I walked from one to the other; from the corner of one building, crossing the street, on a straight line, touching the corner of the other – 59 feet. That is the distance between them, just 59 feet; a very short walk. But measuring differently, the walk is longer. One building is a haven for the comfortable; the other, a last refuge of the destitute. On one side, a hip, urban coffee shop. The perfect combo of comfortable seating and carefully shabby décor, creating a great vibe. In back, a bean-roaster and studio space for local artists; throughout, striking and quality art adorns the walls.A great place to hang out.
In fact, my first day on East Colfax, this is where I settled in to pray, think and plan.Across the street, an old motel. Battered, shabby, and dirty, it serves a simple purpose – to provide space for people on the lowest rung. Unlike the coffee shop, no beautiful transformation of an old building; here the focus is on keeping the place up to city code. The business is cash only, ID required, few questions asked. Simply, a place you come to when out of other choices. We are here Tuesday nights, and know the people well. Only 59 feet; yet I am stunned at how different these worlds are. One, filled with comfort, the other with sadness and desperation. When I am in either, it is hard to believe the other exists.It is about the people. In the coffee shop, you find the professional crowd that works in this poor community–police and fire, teachers, realtors, politicians, even some in ministry. You see medical professionals and students from the massive CU medical complex nearby. The crowd is comfortably middle class and mostly white, but the vibe is not about race. It is about class and economics, about people like us, people who love the coffee shop vibe. People like me.
Flash to the motel: Here the crowd ranges from the working poor to the desperately poor to the homeless. Addicts, prostitutes, drug dealers, the mentally ill, and families down on their luck, they live in a world far removed from the coffee shop. People not like me. Worlds apart, it is hard to believe they exist in the same city, let alone on top of each other. The truth is, the people from the coffee shop, with rare exception, don’t go to the motels; the opposite is also true. The poor can’t afford the coffee and would feel uncomfortable there. Confession: These days it is hard for me to go to the coffee shop. I know the struggles of people just across the street; when I close my eyes, I feel their pain and it rattles me. Here, my coffee-mates seem oblivious to the human wreckage next door; even if they knew, would they care? I am not quick to be judgmental of people, but here it sneaks in. I know it is not from Jesus; I am confident that He cares equally for the coffee shop crowd and the motel crowd. Also, I know the young man who runs the coffee shop. He loves Jesus and cares about those close by. And, I am judging a lot of coffee-drinkers whose stories I do not know.
So I repent and promise myself that tomorrow I will stop by the coffee shop, enjoy the atmosphere and encourage the staff. They are trying to serve Jesus and I want to support them. That said, can I ask you a hard question? Most of you who read this, like me, are both Jesus people and coffee shop people. What would He say about this gap between the coffee shop and the motel, between the rich and the poor? What would He ask us to do? Surely some part of Jesus’ call is this: To find a way to make the long walk from comfort into a world that is alien to us, where we may feel uncomfortable, even afraid.That long walk comes with great gifts; Jesus will seem real to you in a new way. You will receive far more than you could ever give; you will humbly reevaluate your love of money and stuff. Mostly, you will find a new capacity to love.Somehow, somewhere in your life, take that long walk. You don’t need to do it like we or anyone else is doing it. But do it. Find someone who is radically different, radically poor, and give the both of you the gift of a life-changing relationship. My prayer today is for all of us who are comfortable in the coffee shop to take that long walk.