It was probably inevitable, especially on the cannabis-loving West Coast.
A Christian church has been turned into a marijuana dispensary.
The quaint building that used to house Shawnigan United Church on Vancouver Island has now been “re-christened” the Green Tree Medicinal Dispensary.
There is symbolic power in the transformation. And, depending on your tastes, the metaphorical shift is positive or negative.
The anti-religious might cheer that a church, which many stereotype as a bastion of supernaturalism and conservative social morality, has finally joined the live-and-let-live West Coast zeitgest.
Others might lament how a sanctuary where people once talked of support for the common good and transcendent values now represents tuned-out hedonists.
Or maybe there is a more in-between way to see it.
Firstly, the United Church is no fortress of the religious right. It’s particularly known for its liberal, social democratic values, having ordained homosexuals back in 1990 and women many decades earlier.
Secondly, an argument could be made that marijuana, like wine and beer, is not necessarily just a form of escapism. (Maybe it can also be “medicine,” as so many are quick to claim.)
While everybody is free to express their views on the subject I thought it would be worthwhile asking the former minister of Shawnigan United for his thoughts.
Before we hear the trenchant views of Rev. Murray Groom, I’ll just mention that this former church building had its first change more than a decade ago when two small vibrant United Church congregations 30 minutes drive north of Victoria decided to combine into a larger, newer sanctuary called Sylvan United Church.
For many years vacated Shawnigan United Church was an (excellent) restaurant called Steeples. But last year Steeples closed and was replaced by the cannabis dispensary.
This gradual shift from place of reverence to semi-legal marijuana outlet has symbolic echoes almost as significant as when the classic Vancouver School of Theology building was sold several years ago to UBC and became The Vancouver School of Economics.
God and mammon and all that. (There is little doubt that today’s over-riding “religion” is economics, in which we are expected to “serve” the economy.)
Here’s Rev. Murray Groom on the transformation that has occurred to the place where he once led holy Christian services:
Karl Marx comes to mind here, with his assertion that “religion is the opiate of the people.”
Considering the new role of Shawnigan Lake United, are we now institutionalizing the “opiatization” of the people at the same time we cut out the institution of the church….?
I’m reminded of the theology of the cross, a.k.a. “the tree of salvation, the Tree of Life” and the irony that a form of salvation is now being dispensed under an unconsciously similar but, at the same time, wildly contrasting image – a tree that promises relief from pain and suffering rather than the redemption of pain and suffering.
What the names of these dispensaries imply is worth considering. I spotted one in Vancouver recently named “Lotusland”, which alludes to both the sacred flower in Buddhism (salvation again?) and to “a place or state concerned solely with, or providing, idle pleasure and luxury.”
Hence, “lotus-eater – a person who spends time indulging in pleasure and luxury rather than dealing with practical concerns (from Homer’s Odyssey)….”
Christianity has the potential at least to raise the consciousness of people to their inherent dignity and worth, and to critique “the principalities and powers.”
Religion/ Judeo-Christianity has a long history of consciousness raising and practical engagement with social change. I’m not sure that lotus-eaters, by definition, are inclined to that kind of social justice so much as they are to social change, which will serve their appetite for indulging their own pleasure and luxury.
I wonder too if people now are more interested in a clear conscience instead of a raised one.
Hence the Facebook posts that say “Click here if you hate Donald Trump” where, by clicking, your conscience actually believes you’ve done something practical and so is relieved, for a moment.
It’s a form of virtual reality – as is the state of being stoned. The two seem to conspire with each other to blunt real political engagement (as opposed to mob protest, another type of impractical social engagement).
On a more positive note though, I look at our old building and realize that it continues to serve the community in pastoral ways. It also houses a dance studio, and dance can be akin to prayer.
It was also a restaurant – feeding the hungry. The grills were on the very spot in the chancel where the altar used to stand: there was something vaguely sacramental preserved in that set-up.
Now it’s a medical(?) dispensary, offering relief from pain and suffering.
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