Pubdate: Sun, 31 Jan 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: David Kelly, Kelly Is a Special Correspondent.

On the Ground in Centennial, Colo. with David Kelly


Members of Stoner Jesus Bible Study Say Pot Strengthens Their Faith

As Snow Began to Fall Outside, Deb Button Snuggled Up on Her Couch, 
Fired Up a Joint and Spoke of the Nature of Christ.

"Even If Jesus Didn't Smoke Weed, He'd Still Be a Stoner," She Said, 
Exhaling a White Cloud.

Her Kitten Sniffed the Air Curiously.

"Jesus Was Peaceful and Loving. He Went From House to House and Was 
Always Accepted," She Explained. "Only a Stoner Could Do That."

Theologians Might Dispute That, but This Was the Stoner Jesus Bible 
Study, Where the Divine Is Liberally Interpreted Through a Haze of Pot.

Button, a Self- Described Forty-Something Soccer Mom With Two Teenage 
Sons, Started the Group Last May. Disenchanted With Her Church, She 
Was Using Marijuana to Relieve Migraines When Something Peculiar Happened.

"One Night I Got High and Had the Most Incredible Spiritual 
Experience of My Life," She Said. "I'm Sitting in My Living Room and 
the Cannabis Was Kicking in at a Higher Dose, and I Could Literally 
Feel God. I Was Filled With Love, an Indwelling of Love."

Delightfully Stoned, She Hopped on a Bike and Pedaled Around Her 
Suburban Neighborhood.

"I Loved Everyone I Saw. I Said, ' Thank You, God. That Was the 
Feeling I Always Wanted in Church!'" She Recalled.

but Religions Are Conflicted About Pot. Its Legalization in Many 
Parts of the Country Has Not Only Posed a Challenge to Law 
Enforcement, Banking and Regulators; It Has Also Exposed Spiritual 
Rifts. Many Mainstream Denominations Have Made Allowances for Medical 
Use but Won't Accept Recreational Pot.

Even Button, an Ardent Conservative, Voted Against Legalization in 
Colorado Before Trying It Herself. She Has Now Fully Embraced Weed, 
Turning Her Home into a "Bud & Breakfast" Where She Serves Up 
Cannabis-Infused Pastries and Pot Leaf Smoothies Every Morning.

After Her Religious Awakening, Button Placed an Ad on Craigslist 
Seeking Kindred Spirits. Calls Trickled in From Those WHO Shared Her 
Affinity for Getting High and Reading Scripture. They Soon Grew to 
More Than 30 Members Meeting Weekly at Button's Home or a Denver Coffee Shop.

on This Wintry Evening, Members Shook Off the Cold While Button Laid 
Out a Mason Jar Full of Joints, a Lighter and a Stack of Bibles.

Mia Williams and Kim Garcia, Both College Students, Helped Themselves.

"People Are Very Judgmental in Many Churches," Said Williams, Taking 
a Long Drag. "We Are Not Saying This Is the Only Way, but This Is the 
Way We Worship God."

a Smiling Button Scanned the Room.

"I Just Read They Found Cannabis Residue in Ancient Jars in Israel," She Said.

"Where Did You Read That?" Williams Asked. "High Times." a Nervous- 
Looking Woman Wandered In. She Asked Not to Be Identified for Fear of 
Losing Her Job. Marijuana May Be Legal Here, but Employees Can Still 
Be Fired for Flunking a Drug Test. and Many Feel Stigmatized for 
Using Cannabis.

"I Used to Cry and Beg God to Please Take This Away, but Without It I 
Had These Deep Depressions I Couldn't Escape," She Said. "When It 
Finally Became Legalized I Just Wept and Thanked God."

Button Flipped to Colossians, Chapter 2, in the New Testament and 
Read It Aloud. Verse After Verse Talked About How Christians Should 
Stop Paying Heed to Dietary Restrictions and Customs of Other Faiths: 
"Since You Died With Christ to the Elemental Spiritual Forces of This 
World, Why, As Though You Still Belonged to the World, Do You Submit 
to Its Rules: ' Do Not Handle! Do Not Taste! Do Not Touch!'?"

Knowing Glances Were Exchanged.

"That Was Deep," Williams Said.

"What Messages Resonated With You?" Button Asked.

Williams Said the Chapter Showed God "Made All of This Stuff for You, 
and You Don't Have to Listen to What Others Think."

Another Woman Interpreted It As a Divine Stamp of Approval on Weed.

"If Using Marijuana Causes People to Have a Peacefulness That Pours 
into Others, How Can That Be Anything but Pleasing to Christ?" She 
Asked. That Depends. Pope Francis, Known for His Progressive Stance 
on Gay Rights and Income Inequality, Has Denounced Legalized Pot, 
While Ultraconservative Televangelist Pat Robertson Supports It.

the United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches Approve of 
Medical Marijuana in Keeping With Matthew 25: 35, in Which Jesus 
Talks About Relieving Suffering. Opponents, Including Many 
Evangelicals, Cite Bible Passages Telling Believers Not to Engage in 
Drunkenness, Which They Say Includes Intoxicants Like Pot.

the Argument Isn't New. Hallucinogenic and Narcotic Plants, Including 
Cannabis, Have Played a Central Role in Religious Ceremonies for 
Thousands of Years. but Christianity Has Generally Frowned on Them, 
With the Exception of Alcohol, Which Is Used Widely in Both the New 
and Old Testaments, Said Father Thomas Reese, a Senior Analyst at the 
National Catholic Reporter.

"One of the Problems of Using Drugs in Spirituality Is You Can 
Confuse an Emotional High With a Spiritual Experience, and That Can 
Be Very Dangerous," Reese Said. "Spirituality Is More Than Being 
Mellow and Feeling Good About Yourself. a Spiritual Experience Is 
Supposed to Help You Get Closer to God. You Should Become Closer With 
Your Brothers and Sisters and Realize Your Responsibility for Loving 
Your Neighbor As Yourself."

That Had Proved Difficult for Button.

"People WHO Go to Church Don't Have a Problem Loving God, but They Do 
Have a Problem Loving You," She Said. "I Didn't Love My Fellow Man 
Until I Got High."

Every Group Member Said Cannabis Strengthened a Faith That Was 
Calcifying. and They Have Paid a Price.

Button Said She's Been Called a "Witch" and a "Blasphemer" for 
Linking Pot With Christianity.

Greg Giesbrecht, 57, Said His Evangelical Church Expelled Him After 
Learning He Used Medical Marijuana.

"They Called and Told ME I Wasn't Welcome," He Said.

He's Now Developing a 146- Acre Cannabis- Friendly Retreat in Rural 
Colorado Where People Can Camp, Get Married and Worship Without Judgment.

As the Bible Study Drew to a Close, Button and Williams Shared a Final Toke.

"If Weed Were More Welcome in Church, You Would See a Spiritual 
Revolution," Button Predicted.

"Talk About People Flooding In," Williams Said.

They Looked at Each Other and Giggled.

"OH, Man, I Am So High," Button Said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom