Day 3: Betrayed by a Kiss


I am uncomfortable in my own body. Not that I want to be. It just kind of happens in our culture.Neighbors & Wisemen


When I was a senior in High School I still kissed my dad on the lips. I had done since I was a kid and it had never dawned on my to stop.

One night I was going out with a couple of new friends I had just met and they came over to my house to pick me up. As was my custom, the last thing I did before leaving was report to my parents when I would be home (or at least where I was going) and then kiss each of my folks on the lips.

As we exited the house, my new friends walking in front of me, one of them made a disparaging remark about the oddness that I still kissed my dad. I was instantly filled with embarrassment – and maybe shame for not thinking of this myself – and I did not know what to do with my body and the surge of emotions that I was feeling.

I did what many teenage boys do when they are frustrated … I punched my new friend in the back of the head.

It doesn’t make any more sense to me now then it did that night – but it was my response to the situation none the less. 


The cross-cultural nature of Neighbors and Wisemen is one of my favorite aspects. The writing is terrific too.  This is simply one of the best paragraphs I have read:

Touch was stolen from me. It was stolen from me by the American story. It was stolen from

me by our puritanical religious roots, and by an entertainment culture that turns affection into sensuality. It was stolen from me by a thousand church scandals that have left pastors afraid to even talk to a parishioner behind closed doors. And it has been stolen from me by a generation of homophobia that calls all same-gender affection into question.

Society and religion have bedded together to relegate touch to either the sexual or the inappropriate, with little in between.

This probably would not bother me so much if I hadn’t bought into the gospel. The problem for us a Western christians is that our gospel is one of incarnation. It is supposed to be about being fully embodied.

As the Message puts it: The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.

In the original language it says that God ‘tabernacled’ with us. God set up a tent and camped with us … in body.


I try to take the Bible seriously. When I was an Evangelical pastor I ran into a problem. Passages like Romans 16:16 and 2 Corinthians 13:2 say “Greet each other with a holy kiss”.   I tried to encourage people to do this … but it wasn’t received that well.

If you live in a culture that does not greet with a kiss … it can be quite uncomfortable to start just because you believe in Jesus. 

This problem betrays a much larger issue. We have developed an elaborate matrix of interpretation to weed out things that were ‘cultural’.

Here is the stinker of the situation though – the people who take the Bible the most seriously (according to themselves) don’t realize that the whole thing is cultural! That is what the Bible is: a collection of cultural expressions that are all deeply embedded in time and place.

The result is that people who say that they read the Bible literally don’t great each other with a holy kiss even thought they are explicitly instructed to in the Bible.  Why?  Because that part was cultural.

Stuff like this became my undoing. It may seem silly now, but it used to really gnaw at me. It was like a rock in my shoe and I just had to stop, sit down, and deal with it.


There are so many aspects to this. Several years ago I was with my dad in Malaysia for a global conference and all week I would see young leaders from Africa walking with him holding hands. We had a great talk culture and body.

I have been blessed to be an uncle of lots of nephews and nieces. Without daughters of my own, I never know – at what age do you stop holding hands with your nephews and nieces? Is it 11 or 15 or 18 or … I’ve decided that it is never. As long as they are OK with it, I am OK with it.  But the question itself exposes the bigger problem.

Why is this even an issue? The answer is not a good one for the gospel.


Tony takes this to the exact place I was planning to go – church.

Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We have been betrayed by our not greeting each other with a holy kiss. The problem is that the gospel is, at its core, an embodied truth. We are the body. We are the body of Christ.

Does anyone else see this as a problem?
Does anyone else struggle with the physical practices of church tradition and specifically Lent?
Is it just my or is central to christianity to em-body the gospel? 

I would love your feedback.


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shawn andrews
shawn andrews

Loved today's blog post. Our culture is screwed up with regard to touch, and the effects are far-reaching. I've been the woman the pastor wouldn't talk to without the door open and another person in direct line of sight. I'm not "supposed" to touch my patients, not "supposed" to breast feed my baby in public, not "supposed" to hug/kiss/greet my intimate friends. We treat men and breast feeding women worse than most other groups. I loved chapter 3 of this book. My favorite so far (on 18, I think). Have read it to several people. The myth of connectedness (perpetuated by electronic pseudo-connection) allows for the perpetual (relative) absence of real connection. I reject the imposition of such stupid limitations on the way I relate. I fed my babies in public, discreetly but without a crazy personal tent or blanket).  I will kiss my friends and my parents...many of them on the lips...I will hug my patients. I will rub feet with anyone who will take off their shoes near me. I will hold hands and/or walk arm-in-arm. Our weird over sexualized and paranoid culture needs to be run out of our churches (and the rest of our communities). I completely agree that there is a health-giving/sustaining quality to touch that can be replaced by nothing else.


I loved this chapter so much because it spoke to issues I've been thinking through for years. Namely, the relationship between touch and thought (and, for me, memory). Academic work in the field of embodied cognition backs up the notion that touch matters and that it shapes not just how we feel but the thoughts we have. So, academically I was all with Tony but personally... should anyone outside my family come and rest their heads on my chest while I read something to them then I'd be frozen to the spot with dis-ease and uncertainty. I'm not sure how to disentangle personal and cultural. Some of my response would be old-school Englishness, some of it would be a wider, contemporary western culture. Some of the ecclesiastical thread I could trace to a reformation tradition that rejected the embodied liturgy of catholocism for a careful focus on the word and (in some traditions) songs. But whereever the threads come from they will surely shape the way I read as well as the way I worship. Thank you to bith of you for highlighting that. The challenge is that as much as I would like more beauty, smells and embodiment in my liturgy, I'm still quite happy without people launching a surprise hug on me. Where does that get me? Not sure.... Just because a feature of our experience is cultural at its root does not stop it from being real and powerful in its affects. So... we tease out the threads, contemplate what they're doing to/for us and decide which ones are more damaging than good?


Wow. Not even sure what to react to first. I highlighted the same paragraph you did, Bo. Beautifully written and moving. I am kind of naturally wired for physical touch. Sometimes, when I'm anxious I crave the physical presence of another human being. And I'm pretty liberal with handing it to other people, which I frequently feel is viewed with suspicion. The thing is its not just same-gender touch that has been stolen. I've been fixated on gender identity and the necessity of both "masculine" and "feminine" presence and energy within the church. And how both are necessary for healing to happen, but that so often than healing is limited by what the church has deemed appropriate interaction, both between genders and among them. I've made it a personal mission in my church, in a neighborhood where gender interaction is nearly entirely sexualized and transactional, to stand firm in demonstrating that it is possible for men and women to love one another without it becoming cheap and sexual. That probably sounds rambling and random, but that's where this chapter hit me.


I am jealous for the relationship you have with your father; I cannot recall even being hugged or a simple handshake. 

John Contabile
John Contabile

I don't really see the validity of Lent, so no, I don't struggle with it.  


Actually, there are a lot of practices and traditions that, in my opinion, we have added to the faith that do nothing but give an appearance of reality that simply is not there and make us feel like we are doing Christianity as opposed to being Christians.  I see it like the knight in that movie The Mission...where he keeps dragging along his armor and finally realizes he can let it go.  Our faith is much more simple, and deeper beyond all the smells, bells and whistles.  To me, these things are absolute distractions, even annoyances.


So, since you asked, that is one thing that surprises me about you guys and Lent.  You are so forward thinking and talk about making the faith relevant yet hold to old traditions.  I just see that as inconsistent.


For several years my wife and I have done respite foster care with special needs kids - these kids live with their own families, just come to us for weekends or holidays to allow their parents a break. We were encouraged to treat them like our own kids, yet warned never to allow ourselves into potentially compromising situations - leading to a dilemma about touch.


These kids were young enough to get tucked into bed at night when they first started coming to our house, so I would tuck them in, read them a story or sing a lullaby, then kiss my fingers and transfer the kiss to their foreheads.


One young boy, with both downs syndrome and autism, had no verbal language, though he clearly understood most of what was said to him. He did not consistently use sign to communicate either. He could entertain himself for hours spinning a ball or bouncing it. He seemed to have little or no need for human contact - dependent on us for his physical care, but with little or no emotional aspect.


Tucking him into bed one night, I finished singing my song and bent over to give him this half kiss I described above. Out of the blue he reached out and gave me a long, strong hug.I consider my wife to be the most em-bodied sign of God's love for me in this world, but that hug was amazing!


Our congregation subverts 'the peace' in our liturgy by not using it to reconcile ourselves with those we might have a dispute with, but by trying to touch, hug and even kiss almost every other member of the congregation.


Our liturgy does not emphasize touch, but we do gather together, stand together, kneel together, move toward the altar in turn, exchange the peace. There have been times in my worship life when I am simply 'going through the motions.' Yet it is probably better to go through those motions than sit at home and think it is all meaningless.


Lent begins with the priest touching your forehead, making the sign of the cross with the ashes of last year's palm sunday crosses. It draws toward its end with the washing of each other's feet on Maundy Thursday. These services always seem to have special meaning for those who attend - perhaps the embodied touch is a big part of that.


Also enjoy embodied prayer - nice to come across a labyrinth from time to time, and my daily prayer usually incorporates physical movement since being taught that a couple of years ago.


 @bushofears I am constantly struggling with how to integrate physical affection into my everyday life in a way that is healing and healthy, both for me and for the other.


Just as an example from my current story (since the chapter on touch takes place twenty year ago), here is an exerpt from a short good-bye I wrote to my dear friend, Richard Twiss, who died last weekend:


"On Wednesday afternoon, February 6th, in the Washington Hilton Lobby, I snuck up behind Uncle Richard and, as is our tradition, I planted a wet kiss in the soft center of his left cheek.  He turned and burst into smile.  A few hours later I stood over his unconscious body, laid across the cold tile floor of that same hotel's lobby.  Paramedics worked to bring back breath, beat and pulse.

Because of our history and intimacy the with Twiss family, I immediately called Uncle Richard's wife, Katherine at their Vancouver, Washington home.  She begged me, "Don't you leave him, Tony... Don't you leave him."  It would take a full day for her four grown boys to join her at his bedside.  In obedience to Katherine's request, I lived those twenty-four hours as close to him as I could: in the ambulance, at the hospital and as often as possible at his bedside.  I held his hand and spoke to him.  He never once woke up.  By Saturday, he was gone."






 @charis9 No strong tender moments with my dad either. I did watch him gently remove the quills of a porcupine from a dog once, and remember seeing an ability to be tender and caring with the animal that I definitely learned from. From listening to the podcast with Bo's dad, my punning mind keeps smiling at the thought of his AI seminarian credentials.


 @John Contabile I used to think of Lent and all that church calendar stuff (actually I would have just looked at it like superstition) like "old tradition" or irrelevant relics before Christians found true freedom. Then I went through my "Pagan Christianity" phase where I thought it was all garbage - church buildings, clergy, the way we organize services, etc. It's all man-made, unnecessary, and most likely a distraction or a false god of sorts. I walked away from all of that. I didn't like Christians much either. The only thing I was even remotely interested in was God - or whatever that means.


Then I found a spiritual awakening - a newness - a freshness in the MOST unlikely place for me, with my story - I found it in Ancient-future faith. I now am in an Anglican Mission community, I am friends with priests, I love the "bells & smells". I LOVE the church calendar, I love the rich history - good, bad and ugly. How can we possibly know who we are today without knowing who came before, where we came from and what other generations have done and believed. Lent and the rest of the church calendars and Holidays (or Holy Days) are not about just doing old traditions or appearing religious. They can be. Yes, anyone can go through the motions. 


But it is also an opportunity to think about various aspects of faith, community, hope, love, loss, forgiveness, pain, new life, death. Holy days give you the opportunity to remember the past, renew focus, stay in one place for a while and ponder, then move on to another season, another focus. It is deeply rich, deeply moving and gives freedom. 


If they are distraction for you, it may not just be for you to use. May not be time right now, maybe never. I never thought they would be for me. But now I'm a prayer bead carrying, church calendar observing, incense smelling tradition keeper. And I have never felt more drawn to Jesus, more determined to figure out to stop being a Christian (in name) and start DOING Christianity (aka living like a "little christ").


But if you don't want to do any of that I don't judge you. It's meaningful for me. 

BoSanders moderator

 @kenalto9 great stuff.  just great to read and think about.   -Bo  really challenging. 


@John Contabile @BoSanders there are other Protestant or Christian traditions that don't recognize any of those traditions. So that would still apply.


@John Contabile @BoSanders there are other Protestant or Christian traditions that don't recognize any of those traditions. So that would still apply.

John Contabile
John Contabile

 @BoSanders I get Lent, after all, I grew up Lutheran.  Perhaps you could say I gave up Lent for Lent?  Anyway, I don't want this to take away from the conversation, just wanted to throw in a cent or two.