Recently, I was having a conversation with a middle-aged woman who thought I was an impressive young man (who could blame her? I like to think of myself as quality cougar bait…), and she told me that she was concerned because she caught her 19-year-old son with a cigar. I could tell this was really bothering her, and she asked me what she should do. At that point I told her that I enjoyed smoking cigars on occasion. Her face shocked, I told her that my parents did an amazing job of telling me the dangers of things like tobacco, alcohol and sex.
For the first 22 years of my life, I didn’t consume in any forms of tobacco or alcohol. The reasons I didn’t do these things was because my belief was “good Christians” don’t participate in activities like that. Around that time I smoked my first cigar. Like a bad young cigar smoker I tried a grape Swisher Sweet. Grateful to my friends, they introduced me to Arturo Fuente, Rocky Patel and Perdomo. Over time I have become quite the cigar connoisseur. Part of being a connoisseur means that you have control and have embarked in it because it was meant to be pleasurable. This cigar appreciation scares some people around me. It doesn’t fit into their rule structure. Despite my disregard in this rule now, it gave me the proper balance and perspective to not abuse it. You must know the rules and trust them before you learn which rules to make exceptions for.
When reading the Ten Commandments, you see that the first nine are external things and the last one is an internal thing. When we learn to love the rules that lead us to the love of God and the love of others, then the law to not covet others stuff, leads us to a love of self, a love with what we have, what is. This is the value of following laws. As the Apostle Paul beautifully says, “Through the law, I died to the law.” Only by learning the rules, can we learn the value and essence they carry. When we know that, we can have the freedom, self-control and wisdom to know which ones to break.
Richard Rohr’s new book Falling Upwards has been putting into words what I have been experiencing for the last two years. He says growing up in a conservative, rule-based environment gives us the proper security to help us build the identity structure that we need. Living in freedom and chaos doesn’t work with the adolescent development of a child. The human brain isn’t capable of processing abstract information until the age of twelve. This is why at early points in our life we need a solid “yes” and a solid “no” to help us protect us from the damaging things in life. This protected childhood allows us to build our lives up properly. When that life crashes and we experience what Rohr calls a “necessary suffering”, then we are able to comprehend what truly matters and move into our second half of life. This second half is where we begin to do our true work in ourselves and in the world.
Some of the angriest people I know are people who were spiritually abused (which the anger is very much justified) with conservative values. On top of that, some of the most angry people I know are the rigid defenders of the rules who never learned maturity or spirituality. If we do not learn how to take the good with the bad, then our past is viewed as nothing but negative (which is psychological warfare). This is the great blessing of knowing when to move on, what to keep and what to discard. This is that blessing of the second half of life. Something, I hope to continue to move towards.