Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Body is NOT Community Property!

Peace Bang tells a story over at Beauty Tips for Ministers about how a parishioner patted her and made some comment about her extra weight. Most of the comments are about the comment. I am rather more appalled that someone feels free to "pat" her.

I am very uncomfortable when people I don't know touch me without my permission. This seems like a reasonable attitude but I lived through the huggy touchy feely 80s and 90s and so realized that I tend to be more "uptight" about this than most.

I remember being at some continuing ed event when to my horror the leader told us to stand up and begin massaging the shoulders of the person in front of you! These were men I barely knew! I consider back and neck massages rather intimate activities. I made a beeline for the bathroom.

I was a voting member of the 93 Churchwide Assembly and by the end of it I was so tired of what seemed to me like assaults on my personal space that at one of the last worship services I just plain did not want to hold sweaty hands with the stranger next to me. I tried to beg off saying "oh my hands are so sweaty" so she pushed me aside and took the hand of the person next to me. So that I was out of the line. And I thought "Well this is interesting. If you do not play the game exactly by the rules, you are excluded"

At this year's Synod assembly we had the ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson tell us all to put our hands on our neighbors head while we prayed. The thought horrified me. I looked at the man next to me (we had not even met!) and said "I really HATE this sort of thing" "So do I" he grumbled. Whew. No head touching while we prayed, thank you Jesus!

Yes yes yes - I know we are all one Christian family and none of us are strangers. I don't think that means we all have to be physically intimate! I shake hands at the passing of the peace. If a parishioner initiates a hug, I hug back. But strangers don't get hugs. Sorry.

At first I thought I was this way because I grew up with a single mom who was not demonstrative. (In fact, after my son was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, I put together a lot of strange things about my mother and I think its very possible SHE has Aspergers) But then I thought it may also very much have to do with the fact that I was beaten and physically abused for many years at a day care center. And I wondered how women who have been sexually abused feel about this mandated touchy feely stuff. Is not the essence of abuse being denied control over who has access to your body?

After that every time there was some required back rub or hug (I guess holding hands is okay) I wrote to complain about it. I always used the "abuse" word. I figured it had more clout but really, whether you've been abused or not, you should not be made to feel like a spoil sport because you don't want some strange man or woman fondling you!

Anyways all that crap pretty much stopped by the end of the 90s. No I don't think it was my complaints. It's probably not a coincidence at the same time we began having a lot of sex scandals and we all went to "Boundary Training" events. So I was a little taken aback by the hands on the head thing from Bishop Anderson. I hope it's not a new trend.

All this to say my body is not public property. And neither is yours.


  1. I am not a big fan of group back rubs eiher. Also...Bishop Hanson was at our synod assembly as well and we did the hands on the head thing. Luckly I was sitting next to people I knew, but for me I don't like hands on my head (and this may sound strange) but I don't want my hair messed up. Maybe I am a little vane but that's me. In any case...thank you for the post.

  2. It's your head and your hair and you shouldn't have to apologize for not wanting it mussed up!

  3. I'm with you on this. In a big way.

    Years ago, at some church event, my then-future wife introduced me to a minister she knew. He immediately called me by a nickname and gave me an effusive bear hug. I was so appalled that, from that time forward, I referred to him, disparagingly, as "Mr. Huggy Guy."

    A couple of years later, and about a thousand miles away, the woman to whom I was by then married wound up working for Mr. Huggy Guy. And guess what? Turns out he was a serial harasser of the women on his staff, including, eventually, my wife.

    I was angry, of course, but not surprised. The way to maintain safe boundaries is to maintain safe boundaries. My own rule of thumb is not to touch church members beyond a handshake or a very, very rare pat on the shoulder, unless they ask for it AND we're in public.

  4. The language can be better. Since the flu issues we haven't changed everything we do, but I have made the speech about allowing people to determine their own comfort levels.

    When I asked the congregation to bless each other during lent it went like this: Please turn to your neighbor and reach out a hand to bless them as you are comfortabl - I might have suggested a hand on a shoulder of held above your neighbor's head - and we hold hands during the Lord's prayer "as we are comfortable."

    I don't like the required hand-holding thing. It's too much 'we're all one big family' for me.

  5. there are certain groups where it seems comfortable to hold hands and others when it does not. sometimes I find such displays moving and other times forced and awkward. but the patting -- oh, I would never ever want that. there are just too many things wrong with pats.

  6. I keep going ewwww... space invasion is not cool, forced is even worse. Someone had to be asleep at the wheel on this.

