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t-shirt theology

Thursday, 27 August 2009

shirt #10 : Feel the Force

Title: Feel the Force

Design: White legend and red 'name badge' on black

Make: Fair and Bare

Reach out and touch me

I have a personal interest in this shirt because it was my concept. It was printed by Fair and Bare – the best ethical threads on the web. Not only are F&B shirts 100% fair trade, but they are submitted and voted for by us, the people of internetland. Check them out here.

I have had a few comments about my shirt though, ranging from ‘Er, Jon, that’s a bit pervy’ through to ‘Wow that’s so cool. You must be a Jedi in disguise to come up with jokes like that.’ Okay, I haven’t quite had that second reaction, but I’ve had plenty of the former.

But is it pervy? Because deep down aren’t we all looking for intimacy, for love? I once read a story about a elderly widow who went ballroom dancing once a week. People thought she loved to dance, but in fact she hated it. She went because that was the one time a week that someone would hold her. She went for the touch, not the two-steps.

We underestimate the power of touch. I’ve been told I’m a good hugger. I don’t like to brag, and I’m not really sure that hugging well is something to brag about. But I don’t hold back in hugs. I mean it when I hug someone.

And you can sense when someone gives you a noncommittal hug, can’t you? Some hugs are like air-kisses, but even less warm. They mean ‘I want to be seen to like you.’ Rather no hug than a fake hug.

Touch is that most basic connection. It affirms you, when someone touches your arm or shoulder. A touch offers you companionship, reminding you that you’re not alone in your circumstance. It’s a wordless promise, of friendship, loyalty, support, and love.

We forget sometimes that some of Jesus’ most powerful statements were wordless. He touched a leper (Matthew 8:3), breaking one of the strongest cultural taboos of his day, and the leper was cleansed. Everything in that society told you that you don’t touch lepers. The religion, the legal authorities, the people around you – all would tell you not to touch the leper. They were unclean and their uncleanliness would be transferred to you.

Jesus touched him.

He touched the eyes of the blind and they could see (Matthew 20:34). He put his fingers into the ears of deaf mute and then touched his tongue, enabling the man to hear and speak (Mark 7:33). When he rose the dead he touched the dead body (Luke 7:14) – another cultural taboo.

Touch was an instrumental part of Jesus’ miracles, and is usually linked to him feeling compassion. You ever feel that - when all you want to do is put your arms around someone and somehow hug away their pain? And of course, many wanted Jesus to touch them, because in his touch was power (Luke 6:19, Mark 5:25-34). But there are also other ways in which he used touch to connect with people.

At the event known as the Transfiguration in Matthew 17, the disciples are overcome with fear. Jesus’ response is to touch them and tell them not to be afraid. The account doesn’t give details, but I imagine a reassuring hand on the shoulder. “Don’t be afraid.” We can face down anything if we know we have back up; overcome any challenge if someone will be there with us. A touch is all we need sometimes to cast out fear.

There’s an interesting aspect to Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus in the garden (John 20:10-18). She is standing distraught by the empty tomb, and didn’t recognise Jesus. It’s hard to see someone clearly if you are weeping uncontrollably, particularly if you think they are dead. When she does realise who it is, one of the first things Jesus has to tell her is to let go of him.

I can’t imagine how tightly Mary was hugging Jesus, but the implication is she would not have let go if he hadn’t asked. We cling to those we love, reassured in the warmth from their body, even as we say goodbye to them. That’s why we hug on train stations and at airports. Sometimes the only way we can convey our emotions is through allowing our bodies to touch.

It’s a profound irony that Depeche Mode begin their song ‘Personal Jesus’ with the line ‘Reach out and touch me’. It couldn’t be more apt. Jesus, it seems, was a hugger.

I would go so far as to say that the times we are most like Jesus aren’t when we’re doctrinally right in what we say, or caught up in a worship song, or reading ‘Every Day With Jesus’ in our quiet time, or any of the other myriad religious things we do. I think it’s those times when we reach out to help someone to their feet, or hold a grieving friend, or accept a sullen teenager with a pat on the shoulder, or shake hands with someone who everyone else ignores.

That’s when we feel the force of what it means to be human. And in a strange way what it means to be Christ-like too.

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