I learned how to roll a cigarett tonight. It was great. We were sitting at the Olde Mill, Ethan and I had just split a Mediteranean Burger, we met some seminary kids writing papers (in a brewery? how do you concentrate?!) and we were cheering Jon to celebrate his graduation from gun smithing school.
An old friend of Jon’s, or perhaps a new friend of his, had come along as well to celebrate. We thought it would be just Jon, Ethan, Alanson and I. But it turned out to be a bit larger of a group to celebrate the achievement of a good friend in our community. In the end, Steve came (which I always find so amusing–his eclectic appearances are so haphazard), Ingrid stopped by and then from almost start to finish there was Hipster.*
He used to have dreadlocks down his back. He once protested the protest of the Westboro Baptists. He lived in Bolivia. He’s studied every major world religion. He lived out of his van at one point. He now drives a beautiful honda cruiser motorcyle. He’s pretty much a hippy. He’s so much a hippie, he pulled out his bag of tobacco and proceeded to roll a cigarette right there at the table.
Ethan, being from the south and a good pipe smoker himself, leaned across the table and asked what kind of tobacco it was. Hipster held up the bag and Ethan nodded with that sideways slant of his mouth that connotes approval. I stared in raptured awe. I’ve only seen this done in movies. “how–how–” I stumbled over the simple phrase “how do you do that?”
“You want to see?” So he unrolled it and started over, carefully explaining step by step as I just watched him: like a character who had stepped out of a John Wayne movie or the more recent rendition of True Grit. I was fascinated as the little white paper rolled up and down, sliding against itself between his round forefingers and thick stubby thumbs. “You want to try it?” he asked as Ingrid laughed at the wide eyed look on my face. It was like a cowboy come to life. He even had the facial hair and narrow cut jeans to fit the part. I nodded furiously and jumped from my seat.
“Yeah I wanna try it!” I said with delight. He scooted over to the booth and let me sit in the chair we had pulled up for him since there wasn’t any place where we could fit in the restaruant. I settled into the seat and he walked me through, step by step. It was amazing. You couldn’t have smoked the one I rolled. It was thick and uneven. I don’t know how he does it. We had to dump it out and trash the white paper that I had licked in a desperate attempt to seal the little leaves snuggly inside their covering. But it was a rather unique experience to sit at the table, load tobacco into that thing white waif paper and pretending to be a good old Coloradan westerner.
But then, I went outside with Ethan and Hipster and we smoked one of those cigarettes. It was sweet and warm. I can still smell the tobacco on my hands, in the gap between my thumb and forefinger. It is earthy but not like dirt, it is soothing and calm but not like sickly chamomile that finishes so poorly and has no lasting reward. It is sweet and deep and rich. It is like the scent of Joshua’s pipe at Christmas time, or the cigars in summer that blew from next door.
Yet, the most fantastic part of the evening was not the cigarette. It was the discussion that somehow came alongside the rolling of leaves and the cool night air on the porch that made me draw my sweater closer around my shoulders. Hipster asked Ethan and I how we were still in the church.
I didn’t know how to answer him.
I don’t always know myself why I’m still here.
We had the more lgical discussion. We talked about synoptic gospels and gnostic gospels. We talked about Vishnu and Buddhist monks, reincarnation and setting one’s self on fire without even flinching. We disucssed Jesus and the Jesus Seminar. We laughed at Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and I cursed Joel Osteen for heresy. We tossed around the idea of having a book club on the gnostic gospels or an apocryphal book from the Catholic Bible. And in general, I t hink we mostly listened to Hipster.
I think he’s processing. Of course, I think many of us are processing. Steve said he thinks Hipster’s journey is great, exciting even. He said he thinks it will be interesting to see if he comes back full circle to the church he left nearly seven or eight years ago.I nodded my agreement and Ethan did his. We sort of argued, in that pleasant way of presenting both sides and apologizing if we stepped on toes.
And then, at the end, we had to disburse for reasons of sleep. But I stood in the parking lot with Ethan and Hipster while Hipster smoked another and let his bike warm up. I said to him, in the orange yellow light of the back lot where the cars are parked crooked because there are no white lines marking the rules and boundaries and laws, I said that the only thing keeping me in the church is love.
I’ve been in lots of churches. And I’ve seen a lot of ish. And God know’s it’s a miracle I was still coming to church when I arrived home in 2009, worn out and despising all that moved and lived and breathed. But I came back to Adullam, and I said to Hipster, something as different. Something in these people…Ethan nodded his head and muttered something about true Christianity.
These people are legit, I told Hipster. And that is the only reason I stuck around. Because there is something real going on here. Something, that unlike cigarette rolling, cannot be explained with words or hand motions.
It simply is.
*clearly not his real name. But it was either calling him Hipster or The Fonz. I went with Hipster….not enough hair to be The Fonz.