So, I kiss Latinos on the cheek and embrace them and touch them when I am with them, without a second thought. I kiss and shake hands with the Greek Orthodox folks I encounter. I link arms with my Vietnamese friend as we walk down the street. I expect a Latino man to lend me his arm in various situations. Hugging, kissing and touching gets people all involved in each others’ personal space and can be a bit weird, when one suddenly lands in the situation, when coming from a background where the personal boundary bubble is much larger in circumference.
Sometimes I still run into things that make me internally uncomfortable within the plethora of subcultures I find all around me. Early on, I learned to shut off my “freak-out” mechanism when I ran into those uncomfortable/puzzling social situations, so that I had time to gather context and understanding on how to respond or participate. I sometimes wonder if I’ve even done permanent damage to my “freak-out” mechanism. So, someday, as I get grabbed from behind and pulled into a van, I’ll be looking for a larger context to this sort of behavior/situation—later, my face will be plastered on missing persons’ billboards. My sister has voiced something of the same sentiment, “nothing, surprises me anymore,” she’s told me.
To put a bit of order to boundary expectations, I’ve been developing, if you will, a sort of sliding boundary scale based on what I observe as normative in various contexts. Not to say that I’ve got it down perfect—not at all. For instance, there was once a time when I misjudged a married man to be Latino—his name sounded Latino. So, I greeted him with more expression and touching than your white mainstream greeting. Later, I was shocked to notice he was checking me out. Then, I figured out that he was African, not Latino. Ooops!
But it is as I have been thinking about these odd socio-cultural things that have challenged and stretched my Amish-Mennonite core, I’ve also been thinking about what might challenge or even rattle those who are not from my upbringing. And I’ve landed on the perfect Amish Mennonite tradition which I practiced all the time in my community: the Holy Kiss. Like a perfect Protestant there is always scriptural mandate for everything that is done in daily life. Paul hereby commands us in I Cor 16:20, Rom 16:16 etc. “to greet one another with a holy kiss.” And…well, that is what we did. Brothers in the church greeted other brothers in the church and sisters greeted other sisters in the church—yup, that meant kissing another person right on the smacker. And yes, one could hear the smacking. And yes, I did it often. It happened at every meeting and it was a sign of obedience to the scriptures, pious dedication, love of your brother/sister. The youth occasionally balked and whispered derogatory things about the tastelessness of this weird tradition. But the more mature were sincere in appreciating their sign of affection for their brother or sister in Christ.Given the overload of unfamiliar situations I have thus far had to weather, reprocess and adjust to over the years. I think I would secretly gloat if ever I had the opportunity to observe a non-Mennonite being suddenly greeted with the holy kiss or even to have them unexpectedly observe the practice.