It doesn’t take most people very long to learn that I am an avid pipe smoker. My maternal grandfather smoked a pipe and I can remember the smell of him and his house. I did not get to spend very much time with him when I was a boy and so these are the memories I cling to. When I smoke my pipe, I feel like I am part of the world he knew and enjoyed.
Another hero of mine, CS Lewis, was a pipe smoker. I have some of these same feelings towards him as well.
Besides that, I just like it.
To some this may sound like a justification. A rationalization. An excuse to explain an unhealthy, bad habit. But I feel that I have a scriptural foundation for this exercise. It may be of interest to note that I did not begin smoking a pipe until I was almost forty. I was prepared to deny this desire for the greater good as I understood it. In other words, my Christianity taught me this brand of holiness – don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew; and don’t go with girls that do. So in the spirit of Christ’s words, “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me,” I felt like I was doing just that by not smoking a pipe.
The first miracle that John records in his Gospel is the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2). To me this is significant. First of all, make no mistake, Jesus made an alcoholic beverage. The grape juice argument is asinine. One could use this as an argument in support of drinking alcohol and that would be legitimate. But that is not the main point I began to understand. I see Jesus validating a celebration of life. The maxim that dreariness is next to Godliness is not supported by Jesus. He is with the people enjoying life; celebrating what God has provided. The truth is, He not only went to the party, He brought the beer (so to speak).
Let me push this a little further. In true Chestertonian fashion, I would like to say that the problem with the way most of us practice Christianity is not that we are too pagan, it is that we are not pagan enough. We have lost our celebration of life. While it may be true and good that we no longer dance in the moonlight to pagan gods in celebration of the harvest, the sad truth is, we also no longer dance in the moonlight to The God in celebration of anything.
I believe that God wants us to enjoy life. To celebrate. When I smoke my pipe, this is what I am doing. I am joining in the chorus that agrees with God that His creation is good. I am not committing some outrageous sin against all that is holy. I am at the wedding, enjoying life, partaking of the bounty provided by The Master of Ceremony.
I could go on and talk about how Paul chastises the Galatians because they have added religious rules as a badge of holiness. Sure, the rules they are adding are from the OT, but I think the point is applicable. Either our holiness is something in Christ that He does (or has done) or our holiness is something in us that we do.
That opens a big can of worms but this one thing I know for sure: holiness is not about something you don’t do (like not going to rated R movies, or not drinking or not smoking a pipe).
How many of us, if we were transported in time to the wedding at Cana, would not drink the wine because we are Christians? Do we not realize that it is Christ Himself who made the wine?
How many of us do not participate in the simple pleasures of life, like dancing, or wine, or pipe tobacco, because we are Christians? Do we not realize that it is Christ himself who made these things?
I do not want us to celebrate sin. I want to encourage a celebration of life. A celebration of all of the good things that God has put at the table.