Broken, Bleeding, Betrayed: The Body of Christ Needs Hugs June 15, 2009Posted by Phil Groom in Church.
Tags: Abuse, Church, Fear, Hugs, Love
Christianity is a contact sport. If you belong to the Church of England you know that: the moment the priest announces the Peace, the pews explode as the people descend upon one another with whoops of enthusiasm — and deliver wet fish handshakes that make you feel like it’s a visit to the fishmonger’s rather than an encounter with a fellow pilgrim or a soulmate.
Don’t know about you but there are times when I need a hug, not a handshake. I need to know that the person I’m with is with me, not simply standing there in another private space. I need to know that we inhabit the same world under the same sky and share at least some of the same concerns. I need to connect, physically.
But that’s not allowed, is it? It’s not proper. It’s… too tactile. Too touchy-feely. Dangerous. Sensual. Ooh, now we’re approaching the nub of it. Can’t have Christians being sensual: it might turn sexual; and Christians don’t do sexual, do they?
They do, actually. It’s where the little Christians who mummy and daddy Christian bring to church with them come from.
But that’s not the problem, is it? The problem is fear. The same problem I highlighted in my last post about the BNP. Fear. Fear that the amazing, beautiful gift of physical contact that God has given us might . just . signal . something . else .
It’s a real fear, I’m not denying that. For those who’ve been abused by people who should have been trustworthy, by church leaders who’ve betrayed their calling, it’s a nightmare. But the greater reality is that such betrayals are not the norm. Let me say that again: abuse and betrayal are not the norm. Abuse is an aberration.
As followers of Jesus, we need to recognise that. We need to show that a better way is possible. We need to start from a position of trust. I’m not saying that’s easy. We live in a world of fear, where we’re constantly looking over our shoulders because the person behind us might be up to no good.
But in the church? Are we really starting from a position of distrust and suspicion? How can this be the body of Christ? Dear, sweet Jesus — is it any wonder you embraced the Cross with such passion? The pain of crucifixion has nothing on what your beloved is doing to her own body, tearing it apart week after week after week… repeating the words, “This is my body, broken for you…” but never seeing the blood spattered across her own damaged, beautiful, unearthly face…
And so hugs are declared too tactile. Too tactile. Too tactile for a community that follows an incarnate God … a God who walked amongst us and embraced lepers, who touched the dead, who spat on the ground and made mud that stuck to his fingers then gently, so gently placed, brought sight to the blind? This God of ours … this God who reaches out by coming down to meet us where we are, who dances with prostitutes and drinks with tax collectors … who turns water into wine whilst we do our best to turn wine into water … who celebrates the sheer physicality of life with barbecued fish on the beach for breakfast, walks besides us on empty roads … confounds our senses and disappears just as we begin to see him …
To those who think hugs are dangerous I say: my God hugs!! Let all the world in every corner sing: our God hugs! He reaches out, embraces humanity in all its wretched brokenness … and dies only to rise and say, put your hand here in my side, touch my hands, know that it is I …
This is God’s answer to the fear of physicality: incarnation followed by resurrection. No disembodied souls for our God but grounded, glorious down-to-earth physicality. We say: Do not touch! Do not walk on the grass! Do not pass go! Jesus says: Get out of jail free! Jesus frees us but we dare not be free. Jesus breaks down the walls but we demand barriers and safety nets.
And yes, sadly, we do need them. But first, we need trust. We need faith. We need hope. We need love: and perfect love drives out all fear. Perfect love leaves room for touch, cries out for contact.
Try it sometime. Break free from the wet fish handshakes and give your neighbour a hug.