THE SNAKE slithered across the man’s face and wound around his neck. It slipped beneath his collar where it, no doubt, explored the rest of his sickly frame.
Of course, Corey could only detect the rancid odor emanating from the man and could not enjoy the wild talent of his tattoo artist. This frail soul’s bodyweight was evident by the lack of impact it made on the weathered wood of the bench.
“Reverend,” the man said, his voice both moist and gravelly like carbon grit within the drippings from an old oil pan. “Long time.”
Corey turned his head, more out of habit than any expectation that he’d suddenly be able to see. “I’m afraid I don’t recognize your voice, friend.” He immediately regretted the use of the word ‘friend,’ realizing he’d chosen it as a means of ingratiating himself to a stranger he feared.
“We were never friends, Reverend. Brothers, maybe. Not friends.”
“You are a fellow believer?”
The man’s thick laughter devolved into body-wracking coughs that made Cory lean away with the word “tuberculosis” flashing through his mind.
“I’m a believer. Sure am. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. All of that shit. Said the prayer when I was 18, I did. Got me fire insurance that day.”
Corey felt the words ‘praise God’ on the tip of his tongue, but they tasted bitter and he held them in. While he was certainly not the judge of men’s souls, there was something more than just the man’s scent that revolted him. Something deeper and more real than the bench or the park or the blood that coursed through their veins. The spiritual essence of his strange park bench neighbor was black.
“Tell me how you received Jesus as your Lord. I always love to hear how someone’s spirit was born,” Corey said.
The man paused and his clothes shuffled as he adjusted his position on the bench. “I was sittin’ at home and this TV preacher came on. He was doin’ a show that weekend where he’d be healing people. I never had interest in that shit before, but figured I’d go. I was snortin’ coke and just had a big fight with my girl. She walked out on me. I figured I might find something special at the show. So I went down there that weekend. Didn’t even need the nose candy. Just sat there and watched this guy lift people out of wheel chairs and knock people down with some power that must have come out of his hands. The man was on fire. I felt this excitement growing, something I couldn’t control. Then he said that all I had to do was call out the name and say Jesus Christ. I’d said it before, of course. But this time, it was different. I actually saw Jesus on the stage. And he was holding out his arms to me. It was as if he was sayin’ ‘no matter what you do, I love you.’ It was the most spiritual thing I’d ever felt. And bam, I no longer needed coke. And there was a woman nearby who also had said the name. She moved in with me and we both stopped doing coke.”
Corey said, “Did you begin reading the Bible?”
“No, Reverend. What we found is that Jesus just speaks to us. He talks to us in … so many ways. In music, in other things … It’s so spiritual. He’s number one.”
“So you no longer take drugs?” Corey asked.
“We don’t do coke. We smoke a little meth now and then. She’ll score some heroin, but we just gave up the nose candy like that!”
Corey could go on asking about harmful indulgences that he was sure this man still did, but it seemed pointless. Instead he said, “I can see why you think we’re brothers. But, tell me, why did you sit down to talk to me? I don’t heal people and I encourage people to read the Bible to get God’s will for their lives. If you know who I am, you would know this.”
“Last Halloween I was toking the Holy Spirit at this groovy club downtown. You might know it. It’s the VC.”
Corey nodded. “Yes, it’s a ministry of the Vineyard.”
“Right on. Right on.” the man paused for a phlegmy cough. “Well, there was this real mellow vibe going through the joint and I saw a vision of all these angels, beautiful women with long hair flowing and their robes were-”
“Maybe you could skip to the part that involves me. I don’t need to know the details of this … vision.”
“That’s cool. That’s cool.” He hacked up something and spat it to the ground. “I saw that an awakening is coming. Something so fresh and awesome is coming. And when I saw you, sittin’ here, blind, alone … I wanted you to know that there’s something for you, too, Reverend.”
“Is Trevor still healing the blind?”
“Reverend Harmon still has the gift. In fact, by the power of the spirit, he kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach and healed her child’s autism. Just last week.”
“I’m afraid my blindness is beyond his gift. See, if God has given me blindness, then it serves His loving purpose in my life. I hear you speak of some mystical faith that doesn’t result in any meaningful change in your life and is only a means to improve your enjoyment of this world. Unfortunately, that’s not the same message that the Bible tells.”
“You don’t even know, bro. I’ve changed. I declare the Name now. I admit that He’s God!”
“So does Satan.”
“Whatever, man. I support Israel! Satan doesn’t do that.”
“No, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I hear people talk about supporting the political nation of Israel and how that will result in God’s blessing to America and yet, I see in the Bible that God is not concerned with nations or politics. He is not impressed by nations that claim Him as God and offer sacrifices in religious observance. He looks to the hearts of people. And what does He see there? He sees people who do whatever they want, whenever they want. He sees people who worship their own comfort and physical condition. He sees people who worship Him on their terms instead of being broken before Him in humility and true worship. Do you think God is impressed that a nation of sinful, rebellious people give political support to another nation of sinful, rebellious people? Is that glorifying Him?”
“The Bible says those who bless Jacob will be blessed.”
“Israel, the true Israel is the body of Christ, the Kingdom made up of the poor in spirit and those who mourn for their sinfulness and are pure in heart because of the cleansing of Jesus. And it does, indeed go well for the world when it blesses Christians. And it goes bad for those who persecute Christians. They are the true Israel. But more important to being blessed, is to receive the birthright and the blessing from God. To do that, you need to leave all your sinfulness on the alter. You need to repent of your rebellious life that follows your appetite for pleasure.”
Corey realized midway that his park bench guest was gone. The stench ebbed and was soon gone on the breeze, wafted away as something with as little substance of the outward rites of the Alls Hallowed Eve.