Friday, May 15, 2009

This Little Piggie - Hudson Valley News Column

Okay, I admit it, I bought a bottle of Purell.  For myself.  For my wife.  For my kids.  For the church.  Yes, I have been preparing for dreaded Swine Flu.  

You might think, “The man’s gone all paranoid.  It’s all so overblown.”  Maybe.

Oddly enough, I’m not particularly worried about it myself.  Different strains of flu hit every year, and a lot of people get sick and die from them.  In flu season, I wash my hands more and am more aware than usual about how I’m feeling.  Let’s face it, if I have a fever, I don’t want to visit someone at the nursing home or hospital.

So, I don’t see myself as going all panicky over this Swine Flu. On the other hand, the medical world does seem to be in a tizzy, and since they know more about it than I do, I won’t jump on the this-is-overblown-nonsense bandwagon.  Nor am I going to discount the fears of those who are terrified.  

For example, in the church I’ve been asked if we’re still going to have Holy Communion (we share a common cup) or pass the Peace.  The answer, by the way, is YES.  Still, whether or not I share their fear doesn’t matter -- they feel it, and telling them to get a grip won’t help.

There is a balancing act.  Honoring rather than denegrating people’s fear is important, but so is refusing to fall victim to that fear.  Fear, after all, has no place in the Kingdom of God.  The middle ground is a piece of practicality.

We sent out a note to parishioners stating that we would have hand sanitizer and tissues availabe in the church so anyone who felt uncertain could take the appropriate precautions.  In that note, we also mentioned that the wine for Holy Communion contains alcohol, and that studies have proven that alcohol to be sufficient to kills most germs.  

But we also noted that life is always uncertain, and as people of faith, we are called to step into the unknown on a daily basis without fear.  What’s to fear?  Ill-health?  It’s possible, but most people recover.  Death?  When we die, we go home to God in joy and peace.  If we were to recoil in fear from every potential threat to our health and well-being, we would never do anything again.  That’s not the life we are called to live.  Fear is for those without hope.

Come Sunday, I’m going to be celebrating Holy Communion - with the common cup.  I will be the last to drink out of it, too.  And at the Peace, I will shake hands with or hug anyone who welcomes it.  That is our way.  Unless I feel sick, I’ll be there (and no mask).

So, if anyone’s asking me for medical advice, I won’t give it.  I’m no doctor.  But what I plan on doing it to be pragmatic.  I’ll wash, use a tissue, rub in the hand sanitizer -- and then go out there and live!  Because in the end, a life lived in fear can hardly be called healthy.

The Rev. Chuck Kramer is rector of St. James' Episcopal Church, Hyde Park.  You can leave a comment for him at