Proximity: Relocation Doesn't Equal Relationship

By Neeraj Mehta 05-20-2009

One of the principles of the Christian community development movement is "relocation." While the principle has depth to it, more times then not it is lived out as people who choose to move their physical residence and locate themselves in areas of concentrated poverty (see inner city) throughout our country. In some ways, my family has practiced the simplest part of this idea of 'relocation' by living where we live in Minneapolis.

Here's the problem I am starting to discover with this word/principle. It doesn't to me inherently imply relationship. I think that it could be quite easy to be physically located somewhere, yet absent in so many other ways. Or to live somewhere and have little to no real relationships with those who live near you.

Like my friend Marque says during his City Matters class, "If you live in the city, but still drive home from work, park in your garage, walk into your house and shut the doors, it doesn't matter where you're living, you're not actively building relationships."

My second concern has been that I do not believe that everyone needs to relocate to make a difference in the lives of communities struggling with poverty. I even wonder if sometimes relocating becomes a knee-jerk reaction as issues of poverty emotionally move us, and it becomes just one more thing we check off our list of spiritual things to do around justice. I also wonder if, for some of us, moving to the city is actually the easier thing to do, leaving the harder sacrifices Jesus might call us to at the wayside.

I propose a new word: "proximity."

I believe one of the biggest reasons that poverty continues to exist in our cities is because there are too many degrees of separation between those of us struggling with too much and those of us struggling with too little. In some form or fashion we all need to find ways to get closer to each other.

Proximity, to me, has wrapped up into its meaning this idea of closeness. And I think it is something we can all strive for regardless of where we live.

When you are close with others, it is easier to see the needs, to respond, to love, to not judge, to be physically present, to listen, and to learn.

So how do we not just relocate physically, but make sure we are developing relationships that minimize the degrees of separation that so often keep us apart?

In the parable of the bigger barns you have a man who finds himself with an abundance of crop from his harvest. As he looks around he asks "to himself," what should "I" do with all that "I" have extra? He then goes on to build up bigger barns to store his extra crop and live as he calls it "the good life." God judges this person, calling him a fool and telling him his plans for getting life from storing his stuff is foolish, asks from him "his whole life," and takes the man on the spot.

Here's what I learn from that passage about proximity.

Proximity (or being close to others) makes it more possible for you to avoid asking the question of what should "I" do with my abundance and allows you to ask the question what should "we" do with our surplus.

Proximity (or being close to the issues) allows you to look around and realize that a hungry world is right around you. Asking the question of what to do with our extra food really isn't relevant because we are close enough to realize that there are hungry people all around us.

Proximity (or being close to God) allows you to avoid finding life in things that do not actually give life, and helps you value and find life in Christ in a way that allows you to hold lightly to things that God might want you to give away (time, money, stuff, etc).

We spend a lot of time asking the question, "What should I do with my

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