A few posts back I mentioned Hugh Mackay’s analysis of suburban life as ‘proximity without intimacy’ and how that was actually the philosopher Dante’s definition of Hell, the implication being that for some people life in the suburbs is a lonely ‘hell-like’ existence.
With blocks of land decreasing in size all the time no one could say we don’t live closely together. I’m sure many of know more about our neighbour’s lives than we would sometimes want to… But proximity is about so much more than physical distance. We can live in each other’s pockets and somehow still be miles apart. Proximity relates to the choice to be close relationally rather than simply live nearby. It’s a whole different deal.
Let me toss in another quote from Mackay’s novel ‘Winter Close’
The contract between neighbours is based on resistance to intimacy, so a quite different kind of closeness becomes possible: easy open, comfortable, but devoid of any ultimate responsibility or any glimpses into each other’s souls. These are adjacent lives – sometimes even parallel lives – rather than shared lives. We compensate for our physical proximity by keeping our emotional distance. These are not like relationships between friends, or even between people who work closely together… Perhaps the thing suburban life offers us is the possibility of living the life of a herd without the bonds of a tribe: proximity, familiarity, trust, support… but not intimacy. When we cross that line we cease to be neighbours and become something else P.156
So what do we become when we cross that line?
Perhaps friends?… ‘Family’ even?…
Of course all this comes at a price because sooner or later relationships enter conflict and then we run the risk of losing what we had. So maybe its safer and easier to just smile and wave and keep to ourselves.
Eugene Petersen has translated the Bible into everyday idiom and in John Ch 1 v 14 he write of Jesus; ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood’. God became one of us and lived among us. Those few words have formed some potent questions in my own mind as I have considered how Jesus might live if he were among us in person today.
Would he keeping his distance, avoiding close connection in case it all went south? Or would he take the risk of rich, deep friendships and thereby encounter the extremes of both intimacy and harsh betrayal?
It’s a bit of a no brainer…