was there to lead a music camp with one of our ministry partners in the capitol city of Kampala. On the final day of the camp, all the students took part in a camp-wide recital showcasing the work they had done on their respective instruments.
As a musician, I have been to many recitals in my lifetime. Some of them have been very exciting, keeping me on the edge of my seat and inspiring me to go grab my instrument after it is done. Others have been less enjoyable. I can recall numerous times when a student was not well-prepared and the ensuing debacle left me cringing, finding it difficult to make eye contact with the performer, and hanging my head in shared embarrassment.
If I am honest, I found myself doing just that at this final recital in Uganda. One piano student was trying to demonstrate the accompaniment to a song as she sang. However, after three “false starts,” she was still struggling to find the right key vocally. Just as my gaze was quietly dropping to the concrete, my embarrassment was interrupted by another sound. A few members of the audience recognized what was going on and began singing with her in the correct key. The performer’s ear latched on to their lead and she went on to perform the song beautifully.
When one of the drummers was struggling to lock into the tempo of the Michael Jackson hit, “Billie Jean,” a few members of the audience started singing the iconic bass line. Hearing it, the drummer locked in and played beautifully. When a group of beginner guitarists were struggling to feel the rhythm of a song in 6/8 time, a group from the audience started snapping the downbeats. That little bit of assistance gave them the boost they needed to play their song with growing confidence. In other words, there was no “passing the buck” here. The whole group felt a sense of responsibility to their brothers and sisters for the success of each performance.
I couldn’t help but wonder how different our world might be if we took ownership for the success and flourishing of those around us. Counter to the hyper-individualism of the day, what would happen if we regularly assumed the responsibility of helping our neighbor give his or her best? What if, instead of dividing into groups of “us” and “them,” we reached across the divide to help all be successful?
In short, I cannot help but think that the world would be a much better place if we decided that success is not a zero-sum game and leaned into our God-given role as keepers of our brothers and sisters.