WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THE HUGS?!
My Facebook wall has been quiet for a couple of weeks. We just finished our second annual gathering for the Welton Academy in Rochester NY. After all the friends, staff and family from around the world dispersed, I had to jump right back into a hectic travel schedule and I haven't really had much time to process all that has happened in the last month. My heart is filled to the brim, my mind is overflowing, and our enrollment (which is limited in space) is EXPLODING! And I have been just trying to make it from location to location while pondering deeply what the Lord is doing.
One of the really fun things that happened at the Gathering this year, was the reinstitution of the "Hugging song." If you have read either of my books, Normal Christianity or New Covenant Leaders, you will know what I am referring to. There is a particular song which when I play it in the middle of a service, it means that you get up and hug as many people as possible before the 3.5 minutes of the song are done. We did this multiple times during the Gathering and everyone had a wonderful time together. I already long for our gather next year and I hope that you will be able to join us.
I have included below the section from Normal Christianity about Biblical Affection, enjoy!
EXCERPT BELOW FROM NORMAL CHRISTIANITY
C. S. Lewis said, “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.”
"Greet one another with a holy kiss" Romans 16:16a
"Greet one another with a holy kiss" 1 Corinthians 16:20b
"Greet one another with a holy kiss" 2 Corinthians 13:12a
"Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss" 1 Thessalonians 5:26
"Greet one another with a kiss of love" 1 Peter 5:14a
In the Mediterranean region of the first century, the cultural norm for close friends and family was to greet each other with a kiss. Paul and Peter understood that the mystery of our faith is that we have been spiritually adopted into the family of God. Therefore, we should also express love to one another. If we had been saved into an informal institution of God, then perhaps Paul and Peter would have recommended that we withhold affection until we have known someone for a few years. Instead they approached Christianity as adoption by God into a family, and healthy families are affectionate with one another. To differentiate between the common greeting and a greeting within the family of God, they referred to this expression of love among the brethren as a holy kiss.
This became the common practice of the early church. This type of affection makes more sense in a church culture that suffered under persecution. Consider the fact that every time one would say goodbye to their friends, it might have been for the last time. Keeping in mind the cultural context, affection became quite normal during the first four centuries of Christianity. Consider St. Augustine’s instructions to the early Church.
“...when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord's Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the 'Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments.” –Saint Augustine of Hippo (354- 430AD)
Since most of my readers do not live in the Mediterranean region and none in the first four centuries of Christianity, what is the practical application of the holy kiss in our modern western culture? I believe that the cultural equivalent to a holy kiss would be an affectionate embrace. In fact, the name of one of the minor prophets Minor Prophets was Habakkuk, which translated means, “hug” or “embrace.” Prophets are specifically commissioned with representing the nature of God. It is interesting to note that God is so in favor of giving hugs to one another that even one of his prophets was named “hug.” Maybe we need some “hug” prophets in our cold religious institutions.
If we understand that the modern equivalent to a holy kiss would be an affectionate embrace, then we should ask the big question, “What would Jesus do?”
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner." Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender . One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Luke 7:36-47
To put this story into modern terms, Jesus was offended that Simon the Pharisee did not greet Him with an affectionate embrace. Jesus was pleased that the sinful woman had the freedom and love in her heart to express her love for Him. But the religious leader was essentially rebuked for his cold hearted non-expressive love.
Personally, having grown up in a physically expressive family, I have been surprised by the cold non- expressive love in the church for years. I sometimes compared my natural family with my church family and was grieved trying to figure out why the church was so rigid and non-expressive to one another. Especially since the Word commands us over and over again to kiss each other, and even Jesus was upset when He did not get His kiss (Ps. 2:12, Lk. 7:36-47).
William Shakespeare said it well, “They do not love that do not show their love.” Now I am not advocating that we all try to implement kissing each other at church, especially since this is foreign to our time and culture. But I do believe that we need to contextualize what the Word is telling us so that we can return to the healthy affection of Normal Christianity. A big piece of Normal Christianity is sharing hugs. Notice that I have italicized the word sharing. The reason is because I need to explain to you something that my spiritual grandmother taught me. Some people only receive hugs, and it is like hugging a tree trunk as they stand there awkwardly waiting for you to stop. Others give hugs; they are constantly hanging on and hugging everything and everyone. The healthiest scenario is when two people give and receive a hug at the same time; this is what grandma called sharing a hug. The family of God desperately needs to share more hugs.
Anthropological and Medical science have now confirmed that grandma was right! Considering the facts found through studying and promoting the positive effects of expressed physical affection. I would say that Grandma was ahead of her time.
