6.09.2013

Tobacciana Apologetica

I am of a dying ilk, one that has recently been scorned and shamed for their activity.  My own mother has threatened me and my father just shakes his head, yet I stand in a line of some of the greatest Christian theologians and writers of the 19th and 20th century including, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Karl Barth and Charles Spurgeon.

What did they all have in common?  A love for tobacco.

Christian use of tobacco goes back a lot further than just the 19th and 20th century.  Johann Sebastian Bach is well known to be a lover of the weed and is even credited with writing a poem about it, the final two lines are well known amongst most pipe smokers:

On land, on sea, at home, abroad,
I smoke my pipe and worship God.

Charles Spurgeon is likely the most notorious Christian smoker, he had a love for fine cigars, and was often quite vocal about it.  Responding once to the criticisms of a Pentecostal preacher, Spurgeon remarked, "Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night."

JRR Tolkien is perhaps the most widely recognized pipe smoker in Christian circles.  His novels are filled with references to his characters not only smoking but also talking about smoking!  This is not just an oddity about the characters, Tolkien himself was passionate about pipe smoking.  Even in interviews he's often shown at least holding onto his pipe and sometimes even smoking it.  Often joining him for a smoke and a pint at the Eagle and Child pub was his good friend, C.S. Lewis.  His (Tolkien's) devotion to the pipe has led a number of companies to name pipe tobaccos after events, places, and characters in his novels.  Such including: Frog Morton, Longbottom Leaf, Treebeard, Shortcut to Mushrooms and Ruins of Isengard.  And the depiction of the "churchwarden" pipe (a long stemmed pipe) in the movies resulted in a resurgence of that style.

They were lucky to live only at the start of the bastardization of tobacco which occurred in the 1930's in the form of cigarettes; a move that turned a great gift for many people into a greater vice for many more.  Chemicals and additives were included to promote both inhaling the smoke (not widely done pre-1930) and addiction.  This is where cigars and pipes differ sharply from cigarettes, they are 'old school', the smoke is not inhaled, and it’s always (almost) pure tobacco ... but I digress ...

I understand these men's love for the weed, particularly in reference to pipe smoking (although I appreciate a good cigar every so often).  I find the ritual of pipe smoking relaxing, it clears my head of the distractions of the modern world.  I often sit outside on my chair as the thick smoke wafts through the air, I find it to be some of the best occasions to pray.  The smoke filling my surroundings with its sweet/smokey aroma; maybe that’s what my prayers smell like to God?  Sometimes I have a book, sometimes only my thoughts – it leaves me time for extended contemplation, forcing me out of my house and away from my tv, computer, phone, and ipad.  It's not done in order to satisfy a craving or to get a fix, and it won't be done in 10 to 15 minutes either (more like 60 - 90 minutes).  Pipe smoking demands that time for it is set aside, it demands the smoker's patience.  There is an art form to the filling, lighting and tamping of a pipe that only shows progress after months of practice.  There are numerous and subtle differences to the tastes of the various tobaccos that rivals the complexities of other items often discussed and critiqued by "snobs", such as coffee, beer or wine (all of which I enjoy, immensely).  It's not about the end, it's about the journey. 

This is not to say that some types of smoking are bad for people and others are not.  I was aware the risk for mouth, tongue, and lip cancer would go up before I ever started and there is no doubt that I would likely be healthier in the long run if I didn't touch a pipe.  But life is consisted of more than the chances I'm willing to take with my physical health, and I have found a disproportionate amount of God's grace and goodness in such a little and controversial event, that, for me, makes the event all the more worth my time.