From A Bother to A Brother
“You bother me!”
You may not have actually said this, or something like it, to anyone recently but, I bet you’ve at least thought it – I know I have. Fueled by our divided, conflict-saturated public discourse it seems to me that we get hot and bothered by each other pretty easily these days. It doesn’t seem to take much for us to “go off” on each other.
But what if we worked at thinking of people who we disagree with as a brother (or a sister) instead of just a bother? A first step in this work is to intentionally look for the common humanity we share with persons we are in conflict with. Instead of thinking up the next “truth-bomb” we can chuck at someone, how about asking a question of clarification in order to seek greater understanding. When we ask questions we give ourselves a chance to listen and learn about one another and to find common ground.
It’s not easy work; it’s takes intentional, persistent effort. But the payoff could be a real-life example of doing the “ministry of reconciliation” that God has entrusted to us, the followers of Christ.
In December 1943, German fighter pilot Franz Stigler was in pursuit of American bomber pilot Charlie Brown's plane, looking to shoot it down. If he did, it would earn him the Knight's Cross, the highest honor for a German soldier. But as he approached the plane, Stigler saw that it had no tail guns blinking, no tail-gun compartment remaining, no left stabilizer, and the nose of the aircraft was missing. Surprisingly, Stigler could actually see inside the plane, the skin of it having been blown off. Inside, he observed terrified young men tending to their wounded.
Stigler realized that in shooting down this plane he would be killing these young men that he could now see and he could not do it. He had been trained by a wise superior officer who taught him that "honor is everything. If you survive the war,” Stigler was told, “the only way you will be able to live with yourself is if you have fought with as much humanity as possible.”
So, after several failed attempts to communicate his intentions of escorting the Americans to a neutral landing site, Stigler saluted Brown and veered away. His last words to him were, "Good luck, you're in God's hands now." Amazingly, Brown was able to make it back to England and safely landed his plane there.
Brown continued his Air Force career for two decades, but remained obsessed with the incident. In 1990, he took out an ad in a newsletter for former fighter pilots, looking for the one "who saved my life on Dec. 20, 1943." Stigler, living in Vancouver, saw the ad and yelled to his wife: "This is him! This is the one I didn't shoot down!" He immediately wrote a letter to Brown, and the two later connected in an emotional reunion.
Stigler and Brown both died in 2008, six months apart. An article in the New York Post noted that both men were Christians and that the obituaries for Stigler and Brown both listed the other friend as "a special brother."
Nurturing relationships that move people from “a bother to a brother” (or sister) is a witness of Christian reconciliation that our world desperately needs to see!