Pubdate: Fri, 05 Feb 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: David Kelly, Special to Tribune Newspapers


Members of Colo. Group Say Pot Strengthens Faith

CENTENNIAL, Colo. - 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 quibble with that observation, but this was the 
Stoner Jesus Bible Study where the divine is liberally interpreted 
through a haze of pot.

Button, a self-described 40-something soccer mom with two teenage 
sons, started the group last May.

She was disenchanted with her own church and 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 peddled around her neighborhood.

"I loved everyone I saw. I said, "Thank you God, that was the feeling 
I always wanted in church,' " she recalled.

But the church is 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 among those who say the church should treat 
cannabis like alcohol and others who still see it as a dangerous drug.

Most mainstream denominations have made allowances for medical 
marijuana users but fall short of accepting recreational pot.

Even Button, an ardent conservative, voted against legalization 
before trying it herself. She's now fully embraced weed, turning her 
home into a "Bud & Breakfast" where she serves up cannabis-infused 
pastries and pot leaf smoothies every morning.

"I still feel bad I voted against it," she said.

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 the Bible. They soon grew to 
over 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 the sacraments  a mason jar full of joints, a disposable 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. "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," she replied.

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," it asked, " you submit to its rules: "Do not 
handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"?

Knowing glances were exchanged.

"That was deep," Williams said.

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 ultra conservative televangelist Pat Robertson supports it.

The United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian 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 used widely in both the New and Old 
Testaments, said the Rev. 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 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," added Williams. They giggled. "Oh 
man, I am so high," Button said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom