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.