There I was, on a rooftop with friends. Gazing at the city skyline, dragging on cheap cigarettes. Attempting to answer the conjecture laced with nicotine, “How did I get here?”
I managed to feel beat-poetic watching the sun descend behind buildings, my smoke halos of rebellion rising up into dusk.
This would surprise anyone who knew me in high school. I identified with many aspects of straight-edge culture and condemned tobacco use in debates. I wouldn’t even stand downwind of someone lighting up.
Still, there I was: inhaling smoke, exhaling angst. Enjoying the exhilaration induced by my rebellion against millennial Christendom. If Donald Miller and his friends filled rooms with blue smoke while talking theology, why couldn’t my friends and I do the same?
I made it through my high school years without giving in to the tobacco industry. I did so with help from pastors who told me, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” (i.e. hell) and those disturbing posters that hung on the walls of my classrooms portraying the hazardous chemicals found in cigarettes.
But then the influence of those scare tactics started to wane; smoking became a way for me to subvert legalism in the church, a way for me to demonstrate that a Christian can be just as unruly as a non-Christian. It was a way for me to state that the old rules of the church don’t apply as long as I believe in Jesus Christ.
Until I visited my specialist and listened to him talk about how dangerous smoking was for somebody like me who has Crohn’s disease.
According to my specialist, smoking significantly increases the inflammation caused by my condition. Even exposure to second hand smoke is enough to land me in a hospital bed.
I was dumbfounded.
Of course I already knew smoking was harmful whether or not I had Crohn’s. But like so many other 20-somethings, I was under the impression I was invincible, that I could quit any unhealthy habit before it got out of hand.
In those providential moments, I ran into the wall of my own mortality. I found myself asking whether my cultural angst was more important to me than my health.
Answering that question made me think deeper about how to assert my Christian identity. Isn’t being a Christian enough of a revolutionary statement? Especially within a culture so compelled by our own individuality? My proclamation to the world about who I am and what I stand for should be far more coherent and healthy.
And I shouldn’t be wasting my time pretending to be a Jesus-touting Bob Dylan or Jack Kerouac.
I still get irate if I encounter legalism in the church. But instead of using cigarettes to cope with my resentment, I blast some Minor Threat, letting the music take me back to a time in my life when I was far less willing to compromise.
Flickr photo (cc) by RubyShoe