by Lawrence Downing
By Lawrence Downing, April 21, 2014
I wondered if I had misunderstood the TV news story out of New York City. I thought I heard the reporter say the person he was interviewing operated a cuddling business. I listened with full attention. I had heard right! There was the interviewee, snuggled, in the classic “spoon” position, next to a man who had paid a fee to have another person cuddle him! Only in New York! Or is it?
Less than two weeks later, while attending a hospital chaplaincy meeting at the headquarters of Adventist Health-West in Roseville, CA, I picked up the April 4, 2014, Roseville & Granite Bay Press Tribune on the hotel counter and began to peruse the day’s news. On A2 was this headline: “New business provides cuddling service.” A three-quarters page article included a full color picture of Kelly Peterson and Faviola Rodriquez, proprietors of “The Cuddle Connection,” welcoming any who are “in need of the human touch” to visit their cuddling business in Roseville. “‘We would like to take the stigmatization out of touch,’ CEO Peterson states. ‘We want to change the way people think about touch. It does not necessarily lead to X, Y, Z. (Our clients) are getting more out of safe, platonic friendship and trust than they even could conceive, and us too.’” The cuddlers market a growth industry? These people may be on to something.
I have to confess that my initial response was less than noble: “Yea, like you’re going to cuddle with someone for 45 minutes a couple times a month and nothing’s going to happen? Right.” My cynical side got into action: New ministry awaits the venturesome. Think of it, your very own cuddling outreach ministry. What a chance to witness! Get the person next to you, arms intertwined. What an opportunity to tell about the beasts and the real rest! Can you imagine the reports at the next evangelism council? (I’ll let your imagination have its way on this one.)
I shared the article with a few of the conference attendees. We had a couple good laughs and offered a few pertinent comments. “Here’s a cutting-edge approach to chaplaincy service: cuddle and get well,” or some such frivolous tag-line. All in good fun, you understand. However, as I began to reflect on the news article and the TV report, other ideas surfaced. What does the desire for cuddling have to tell us about human need? What does it tell us about our hi-tech world, where people communicate via punching letters on a keyboard and share thoughts with people plugged into a router whom they have never met and never will? We have all witnessed a group of people, or even two individuals, sitting or walking together, each absorbed in her/his phone, texting to someone far removed from the immediate context.
In our cities, people live in their self-contained, gated communities or behind locked-door high-rise apartments. The person living next door is given a nod or a muttered “Morning,” when passed in the hall, parking lot or elevator. The days of sitting in the rocker on the front porch sharing the day’s activities with those who happen by are long past. People today live in a world confined and defined by electronic media outlets. Communication is via faceless, emotionless words on a screen with now-and-again a happy or sad face thrown in to express the sender’s emotive intent. Within the context of a touchless, faceless-to-faceless world where people are extensions of their electronic devices, there is a place and need for direct contact with a living, breathing, present human being. Cuddling service, in this context, is a viable business plan. People do need people; a text or picture on a screen will not fly.
We in the church can learn from this marketing niche. I do not suggest that we have holy cuddlers. Let others fill that market. We in the church can live what we are uniquely equipped to do: demonstrate Christ’s love by our “being with” another human being. Extend friendship to the people around us. Use our church contacts to full advantage. What an opportunity is ours to compete with Facetime, Skype and other wonders of our age. A personal invitation to another person to sit down with us and share a meal and conversation can make all the difference in the world. Activism like this, were we to practice it, has potential to short circuit the cuddling business, but the result of a genuine, eye-to eye, person-to-person event has potential to be an effective way to provide what cuddling with a stranger cannot: to be a trusted friend. By any standard, such a friend is a priceless gift, and you don’t need a business license to open shop!