September 10, 2007

The blood of brothers

I have written on this before and it gives no pleasure to write again on this. But another son, brother, person, human being has been killed by a fraternity: Chris Mendez by Sigma Rho. Never mind that there is no official acknowledgement by Sigma Rho; its silence on this matter speaks more eloquently than any official confession.

I have been reading many of my students' blogs on this latest episode of fraternity violence, this time inflicted on one it would call their own, and almost all have asked the question, "why?" There is no answer there that can be found other than to say that it is perhaps a mindless adherence to an outdated tradition of compelling loyalty by means of blood-letting and blood sharing.

Yet, we live in times that we would consider civilized, how then explain the almost morbid fascination of fraternities (and I generalize here to include ALL Fraternities; it is their burden to prove me wrong) with exacting loyalty and commitment by means of physical violence?

I am not a frat man and I am not a barbarian, they are the barbarians, for how else explain the ritualistic blood-letting that must accompany every entry into these greek-lettered societies?

I have never considered physical violence to be a measure of anything other than the shallowness of a person's capacity to reason and the absence of a person's capacity to inspire. Commitment and true brotherhood may be exacted by reason and inspiration, blind loyalty by beatings. That is the difference between humans and horses; you can inspire a person to follow you into the gates of hell but you will have to beat that into a horse.

Yet, these fraternities pride themselves to be the best that there is to offer; Sigma Rho, in its posters extolling alumni (some of whom have publicly distanced themselves from the violence but without resigning), call themselves "gentlemen warriors." If you truly are the best, gentlemen, you do not need to beat commitment into your neophytes; if the gospel you preach is truly the good news, then the ultimate act of hate has no place in it.

I am not a frat man but I am part of a brotherhood--a brotherhood that preaches the good news that, yes, everyone is entitled to respect. My brothers are committed to me and I, to them, not because we were beaten up but because we share the same principles, the same way of living, the same faith and the same experience of love and being loved. So, even if I am not a frat man, I do know of whence I speak when I speak of being a brother to another.

In Genesis 4:9, ". . .the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel, your brother?' He said, 'I do not know, am I my brother's keeper?'"

Cris Mendez was hazed so that he could be a brother; ultimately, his blood was spilled by those who would call him, yet not keep him, as brother. The greater tragedy is not that he was killed in the name of brotherhood, but that the brotherhood to which he aspired would even wash his blood off their hands by simply asking, "am I (Cris's) keeper?"

To those who killed Cris Mendez, let me say this:

Yes, you are your brother's keeper and his blood is on your hands--not only by you who lifted your hand against him to beat him, to maul him, to spill his blood, but also by you who would stand mute and lift no voice of condemnation for those among your brothers who killed Cris.

Yes, you are your brother's keeper and, if you would cherish his memory, you would not stand mute in the face of the grief and bereavement of his family and his friends but rather break your silence to let the truth out.

Yes, you are your brother's keeper for, ultimately, as Donne puts it "any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

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