BY THE BLUE CHAIR
It happened by the blue chair, just across from our building. One person stabbed another with a knife. In broad daylight, along Colfax.
The blue chair is huge, an art piece by a bit of of grass at Dayton and Colfax. Years ago, Aurora designated these blocks the “Art District”. Some art has happened and people pursue the arts dream. But truthfully, poverty, pain, and violence drown out art. No blue chair changes that.
The blue chair is a hangout for un-housed folks—a place to socialize, get high and while away the hours. A rugged area, but not as violent as Colfax and Beeler, just blocks west. A couple of our friends were shot to death there last year.
But this Tuesday, violence comes to the blue chair. I am at the building and hear about it. Cops there, crime scene tape up.
Did you know that 10% of violent deaths in the US are stabbing deaths? Early reports said the person died; thankfully, though in serious condition, he is still alive.
Right now, violence on Colfax is the worst I have seen in our six years here. This Tuesday, I want to ignore it and get on with my life. What’s one more knifing in a sea of violence?
But, I slow myself down and try to enter into the reality, feeling into the lives of both knifer and knifee. Why did the knifer knife? Vengeance? Was he high? Any remorse? And what about the knifee? Did he see his own blood and wonder if his life was over? Both people lovingly created in God’s image. Yet here, by the blue chair, Satan’s grip is strong.
One Tuesday later, the brutalized body of a 22 year old female is dumped by the Radiant Inn, one of our motels. She is barely alive. Staff from a coffee shop call 911 but are left on hold for 10 minutes. By the time the police arrive, she is bleeding out on the street. They watch her die. Unlike the knifing, where no one has been arrested, here they catch the killer. Killer and killee, image-bearers of God. Yet again the hellish violence of Colfax seems to win.
The list of violence seems endless. Today, while writing, I get word of six students shot just across from the local high school. Likely gang-related. Thankfully, they are still alive, but violence and fear flood the area. I follow the Aurora Police Department (APD) on twitter. Almost every day brings a tale of violence, often death in our tattered community.
I feel for APD. Few want to be police now, so they are short-staffed and discouraged. Fewer officers, less presence on the streets, slower response times. Violence expands.
Days later, on a meeting with business owners and artists from this stretch, we talk about a half-dozen recent accidents along Colfax. Drivers—drunk or high—hopping the curb, smashing into buildings. Another form of violence.
One business owner says it bluntly: “Colfax seems lawless right now.” The word—lawless—seems right. Diminished police presence, violence afoot. Everyone impacted. Lawless. A frightening word.
Serving here, I wonder what can be done? We are here to be the loving presence of Jesus. How do we do that?
First, we pray. We pray for peace, for protection, for justice, for Jesus to break the power of Satan. This is a spiritual battle. You, even miles away from Colfax, can pray with us.
Second, we are present, showing up in Jesus’ name to love. This world will change through prayer, yes, but it also needs Jesus’ people to be present here, learning names, building friendships, finding positive pathways.
Last Tuesday we gathered with our team at the Radiant Inn, yards from where the 22 year old died. The team heads to our motels, showing up, loving people, being present. I grab food and head to the area around our building, the blue chair, and the violent corner.
I find four people sitting on a step. I give them some food. But mostly, I just come to talk and build friendships.
I sit, cross-legged, on the sidewalk. Trash is everywhere; the concrete is filthy under me, soaked with decades of God only knows what. I try not to think about that. I listen to their pain-filled stories. Two are pretty drunk. One young man’s fiancé has just died. We chat—small talk and Jesus talk. The young man sobs periodically, a sob that escalates to a howl. I do what I can—kindness, food, conversation, prayer. Present in a violent world.
Mother Theresa said it simply: We need to be “one heart full of love” for the broken. I am here trying to do that even as our team is in the motels doing that: “One heart full of love.”
Our heart of love begins in the great loving heart of Jesus. He pours His love out to us, a river of love invading our hearts. When we receive His love, we receive His heart. Then, with our own “one heart full of love” we turn to share that love with our world. Praying and being present are simply external proof of our love. Here, this love is the only thing that works.
I pray, get up, get them some blankets to keep them warm on a cold November night. I have given the love I have to give tonight. The young man pulls the blanket over his head, crying, sobbing, howling.
We are, as most of you know, working on a building project and campaign.
The building will make a huge difference for our friends. That said, our real work is not about a building. It is about showing up and loving people, doing what we can, pointing to Jesus. Here among the broken.
The blue chair looms nearby, testimony to violence that transcends art. My spirit is weary and I am tired. But, once again, face-to-face with my friends, I hear the call of Jesus and once again say yes. Yes, I will be “one heart full of love,” here along Colfax.