Would a writer who espouses the Christian worldview and embraces the teachings of Jesus the Christ as recorded in his “Sermon on the Mount” endeavor to write, not just one, but an entire series of fictional stories pertaining to the plant scientifically known as cannabis? In the eternal words of Reverend Lovejoy (from the Simpsons), “short answer, yes with an if. Long answer, no with a but.”
Since hatching the concept of Reeferpunk as the bread and butter of my writing career a year ago, I’ve received my share of rolled eyes and furrowed brows. Mind you, most people I know have become so immune to my brand of insanity that even an announcement of moving to Australia to farm kangaroos wouldn’t warrant a quizzical look. But writing a series of alternate history novels dealing with marijuana? After working as a campus pastor for the last thirteen years?
Usually the next question is in regards to the name or whereabouts of my dealer. But seriously, not only have I never inhaled, I’ve never even puffed any of the wacky tobacky. So why write about it? Was it because I ate paint chips as a child? Possibly. But mostly it comes down to understanding two things about me and my worldview in regards to Christianity and the arts.
First, I do not believe it is my calling to be a Christian writer, but rather a Christian who writes. I share the same rich and universal call of Christ with all Christians, and I seek to live that out in many ways. I also have discovered a talent and a passion for writing stories. Might that talent be a small part of my unique and individual calling to a life filled with and poured out for Christ? Sure. Why not.
More importantly, writing provides an opportunity for me and my family to afford the lifestyle of service and hospitality that my wife and I desire. I don’t sit down in my office morning after morning to be the next C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis didn’t sit down in his office attempting to be the next C.S. Lewis either. At this point in my career I don’t write to change the world. I don’t even write for Christians. Many wise and talented writers today are writing to equip the saints. God bless them, but I’m not in their number.
I write stories — stories about life somewhere in between reality and human desire. Reality being the place we all live, and human desire the place our imaginations yearn to deliver us. As humans we desire a myriad of things — some we later discover to be empty, lonely and worthless while others prove true. Believable stories involve characters like us in their diversity. Enjoyable stories involve characters more exaggerated and clever than us — characters who tug at singular aspects of our humanity whether dark and terrible or brilliantly noble.
So why not write about reefer? Cannabis has arguably played a role as controversial and large in the human story as any other plant — animating characters of every sort. Who doesn’t have an opinion of it? What modern culture hasn’t confronted it? This leads me to my second reason for embracing Christ’s call while condoning cannabis as content for story.
I believe The United States’ position toward cannabis to be flawed, both from a practical standpoint and one of Christian stewardship. The same species, cannabis, produces both the intoxicant known most widely as marijuana and the agricultural crop known as hemp. Naturally occurring varieties of the plant contain differing levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). A number higher than 3% typically constitutes marijuana, while a level lower than 0.3% is regarded by many nations as industrial hemp.
Without addressing the “rightness or wrongness” or even threat of marijuana as an intoxicant, I contend that cannabis should be dealt with more wisely. During the reefer madness of the 1930’s all cannabis was hyperbolically labelled as a maniac-making narcotic that would render all-American youth as sex-crazed killers. By the 1980’s we had relaxed our vehemence to recognized it as a gateway drug. Now it’s associated mostly with lazy (good-natured yet worthless) potheads. A noble evolution indeed. Yet through all of this the role that hemp used to play in agriculture and industry has been lost or ignored.
With the inevitable end of petroleum as sole (or even primary) energy source and fuel for the world (not to mention basis for plastics, fibers, paints and more) it would make sense for the United States to revisit their stance toward one of the most promising replacements (or at least supplements) to oil. Capable of producing energy, fuel, fibre, food, plastics, a binder, insulation and more, cannabis deserves to be invited to the table during our discussions of a sustainable tomorrow.
If serious parties are unwilling to do so, then just maybe it is the role of an unrealistic, Jesus-following purveyor of commercial fiction to dangle the idea into the realm that dwells between reality and human desire (otherwise know as the imagination) of a few thousand entertainment-seeking readers. In so doing, maybe I’ll be able to keep my kids in new shoes and buy that next box of wine.
Who knows, maybe Jesus will take two shoes and five liters of wine and multiply it into a feast worthy of feeding the multitudes. Wouldn’t that be something to talk to C.S. Lewis about in heaven.