Since I started Friend Zone, I’ve written a few posts about the body (e.g. Shouldn’t we be more positive about the body and Friendship and the body). I don’t want to go over old ground, but I just wanted to share a quick insight which struck me yesterday. I don’t know quite how I’ve managed to get to this point in my life where I’m only just realising things like this, but perhaps that’s why it needs to change!

I think a common view in society (and, to an extent, the church) is that our bodies are not really ‘me’ – the real you is your thoughts / feelings – your inner world. It’s almost like saying we are basically “brains on sticks” – the physical stuff that makes up our body isn’t really important. This is what Nancy Pearcey said in her book Love Thy Body (which I reviewed here).

If it helps, it’s a bit like computer hardware / software. We think our essential selves are like the software on a computer – our bodies are the hardware it runs on, but it could easily be swapped out for an equivalent body and our essential selves would stay the same. But – is that right?

The new realisation I came to yesterday is simply this: our bodies are not something separate from ourselves. They’re an intrinsic part of it. Your body, in a word, is you. It’s not all of you – you have a mind as well – but your body is the real you. A few years ago I remember reading a scientific article about the body, saying that the brain wasn’t where all the processing happened – we ‘thought’ with our bodies as well, e.g. our central nervous system plays a role in the thought process. Your brain couldn’t just simply be dropped into another body, like you’d change a CD!

In the context of friendship, this means that our bodies are not simply the external windows to our souls through which friendship can happen. When we relate, we relate as physical people. Our bodies are not incidental to the process, but essential to it. It’s not a “soul-to-soul” connection through the medium of the body, but a “whole person” connection including the body. Obviously there will be different levels at which we connect (a married couple will be very different to a casual acquaintance!) but it doesn’t mean the body is unimportant in either case.

In one sense, I think all this is pretty obvious – but in another sense, I think it needs saying. As I’ve said before:

It seems to me, from the Scriptures, that to be pure is not simply avoiding wrong physical contact but doing right physical contact in its place. Similarly with bodies – not simply avoiding thinking about bodies in a sexual way but positively thinking about them in the right way.

So how do we engage with each other as physical people?

The other day, on a Facebook group we were discussing an article on the BBC: Why you shouldn’t hug your colleagues. A few people mentioned that they found physical contact difficult. While I can sympathise with this (I’m not a hugger, in general – to be honest, I don’t even really like shaking hands during the peace) – I wondered how that mapped onto the Biblical understanding of the body.

Should we avoid physical contact with our family – given that we are a family of believers in Christ?

I’m not sure I have the answer to that – and, in fact, I’m sure there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to that question. But – is there an appropriate place for physical but non-sexual love to be expressed in the church? Do we shy away from it, and if so, why? What should we be doing instead? These are questions which I think are worth exploring. That’s why, or partly why, Friend Zone exists.