Monday, September 21, 2009

"I Think it is Tacky."

I had just shown to a friend of mine a page in a catalogue that was selling "communion wafer and juice sets." According to the ad copy, churches purchasing these sets gain "the convenience of offering the elements of communion in one easy to use container." These sets are a combination of "communion juice and wafer in an airtight double sealed package to extend shelf life and ensure freshness." Her response: "I think it is tacky."

What a sanitized world we live in! Between "the sky is falling" swine flu epidemic to new instructions on how sneeze (into one's elbow, please, NOT one's hand), to the nastiness of MRSA and the realization that thousands and thousand of people die in hospitals, NOT because of their original complaints but because they pick up infections there, it is a wonder that any of us even shake hands with anyone else without immediately cleansing ourselves again afterward.

I recently read an article on how disgusting church microphones are because the users actually breathe on them when speaking or singing. Of course, the writers of that article were suggesting that, as a regular user of a church sound system, I might want to purchase my very own microphone, at significant cost, of course, rather than letting some other highly germinated person use mine or me use someone else's.

But to go back to the communion sets . . . when we observe the Lord's Supper at church, we tear pieces off a common loaf of bread and then people dip those pieces into a common cup before consuming them. It is the commonality that is so important. We often sing, "We are One Body" when engaging in this special act. We are connected to one another, we share a meal, we come together to receive it. This service of communion must be celebrated in a group setting--it can't be done alone. There are intentional responses back and forth as we all affirm together the greatness of God and the mystery of our faith.

Are the communion juice and wafer sets "tacky." Yes, when fear and commerce (they are also expensive) push their production; no, when they may on occasion be a common sense response to an emergency situation.

Keep in mind that fear will quickly drive us all apart, just as fear of infection drives the common act of holy communion into the neatly packaged juice and wafer sets. Fear so isolates us that we learn to live not trusting others, putting up barriers, refusing entrance into our homes and lives and interiors those who might change us or threaten us.

Is it possible to live a sanitized life in isolation from other human beings? People are messy--so if we can keep them at a distance, perhaps our own lives will be less vulnerable to infection from others. However, ultimately, all of us have to recognize that our own lives are messy, too. Every one of us wanders from darkness to light and back again. We can move in a single moment from glorious generosity to tight meanness of soul and pocketbook. We can, and we do, both love and hate those with whom we are in closest contact.

Certainly, modern sanitation saves millions of lives. I don't want to go back to drinking dirty water or having open sewage flowing in the streets. But I often wonder if this same fear that keeps people we don't know or who are significantly different from us at a distance also keeps the Spirit of God at a distance. It is impossible to enter into contact with true holiness and not feel threatened. Always remember that the first things angels say when encountering mere mortals is, "Do not be afraid."

I believe the choice to leave fear behind is a choice that opens to us the possibility of heaven. And that's where I want to live.


Southern Dreaming said...

I no longer take communion at my church for the very reason that I don't want to be eating from a common loaf of bread and dunking into a common cup. Sometimes a little separation is the better part of wisdom to stay well. Being in healthcare, I'm too aware of where people's hands are and how quickly something can spread. My reticence to partake in no means reflects an unwillingness to get involved with people. Honestly, I don't want to get sick and I don't want to infect others.

Angie Hammond said...

How sad Southern Dreaming that you no longer take communion at your church because of the fear of infection. You say you are in healthcare and know where people's hands have been and that is the reason you've stopped because you don't want to get sick or infect anyone else. Ok, I can understand your feelings with the H1N1 out there, but I want to ask you why church? Why not stop eating out, who knows where the hands of that kid at the local fast food were just before he served you at the window. Or why not stop shopping at the store as well. I mean do you wipe down the handle on the grocery cart before you start shopping? Who knows what might be lurking on the handle? Seriously, I had a friend that did this before she would even think about touching a cart or even a door handle. Needless to say I thought my friend had a screw loose and was a little OCD about germs. She was always getting sick and wondered why. She was never diagnosed with any immune disorders but I wondered if she hadn't weakened her whole system by killing off beneficial bacteria with all of the germ killing stuff she used on her hands and everything else.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm very sad for you that fear of infection stops you from something that you once felt comfortable with at church. If it stopped you, then how many others has it stopped? And how many more will it stop in the future?

Do I have an answer? No because I do not know the circumstances at your church or how communion is celebrated there. At my church, fears have been eased somewhat by having hand sanitizer used by the servers and by having individual small cups for the juice if desired. Does this eliminate all germs. Absolutely not.

Am I afraid of communion at church? No. I am far more likely to become sick from my job than from taking communion at church. I am a school teacher and I can have all of the clorox wipes and hand sanitizer in the world and it will not prevent me from getting sick if I have a room full of students who are sick. And yes we have had the H1N1 flu at school and yes I've been exposed more than one time. I've been one of the lucky ones who has not gotten it so far.

All of that being said, I agree that sometimes the wise thing to do is to keep yourself away from others so as not to infect them when you are sick.
But let's not just assume that we are all sick to start with. By allowing our fear of infection to rule us, we risk becoming like the boy in the bubble, cut off from all that is human and that which connects us to one another in a way like no other. That being physical contact with another of our own kind be it in our homes or in church.

Southern Dreaming said...

I did not say I have a fear of infection. I said I don't want to be sick. When wipes are available at the grocery door, yes I do use them. Why do you think they're there? When I come home from being out and about, I wash my hands. Fear is not the issue, but rather good common sense. Saying not to eat out or shop somewhere is putting something on me that I did not say or imply. Have you not been in a restroom where people leave it without washing their hands? Have you not seen people coughing into their hands? Where I work, we have antibacterial soap in every room and on the walls outside the rooms. This helps to keep colds and the flu from spreading. And it works.

Communion can easily be shared with bread or crackers already broken up and communion cups. While communion is within the corporate body, also it is private within the person. So the public partaking of communion is not diminished by individual servings.

Be careful in overstating your case. You didn't read my mail carefully or you would have noticed that I said I am not at all unwilling to be involved with people. When there are gentle ways, none embarrassing (to other people) ways to stay healthy, why not use them? And people who go to church also end up in hospitals. That is to say, I'm generally careful with my health and others. Being in church does not exempt me and others from getting or being sick.