We’ve all been in situations where we’re in close proximity to someone who doesn’t look like us. Some of the situations are temporary, and some much longer lasting. Some people are forced into situations, and some make a conscious decision to experience life at a different pace than they might otherwise be used to. Immediately missionaries come to mind. They leave family, friends and home to go to a faraway place.
And then there are people like Michelle Warren. Michelle and her husband made the decision to exchange lifestyles, but they didn’t go to a different continent to do so. Instead they settled in an area of Colorado. The only thing is, Michelle and her husband don’t look like most of their neighbors, and if they weren’t willing to study another language, they wouldn’t even be able to communicate with some of them. Their journey to proximity is detailed in The Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action, (IVP Books, July 2017)
I did more underlining in this book than I have in a long time, and have already used some of what I learned as part of a message for a chapel service at the local Rescue Mission. Justice is a primary theme, and reading this book helps us see that we have a part to play in seeing justice come about. Biblical, not legal justice, restoration of people, not just punishment for wrongs (p 28). Life among people who are struggling helps us to identify that need for restoration.
So, what is the deal with proximity? The simple answer is that it gets us close to the pain of an issue, changes our perspective, and most importantly requires a response. And as you can tell, from that 3 part answer, the simple answer is anything but simple.
Take a look at the communities that frame the lenses through which you see things. Do you live in one and work in another? Do you truly experience what others created in the image of God are living on a daily basis, or do you just brush shoulders with it during the short periods of time that you are in the vicinity, and then forget about it as you drive away? Michelle is truly experiencing it.
Part I “Proximity Transforms Us” helps the reader understand what is meant by proximity, including the fact that to truly understand a different culture, we need to do more than attend some conferences or read a few books. It enables us to look beyond the surface for the underlying causes, and the possible solutions to some of the issues. And as we are confronted with the brokenness of others, we are also confronted with our own brokenness, which tends to help us understand even better what others are living through.
Part II “Proximity Compels Response” is a little bit harder to read, simply because it forces the reader to decide “what am I going to do about it?” It’s one thing to read about an issue, to see it from a distance, and perhaps send a check, or ‘like’ on social media platforms. But when it becomes part of who you are, then a response is required. When proximity to the poor is a choice, you are privileged (108), and with privilege comes responsibility.
And with Part III “Proximity for the Long Haul” there are some pointers. We can choose to move past fear, we can recognize and pray for healing for our churches, we can continue with our choice to be proximate, even when it is more difficult than we expected. We can live by faith, and stand with those who are already boldly making a stand, making the statement that enough is enough. In God's Kingdom we are all created in His image, and as such we should be willing to stand by our brothers and sisters.
Earlier this year I was indirectly asked by a friend to choose a word for the year, a word which might shape and frame my actions and attitudes. The word I chose was justice, and this book is helping me with that effort. Michelle wears several different hats, but whichever one she is wearing at any given time is a reminder that proximity shapes us and has not only the potential to make our world a better place, but also the potential to mold us more closely to the Imago Dei in which we were created.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Highly recommended. 5/5