Sunday, March 19, 2006

What I Learned about God from being a Smoker

I spent a year of my life as a smoker. It was wonderful. I wasn't the stereo-typical smoker who got hooked as a kid by the evil tobacco companies luring me with subliminal messages in Joe Camel ads. I smoked my first cigarette after college. For years I smoked only occasionally and socially, usually when I was out pubbing with friends. I never had the desire to do it habitually. A night of smoking over a pint or two was plenty. Then came the Great Tribulation of my life. I had bigger issues to worry about and I consciously chose smoking as an escape. I've gone back to being a social smoker and given up the daily habit, but I miss it. I can't see a group of smokers huddled outside their office in the Midwest cold without feeling a twinge of grief and loss. I know it's not politically, religiously, or socially correct to say this - but smoking was awesome. And there are great spiritual lessons I took from it.

Smoking taught me about the spiritual discipline of rest. As pious as we like to act as Evangelical Christians, it's interesting how we've lost touch with the concept of rest. I've been in churches and communities who are rabidly legalistic about the Sabbath (i.e. Mow your lawn on Sunday and you eternal salvation is in serious jeopardy). I'm not talking about this kind of legalistic b.s. Rest isn't something you do once a week - it's something we need daily. When my wife and I smoked, we would make sure we were ready a few minutes early in the mornings before work. Then we'd sit outside with our coffee and have a smoke. We'd sit - talk - sometimes we'd even pray. Every night we would finish our day with a glass of wine and a smoke. We'd talk about our day, we'd laugh together, sometimes we'd even pray. Sometimes in the middle of the day we'd break away for a few minutes together to have a smoke. Smoking became a catalyst to sit, to rest, to talk, to connect. I'd never experienced anything like it. For some reason, it's harder to find, or to make, those moments of rest without the excuse of having a smoke. Smoking taught me that I needed to rest more.

Smoking facilitates fellowship and witnessing. This is something that surprised me. Stand with another smoker and you will end up having a nice conversation. Smoking is a bridge that crosses all racial, religious, cultural, and socio-economic lines. I've met and talked to people over a cigarette that I wouldn't have otherwise given the time of day. Smoking gives you a connection with other people. That little cancer stick is an ambassador of goodwill for all who imbibe. We're always talking in the church about building relationships with non-believers as a means of being a witness. We come up with all sorts of strategies for meeting people. Heck - just walk up to a smoker and light up. It ain't that hard.

Smoking taught me the positive implications of persecution. History teaches us that Christianity flourishes in times of persecution. I'd always read that but never really understood it - until I became a smoker. Smokers are persecuted more than any other group in our American culture. People give you dirty looks and quickly usher their children away from you. Society sends you out to the elements and makes you stand on the street curb. The result is that smokers stick together. Solidarity. These are the people who have stood with me in sub-zero wind-chills. They sit with me in that little joke of a "shelter" outside O'Hare airport and take turns pushing the button for the radiant heaters when they shut off every three minutes (a sadistic persecution in and of itself) and scrounged for a match because the TSA banned lighters. My fellow smokers are brethren - they're family. Fellow smokers used to routinely approach me, "Hey buddy, can I bum a smoke?" Absolutely - here you go brother. Need a light, too? I knew I could make the same request of any smoker - anywhere - anytime and the generosity would be reciprocated. I found myself running out of smokes at Disneyworld. I went in search of one of the handful of carefully hidden "smoking sections" (in this case it was a back alley of "Britain" at Epcot). I bummed a Marlboro menthol off a wonderful older couple from Pennsylvania and had a wonderful chat with a young newlywed couple from Minneapolis.

Okay, okay, okay - I know some of you are out there with your Jr. Holy Spirit badges on ready to give me the "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" routine. I know, I know - and that's why I gave up the habit. I just find it funny that people are so vocal and judgmental about the health risks of smoking, but the turn around and eagerly line up with the rest of the overweight, under-exercised brethren at the church potluck for a second heapin' helping of heart attack helper. Mr. Pot meet Mr. Kettle.


At 9:45 AM, Blogger Mark true said...

By George, I think you've got this blggging gig down. Great post(s) and an engaging style. This newbie Christian learns something every time I visit.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Smoking has helped to teach me what it feels like to be a pariah, an outcast. Want to know how the lepers must've felt? Sneak a ciggie now and then.

Great blog, btw. I just might have to add you to my blogroll.


At 1:56 PM, Blogger annabanana5 said...

Hey, I know what you mean, It's time to meet the smoking subculture, as I read your post I thought about getting one of those fake organic smokes (since I don't smoke) and standing out there with the smokers just to talk...

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Conservative Republican said...

Thank you for a great Blog.
I am a smoker and have been for 30 years. I too have found the closeness of smokers of all race, colors & creeds....I have made many new friends, learned many valuable lessons, recruited new members for my club...etc., just by having to huddle together outside for a smoke. I am NOT saying that smoking is good, (although I do enjoy it), what I am saying is that it can be USED for good.

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Conservative Republican said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous marian said...

Hi -- I am a reporter with the Montreal Gazette working on a story about the social aspects of smoking and I loved your blog about the social and spiritual side of this habit. I would love to interview you by phone. Could you please e-mail me at

thanks a lot,


At 11:59 PM, Anonymous v said...

extremely interesting.. i didn't know there is so much more to smoking than just cancer.


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