Hugs come in all shapes and sizes. I suppose a handshake is a very formal, limited contact form of hug and they move through to an arm around the shoulder, on to a full embrace, ultimately to a full-on bear hug. There seems to be an etiquette about hugs that you don’t exceed the hug that is offered. So a handshake is not reciprocated with a bear hug. A hand around the shoulder is not confused with a chest bump.
But then there are the moments when the huggee feels that the hug should be more or less than is offered. More is easier, they simply escalate the hug to the level at which they feel comfortable. Less is awkward as it involves potential embarrassment and a reduction in the level of hug.
I find it confusing perhaps because I am not a natural hugger. I happily hug my family, I will hug close friends, but I don’t find it easy to hug people outside of my inner circle. I suppose I am wary of the unwanted hug causing someone else to feel uncomfortable, and I am cautious about sending the wrong message.
But I have a sense that God wants me to step out of my comfort zone and into what is uncomfortable territory for me. I think he wants me to be more huggy. That’s because the unintentional message of someone who does not hug can be seen as disinterest, coldness, or even disdain by those who are natural huggers. I don’t want people to think that of me or experience that message (which is not true) from my lack of hugs. I also want to be able to affirm people in all possible ways and sometimes a hug is better than a thousand words.
So this is a public declaration from me. I am going to try to be more huggy. And I need your help. I want to give you permission either to initiate a hug with me if you would find that a blessing, or to say that it would not bless you (that’s fine if you are not a hugger). It is not something that should cause embarrassment or difficulty, but I recognise my own social awkwardness and feel that by ‘coming out’ about this it may make it easier for you and for me. And hopefully as others see me hug those who want a hug will also feel freer to do so too.
Don’t try to analyse what’s going on in my head – that’s dangerous territory – but this morning I was reminiscing about the teddy bear I had as a child. His name was ‘Teddy’ (I was as original then as I am now). He was given to me when I was born and I had the same teddy bear throughout my childhood.
During his active time with me he had several new skins, and some new stuffing, but he was still my bear.
(That reminds me of the roadsweeper who said that he had had the same broom for 50 years. The local news reporter came to interview him for such an amazing feat and asked him how he had managed to keep the same broom for 50 years. The roadsweeper said, “Well it has had 12 new heads and three new handles, but it’s the same broom!”)
We all grow and change. Not just physically (believe it or not but I once had hair on the top of my head!) but emotionally and spiritually too. I am not the same as I was as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult and even as I was last year. God’s Spirit is gradually changing me. But I am the same person. God’s renewal is not like giving us new skin and new stuffing, or new broom heads and broom handles. His renewal is more of a refining, an enhancing, a purifying process in which we are gently being transformed to become more like the people he has created us to be and less like the tarnished, imperfect version that we had become.
I am nowhere near the finished article. Oh no. Definitely not. (Please never put your ministers on pedestals because we will fall off.) I am a work in progress, but hopefully in each of us people can catch a glimpse of God through his Spirit at work in us as they see how he has changed us. It’s another way in which we can be free samples of Jesus.
Last Saturday I bought a teddy bear. Those who read my blog entry for last weekend will remember where I went on Saturday and may realise what was special about this teddy bear. He has moving arms and legs and wears a lovely warm blue jumper with a badge on it. Still not sure? He looks like this:
I bought him to sit in my car and accompany me on journeys. As well as providing company he also proclaims my footballing allegiance to Ipswich Town FC to anyone who sees him.
This may be a problem. For the geographically challenged, Ipswich is about 16 miles away from Colchester. This means that there is a strong rivalry between Ipswich Town FC and Colchester United FC. I am wondering how sensible it will be for me to drive around the town with my new teddy bear riding shotgun, and whether I am asking for trouble if I leave him guarding the car while it is parked in the town centre. Only time will tell!
My new awareness of what is in my car and how my car bear may be received by others has made me wonder about the people who drive around with fish symbols on the back of their cars to show that they are Christians. The fish is one of the earliest Christian symbols, the Greek Word for ‘fish’ being ‘ichthus’ which represented the first letters of Greek words that we translate as ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’. It was a simple yet profound statement of faith, a mini-creed.
But it has created a car boot* (*trunk for North American readers) battle. There are now Darwinian fish appearing on cars. The fish has legs to represent the evolution of animals from fish as they crawled onto land and is designed as a direct attack on the ‘ichthus’ fish for Christians.
I find it rather funny and applaud the creative thinking and imagination that led someone to consider putting legs on the fish symbol to represent their world-view, even though a belief in evolution does not negate or deny a faith in Christ. Perhaps we should respond in kind. Will we find aggressive new symbols for fundamentalists with an ‘ichthus’ fish eating a Darwin one? Will we get fish with stick men inside representing Jonah for those who like Old Testament narratives? How about five loaves and two fish? Or best of all I would love to see a car with nothing on one side of the car and 153 fish on the other! (Have a look at John 21 if you are not sure why).
Sad to say I have seen many ‘ichthus’ fish-decorated cars driven badly, over the speed limit, inconsiderately or even dangerously. It made me wonder whether the fish was intended as a warning: “I am going to heaven and I drive like I want to get there soon!” Because of that I do not have an ‘ichthus’ fish on my car. Not so I can drive badly without bringing Jesus into disrepute, but because I do not want to perpetuate a perception that Christians are bad drivers or rude. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make me a good driver, but it surely ought to make me more considerate and courteous. I’ll try to remember that next time I get behind the wheel.
In the meantime I will stick to my Ipswich car bear and see if anyone notices him.