The Power of Proximity is a book about moving beyond awareness to action. Written by Michelle Ferrigno Warren, who “is the advocacy and strategic engagement director for the Christian Community Development Association.” “She and her family have chosen to live in communities where they are “proximate to the pain of the poor.” This makes all the difference in facing and overcoming injustice.” Check out this excerpt from her book, The Power of Proximity.
Proximity changes our perspective and broadens our vision. As American Christians within the pragmatic evangelical paradigm, we recognize all too well that our vision is limited, so we spend money, time, and resources to shape and expand our lens.
We invest in Christian discipleship and education materials so we can be grounded in the truth of the Bible. We collect money and give it to leaders who go all over the world and into our own backyards to help people who don’t have as much. We even work to develop good, strong outreach ministries to give people on our staffs, in our youth groups, and even in our adult congregations the chance to see and learn from others who are less fortunate so we can more deeply understand the world in which we live.
These are all good things. As someone who personally needed an expanded lens, I think participation in vision-broadening experiences is important. Of course, we try not to treat the broken or poor of society as zoo animals to be viewed in awe but instead work to do little acts of kindness and compassion that help bring us to a different place of understanding. As Christians we want to be aware of what we do not know so we can understand and embrace our shared humanity with a suffering world. These awareness experiences strike the chords of our heart in such a way that we feel, we hurt, we try to understand—and sometimes, we try to help.
Awareness also keeps us from getting stuck in our rut of privilege and gives us a cause around which we can redirect our self-absorbed lives for a moment. It gives us some meaning and helps us put our theology into ministry practice. When we put ministry into practice it helps us catch God’s mission to rescue the world.
Conferences, books, video clips, mission trips, and so on are all helpful ways to stay relevant and remain aware. Talk of justice in our Christian circles is a good start. It shows that we are hungry for something more than privileged ignorance. At this point in church history we can become deeply aware of the hurts and pains of our world. However, for Christ-followers, this is not enough.
Awareness of injustice is never enough. The true justice Christians say they seek is justice that sits as the foundation of God’s throne and demands that we move beyond learning about injustice. Injustice is not something to be aware of, it is something to engage, because to know is to do.
The word justice has become so overused and misunderstood that its deep, transformational work has become codified and is beginning to lose its value. Justice, radical in nature, is becoming routine. It has been watered down in such a way that we think we are drinking deeply, but eventually we come to realize that it’s not enough. To simply be aware of injustice has limited lasting value.
Awareness is not enough to fix a broken system. It is not enough to affect the status quo. It is not enough to keep us or anyone else engaged for the long haul. It does not make enough of an impact on our collective lens, and, more tragically, it does not transform our lens in a way that will bring about true liberation for those trapped in broken systems.
Proximity does all of these things. Proximity gets us so close to the pain of an issue that it radically changes our perspective and demands a deeper response. The longer we stay proximate, the more our perspective is shaped and the more we respond to what needs to be changed. Proximity is transformational. It unearths the rules of our social construct and levels the playing field enough that we are able to journey with those impacted by injustice in deeply shared ways.
Purchase The Power of Proximity by clicking here.