    I know there can be cultural factors at play, and I've gone along with some ewww type things in the past when out of country, so as not to cause offense. Otoh, the assembly being regional does not fit within the cultural domain whatsoever. Not cool

  7. I know what you mean about other cultures. When we were in Italy the lady that rented us an apartment in Rome could not understand why my 14 year old daughter and I needed separate beds.

  8. At my age, I've gone from an non-hand-shaking background to now hugging some people, but only when it has meaning. I would not do it with people I don't care about. I enjoy a hug from friends I love, especially when we are saying good-bye before a trip or anticipating an emotional event.

    But the laying on of hands thing puzzles me and your comments puzzle me. I thought that the laying on of hands, for example, during a healing service or for confirmation, is pretty standard. How can a pastor lay on hands without actually touching a person? Yes, I've seen it done: the pastor's hand hovers above the heads of the confirmands. That seems weird to me, like it is provisional or not quite real or not quite meaning what it is supposed to mean. Or like the hair do was more important than the blessing or that the pastor's ewww feelings are more important than the blessing. Presumably, the confirmands are told ahead of time that this will happen and it IS IN PUBLIC, after all.

    I usually don't like the mixer games sometimes used with groups, so the touching ones can be even more uncomfortable for me, but I have loosened up a bit on this too. When we have small group meals at our church, we usually hold hands and sing a prayer and it looks to me that everybody there is comfortable. I suppose it would be good to ask if people chose not to attend if they don't like that part of the evening.

  9. At Church, when we share the peace, we all know who to hug and who not to - and who, oddly, gets a kiss on the cheek without a hug!

    Mostly, it is just a brief handshake.

    I like our habit of looking at one another to wish one another God's grace at the conclusion of a service - and am always amused by those who try, as far as possible, to avoid anybody else's eye rather than catching it!

    (Speaking for myself, I like hugs, but only from people I know.)

  10. Laying on of hands is an ancient sacred biblical and very meaningful in rites like confirmation, ordination and healing. Presumably you KNOW the people who are going to be laying hands upon you and you have been prepared for this ritual. Being told by a guy (bishop or no) on a video screen to put your hands on the head of somebody YOU DON'T KNOW for a prayer really trivializes the ritual as far as I'm concerned.

    I don't' think people should be put on the spot and asked "Do you like holding hands?" instead offer that those who hold hands can.

    I do it but I'm not crazy about being in situations where I have hold hands to pray with people I don't know. I understand it's not all about me and sometimes you have to do things you aren't completely comfortable with.

    At the end of our youth mission trip a couple of years ago - the counselors washed the adults feet and the adults washed the feet of our own youth. I was dreading it but really it was beautiful and I almost cried when my own feet were washed. But again, it was in the context of a worship service with people we had gotten to know. We were not asked to do it the first night.

  11. I don't care about my hair getting messed up. But I don't like people to touch it. And people I don't know....ewwwww!

  12. I am one of those people who generally likes hugs. As I grew up in my family church, I enjoyed the hand holding prayer ritual. I found it comforting. As I moved to other churches, it was something that stayed with me and there are always individual people that I enjoy hugging. Well, they are usually friends.

    Recently, however, at the end of a long day after a lunch at the home of a church member, we were ending with prayer and everyone was asked to hold hands. It was the first time that I have ever come across anyone who actively avoided holding hands with anyone (including me). I didn't know what to do or how to react to it.

    That said, I now find that the more enthusiastic someone is when they approach me for a hug, the more reluctant I am. But maybe that is just me being contrary.

    One last point, I have had a number of people make comments about my weight gain, what I am wearing or how I wear my hair. I have locs and a tattoo and have been told on many occasions that, as my locs are not accepted by a large part of the black Caribbean Church, I should either cut them or cover them. I have also been given advice on how to have my tattoo removed non-surgically (unsolicited).

    I can't see on what grounds anyone would think that it is acceptable to tell any one what to wear.

    I work in politics and we make a point of saying that we should not talk about a woman politician's clothes but talk about her work, her policies or her ideology. Dare I say that the church still has a lot to learn from society?

  13. All good points, accidental seminarian HOWEVER..

    I retain my right to comment on a woman politicians' work, policies, ideology AND her clothes! And probably her hair as well. Tatoos, not so much. I'd talk about how men dress but they just aren't as interesting.

    I think there are times when how you dress in the parish is an appropriate topic for conversation. For men and women. See Beauty Tips for Ministers for more on that.