Walking around downtown this past Monday night, a cool breeze freshening the air and the approach of sunset causing a dance of light and shadow around the buildings, I had a brief conversation with a group of street musicians who were moving from one “stand”—one high traffic corner—to another. There were six of them, and it looked to me like they might have recently left the trail for a few days.
One young man, who seemed to be the group’s leader, carried his battered guitar case in one hand and held the leash for his adorable and lively black Lab puppy in the other. The young man had brown-blonde dreadlocks, a longish beard, and steel-grey eyes. As I walked near the group, he fixed his eyes on me, smiled playfully, and asked cleverly, “Hey, man, can you spare a job? Unemployment sucks.” I agreed that it does; and, even though I don’t know how he’d have responded if I had actually had a job to offer him, I wished I did. Often, I have conversations with people who feel stuck, desperately so, because they are either unemployed or underemployed.
I had been thinking all day about the article I had seen which listed Asheville as one of the ten hungriest places in America (10 Hungriest Places in America), troubled that I serve a church in the center of a place where hunger is that serious an issue and wondering what else we might do to help. I was, and am, unsettled to be at the heart of a region where unemployment and hunger are such a challenge, especially when this same region is often recognized (legitimately, in many ways), as one of the best places in America to live.
I will soon have lived and worked in Asheville for 13 years. I love this town deeply and gratefully. There is so much right and good about Asheville; there is a lot to celebrate.
But there’s not as much to celebrate as there could be and should be. We’re blessed in this region with resourceful, creative, and compassionate people; and, together, I think we could, if we would, find ways for far more people to have reliable jobs with decent wages and to have dependably available, nutritious, and affordable food. I know that there aren’t easy answers to any of these problems, but I also know that a shared search for answers is crucial.
One of the unofficial slogans for our town is “Keep Asheville Weird.” At the very least, let’s make and keep Asheville human. That might, in fact, make us one of the weirdest place in America—weird in all the wonderful, loving, and compassionate ways that make a “place” into a “home” where all are welcome and all have enough.