Joel, Anthony, Kevin and I were sitting in the back of Joel's 1985 El Camino. It had been a long three days, heck it had been a long year and it was only January. As we all settled down to rest our sore feet and hands I pulled the zip lock bag from my pocket. In it were 3 Partagas Black Label cigars and one Onyx Mini Belicoso. This was a thank you to my 3 friends for sacrificing their weekend to help me remodel my wife's kitchen. This would be my first cigar, at the age of 35, but after the weekend, the year, and the ministry I was ready. I knew I had to start some sort of hobby after my eye began to twitch, cycling was no longer an option, drinking had ceased some 8 years earlier and my favorite past time of cigarettes was frowned upon by my employer (God and our Senior Pastor, my boss). Cigars though were enjoyed by the Pastor and many others in the religious community, Charles Haden Spurgeon, said that he would glorify God in all things even in smoking cigars. So I decided I would give it a whirl. At first puff, I knew I had found something that had been missing in my life. It was not so much the cigar, although that was great, it was the fellowship. When I quit drinking I quit hanging out at bars, one of the nice things about bars is the fellowship. Now I'm not talking about night clubs, I'm talking about bars, like Cheers. When I was in college the bartender knew our names, we knew hers, she would play "ship, cap, and crew" for beers with us, we enjoyed the talking as much as the .80 cent drafts, (yes I know I'm dating myself). That was something I missed, it appeared that cigar smokers had that same sense of community. The local shop where we frequent has a Cigar bar, the people there know your names, and they know what cigars you like. It was like the old days when you asked for the usual, but without the hangover and the guilt. This community was intellectual, they liked to talk, they read and shared what they read, and they enjoyed talking about cigars. I prefer talking about God, the Bible, and Theology, but also I prefer to talk and listen. Some people don't want to talk about the things I do, but they want to talk, so why not learn about them by the things they like to talk about, Cigars.
So from that sprung our weekly cigar fellowship times. We had already been meeting and fellowshipping fora few years, but this added a new dimension and gave us another opportunity to invite others, who may not have had the spiritual intentions we did. We laughed, cried, yelled, but more importantly we shared. Not just about cigars but about life. The round table with the ashtray in the middle was our counseling, it was our time to unload, reload and grow. Cigars were not the focal point of our sessions, God was, but Cigars gave us an excuse to stay longer, to enjoy what God had created along with nature (as none of our wives will let us smoke inside, yet). But through that time we also grew in our knowledge of cigars. "What are you smoking tonight" is a common phrase, "What do you think of it", was another. We discuss the merits of botanicals as opposed to traditional sticks, what shape is the best, is an Opus X worth that much money (we all agree it is, but none of us have had one), how long are we hanging tonight and what size should I bring, what's your favorite wrapper, or filler, and lets not even start about the accessories (Kevin got a Cubist for Christmas, functional art, awesome)!!
All birthday and Christmas gifts are cigars or cigar-related. Before doing Anthony's wedding he gave all of the groomsman and the pastor a present. As I watched the groomsman open their gifts they were flasks. I have to admit I was a little disappointed, what was I going to do with a flask? But as I opened my box, much to my surprise the writing said Xikar, and the contents were a cedar-lined carrying case! This was our lives now, yes God was still foremost in my life, then family, but now I had a new hobby, Cigars. My wife even joined in and gave me the best present ever, a CAO Italia Limited Edition Humidor. She was less than thrilled with my new hobby but as an amazing wife and friend, she showed me such love as to approve of my decision and hobby (yes I am the luckiest man alive if only she would let me have a smoking room). This had become so much of our lives that every time someone came home, Anthony from the Army, Joel from College, Jamison from just down the street but newly married, or Joey from his dads, we would meet around that table with the ashtray in the middle. Joel came home just recently to introduce us to his new girlfriend. In respect for Rachel and Joel I made sure to ask before inviting all to surround that infamous table, "Is this ok?" not to my surprise he said, "Yea, this is what we do, this is who we are". So from our group of 4 we had grown that night to 11, I think the Fire Department thought my house was on fire, all of us sharing about life, love, and cigars.
Cigars not only bring friends together but also total strangers. Strangers from different socio-economic, racial and spiritual backgrounds are drawn to a common love, that of cigars. During the reception of a recent wedding I performed, I snuck outside to have an Astral Corona. As most of you know, at least here in California, all smoking takes place outside, cigars, cigarettes, and pipes. As I went outside I was met by quite an eclectic group of people, Jacob the winemaker; Anthony the Medic; and Spencer, the unwed, father, and all-around nature boy. I think he must have had enough hemp on to make him illegal and his dreads formed nicely into his beard. I, the Pastor in my suit and tie, and Spencer the unwed (well I don't know how else to label him) guy. "What you smoking there Pastor?" "An Astral, want one?" "Well yea, if you got one to spare." "As a matter of fact I do, I'm carrying them in this nice new Xikar case, courtesy of your new brother in law." "Spencer, are you an aficionado?" "Yea I used to work in a shop." "What's your favorite?" "Camacho and Cao", "Nice, I bet you used to get some nice free swag", "You bet, "what are your favorites?" "I'm a CAO, Rocky Patel, and an Acid fan." "Nice choices". How many of you have had those same types of conversations, different people from different worlds coming together over one common bond? It doesn't matter if you are a pastor, a lawyer, a doctor, a retail employee, a food server; if you are black, white, rich or poor; all people can come together over one common bond a love of cigars.
This is a hobby I can enjoy until my dying days, thank you God for gifting our South American friends with the art of creating such a great tool for relaxing and fellowshipping. I too will Glorify God in all I do, especially smoking Cigars.