For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated cigarette smoke. As a kid, I thought there was something inherently wrong with people who smoked cigarettes. If somebody near me smoked, I figured that person was a bad person. I’d like to think that was a natural judgment from a little kid, but it actually took me a very long time to stretch open the tightly wound walls of my mind to change that judgment. You could say things have changed.
In fact, now there’s something about cigarette smoke that makes me feel at home.
When I’m walking between class buildings on campus, sometimes I catch a whiff of smoke. The smell, formerly repulsive to me, now ignites the flow of a stream of images and sounds in my brain. Every time I smell cigarette smoke, I think of a couple different places at which I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years. Some of the images that come to mind are bad; most are good. Certain sounds go through my mind – very loud sounds.
I know the abstract language is painful, so I’ll get to the point. I’ve become very involved with the metal and hardcore scene over the past couple years. When I first got involved in the scene, I was repulsed by the sheer dirtiness of the venues and the seemingly careless lifestyle of many of the people who attended the shows or even played in the bands I was going to see. Something about the music kept pulling me in, though, and I continued to attend shows regularly. I got used to the mostly dark nature of the scene, and as I began to think more frequently about God’s purpose for my life, my outlook shifted drastically. I no longer saw the darkness as a blanket over the entire scene, but I sought opportunities to be light.
Although I never conformed to the norm of cigarette-smoking, my senses became acclimated to their smell and sight. As I began to look for opportunities to minister to the lost within the scene, I learned a very important lesson that Jesus exemplified better than any other person who has ever walked the earth. In order to attain the listening ear of a lost soul, it is absolutely necessary to meet someone where he or she is at. That doesn’t equate to conformity, it simply equates to love. However, love isn’t easy when it inconveniences our self-constructed standards. I am still a student of that statement, and I will continue to be.
I learned to embrace the scene with all I had. There were parts of it that I didn’t enjoy; the bars, the alcohol, the gangs, the fights, and constant cloud of cigarette smoke that seemed to be blackening my lungs by the second. I didn’t support what I didn’t agree with, but I sought to be a light in the darkness. I learned to appreciate the backgrounds of every person who contributed to what I deemed inconveniences of the scene I was increasingly becoming involved with. People don’t act the way they act for no reason. Every action has a full story that includes unique struggles. I’m not making excuses for people, but I am saying that when we meet people where they’re at and truly appreciate who they are, the ways in which they inconvenience us quickly fade. It’s not about me. Each person is a human and each person deserves to be treated as a human, no matter what their quirks or struggles are, and no matter how obvious those struggles appear to us. In my mind, treating a human as a human means loving them for who they are while seeking to guide them down the journey of Truth found in Christ.
In order to truly love a group or culture of people, one must immerse itself in that culture. Once again, that doesn’t equate to conformity – it equates to sincere and honest participation in the culture with the maintenance of personal values and standards. Paul exemplified this concept perfectly in 1st Corinthians 9:20-22:
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
In order to win souls to Christ, it is important to accept and become involved with the culture of those we are seeking to show the love of Christ. We obviously can’t be perfect to everybody, but we look to the example of Christ to develop sincere compassion for a person or group of people. And if that means breathing in more cigarette smoke than we’d normally desire, so be it.
I was stagnant in terms of advancing the Kingdom when I focused on how the world could be a better place for me to live in according to my own standards. When I truly began to see other people as Jesus might see them, my self-serving standards no longer mattered.
I used to hate cigarette smoke. Now there’s something about it that makes me feel at home.