Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What I Learned From "Smoking"

Jesus ate with the sinners and tax collectors and so in order to be like him, I smoke with the homeless. 

I don’t actually smoke, because why would I willingly draw chemicals into my lungs, full and undiluted by air?  (I've never smoked in my life, actually) Instead, I just stand with the homeless while they smoke and jaw with them, listen to them.  I understand the consequences of second hand smoke, Aunt Marge, but how could I turn down such an opportunity? I can meet the needs of the homeless all day, and that is opening the door to relationship, but chatting is the foundation of relationship.  And if I die of lung cancer, I will consider it all worthwhile.

Really, church should be less like a theatre performance or concert and more like a smoke break.

It is brief and relaxed. Everyone who comes is at rest, relaxing between work opportunities.  No one needs to dress up. Everyone has an equal voice, but we all stop to listen to wisdom, whomever it comes from.  And instead of “amen” we say, “that’s right” or “right on” or we just add onto their insights with our own.  In a smoke break, everyone has a vice, and it’s out in the open, but we don’t judge.  After all, we have our vice as well.  The smoke breakers are rejected by the self-righteous, and they might be jealous of our meditative break.  We have an opportunity to share real thoughts, because there’s no agenda. Thus, the seed of real change can be planted in that kind of an atmosphere, despite the haze.

And a lot of my church work occurs in the smoking area.  The majority of my counselling happens there. And the majority of my listening.  The smoke break is the center of the community, because that’s where the real stories come out, that’s where we find out who is really hurting. That’s the place of listening, of communing.  Sermons don’t mean much behind a podium, but they can really touch the heart in the middle of the smoking area.

I’ve learned many things “smoking” with the homeless.  Here’s a few of my lessons:

  • I’ve learned not to be offended by small things like foul language or poor manners or second hand smoke.
  • I’ve learned that the heart of respect isn’t politeness, but caring enough never to bring harm to another’s heart.
  • I’ve learned how to laugh at others.  And myself.
  • I’ve learned the sorrow of deep regret.
  • I’ve learned that in a community of the poor, we all share each other’s trauma.
  • I’ve learned to be lenient at other’s flare ups, but to be angry at my own unrighteous judgments.
  • And I’ve learned that listening has greater impact for change than preaching. Because listening allows the speaker to preach at herself.

Smoking is a sin, (so I’ve heard, but I’ve never heard God say it).  It’s certainly unhealthy.  But smoking with the sinners is a rare opportunity.

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