“In the Floyd (2003) study, undergraduate research assistants were distributed pairs of questionnaires with instructions to recruit one of the most affectionate people they knew and one of the least affectionate people they knew to take part in the study. The questionnaires in each pair were identical except that their identification numbers indicated that one questionnaire was to be given to the affectionate person and the other was given to be given to the non-affectionate person. Participants were told nothing about why they were being selected to take part; rather, the research assistants simply asked them to complete the questionnaire to help the assistants with a class project. Participants mailed their completed questionnaires directly to the researcher.
The questionnaires contained a battery of measures assessing individual and social-level variables. Floyd predicted that the high and low affection groups would not only differ from each other but also that the affectionate communicators would be advantaged relative to the non- affectionate communicators. At the individual level, he hypothesized that highly affectionate people would be happier, have higher self-esteem, be less stressed and less depressed, and have better overall mental health than would the less affectionate people. He also proposed that they would be more comfortable with interpersonal closeness and less fearful of intimacy. At the social level, Floyd predicted that highly affectionate people would be more socially outgoing, would receive more affectionate communication from others, would be more likely to be in a romantic relationship, and among those who were in romantic relationships, would be more satisfied with those relationships than would less affectionate people. The sample consisted of 109 individuals who ranged in age from 10-60 years.
Despite the relatively small sample size, comparisons between the high and low affection groups confirmed each of these predictions. Specifically, compared to low affection communicators, high affection communicators were happier, more self assured, more comfortable with interpersonal closeness, less fearful of intimacy, less likely to view relationships as being unimportant, less stressed, less likely to be depressed, in better mental health, more likely to engage in regular social activity, more likely to be in an ongoing romantic relationship, and (among those in a romantic relationship) more satisfied with their relationships.”
And in another study...
Some research suggests that the benefits of receiving touch are not just physical, but intellectual as well. Steward and Lupfer (1987) reported that college students who were touched lightly on the arm by their instructors during a one-on- one conference scored more than half a standard deviation higher on a subsequent examination (in either introductory psychology, American history, or government courses) than did students who were not touched by their instructors during the same type of conference (see also Foa, Megonigal, & Greipp, 1976).
I have had my own social experiment of sorts. A few years ago I ran a youth Bible study in a local (secular) café near my home. There were about thirty youth on a typical night. Each Thursday night we would gather and worship together by playing CDs through a stereo. We had several traditions that made our group unique. One tradition was called, “The Hugging song.” Actually, this was just a song that we had designated as “the hugging song.” The idea was that when you heard the initial drum roll at the beginning of the song, everyone knew that this was the hugging song and you had approximately three and a half minutes to hug every other person in the café. Instantly, we had thirty teenagers climbing over tables and chairs to hug every single person, including visitors who had walked in off the street to get a cup of coffee.
What a different culture this group had created. The non-Christian visitors were surprised and would often stay through the entire Bible study, because they actually felt love from a group of Christians - what a novel idea! There were regular attendees who had come from broken homes, and this was the one time during the week when they were hugged and felt like they were loved and a part of a family. Not everyone however, was comfortable with this aspect of kingdom culture. People who were bound by legalism, living in fear or coming from a broken place in their heart had the hardest time with the hugging song.
A BIG SHIFT
My long time friend Mark Young II, shared with me how being a part of the coffee house group caused a personal transformation to occur in his heart.
I was raised in an affectionate family. I fondly remember when my father would come home from work and it would be what we had titled “tickle time”. My father would chase my brother and me around the house, and we would run not really wanting to get away. He would eventually catch us, gently pin us to the ground, and tickle us until we could barely breathe. This is one of my fondest memories with my Father.
That being said, I still firmly had the idea that affection was to be kept in the family, and I loved my family deeply and strongly. When I was only eleven, my Aunt Laurie and her daughters, my two younger cousins, moved in with my family. Within the past year, my aunt had lost her husband, and was diagnosed with advanced HIV, which had already become AIDS.
I became very close to her and my cousins in that time. A year later she passed away, mere weeks before Christmas. This was the beginning of me closing my heart. I remember that I had not seen my father cry about this situation. (I'm sure he did, my father is a good man, but I don't remember it.) I remember sitting on the bumper of my parents’ car in our church's parking lot and making a vow that I never wanted to hurt like this again.
Less than a month later, even more deaths in my family occurred. My Uncle, My grandma Peg, my great aunt, and a close family friend all passed away. I spent half of December and most of January attending funerals. I officially stopped caring and loving at that point, and for a twelve year old boy that is a very bad thing.
Fast forward to 1999. I am now sixteen and coming to a Bible study, because I do love the Lord. Loving God was safe, he was perfect, and not exactly visible. If God didn't show you affection it didn't matter, because He didn't show anyone affection. It's important to know that these were not my thoughts at the time. They are just how I now know I was feeling and reacting to life.
