Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inspired By A Cigar Room

The other night, I was invited by a friend to join him at a local cigar room to watch the NCAA tournament. I'd never been to one, but the prospect of smoking my pipe indoors was appealing to me. You see, I like to smoke a pipe every once-in-a-while, and because I don't want to stink up my house, I always do it outside. So, I packed up my pipe, took a small bag of my favorite blend, fueled up my lighter, and made my way to the land of smoke and good conversation.

When I got there, I felt like I was playing the part of an extra on the set of Cheers. As different men arrived, I watched as the others sitting around welcomed them with a wave of the hand and a hearty calling out of their name. The men engaged one another in conversations about their work, families, and other life issues, all the while enjoying their favorite cigar or pipe. The evening was filled with smoke and casual, friendly, natural conversation. Men from all different walks of life sat around and enjoyed one another's company. As the new guy, I was immediately welcomed, and before long, I was right in the middle of the conversation.

There was a sense that these men genuinely cared for one another. There was an older man who the others respected so much so that he was allowed the best seat in the house. This man bought everyone in the room pizza. The owner offered a free cigar to another man whose business has fallen on some tough times. I met a man the others called "Rev," who I later discovered is a fellow pastor. Even though he is "a man of the cloth," all of the men there respect him and laugh at his goofy church jokes. It was a warm (pun intended), inviting, relaxing place where - even though all the men knew I was a pastor - I was accepted and made to feel right at home.

I really enjoyed my time there, and it got me thinking. I just completed leading the men at my church through a 24-week study on authentic manhood. We spent the last several months discussing what it means to be a real man, and while it was a good study, I'm not so sure the men really connected with one another like I had hoped. Why? I think because it was forced. There was a one-and-a-half hour window each week where men were expected to come, hear a lesson, and then share their deepest, most intimate feelings...and it really didn't work too well. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty confident that the men did get to know one another more than before, but the kind of care, concern, and camaraderie I experienced at the cigar room just wasn't there.

Women are quick to come together and can easily move from surface issues to core issues in a matter of minutes, but men need something to gather around. They need a project, an event, a reason. And even with those things in place, men are still pretty slow to open up. I know of a man who has committed his life to the Native American men of northern Wisconsin. He has lived among them for 30 years, and in addition to preaching at a small church (attended mostly by women and children), he spends most of his time under the hood of pick-up trucks with men and in the cab of a snow plow with men. He does this in order to connect with the men of his community because few will ever grace the doors of his church.

I know of a fellow pastor in the New England area who meets with the men of his community at a local pub once a week to drink some spirits and talk about the Holy Spirit. He calls it "Pastor on Tap," and it's a weekly event that is even advertised in his church bulletin. Men who this pastor would otherwise have no way of connecting with at the church come for a drink and some spiritual conversation with their pastor.

So, back to the cigar room concept. I'm convinced that men do want to connect with other men, and I'm convinced that men do want to discuss intimate issues like how they feel about their marriage, their children, their job, and even their spiritual condition. They just need an environment that allows them to connect with other men in a naturally masculine way...a place where men want to come, and a place that men enjoy when they're there. I'm not so sure sitting in a circle at church is that place.

I agree that encouraging men to hang out at a local cigar room (or even a local pub) would be a radical step for a church to take, but how serious are we about reaching the men in our church and the men in our surrounding community? I - for one - am tired of making attempts at reaching men that prove to be minimally effective at best, and I - for one - am ready to consider a more radical approach if effectiveness is the pay off.


Ken said...

well said.... I have enjoyed these truths since my days at Cedarville... lets discuss these ides over a Shiner Bock at Velocity!

Evonne said...

The Inklings met in a pub and no one would think to call J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, or ? (I don't remember his name)nonspiritual. Sometimes Christians are so busy sanitizing their lives they miss the joy and companionship they might otherwise enjoy. We are uncomfortable with moderation. "Don't teach me about truth and beauty, just label my music...Don't teach me about liberty and moderation...just give me a shot of grape juice...Do not be afraid..."

Papa Hill said...

This is almost as shocking as going to eat at the tax man's home!

Leon (alias Papa Hill in Japan)

Natros said...

I've been thinking along these lines for a little while. I see the value in a men's forum at church, but the fact of the matter is that it feels like a rather artificial environment for sharing meaningful things. In my experience, the deepest conversations with other men do come in the context of doing thing: hiking, sitting around a campfire, or relaxing in a pub. I think it's valuable to be somewhat intentional about having conversations in those environments, too, but somehow they feel like safer environments to just talk about what's going on or what we think.

I'd gladly have our next men's meeting at a cigar lounge: give me a time and a place! It sounds like it was a great place to meet some new people that you might not have interacted with otherwise as well, which is also a good thing.

strider said...

I'm totally down with a pub hour. I'm even open to sharing my own home brew.