Capitol Shakepeare is an Everyman affair.
On the grounds of the state capitol, open to anyone, free-will donation, bring your own blanket or chairs—if Shakespeare is what you want to see, you can see it.
I sat in a chair with my friend, waiting for the performance to begin. The set looked wonderful and I was very excited to see The Tempest performed. An unusually cool July week provided relief, though a cloudless sky acted as a magnifying glass for the sun’s rays and anyone not under the shade of a tree was positioning themselves and their programs to block the sun from their eyes. People read a summary of the play in their programs and there was a feeling of excitement for the start. Two women and a little dog spread out on a blanket behind us.
The smell of a freshly lit match hit my nose, followed by the sincere understanding that something was burning. I turned to my friend. “Is something on fire?”
He looked back towards a blanket on the ground about five feet behind us, and nodded. “That guy just lit a cigar.”
I don’t care for the smell of cigars, and I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of several hours of the smell. We have become, in recent years, quite unaccustomed to smoking in public, I realized. I was pretty sure you weren’t allowed to smoke on capitol grounds, and there were a lot of little kids sitting around the area. My friend and I said as much to each other, agreeing that the guy should probably not be lighting up at this event.
The man continued to puff at his cigar, drinking wine with several metrosexual friends including one local man who is well-known in the humanities community of the state. They were there to enjoy the show in their own way (with an enviable white wine I might add), and though I hoped he’d put out the cigar eventually, that was about it as far as I was concerned. I had no plans to do anything about it beyond griping inwardly. It was what it was.
Off to our left was a family sitting on a blanket. There were two men, two women, and a young girl. The father of the girl had been tickling her and teasing her in such a way that she was shrieking and laughing loudly, about as annoying noise-wise as the cigar was smell-wise. They noticed the smell about the same time I did, and began talking in that quasi-loud fashion of people who are trying to get someone to notice their annoyance without having to meet it head-on.
Finally, one of the men pulled himself to his feet and walked over to one of the young fellows who was with the Capitol Shakespeare production. I could hear him telling him about the cigar smoking man, pointing in that direction, and indicating something needed to be done. The young man did not look thrilled. He walked over to the blanket where the man with the cigar was.
“Sir, we can’t have you smoking on the capitol grounds. I’m sorry, but could you please put your cigar out? We appreciate your understanding.”
The man put out his cigar, but loudly said, so all around could hear “Welcome to the United States.” He and his compatriots lowered their voices briefly.
The man who had reported the cigar smoker had returned to his blanket, lowering his severely obese frame gracelessly to the ground where the blanket was. With the success of the snuffed cigar under his belt, the group began talking loudly again about how rude it was, that there were children present, and generally making comments of a moralistic nature.
I stayed silent. A cigar isn’t going to send you to hell. My opinion is that it just reeks, is all.
They continued to talk, and a remark one of the men made caught the attention of a woman in front of him, who turned around and entered the conversation. Soon the blanket-sitters and the woman were loudly discussing how they were Christians, naming the mega-evangelical-churches they attended here in town, and how they participated in their church’s ministries. The heavy man spoke of how he was a preacher at a local Christian organization for recovering drug addicts to which the woman answered that drugs and alcohol were a “terrible affliction.” They spoke and acted loudly, of course, because for some Christians being a “witness for Christ” has come to mean speaking loudly in public places (and justifying the reaction to our behavior by cherry picking Matthew 10:22) instead of speaking quietly through how we act.
The conversation continued on, and though I understand church-talk and the phrases we Christians use in church, I was embarrassed beyond belief. We have a weird language that sounds bizarre to those unfamiliar to it. Being a Christian now is a bit like cultural anthropology–we’re in a non-Christian culture–and I’m not going to walk up to some guy at the grocery store, for example, and asked if he’s sanctified by the blood of Jesus.
If someone asked me that in a grocery store, I’d probably back away, to be honest about it.
My initial reaction was that I never want to go to the churches those Christians mentioned going to, if they made people behave like that. I don’t want a faith that tries to moralize a cigar smoker into submission when extreme gluttony is on parade. I never want to be part of a group of people who use phrases with a certain element of righteous indignation like “terrible affliction” as if we’re all Cotton Mather when out in public.
The arrogant and combative response of these Christians was a turn-off to me, a fellow Christian. I can only imagine how a non-Christian would view it. It disgusted me to watch them handle the situation in such an us-against-them way.
I wasn’t sorry the cigar was put out, to be sure, and I can’t say that if it became overwhelming that I wouldn’t have gone to a Capitol Shakespeare official to deal with it because I’m not a confrontational person (usually). Or, perhaps, I might have gone back, introduced myself, and apologetically told him that the smell of cigar smoke really bothers me and would he consider refraining out of kindness for me? People are generally decent if you are.
Admittedly, I can feel the cigar man’s pain, in some sense, appreciating events where, because I have no children of my own, there are no kids and no pressure for a “family friendly” atmosphere in which all adults must behave as if they were parents of every child around them, meeting those parents’ moral codes. The problem with smoking the cigar there? It had nothing to do with Christianity, with morals. It was merely against the law and in poor form considering the nature (kids sitting around you and your smoke) and location of the event (state grounds).
The whole scene was a small picture of the larger one in our culture today, where Christians act as the police. That is not our job. Our job is to preach the gospel.
I wonder how open the cigar man will be to hearing that man share the gospel to him? Was it worth providing more fodder for the “Christians are jackasses” mindset so that the Christian family could comfortably watch a rather racy Shakespeare play without the smell of cigar smoke for two hours? When we talk about the parable of the sower and the seeds and preparing the ground for the gospel, do we consider that maybe we should also try not to spray Roundup everywhere we go as we make sure people are behaving as we think they should?