Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Pipe Club

It is a great mystery, but much more is gained from the company of old men, encircled in a fog of pipe and cigar smoke, than merely a few hours of mature camaraderie. Something about masculinity is much more "caught" than it is "taught." To catch these crumbs of wisdom that fall from the elders' table, one must be in close proximity to the one's dropping them. In addition, it is no small matter to be invited into the fellowship of older men when they gather to speak of weighty matters, of light-hearted jokes, of legendary anecdotes and deeply held values.

A grocery list of virtues to which younger men should continually aspire are on display, implied in the praises of past comrades and laments over errant brothers. In such an circle, one hears about the manliness of fidelity, the duty to treat one's family with understanding, the honor of service to one's country, the respect due the dead and the folly of misguided politics. By participating in this "Pipe Club," I partake in the shared history with "tribal elders."

And yet, it is not merely these qualities that draw one to a smoke-enshrouded porch in front of a church. Indeed there is something in the smoke...

Wafting in the burnt tobacco fumes is something mystical, magical and necessary. An indescribable efficacy rides upon the cloud holding steadily aloft around the heads of those gathered. The pipe then becomes an instrument of meditation, and the cigar a conductor of reflection. The tobacco is truly then a gift of God, offered in creation for our pleasure and to facilitate the appropriate times of slowing life down. Indeed the pipe and the prayer book can can easily go together, as does coffee and Scripture reading each morning.

But one's smoke is best when mingled with others' smoke. It calls out to community; to speak with the other smoker of things that cannot be merely mentioned in passing, but instead require a few draws from the pipe or that 50 ring maduro to consider the answer well. Surely of the many pleasures built into creation, tobacco has had the effect of creating close networks of people. As admittedly destructive as cigarettes are (this is not contestable), it is universal "sign language" for one cigarette smoker to place two fingers to his lips in a clear sign of requesting to "bum a smoke" from another smoker who has pulled his own pack out in the smoking area. Neither could speak the others' native tongue, and yet this communication could occur without ambiguity.

Pipe and cigar smokers know the vast difference that exists between their pleasures and the vice of cigarettes (non-smokers seldom understand the difference, and therefore often ignorantly claim there is none). Nevertheless, better the "vice" of cigarettes than the isolation of neglecting so effective an excuse to gather with peer/mentors that God has placed around you to nourish the soul. Along that line, the Pipe Club at Church of the Holy Trinity is a joy to attend, and a blessing to the heart, mind and spirit.

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