By Will Raybon
As odd as colleges are, the University of North Carolina at Asheville is a particularly idiosyncratic college.
For someone unfamiliar with UNC Asheville, just think of it as a microcosm of Asheville itself. Surely you have either experienced or heard rumor of the strangeness that the Western North Carolina city generates. In fact, we natives had our own unofficial mantra, “Keep Asheville Weird.”
As a native Ashevillian, I grew up hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains, meandering through our now defunct music and street festival, and witnessing our local tall-bike-riding cross dressing nuns. You read that right. Since returning to Asheville after college to serve as a campus ministry intern at UNC Asheville, I have fallen even deeper in love with this admittedly eccentric town. So, when I heard a preacher from another county call Ashevillians “freaks,” I was concerned.
I was visiting a church near and dear to me in a town not so far from Asheville. This preacher was a guest from the local association, and his words were not affirmed by the ministerial staff of the church. His sermon started off well, but then took a turn when he decided to use Asheville as the backdrop for a story about unrighteousness. His words only grew less worthy of the pulpit as the sermon progressed.
Should I have stood up and left? Should I have stood and spoke out against him? I did not do either, I just sat, fumed, and began to think about all the things I loved about Asheville.
My Asheville stands for inclusivity, equality, freedom, hope, peace, love and joy. If that makes us weird, so what? Jesus was a weirdo, too.
Go reread the Gospels. Pay attention in Mark as Jesus frantically sprints throughout ancient Palestine, healing minds and bodies as quickly as possible. Pay attention in Matthew as Jesus stoically, yet lovingly, teaches us how to be better than we are. Pay attention in Luke as Jesus welcomes all people to the table. Pay attention in John as Jesus goes triumphantly to the Cross.
Asheville is pretty weird. There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds here. This city embodies much of what the Gospels teach us to be. It has problems, like anywhere else, but it is trying to be different. The world is in disarray right now; but really, it always has been. So remember that being different is good.
Being different sets us apart from our sinful human nature. By being different, the world becomes a little brighter.
Will Raybon serves as the CBFNC Collegiate Ministry Intern for UNC Asheville. He is currently a student at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity in Boiling Springs, NC.