The Power of Proximity and Hope of Hyphens

by Rev. Dr. Kristen Bennett Marble, Senior Pastor, West Morris Church, Indianapolis, Indiana

As Cohort 6 of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Group gathered in Crawfordsville focused on immigration and demography, one focus question caught my attention: “Do we think about these issues differently as citizens of a nation than as citizens of the Kingdom of God?” My immediate response was “Yes!” But I also reflected on the realities that this answer might not always be observable in some of our church communities. Sometimes discussions on the church pews might not sound any different than conversations in coffee shops.

It is almost impossible today to turn on the news without being confronted by new and painful realities of the crisis at our border. It is equally challenging to identify very many shared perspectives among people of faith. And yet, shouldn’t our shared citizenship more significantly impact how we respond to people who find themselves in situations not altogether different from Jesus’ own experience as a political refugee shortly after birth?

In the whirlwind of media bias, political pundits and divisive dialogue, Jesus’ incarnational presence provides an alternative perspective. When Israel struggled walking faithfully with the Lord, God’s response was proximity. Immanuel, God with us, came to walk, live, teach, worship, and proclaim alongside Israel. God “with skin on” confronted Israel’s obstacle of non-proximity. What had once been a tragedy became the greatest story ever told – a God who humbled himself to become one of his own creation and entered the messiness of life. In so doing, he modeled the promise of proximity – a promise we re-create in community-based churches which engage and walk with our neighbors.

Yet here in Indiana, when it comes to the immigration crisis, we also face an obstacle of non-proximity. How might we as midwesterners, far removed from our borders, overcome this tragedy of non-proximity? How can we replicate Jesus’ promise of proximity to enter the messiness? How might Jesus’ personal, incarnational ministry provide an example to us?

Jesus not only became proximate, he also lived a hyphenated existence in the world, challenging definitive categories. Jesus was fully-God-fully-human, not completely fitting into any singular category. How might that reality help us understand and respond to individuals whose identity can only be expressed by a hyphen? Hyphens highlight and bridge connections between national, cultural, gender and racial existences. And while a hyphenated existence may not reflect our personal reality, it should. As Christ-followers we are reminded to “not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). We also are strangers and citizens of a Kingdom which exists in the now-and-not-yet reality.

Proximity and hyphens, both modeled by Jesus, give us power and hope when engaging the crisis of immigration. They broaden our conversations beyond seeking technical solutions and encourage broader, adaptive discussions instead. They bring us with new perspectives back to the starting question, adjusting it to reflect, “How we think about these issues differently as citizens of a nation than as citizens of the Kingdom of God?”

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