When I wrote last week's blog, it had never crossed my mind just how controversial it would so quickly become! Within a couple of days after posting, it has collected more hits from readers than most of my recent input. I suppose that every one who had read it came away with his own conclusion, but again, it would not surprise me too much when the matter of health becomes an issue. Let's face it, nobody wants to be ill, unwell, or age rapidly, and like any other human in his right mind, any elixir promised that would promote health and longevity would, without doubt, attract attention.
So I had made a suggestion about hugging, as part of bromance, as being beneficial to health, and according to recent research, this form of natural affection between two or more people causes a hormone, oxytocin, to be released from the pituitary gland, which among other benefits, help beat depression, one of the greatest emotional causes underlying various physical illnesses and diseases. With men of faith such as Joseph, his brother Benjamin, David, his best mate Jonathan, and even the apostle John, all living without ever having to make an appointment to visit a Doctor's surgery, I have wondered how they have existed without the need for medicine - although long before John's day, the great medic of the ancient Greeks, Hippocrates, was already dispensing medicine from a hospital, then known as the Asklepeion, on the Greek island of Kos. This brilliant scholar had correctly connected physical illness with emotional imbalances, while the general theory of his day was that diseases were punishments bestowed on erring mankind from the plethora of bickering divinities populating Heaven. Such an achievement Hippocrates made towards modern medicine, along with the respect and care shown to each of his patients, that right up to this day, I believe, the Hippocratic Oath is taken by just about all medical students, and every Physician treating you at present has taken the modern version of the Oath, which is secular, omitting the vow promised to the ancient deities. The page header photo of my wife posing among some restored Roman columns was taken at the Asklepeion.
But we did not have to fly out to Kos to learn about Hippocrates in order to conclude that natural affection had always been beneficial. Rather, I was already aware of this years before I even met Alex my wife. One far more recent medic, Dr S. I. McMillen, wrote a book, None of These Diseases, which emphasised that obedience to the Bible as the Word of God leads to a happier lifestyle which is the key to better health. And the central theme of obedience to God is to love one another. In fact, Jesus emphasised that the whole world will know that we are his disciples if we love one another. (John 15:12-13) and that is the commandment given to all believers, which was meant to set us apart from the rest of society.
But it is a terrible misfortune in the western world, and particularly here in the UK, to associate any affection between males as homosexuality, and that despite such a term only began to exist in the early twentieth century. We live in a world where the sight of two men giving each other a prolong hug as something rather distasteful, even abhorrent, and assuming to involve sex or any other perversion. Yet we happily read our Bibles and expound it every Sunday at church, yet not give a moment's thought that a number of saints are recorded as greeting each other in precisely that way. Let me make one thing clear: Bromance is not Homosexuality, it only becomes that if such an interpretation is read into it. Very much like reading Hell-fire into James 2:17 when nothing of the kind was meant, but rather how one's faith would be evaluated by another person or group of people.
Therefore, ever since my conversion to Jesus Christ as Saviour back towards the end of 1972, hugging another adult has always been my norm, as it was from a hug in a disused jam factory at an East London district of Bromley, that has helped change my course of direction to follow Jesus Christ. This, I believe, was a link which came just a few months after I was dumped by my fiancee, and finding myself on board the train home literally weeping with shattered feelings. How that hug benefited me! But afterwards, learning to embrace and not to embrace was something which took longer to learn. For example, I quickly learnt how not to hug an unwilling recipient, and that was when he crossed his chest with his forearms and pushed outwardly. It was a very embarrassing moment, and one I was eager to avoid repeating. But it took me much longer to learn not to hug another willing recipient, and that is really cultural - the possibility of others seeing it as a perversion and bringing the reputation of the church to ruin - instead of others longing for a hug as well, especially the lonely, the broken-hearted, or the destitute. I wonder how they would have thought of God's love if they were warmly embraced? But then all this is just an issue. Most churches tend to be middle class, a well-educated gathering of worshippers, who have prosperous careers, have families, and lacking for nothing, together with a high percentage of senior citizens. Not much room for the lonely and the destitute.
