I found an old book on the shelf today called Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor written by Harold Shank, Anthony Wood, and Ron Bergeron. Publishing date 2000 and put out by College Press Publishing Company, it is a small and not-so-famous little book that you probably never heard of. I picked it up and started thumbing through it, and I think it is noteworthy.
I am not sure why I have not put it on a recommended reading list before. I think Beyond Homelessness by Bouma-Prediger and Walsh and The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne both over shadow this one. Up Close, in my estimation, is the weakest of the three. But this little book is not insignificant despite that, and I expect it will prove evermore important for Churches of Christ types.
I will save my critique for the comments below – assuming anyone is interested, but I think I will share excerpts from the opening pages that seem meaningful to me.
From Page 9:
Up Close and Personal:
Embracing the Poor
It felt as though God had led us to a precipice, to the very edge of the world as we knew it, and asked us to gaze across a dark chasm. With our feet only inches from the jagged gash in the earth that seemed to descend into nothingness, we lifted our eyes to what rose out of the mist on the opposite shore. From the haze rose a city skyline in silhouette, magnificent and ominous, blanketed in a shroud of foreboding as thick as the mist. Awestruck and dumbfounded, we almost didn’t hear the voice. But we did hear it. Faint and weak. Distant and tired. We listened again. There it was… no, there. From all around, from within, we heard echoing through the city’s maze a muted cry for help, almost a whisper, that said, “Come over and help us!” Gazing across the gulf from the comforts of a middle-class world, the other side seemed alien and forbidding. And if the abyss that yawned between the two worlds seemed uncrossable, it was not because of its breadth, but because of our own shallowness. Because the world that called to us for help was not some distant land. It wasn’t the steamy jungle of South America or the alien desert terrain of the Middle East. It was our own inner city.
From Page 10 & 11:
We never held mass prayer meetings in a stadium. We didn’t organize grand marches to the state capitol. There were no radio or television broadcasts to reach the masses. We didn’t have a fifteen-million-dollar grant or even a million-dollar budget. We didn’t have a grand office building. There was no fleet of cars or service trucks. We didn’t have a warehouse or a computerized database.
We just didn’t have any of those things. None of those elements used in working with the poor are bad or inappropriate; that’s just not what we did. We found that working among the poor was not a matter of programs or bureaucracies. The problem with helping the poor was not the lack of money or the shortage of food. It wasn’t merely the difficulty of finding good medical care or adequate housing; of course all of those are critical pieces to helping the poor. We can’t go on without them. But we found that one other thing was more crucial: becoming up close and personal. We found that helping the poor was just
– One person at a time
– Face to face.
– Hand in hand.
– Side by side.
The road from the suburbs to the inner city was one of the longest we had ever traveled. Overcoming the isolation was the beginning of cooperation. Putting aside the insulation was the start of collaboration. Leaving our partisanship opened the way to fellowship.
We so often felt distant, like we were standing across the chasm Ron described. Initially, as we pondered the gap before us, it seemed that God brought us to this gaping canyon and gave us the will to cross but not the means. Or so we thought. But we soon learned something quite different. We learned that being up close and personal enabled us to embrace the poor. And that’s what this book is about. It’s about how God led us across the gulf and taught us to build bridges to the other side. It is the story of three apprentice builders learning step by step. It’s about the questions of bridge building: How should we build it? To whom are we building it? Why are we building? Where should we build it?
On the other side, we encountered a culture that we admire, respect, and love. What we discovered was a simple truth: God changes people through other people, up close and personal. It wasn’t the “project in the projects” that promised lasting spiritual change but the quiet, persistent presence of God’s family plodding along, step by step, side by side, with the people of the city. to build successfully, we had to embrace them.
Not just a physical embrace easily given and easily forgotten, but the interlacing of lives. It takes time in the inner city to develop a trusting embrace. Respect and sympathy can’t be doled out like soup and sandwiches. You can’t embrace the poor like some good-hearted grandmother welcoming her prodigal son home from the casinos. It’s not convincing to either the grandmother or the son. The inner-city resident can tell the difference between head-counters and heart-comforters. They know how to separate the deeds done out of middle-class guilt from those done in genuine Christian love. They have an uncanny ability to see through the facades and hidden agendas that may work well elsewhere. We learned that, to embrace the poor, we had to be real with them. We had to respect them. We had to love them.