Chris and I (Derek) recorded and published a podcast called “God and Weed” but for some reason I thought I should recap our discussion in a blog post as well. We are actually fairly coherent in the podcast. You should listen to it. Funny even it is.
Being in Colorado, marijuana is becoming normalized for us. There are very few people that think it is destroying the youth, ruining productivity, or an enormous health hazard. No portal to hell opened up after it was legalized. In fact, it seems that a few positive things happened. There is less drunk driving, tax revenue appears to be funding the important things, and there is a fairly healthy new industry in the state.
In spite of this apparent net positive, it remains interesting that we keep trying to find a medical or psychological benefit of marijuana. Admittedly it is very difficult to study a drug that is still schedule 1 at the federal level, but though miraculous claims from the supporters have waned a bit, there is still much optimism that it will cure something eventually. Thankfully, I don’t think anyone is claiming that it is a serious cure for cancer any more.
What I think we’ve collectively found is that it is a nice alternate to opiates for pain management, good for knocking down insomnia, and still seems to be effective for epilepsy and Parkinson’s symptoms. I think there is still talk about effective uses for anxiety and even mild autism. Lots of good, is my point, but no miracle cure has emerged.
One point we made in the podcast is that no one does weed socially; there is always an intention of changing one’s mental perception. A coworker and friend of mine, David, brought this point to light a year or two ago (and I forgot to cite him in the podcast). Weed changes something in our heads. Alcohol does too but only subtly in small quantities. This means that one can sip a glass of wine for the sheer pleasure of the taste of wine. The same does not go for weed where one will definitely feel differently.
There is a fundamental difference between social alcohol consumption and social marijuana consumption. Sure, many people drink to get drunk or just for the social lubricant that it provides. Though I don’t know anyone that craves the taste of lawn clippings in their brownies or hacking up a lung, I suppose that may be of interest to some. Still, though it is becoming fashionable to pass around a vape pen at dinner parties, there is an intention to adjust one’s mental state through the ingestion of this drug. Admittedly it is a relatively harmless drug, it is still tweaking the brain chemicals in a fairly heavy handed sort of way.
The challenge then for Christians or people of any faith is to determine if this chemical adjustment is in line with God’s will. Does God want us to adjust brain chemistry? Well, yes, absolutely. Everything–food, love, sex, sleep, exercise, coffee, et cetera–tweaks brain chemistry and there are a number of psychopharmaceuticals that are medically healing. So, tweaking chemistry isn’t wrong. If you are paying attention, this means that God digs science.
More to the point, however, modifying brain chemistry to escape something that we should instead be addressing head on, is not God’s will. We’ve got lots of work to do in the world. Running from that work didn’t work out for Jonah and it won’t work out for you either.
The corollary to this is that there must be time for recreation and even palliative care; a time for not fighting but for resting, recovering, unplugging, and restoring. It feels like the right thing to do when we deny ourselves, live stoic lives, and burn the candle at both ends, but it isn’t. Athletes know that there must be a balance between work and recovery but not every one else has gotten that memo.
The writers of South Park sort of nailed it when the pointed out through Randy Marsh that weed makes you feel fine when you are bored and usually when we are bored, we should be learning or doing something important. Balance, is what I’m saying.
Back to the topic: Can we use marijuana in our relationship with God? What about praying while high? Can we get baked before going to church?
No one in ancient Israel was smoking pot or anything like it so the Bible doesn’t mention it directly. OK, maybe someone was getting high but if they were, they forgot to write it down (go figure) so we would know about it. The most similar recorded substance known to those folks was wine or strong drink. Leviticus 10:9 directly forbids priests from getting liquored up before going into the tent of meeting. Of course, priests are held to a higher standard. Still, there are a number of passages where a person who is drunk is clearly not looked upon favorably. Isaiah 5:11 is a real buzz kill for day drinkers. That said, wine is prominent in the temple but the abuse of it–being drunk–is condemned.
This makes sense for at least three reasons. First, the temple is a sacred place. People go there to worship, pray, meditate, commune with God. A bunch of drunk people gets in the way of the serious and the sacred.
Second, all of the worship activities and spiritual practices imply communication and truth. Communication is two way meaning that we aren’t just speaking to or at God; we want to hear from God as well. Having our subconscious unlocked and running amok could be fun but it is getting in the way of what we are there to do. More on this later.
