Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if we are to embody God’s love truly, then we have to decide not to be “compassionate by proxy.” I find this statement timelier than ever as many of us wonder if our world is spinning out of control.
How can we calm our spinning minds and regain some sense of peace? I believe we need to reject compassion by proxy and embrace compassion in proximity and community.
The first step is simply getting to know our neighbor. It is a remedy to the rampant fear that has been building due to our disconnection from each other, creation, ourselves, and God. Disconnection has caused us to view the Other as a threat to our existence. We have become a people suffering from unhealthy isolation, confusion and—most gravely—fear.
Only compassion in proximity and community will dismantle the fear that tells us the Other wants to diminish, rob, or kill us. Only this kind of compassion will break down the emotional walls between rural Kansas and Los Angeles, African America and white America, North America and south of the border. We must believe that all people are made for security and peace in nearness with one another. Trusting there can be enough for everyone, we’ll be able to loosen our grip on our “stuff” and relax about what we may lose. Then, perhaps, we can focus on how we can help others and join in creating peace.
I recently visited a Yakama Reservation in Washington. Learning from a Native American perspective changed my understanding of Native American struggles and showed me similarities with the African American experience. When visiting Kansas, I spent time with a white young man from rural Nebraska. Talking with him about life gave me a different perspective on his needs and concerns. I believe if want to help poor Native American children or families in Appalachia; it would be an entirely different experience if you live among them. How could things change, I wonder, if more of us would offer our entire selves and resources to a particular community or culture? How much different could our world be?
Jesus moved toward people, into proximity and community with people whom others feared and shunned. He went into their spaces and met them at their points of need. Jesus saw their humanity, and—because he was in relationship with them—they also saw his.
When was the last time you spent time with the Other—someone previously unknown and perhaps even feared? When was the last time you were able to consider or decide something about the Other in light of personal experience with them? When were you able to take into account more than what you heard or read from secondary sources like your pastor or even your parents?
If we are to truly seek the Kingdom of God on earth, we must develop the kind of compassion that emerges from proximity and community—a compassion so much wiser than compassion by proxy.