Friday, May 2, 2014

a spiritual lesson from my $4 cups of coffee


The new coffee shops that I like (and am slightly ashamed to like) are in LA’s up-and-coming Arts Districts, that strange little industrial area tucked behind Little Tokyo, east of downtown. Like most things hipster, the Arts District likes to be gritty yet new, hidden only to be found out. Sometimes when I need an afternoon pick me up, I go to the hipster places, because let’s face it, the hipsters know about a few things, including coffee. There, bearded men and women wearing messy buns right on top of their heads and bright red lipstick are waiting to charge me $4 for a cup of coffee, and I readily give it to them.

But this isn’t about coffee, it’s about how I get there. I have to drive, since it’s a little over a mile from my office. First I pass through the Financial District, with its tall buildings and fast-moving business people and lawyers. Then, briefly, the Jewelry District where bright signs sell bright wares. Then a sign for Gallery Row, an area where art galleries, artisan restaurants and lofts are giving old theater buildings their second chance at a spotlight. Things change fast, within a block or two. And here is where it changes most — only a block after Gallery Row there is trash littering streets, and makeshift housing, made of boxes and shopping carts and tents, dots the sidewalks just a few hundred feet from the luxury housing that young people are moving into. This is Skid Row, a city unto itself, its own culture and rules and geography. 

This drive to get coffee, this weekly passing through, is a large part of the reason I’m running with my new running group in Skid Row. Over the past year or two, every time I drive by, I’m reminded of a parable from the Bible about a rich man who ate good food and wore nice things. Right outside of where he lived, there was a poor, hungry man with sores all over his body. Later, after they both died, their situations seem to have flipped: the rich man is tormented while the poor man is beside Abraham, the Father of Israel (the implication is that the poor man has it pretty good if he’s next to Abraham). In his agony, the rich man calls out for mercy, but Abraham tells him that he’s already had his good things, and now there is a chasm between the rich and the poor in the afterlife, one that can’t be crossed. Their lots are fixed. 

Intense, I know. Like all of God’s Word, this story has layers to unpack. But one main point I think Jesus is getting at in sharing this parable is that right now, during this life, there isn’t an impossible chasm. Rich people can give to poor people, and vice versa. The story also says something about how and when we choose to seek comfort. It has a lot to say about our hearts. I'm still buying that hipster coffee on occasion, but I hope I'm also seeing things a little more clearly as I reflect on this passage, run with guys from URM and cross boundaries that aren't really there.

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