During our first month in Room 36, around 8:30 in the evening, I have a taste for a snack. Living here gives chances to walk Colfax, so I walk the few blocks to the store, knowing I’m likely to run into a friend.Tonight is no exception. A block away I see Annie,** who we know well, or so I thought. Her story up until now? She’s staying at the motel, waiting for her husband to get out of prison.
Tonight, on Colfax, she sees me and her eyes get really big. I notice her makeup and seductive look. She says, “What are YOU doing here?” I tell her about Room 36, we chat and I move on. Clearly, she is out turning tricks. I would have never guessed. But because of Room 36, because we live here, because I walk Colfax this night, I learn more. That moment opened my friendship with her to a deeper level. That would have never happened without Room 36.
Mid-afternoon, mid-week, I leave Room 36 and head to my motorcycle. I look up and see my friend Minnie** and another woman, turns out to be her niece walking by. We meet halfway and I get my regular hug from Minnie. We circle and pray, her niece “Amen’ing” away. I promise to stop by again and say hi. Minnie is my neighbor, her motel room just a couple of blocks away. Just then, I see a young woman, Terri,** also a friend, walking by. I notice her black eye, given by her boyfriend, Steve.** She swears this time the relationship is over, that she has somewhere to go. We pray and she heads off, she too my neighbor. Again, that moment happens because of Room 36.
Something powerful, even magical, happens when we are genuinely present with someone. True in all human relationships, it seems truer still here among the the poor. Showing up, being human, becoming friends has led to many beautiful people moments. Moving into Room 36 has multiplied our opportunities to be present with our flock, far beyond any other living arrangement we might have chosen. Getting started here, Jesus was crystal clear. We were to practice a “ministry of presence.” Show up, meet people, learn their names, love them, become friends. Don’t start with programs, resources or fixes (important as these are). Don’t treat people as projects. Come as ourselves, meet them as equals and become friends. Jesus thundered to us, “Show up and love people!”
Living that, we’ve learned this: The poor get “drive-by’ed” all the time! People drive by, bring food, clothes, even share the gospel. Well-meaning gestures that have value, but most often, those who drive by also drive off, never doing the work of sharing life. Real transformation, it seems to us, only happens in ongoing relationships. The poor are people too, also created in the image of God, and need to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter how battered they look in the moment. Just driving by doesn’t accomplish that.
Jesus was no “drive-by” Savior. He came, pitched his tent, dwelt with us, shared our space. With all of us, yes, but in a unique way with the poor and overlooked. I love the art work at the top of this post, a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg called “Christ of the Breadlines.” Jesus stands in a World War 2 era breadline. He’s hanging with the poor, a holy glow about him, patiently waiting his turn, seeking no preference. Jesus himself practicing a ministry of presence among the poor, dignifying them by simply being there.
Room 36 allows us many chances to follow Jesus’ bread-line lead. We are with our people, living in the same space as them. We often feel clumsy and weak, uncertain how to act. The work is hard and slow, but when we join Jesus in it, also beautiful.Some of you have asked if we will seek lodging somewhere a little less ‘crazy’ than Room 36 now that we have been here a year. The answer, at least for now, is no. We plan to stay here. The space has become livable, even home, and it is ideal for loving our friends, sharing life and Jesus with them. We have many hopes and dreams about the future here at the Ranger. You will hear about them in future posts.
On September 7, 2016, Diane and I moved into Room 36 at the Ranger Motel, one of the 25ish ratty motels lining East Colfax Avenue. No doubt, the craziest venture of our lives; and, one of the most beautiful. What has been a crazy, beautiful year has now become a crazy, beautiful life. Thanks for joining us on this journey!
**Names changed to protect identity.