The Hugs Really Are Free

Today we went out onto the streets of Chicago to give free hugs to strangers. We were stationed next to a train stop, and a tall fellow with tie-dyed hair and a long trench coat in praise of John Lennon stepped through the doors and lit up at the sight of our "FREE HUGS" sign. He hugged us all at least once. And on his second time through, he asked, "What's this for? Why are you guys doing this?" It was only 7 words into the explanation that he heard the word "God" and his countenance changed. He said, "God?" and took one step back. He bummed a cigarette off the girl at the bus stop, then hung out with one beer in his hand, leaning up against a post like he was waiting for someone. We were 30 feet from him giving hugs away, embracing strangers to acknowledge their humanity and give them personal contact.

Acknowledgement. Contact. Affirmation. Love.

For free.

But this guy was talking cynically to the CTA attendant sweeping up trash. "Yeah, they give the hugs away for free now, but they take you to church and make you pay later." The man with the broom shook his head and gave a slow, "Yeahhh," as if this had happened to everybody.

I walked to the corner, trying to get Joshua's attention across the street, to tell him that we had to head back. I turned around and there again was this same fellow with the blond and orange hair dressed in a trench coat. His said his name was Max. He motioned to two guys next to him and asked me,

"Do you wanna forsake Jesus and get f***ed up with me and my friends?"

"No," I told him. "I'm in it to win it," I said with a laugh.

But my heart wanted to say,

If you knew what He has done for me, you would know why I cannot forsake Him. And if you knew Jesus, you wouldn't want to leave Him, either. 

A crowd from the crosswalk pressed in to our corner and the three of them were leaving, but Max had a question first: "What does God think about pot?" His friend was lighting a joint as I was passing out hugs. "What's God's judgment about pot, huh?" He looked above me, past me, looking at the others with an air of challenge. "What does God think about pot?"

I caught his eyes and told him, "God has something to say about pot, but He cares more about other things, like love, mercy, and justice."


     Last year a wealthy widow in India spent $37,500 to throw a feast for 100,000 people. Phuljharia Kunwar was 80 years old at the time and felt that she might not live much longer. With the thought of death before her, she threw this feast, hoping that it would please the gods and secure for her a place in heaven. One man who attended the feast told reporters that "She was worried that no one would care about throwing a feast after her death." And so at the end of her life Kunwar spent a part of her fortune on a good deed, seeking a legacy for her life here and hope for the life hereafter. She threw a feast hoping that it would get her into heaven.

     In the kingdom of God, this picture is reversed. We see Jesus inviting us to a banquet that He hosts, and if we say yes to His invitation He grants us meaning in this life and a place by His side in eternity. What a deal! "Then the angel said to me, 'Write: "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!"'" (Revelation 19:9)