Suddenly, the most horrific thing I could imagine happened. The drum roll to Sonicflood's “I want to know you” played and everyone began to rabidly run around the cramped coffee house hugging each other. My anxiety level rose, I was not feeling comfortable, so I ran. I made a mad dash to the restroom, a single person use room, and I safely locked myself away. I would wait out the three minute song hidden in the room. To my dismay, people did not get the message and instead week after week I became “the target” that everyone was aiming to hug.
Most people eventually just let me go. I slowly became more comfortable and hugged my close friends, the ones I had known for years, but beyond that I would head to the restroom and wait for everyone else to get done. One girl, Erin, always waited for the end of the song and would meet me as I came out of my hiding spot and greet me with a hug. I didn't know it at the time, and I don't think she did either, but God was using her to break something down in me.
My friend Jonathan Welton asked me one week why I didn't like to hug. I responded, “It's a personal thing and I don't feel it should be taken so lightly. You should only hug those you really care about.” He nodded, “Yeah, but shouldn't you be able to hug your family?”
I had never really considered those people family. I mean I had heard it preached numerous times. “We are the family of God!” But no one really applies that in such a literal way... Do they?
I can remember the moment it all changed. I was in the Friday night youth group, worship was amazing, and it was time for this to be my fixing moment. God then showed me how I was afraid to love and how I instead hurt people to protect myself. He showed me specific situations with my brother over the years. I knew that this had to be acted on. I went to my brother and apologized for all the times I had hurt him instead of loving him and we wept, on our knees, together. It was a true healing restoring moment for me.
From that time on I became much more affectionate. Hugs have become something natural to me now; they are a way that I can measure the depth of a relationship. Most people who know me now would never be able to imagine that I was once afraid of a simple hug.
THE FAMILY PARADIGM
The only way that we can safely re-implement affection in the church is if we receive a revelation of the Family of God. When we can begin to walk together in the Family paradigm, affection will be safe again.
“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” 1 Timothy 5:1-2
If we can begin to view our relationships inside the church through the lens of a healthy natural family, a culture of purity will be formed. In a natural healthy family, it is never acceptable to sexually violate your sister or mother. The same is true in the Kingdom. According to Paul, all women are either “my sister or my mother” and incest is unacceptable in the family of God (the obvious exception is that when you marry your spiritual sister, she becomes your wife and the paradigm shifts).
When the mind is renewed to perceiving all Christians as siblings in the family of God, then sexual immorality will cease being the major problem it has been. However, the danger of compromise looms when unhealthy hearts and perspectives remain in individuals. The bottom line is that we are each called to walk in absolute purity and a shift in perspective will help us toward that direction.
Because the church has existed more as an organization and not as a family, we tend to view each other as simply men and women and not as siblings. Yet, when you put something into the wrong category, you treat it wrong. When we do not understand the purpose of a thing, abuse is inevitable.
For example, take the way that a Westerner sees a pig. It is just an animal and it can be eaten for breakfast. But to a devout Hebrew or Muslim, a pig is an unclean animal which should not be eaten. Because they categorize a pig, not as simply an animal, but more specifically, as an unclean animal, they avoid defiling themselves. It is time that the church returned to the Biblical categories that she started with. Viewing all females to whom you are not married as either your sister or mother will encourage appropriate interaction between the genders.
This actually gives us more freedom, because in a family environment, I am not constantly afraid of being misinterpreted when I treat family members with affection. I am not under review by others for what my motivation might be. When we are walking as family, we are safe to express love. We can say, I love you, I value you, you are important to me. It is safe to hug one another or put an arm around each other. This is how a healthy family interacts. The Apostle John had a revelation of this kind of expressive love. Multiple times in the Book of John, (which he wrote) He calls himself, “The one whom Jesus loved” and writes about his affectionate relationship with Jesus.
“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” John 13:23
Normal Christianity measures spiritual maturity by love, not by theological knowledge. We need to become comfortable with expressive love because if we are not comfortable with love, then we are not comfortable with God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).
For those of us who want to renew our minds to thinking like a Normal Christian, the family mindset is foundational. To those who are still operating in Average Christianity, this concept is quite foreign. Throughout the New Testament, we see the Apostle Paul fathering individuals and constantly encouraging affection between the family that would be called his sons and daughters in the faith. The family dynamic is interwoven all through the New Testament, yet because of the many fears intertwined with Average Christianity, very few have taught from this perspective.
PS. Don't miss your chance to join Welton Academy this fall. Only 62 days left to get into the remaining spots. www.WeltonAcademy.com