But issues with reputation, the possibility of Social Services intervening, or some other scandal percolating into the fellowship was the cause of going into temporal exile. It wasn't any dispute with the Elders that was behind my decision. Rather it was what came afterwards, in an email sent to me by one of the Elders. In it, I read of behind-my-back reports to the Elders about my hugging warmth, delivered to them secretly by anonymous members of the church. In other words, I was under secret surveillance without any word of it coming back to me. This made me feel very uncomfortable, and virtually impossible to worship freely. So I went into temporary exile until I feel ready to return.
Did my faith fail as a result? Not a bit of it! Instead, every Sunday I have visited a different church. Such included a Pentecostal church, a couple of Anglican churches, and a couple of evangelical Baptist churches. And what I have found so striking in particular, were how similar the two Anglican churches had become to the more charismatic evangelicals. No longer with the image of stuffiness, if you know what I mean, such as dismal-looking and befuddled men dressed up in suit and tie, and with each of the ladies sporting the finest dresses while matching a rather sour countenance, or for that matter, a small group of mainly elderly females huddling together in otherwise a hall of vacant pews. No, it was none of any of that! Rather all the churches I visited so far were vibrant, and filled with people of all ages, even if the elderly made up a large percentage. At one Baptist church in Guildford, I wasn't alone for long, as there was always someone interested in me as a newcomer. But furthermore, the preach was about the Sovereignty of God, and that God knows best when we hit troubled times, or when prayer remains persistently unanswered. This was a sermon which struck home in the midst of my heart, and by believing, I felt blessed. And at an Anglican church, the subject was about Romans chapter eight, which I consider to be one of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. In both Anglican churches, I was greeted warmly, and had people approach to find out who I am, and about my spiritual health.
I also discovered that my own fellowship was not unique after all when it came to casual dress. Rather, in both Anglican and Baptist churches were the ties worn by the men seldom seen, as I have always thought that my own church was the only one so casually dressed, as if in full rebellion against tradition. Only the Pentecostal church had more men wearing ties, and many of the women had their heads covered with a scarf. And this was the church with the smallest congregation I have seen, with no more than about thirty people in all. Indeed, visiting different churches, one for each Sunday, was certainly a eye-opener.
As for hugging, only in the first church visited did I receive an embrace, and that was from an old friend I knew for many years. But with the other four churches I visited afterwards, nobody came to hug me, and guess what? Neither did I approach anyone to hug either. Being a newcomer at every church meeting, I felt a newness of worship, fresh and untainted from any form of bias, surveillance, or monitoring. It was a wonderful feeling - the freedom to worship God with joy and thanksgiving, and to receive his message without any trace of hangups, in the way I felt bound up with in my own fellowship prior to my exile. By being a newcomer in every church visited, I have found it much easier not to hug anyone, unless they come to me for a hug. I'm not the one who would cross my forearms over the chest and push away. For going by my own experience, I'm aware that such a motion would crush the spirit of one who may need an embrace.
But as I see it, maybe hugging is not necessary in this part of the world. For example, one Anglican church I paid a visit to is set on the outskirts of a small town, barely larger than a village, among a gated residential area with beautiful roadside gardens boasting healthy Mediterranean palm trees. This area spoke volumes of wealth. It would not be the kind of area where down-and-outs would loiter, let alone enter the church. A brisk handshake was all that needed, but at least I wasn't ignored. The Baptist Church in Guildford fronts a lovely garden park, which through the River Wey tumbles over a weir, as it winds its way to join the River Thames, the park itself being the added enhancement to a historic city with a high reputation of wealth and prosperity.
Meanwhile, my exile continues for a few more weeks, with more churches on the list to visit. Then when I feel that I'm ready, I'll will return to my home church, I hope with a fresh start.