A Friend Named Levi

I went to the Simple Way in Philadelphia a few months ago and we met two guys there named Robb and Tim. They were nice and super friendly and welcoming. Robb sent me this piece he wrote that has been unpublished thus far I believe but I thought it was really creative and held a lot of truth so I wanted to post it here. Tell me what you think.

Levi by Robb Hoover

Levi’s Cadillac was massively black, cranked out in 1986. Inside it left you with the impression you were in an attorney’s study – reflective black leather couch for a backseat, dark wood paneling, here and there some tasteful chrome. The vanity plate said RED EAR, his Algonquin Indian name from a young age for the one ear that blushed when he was mad. The red eyes were inside, where we puffed out half-baked philosophies driving amongst cornfields when gas was an afterthought, when we put in a quarter tank with our friends’ coins fished out of the stitched leather crevices.

Now we can grow beards. He saves souls with an Assembly of God; I gulp in different pews weekly.
When we talk, my mind works like a computer program, spewing out cheeky quotes on the present topic. Attribution gets sketchy, as does the inadvertent paraphrasing, but I kick ’em out.
“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
King, I say. I smile smugly, payload unloaded. What’d you say, Levi? We’re called to preach the gospel?
“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
St. Francis. Zing! I raise my eyebrows, challenging.
He asks what I want to accomplish with short showers, reduced consumption, bicycle transportation, symbolic defiance of military might. The full dimension of my Gospel message hits me. I’m trying to save my soul. There’s a quote for it.
“I’m not trying to change the world. I’m trying to keep the world from changing me.”
The revolution I want to see is personal, is ideological, is changed hearts and minds. It’s all sounding quite familiar to Levi.

Here’s how it plays out: we sip our way out to the countryside with a thermos of tea. Levi: duck-tailed mohawk, American Indian beaded necklace. Me: plain black shirt, second-hand Eddie Bauer cap stripped of identifying name badges. We mount a gravel pile and watch four fireworks displays from distinct parts of the city. The state capitol dome and the mushroom top of the Hilton Hotel peek over the corn horizon. Red radio towers, distant headlight brights – lightning bugs blink and weave shifty constellations above the fields, and the moon behind a storm cloud leaks moonrays down and to the left. Lightning silently ices the sky in pink, fireworks explode in parallel or interlocking rings with a barely audible puff trailing seconds behind.
We talk of marriage and God and government and nations and war and Jesus and speaking in tongues and hurt and responsibility. We make some sense and rarely understand each other. We cycle through a million ideas, all of them as Kerouac once said, and found that the only ground we had in common was the physical one we were standing on, waiting for the storm.
But there was some consistency in that. Standing on the earth (humus), Levi’s humility was humbling. His was a loving disagreement, a novelty among pseudolutionary radicals like me.

It shook the heavens. A flash in the middle of the storm (his dad once struck) washed out our vision and literally took my breath away with a real gasp, then the sky cracked into pieces and I feigned tongues because there weren’t any real words to respond with.
He left at still-pouring dawn. As he got in his car, he said if we kept talking he’d probably have to agree with me at least on opposing the death penalty. I hid my shock with a silent, prideful nod, told him that earnestly that I loved him, and watched him pull away alone in the car.
“Ride a bike next time,” was the rote thought that popped in my head. “You’ll feel good and you’ll help the environment and you’ll find God more accessible,” the tired explanation. And there it was: me trying to save his soul. Shoot.

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