smolderThe world needs more smokers. Both kinds. Smokers-smokers and meat-smokers.

More clearly put: Smokers somehow embody the essence of what it means to be in community, and the world needs more of that.

If your home state is anything like California, it is trying to eradicate smoking from every corner of society—such a practice  is on equal moral footing with clubbing baby seals or using k-cups. Don’t pollute our air, don’t pollute your lungs, don’t leave your butts on the ground! Which, I suppose, is ironic when you consider the thick haze of smog that Southern Californians inhale every summer day. How dare someone enjoy their poison.

Having this sanctimonious outlook for much of my younger years, I have now come to the conclusion that the non-smoking Joel of 20 years ago was a complete idiot. I have repented of my blind naivete, and now smoke cigars on occasion like the heathen I am.

Smoking kills. Smoking causes this or that. I get it. But here’s the other side of the coin:

  • Smoking brings people together – often the same people – for 20-40 minutes of conversation every day. These conversations ramble on about life and politics and sports and marriage and joy and frustration and something and nothing. Does anything work as well as a cigar to bring two or more people into a discussion about life?
  • Smokers don’t give a crap who you are…if you want to join in, you’re welcome. It’s a community of sharing (do you have a light?), inclusion and good-natured ribbing. In this way, the smoking community is like the anti-clique; you’re never too old to be one, never too rich, never too educated.
  • Smokers get paradoxes. They understand that life is messy, unkempt…it can’t be made to fit in some prepackaged box. Any and every smoker has been confronted by that one guy/girl, usually named Dennis or Denise, who sees you participate in the verboten act, declaring: ‘You know those things are going to kill you.’ Still they smoke. Living and dying. Healthy conversation amidst hacking coughs. Honey badgers, through and through.

Some of my most admired colleagues regularly disappear to the ‘smoking table,’ and, if I’m honest with myself, I feel kind of left out. I know whatever conversation they have (…and it probably has to do with 1) history, 2) theology, 3) movies, and/or 4) Sportcenter) will be one that I’d share full belly laughs with and cause me to think more deeply about logical fallacies and inconvenient truths. Instead, I’m here looking at my computer screen. Alone.

To be in the smokers’ conversation, you have to be a smoker. Otherwise, you’re just some guy interrupting a great conversation, saying, ‘Big gulps, huh? Alright, well, see you later…’

The world also needs more meat-smokers. For much the same set of reasons.

  • It brings people together. Delicious meat has a way of doing that.
  • The smoking (meats) community is a pro-conversation, pro-food, pro-Jerry Jeff Walker, anti-jerk group of people. They share tactics, smoker space, and beers. Hard to argue when that much good stuff is going on.
  • Smoking meats is a picture of messy, charcoal-stained life that awaits the future glory of a finished pork butt.
  • They get to say, ‘pork butt.’

Personally, I’d rather hang out with smokers of either kind than spend 5 minutes in some sort of perfectly presented life. These smoking communities, I’m convinced, are instructive to the Christian.

Community is not some Christian goal to be realized, waiting to be accomplished by well-intentioned folk. If we enter into Christian community and try to drive it toward some wishful ideal of what community should be, we’ve lost it. More accurately, we’ve killed it. That’s why so many people experience a certain measure of depression when they first join a church. Expecting a cadre of well-aligned, goal-oriented, beautiful in spirit and mind Christian go-getters, they instead get Bob and Gina, Timmy and Barbara. Oh no! Barbara got divorced once and Timmy chain smokes! The humanity!

” If we enter into Christian community and try to drive it toward some wishful ideal of what community should be, we’ve lost it. More accurately, we’ve killed it.”

smolder2Christian community is not something we make. It is a reality that we participate in. If the former was true, we’d be forced to compare the community we know exists with the community we think God wants. And that tragic turn would lead to one of two conclusions: 1) deep despair, for the reality of God’s people is nowhere near as lustrous as the ‘way things should be’, and/or 2) a commitment to expel anything that would seem to be contrary to God’s design.

Once we understand that God has created communal life for the Christian, we may receive it as a gift. I then embrace the neighbor as that person who will speak the word of God to me in my need, and I to him, as his brother in Christ. The weakest, the ugliest, the smelliest, the blackest of the fold are welcome in this reality; they do not sit in fear as they wait to be found out (and thus, purged from the group). Rather, they wait for the word of truth: The truth that God loves them presently, that Jesus’ sacrifice covered their sins, and that this awkward group of people (i.e., the Christian community) will joyfully bear life together with you under these realities.

Yes, these are the people of God’s community. The junior varsity. But these people are brought into a way-of-being set forth by God, put into place with the very declaration that ‘it is not good for man to be alone.’ Community is something to be received as one of God’s most treasured gifts, not the personal project of someone trying to replicate Christian Richard Simmons’s everywhere.

“Community is something to be received as one of God’s most treasured gifts, not the personal project of someone trying to replicate Christian Richard Simmons’s everywhere.”

Truth be told, this utopian dreaming is, in some ways, at the heart of political liberalism. If we are able to limit how much sugar people drink, how much nicotine they can take in, tell them what kind of cars they must drive, restrict their accesslaughter to this or that, then our goal for a perfect human society will come to fruition. People will live forever and experience the advent of a secular salvation. Theologians fall into this trap, too. Postmillennial eschatology, the social justice movement…these ideologies fundamentally believe that humans are responsible for bringing about the coming of the Lord’s reign. When Christians can bring about a world good enough, moral enough, then Jesus can return to make his rule manifest.

But the central claim of the gospel is that God became one of us. The Incarnation landed in the dirty life of 1st century Palestine, complete with its trash, its blood, its coarse jokes, its imperfections. Jesus did not isolate himself from the mess…he sought out the messy. After all, Jesus probably (shhhhh) ate food high in cholesterol. He probably ingested carcinogens and engaged in risk-taking behavior. Off-color jokes were told within earshot, and he may have even belly laughed.

Shoot, for all I know, when he returns, he might just light up a Romeo y Julieta and say, ‘let’s get this thing started.’




© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.