My husband and I are from very different cultures. He is Lebanese-American, and I am white, and generationally Presbyterian. Back when we were dating, we had a conversation that was paradigm-shifting for me, and I wrote a little bit about it back then. I hope you enjoy it.
“Ugh… I hate those lyrics. ‘Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss’?? Ew. That is totally not a fitting illustration of our relationship with God.”
Nagib protested. “I like sloppy wet kisses. Do you think it’s not fitting because you think it’s a sexual connotation?” I assented that it is. Duh.
He rolled his eyes, not at me, but at the following thought, which he spoke. “Oh America… why is everything so sexualized?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Can you actually visualize this?” I asked, unbelieving. “God giving you a sloppy wet kiss??”
“Yeah, I can. If you’d been around my family in Lebanon, you’d see why. They all like to give sloppy wet kisses. My dad often kissed me like that. Do you want a demonstration?”
Nagib proceeded to grab my face, kiss my cheek with a resounding smackeroo, and then kiss the other cheek in the same way. Thankfully, he kept it fairly non-sloppy-wet. That time, anyway. “My family can definitely get sloppy and wet with kisses like that.” He followed with a much more accurate demonstration of both sloppy and wet. I found myself thankful for my rather reserved family that gives quiet but affectionate side-hugs.
Yet I’m also intrigued by this loud demonstration of love.
I suddenly have a whole new perspective on the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Jesus tells the story: “While [the son] was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.”
The father in this parable represents God. Could it be that God gives loud demonstrations of love, like grabbing your face and giving you a big, intentional planting on the cheek? On BOTH cheeks?
The idea is mildly disturbing to me, yet also appealing. Maybe this kind of love is what Jesus is actually describing as the Father runs out to meet his estranged son.
As I’m trying to figure out just who God is, what He’s really like, I find that the lens through which I’ve read Scripture most of my life is being adjusted significantly by dating a Middle Eastern man. Not in the way most Americans would perhaps think – I don’t feel downtrodden or shushed as a woman (quite the opposite, in fact).
Rather, I find that the passions for life, for love, for good food and good drinks and good parties that permeate the Mediterranean culture find their way into Scripture as well. If I were to paraphrase Luke 15:22-24 to modern times, to a returning prodigal daughter, it might go something like this:
The Father tells the servants, “Quick! Bring the cutest party dress and put it on her! Get that family ring out and put it on her finger, and put some shoes on this girl! Break out the steak and shrimp! We need to celebrate! … ” [“So the party began,” reads the New Living Translation.]
Quite honestly, I have a hard time believing this portrayal of God. My Presbyterian missionary forebears, wonderful though they were, did not pass along this kind of knowledge of God. Is this what cross-cultural relationship will do to me? It’s an uncomfortable but welcome thought.