Third, worship is supposed to be different. It is supposed to be sacred and set apart from the profane nonsense that is our lives. Even more than that, worship is supposed to be pure. That line from Leviticus about the priests avoiding strong drink while serving in the temple is immediately after the one narrative section in Leviticus where Aaron’s sons get deep fat fried after bringing “strange fire” into the ritual. Their timing–the very inauguration of the tabernacle–may have had something to do with the severity of God’s wrath. Still, the undefined “strange fire” is likely a borrowed ritual from a competing religion in the land. It may have been something fun, interesting, and even awesomely spiritual. The problem was that it removed that ‘set aside’ character of true worship of the true God.
In other words, the act of borrowing from another faith dilutes how separate worship is from our day to day life. This isn’t to say that we can’t pray while driving, meditate while exercising, or read our bible in bed. Rather, it is good and right to also set aside time and our daily lives to intentionally enter the sacred: a place very little like anywhere else in our lives.
At this point, Derek is coming off as a real buzz kill. If you are reading this in a green fog, sorry for harshing your high. Derek will stop doing that now.
All religions have some things in common and one of those things is that when we practice religion, religious acts, spiritual disciplines, … we are changed at least for a moment. It is called different things but the experience is an opening, a connection, and a loss of self. In buddhism, it is enlightenment. In Christianity, it is a charismatic gift like speaking in tongues.
There is meaning behind the experience but the very fact that we seem designed with a circuit that allows us to have this connection is amazing. The effect is that we can listen and when our God speaks softly, listening is fairly difficult. The communication channel must be open and it is by practicing our religion that we are able/enabled to communicate.
I think of it as a knob. Some people have a knob that “goes to eleven” and some of us just don’t. Some of us know how to turn the knob while others of us struggle to even find it. People of the charismatic or pentecostal flavors seem to be able to just go to max power with no problem. Buddhism seems content with just spinning the knob as does a fair amount of Hinduism. Even Islam and Judaism have a worship pattern that seems designed to turn the knob.
Chanting, singing, repetition, multi-sensory experience, body positions, etc., these are the tools of creating this space. Curiously, this openness is what we feel at concerts. A good concert isn’t just good music but a transcending group experience. In fact, music turns lots of knobs in our head but it definitely turns The Knob as well.
I would suggest that perhaps the crazy conservative people that tried to get music banned back in the 80s sort of knew us. They knew that music made us feel, well, right and that the words we heard when we felt that way would seem truthful. Indeed, this is what happens in almost all religions of the world. We turn the knob, and then we listen to a sermon from the preacher, iman, rabbi, or priest. In other words, religions take benevolent advantage of partitioners being in this space to push messages of truth, love, redemption, repentance, and all other good things.
Or, if you are in a cult, lies. This is why ministry professionals are educated, tested, accredited and, yes, professionals (not amateurs). We should not let people speak to a congregation if they are not trusted because lives can be changed when people are spoken to when their knobs are turned. Maybe this is why we listen to people that play guitar for a living. By the way, stop that. Bass players, doubly so.
I would contend that it is very difficult for some of us to turn the knob anymore. We are constantly entertained, distracted, and bombarded. Marketing and advertising have made us question the sincerity of everything and everyone. Even the “fake news” has us concerned that what we know isn’t true. We’ve gone from subjective truth (your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth) to being completely without an objective anchor. Even the near constant music in our lives makes us immune to the power that it can hold. Imagine a world without music on demand at the flick of a switch; imagine how amazing music would be in that world and what it would do to you.
In this world of cynicism and constant vigilance, how can we hear and feel a God that whispers rather than shouts? We are numb to the stimuli that used to turn our knobs. We are addicted to all the stimuli and we’ve taken them from the sacred places and like monkeys flinging poop, smeared it all over everything. We’ve profaned the sacred places by taking the sacred into the profane and letting it stand there shivering as we scream for it to provide us constant comfort.
That was a little huge. Sorry.
I believe that the circuit is broken and we broke it. We shut ourselves off from God by finding tasty distractions that feed us for the moment but leave us always unsatisfied. Maybe what we need to do is shut off the noise and listen again. But that would be exceedingly difficult for us to do unless we live in retreat centers and throw out our phones, computers, televisions, and radios. Yeah, that isn’t going to happen so what can we do?
Well, maybe a little weed is right for some people.
