On cigarettes and the kingdom of God

cigarettesMy father died of cancer of the lung at the young age of 61, amidst other kinds of cancer. It may have been all that secondhand smoke.  My grandfather died of leukemia, with a strong case of emphysema mixed in; the cigarette smell hung on his clothing. In my mind, I remember him holding one of his nicotine sticks. I also remember the way my mom, Baptist pastor's wife in a church parsonage, put out an ash tray in the living room the day he came to visit. 

I remember the day I smoked a clove cigarette myself. The truth is the aroma was intoxicating; the tar in my mouth, disgusting. It felt like a coating of pure nastiness. Never again, I vowed. Never again. 

It would be quite easy for me to wage a personal vendetta against tobacco in all its forms. After all, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and all that (though we could have a lively debate on what this means!). Even more urgently, Christians have this terrible habit of separating body from soul. Some of us should just go ahead and sign up for the local "Gnostics Anonymous" club, we sometimes have this horrible way of saying the body is evil and the soul is good, a belief that cannot be found in Scripture. The same word of God that states that God's plan to renew the earth and the people in it will come to fruition; that in fact, today, in this moment, we are a part of this advancing kingdom, a reflection of his glory. Our physical bodies will be renewed.

All of this I believe to be the truest truth about me and about those who enter the kingdom of God. God, through Jesus, is making all things new.

Hallelujah and pass the nicotine?

No. I don't want anyone I love (and I should love all of those whom Jesus loves) to destroy their body through a nicotine addiction, to spend their money on something that kills, to abuse themselves when they are God's Beloved. This is my first thought, and it rings true.

However, my second thought is this: Jesus is crazy about people who smoke.  He meets them in their nicotine haze, not in the place we would wish for them to be, cleaned up and set free from every compulsion.

Recently a woman pursuing the claims of Jesus and a life of sobriety shared an idea with me. What if we all put our cigarettes under our bed each night? She meant this in terms of a spiritual practice. You see, by bending down to place the Marlboros under the bed, you find yourself on your knees—a perfect position in which to pray to your heavenly Father. The same happy thing happens in the morning when your eyes open. To get up and get out for a smoke, you must once again bend down on your knees, the perfect position in which to pray.

I paused for a moment and replied, "I think that is a wonderful idea!" Because it is, you see. Because when we kneel and we seek the Almighty, he moves. Sometimes he moves slowly, using adversity and challenge and circumstances to cultivate wholeness and holiness. Sometimes he moves quickly. Always, he moves, when a heart is sincere.

I think it's still fair to say that I hate cigarettes. I simply hate what they do to the people I love. But eclipsing this hatred is love. Love for God's Creation, love for anyone trapped in an addiction of any kind, love for the kingdom of God in all its subversiveness.

You see, this kingdom is like a mustard seed, small in its beginnings, a tiny seed that mysteriously grows to become a healthy tree, a resting place (Matthew 13:31-32).

And the kingdom of God is also like yeast, which in the beginning is just . . . yeast. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about 60 pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough." (NIV Matt. 13:33)

The kingdom is both here, announced through the person of Jesus, and in the not yet, the glorious day when he will renew all things. And in the meantime, it pops up, small but growing, in unexpected places. Sometimes through prayers offered next to a pack of cigarettes.

And here is what I am beginning to believe, to wrap my hands and my heart around: the Kingdom of God can sprout up anywhere, in the most desolate and small and despairing of circumstances. I want to look for it there, while believing it can break through in even greater measure, taking down walls, providing more healing and shoring up souls. And that is all I have to say on cigarettes and the kingdom of God.

How is the kingdom of God showing up in your world, small but subversive? Do tell.