Of Proximity

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We on the vestry are trying to keep in the forefront of our minds the reality of racism in our culture, racism that resides in our midst, pervasive in our society. We have recognized that it is an issue about which the church must be deeply concerned. I think it is the challenge of our time for people of faith. It has profound implications vis a vis Jesus’ teaching that we are first and foremost called to love our neighbor. “On this commandment hang all the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus says. We at All Saints are known for our compassion for our neighbors, and yet we struggle with what it is that we can do to address this intractible pathology of our world… how we can make a tangible difference… how we can change things for the better. I think it is safe to say that we are compassionate for the poor and the so-called under-privileged of our world; but for me that compassion is largely intellectual. All of us would admit to the evil of racism, the self sufficiency of privilege, our complicity to the status quo… but when it comes to doing, there the shadow falls.

At a conference at my Seminary just this past week, Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, was asked the very question from an enlightened, compassionate audience… the question of ‘What shall we do?’ What shall we ever do to change things? He had an answer… a simple answer. He said that we must be ‘proximate’ to the marginalized, proximate to the disenfranchised of our world… that we have to be able to say, “Here I am.” Here I am body and soul, heart and head. We are to be with the lost of our world. We are to know them. This is an uncomfortable proposition. We are to go into the neighborhoods from which we were taught to stay away. We can’t change the world, he says, from a distance. We must be present.

Scripture again and again teaches this. In the Book of Exodus God is encountered on the mountain top, aloof from the lost and wandering people of Israel; and then quite dramatically God descends into the camp of the hapless Israelites. God descends as compassion, embodied as the Law, embodied as ethical and compassionate practice. God chooses, and I have to think God is uncomfortable about all this… God chooses to live among these marginal and apostate people because God knows that love can’t love from a distance.

Jesus chooses, as uncomfortable as it must have been, to live among the outcasts… the poor, the sinful, the marginal, the hated… Love can’t love from a distance. Scripture teaches us to do likewise. It strikes me that perhaps God Godself finds meaning and purpose by engaging the broken of our world. Perhaps God finds healing and well being in God’s tending to the healing and well-being of the broken people whom God loves passionately. Love then becomes a choice… a risky choice.

Dear gracious reader, the Gospel calls us to proximity, calls us to the lost corners of our world. The world’s salvation depends on such proximity…. and perhaps our own; perhaps our own brokenness is healed by going to the broken of our world… perhaps the experience of love… love in the flesh… hinges on our choice for love.

When you hear the postlude of our liturgy, know that its grandeur bears witness to our going out… our going out in love for the unloved… our going out to bring person-hood to the ‘non-persons’ of our world. There is nothing more grand….”Go ye into the world”… That is something we can do. That is something we must do.

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Crystal Hardin
October 7th, 2016

This is lovely and inspired. It strikes me that one of the ways to be proximate is to speak up and speak out from whatever position of power you might hold. Thank you for doing that here. Your friend from DC. (P.S. The Diocese of Virginia did see fit to make me a postulant and I am now in school at Virginia Theological Seminary. I always enjoy your posts and am thankful for you.)

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