I would suggest that if you need help getting away, getting quiet, opening up, well, maybe getting a little baked isn’t a bad idea. I wouldn’t tell someone with chronic pain to abstain from their pain pills when they go to church. I wouldn’t want someone with depression to go off their meds before they pray, read scripture, or worship. Diabetics don’t need to abstain from insulin to get into a worshipful space.
If I preach for the rest of my life a message of balance, I think I would be doing God’s will. See, my point is don’t over do it. We all make mistakes getting our consumption correct. Most of us can’t figure out how much to eat at most meals. People that come up with the perfect dosages of drugs have gone to school for a long time to do. So, if you think getting a little fuzzy sounds interesting, do me a solid and start small, OK? As the kids say, “a little dab will do ya.”
Apology: First, I have no idea if anyone says that besides me and where I heard/read it. Second, that was a pun: the lowest form of comedy. Ironically, puns imply a real command of the language and are, therefore, possible proof that you can’t be both smart and funny. I digress…
Now, if you are going to try this, don’t get couch-locked, don’t be a total stoner, don’t giggle, and for the love of all that is good, pure, holy and right, do not bring Cheetos into a house of worship. I’m actually more offended by snack foods in worship services than by someone smelling of little green.
I would suggest starting in the privacy of your own home during your devotional time. Get centered, safe, calm, and then fill your time with trusted voices. Good worship music, the Bible, known good writers and speakers. Experiment in private when you can afford to screw up.
Now, if you do decide to try this in an actual worship service, here are some guidelines I’d like to see clearly in place:
First, keep your mouth shut. I am totally serious about this. Shut up. This goes for other situations as well but especially if you are in a worship setting of any sort and you’ve taken a substance that is going to make you even slightly loopy, shut the fuck up. Oh, you will think you are brilliant and that you have something share. You don’t. Really, you don’t. Keep it to yourself or write it down so you have it for later. Do not say anything more than ‘hello’.
Second, you might be tempted to do some singing. OK, that is fine but let me remind you of rule #1. Keep it chill. Sing the song everyone else is singing in the key they are singing it in and try to keep the tempo the same as well.
Third, try to not smell like a skunk died in the air intake of a diesel truck. In general, it is exceedingly uncool to get in the way of someone trying to connect with God. Smell, sight, sound, whatever, are all ways that you can get in someone’s way. Don’t be that guy/girl.
Fourth, handle your fucking high. Maintain. You might think, “no one can tell.” No, the second you think that, trust me, everyone can tell.
Fifth, no one wants to know how high you are so don’t tell us. See rule #1. Shut up. Let that be your mantra.
As an aside, when you go into surgery, they give you some yummy medication that will relax you. It will also make you talk nonstop until they put the mask on your face and knock you out. Also, you won’t remember what you said or did afterwards. I’ve had many surgeries and my trick is to repeat “shut up, shut the fuck up” in my head until the lights go out. One time I didn’t and when I woke up after surgery, I start preaching to anyone in earshot about Supralapsarian Calvinism. Don’t be that guy. Let the last thought your completely intact brain has be “shut up. Keep you mouth shut. Just shut the fuck up.”
Lastly, if you are the person in front leading the service or at the sound board or even the lowly bass player, no, you have to be clean and sober. Absolutely, totally, and completely clean and sober. No exceptions. Sorry.
All of these guidelines are roughly paraphrased from various letters by Paul. References available upon request. Hey, I’m writing a blog post, not an article for Wikipedia.
So, let’s summarize: I think that if you cannot let yourself connect with God any other way, yes, you can try being a little impaired as a corrective. Recognize that it is medicine, something that you have to use to fight back against this world. Don’t get used to it and don’t advertise it. Test everything against God’s word (including this blog post, duh).
Now, I would like to point out that I wrote this whole thing– 2,900 words–without ever mentioning Rastafarianism. I didn’t and don’t really need to but since I brought it up, our friends in Jamaica used weed roughly the same way I am suggesting: they used it to blot out the trouble of their lives so that they could meet with God. What sort of went sideways for the Rastafari was that everyone got baked and that created an unsustainable theology. This is why clergy can’t play. The truth has to be protected and even if the receivers of the truth are a tweaked, the people preaching the truth can’t be. The truth must remain protected by the clean and sober.
Paul said that someplace. Probably in Romans. 🙂