A few days ago I took a walk through downtown Asheville. The winter rain left a visible fog, and although the temperature wasn’t comforting, my love for this city kept me warm.
I stopped and talked to Happy, who greeted me with his usual hug. He’s lost weight, but the cancer can’t take away his smile! He seems to know each passerby personally, and they linger to hear about his latest adventure with the police department. We sat together and talked about where we’ve been and where we’re going. He told me stories about running wild as a boy, setting Asheville on fire. And now, in his later years, he’s doing the same…
I walked past the red bus, where I first saw the Light.
There was Pritchard Park, where I first saw the Love. I remember our first Friday night, the Drum Circle gathered the freak show, and the pulse of a desperate city vibrated for several blocks. I noticed a gathering of bullhorns and neon signs across the street, spreading the Good News of God’s Hate. My three daughters were confused, obviously, because they have always heard about God’s Love… So the next week we made some signs of our own, and handed out free water, and free hugs “in Jesus’ Name”.
I walked past Scully’s, a downtown bar where on any given Monday evening you will find an eclectic gathering of atheists, agnostics, pagans, orthodox Christians, and post-labeled “other”. These evenings were filled with passionate dialogue around an Open Table between racial, religious, and political ideologies. And I used to sit and listen to the stories, and share my own… about how God radically rescued me from me, and took me from the basement of the Muskegon County Jail. I shared with them about the shame and hate and grace and forgiveness. To this day, I have retained many friends from this season… And I still get midnight phone calls, asking me to talk them down off the ledge.
And in the distance is the ABCCM Veteran’s Quarters, housing over two hundred homeless veterans. I will never forget Bill, who had lost everything. He once had a six-figure salary and a big home in Wilmington. But when he was laid off, he spiraled into a depression that ate him alive, literally. The last time I saw him, we were standing on the sidewalk talking about God and heaven and hell. He asked me about the eternal destiny of those who commit suicide. After some silence, he put his hand into the shape of a gun and said, “Soon.” A few days later, he went down to the Swannanoa River with a pistol and never came back.
The French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where Jamie and I used to linger over mocha and wine, telling jokes with no punch line, and playing footsies under the table. She used to order too much chocolate and then insist that I finish her dessert. And sometimes the live music was too loud for conversation, so we just looked at each other, and knew.
After collecting my thoughts, I sat on a park bench and gave thanks. For all of the ups and downs and lefts and rights and closed doors and opened windows and friends and enemies and concerned brothers and runaway rumors and baptisms and hugs and questions and doubts and the all-consumming hope that buries my heart, here.