Hugging Defined

The image of Christians as puritanical zealots who fear all physical contact is both humourous and regrettable. It is humourous because of how unBiblical the concept of physical coldness is when viewed against examples like David and Jonathan, and regrettable because of how often its tenants are upheld or even encouraged by Christians.

Let’s pull back a bit and define physical contact for the sake of this conversation. For now, I would like to discuss it in the context of hugging: a simple physical embrace between two people. I put hugging on par with a Holy Kiss, elevating it somewhat above a handshake but not something that reaches the familiar level of an outright smooch. Its meaning changes depending on how fervent the hug is, its length and intensity, and the two people sharing the contact, but in general it’s fairly benign. I think that gives us a decent starting place for discussing physical contact between Christians in general.

Due to my experience, I can only define hugging in negative terms, which is to say that I cannot outright state what it is. Rather, I must state that which it is not, and allow the whitespace to highlight its shape and form. And while this may seem like an absurd concept, I suspect that I am not alone in this. I have met a number of people who seem to have misinterpreted either the aim or the execution of hugging and in so doing have perverted its definition.

In this sense, I think the correlation of a hug to the Holy Kiss is important. Hugging is not a sexual activity, nor a licentious one, but it is to be shared between two individuals who share a common understanding. Without that common understanding, its meaning and importance are lost.

  • Hugging is not sexual, nor is it romantic. It is something shared between friends and family.
  • Hugging is not greedy or self-serving, but an act of connection between two people, serving both.
  • Hugging is not a universal greeting, appropriate in all situations.
  • However, hugging is not reserved or rare–it ought to be practiced far more than we do now.
  • Hugging is a gift, a balm, and a blessing. It is a way of saying to someone, “You are not alone.”
  • Hugging is not a demand.

As I started to try and understand hugging for myself, at least enough to write this list, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8Love never fails.

This passage is a bulwark against which we can test the love we see around us. If the “love” we are seeing does not match this, it is not love. If what we are experiencing is not these things, it is not love. Similarly, hugging is those things above, and many more that I can’t think of right now. If it becomes sexual, you’ve transitioned from hugging to groping or grinding. If it is greedy, you are no longer hugging, but grasping and clinging. If it is not a gift, it is a theft.

If people are calling something hugging that does not meet the above definitions (which I’ll be talking about tomorrow), their definition has become confused and mistaken. This has a serious impact on their life, relationships, and ability to connect with others, and is something that they must address and set aright.

Stop Calling Me Abnormal

Cross Necklace

One of the great weaknesses of humanity is shortsightedness. Whether it is because of our relatively short lives or because too many of us fail to gain a solid liberal arts education with the requisite history courses, we have trouble seeing the big picture, particularly in regards to societal differences and especially across time. As such, we draw conclusions based on our limited experience that are often incorrect.

Allow me to use an example I often encounter in my dealings with non-Christians. I meet an atheist, pagan, Taoist, what-have-you, and we converse. We drink coffee and break bread and generally have a good discussion. We find that we have a fair amount in common, particularly intellectually, and they come to like me.

However, in the past, they have disliked Christians, who they feel have traditionally been bigoted, unaccepting, and closed-minded. Christians have tried incessantly to convert them, refusing to listen to reason, and yet here is a Christian who listens and respects them. It makes no sense.

The conclusion drawn at this juncture is generally that I am either 1) Less Christian than those they had encountered previously or 2) More Christian, and certainly a better one.

For any of you reading this who have ever come to this conclusion about me or any other Christians, I have a newsflash. Those of us who love you, who respect you, and who you in turn like and respect are neither less nor more Christian. We are neither better nor worse than our brethren.

Obviously, there are bad Christians in the world, just like there are bad Buddhists, Hindus, and Wiccans. But in my experience, in my education, and in my study of the subject, I have found that the two conclusions mentioned above are only reachable through ignorance.

I committed the same error before I was Christian, though I cannot quite pinpoint the catalyst for the misconception. Because before I was Christian, I viewed Christians as hypocritical jerks who only considered themselves able to either convert or persecute me. Perhaps, before I converted, I was only really interacting with Christians on the fringe of the Church. I certainly wouldn’t have converted if I hadn’t been drawn into a loving family who were none of those negative things.

After becoming Christian, I found that I was meeting more and more Christians who were thoughtful, loving, and respectful. There was no judgmentalism and no hate.

If you have come to one of the above conclusions, it’s not because I or the other Christians about whom you have made that decision are different. More likely, it is because you don’t really interact with Christians much, or maybe haven’t given them a chance, and are less open-minded and more ignorant than you think. I am no different than most any other Christian, neither more nor less than the brothers and sisters with whom I worship on a weekly basis.

You’re not better than Christians when you snub them and write them off. And I am certainly no better than them just because you like me. I sin, am blunt and often a complete jerk without meaning to be, and generally screw up whenever the occasion presents itself. For whatever reason, you gave me (or some other person whom you respect) a chance and they turned out to be decent.

I’d ask you to give more people chances. I’m a firm believer that most everyone is pretty decent, just not everyone gets a fair shake. We’ve pretty much got all the same dreams and desires, so drop the holier-than-thou attitude, quit putting people on a pedestal, and treat everyone as you’d like to be treated.

And peace be with you.

Image by: vivekchugh