Germs and Jesus by Erin Lane

A Gathering Voices

I’m not a particularly sanitary person.

I prefer to share backwash from my husband’s water glass rather than sip steriley from my own. I always have a mustache-thin line of dirt under my overgrown fingernails. I don’t mind picking a dropped carrot off the floor before blowing off the dog hair and popping it in my mouth.

At the risk of losing friends, I even lick the wooden spoon and stick it right back in the soup pot before guests arrive. I snort dough off my fingers, too, when baking cookies for dessert.

Although my mom’s a nurse and my dad’s a hospital administrator, germs have never worked their gummy stronghold on me. Sure I may have gotten the requisite bout of lice in the first grade or a suspicious pink bump on my armpit after using someone else’s razor, but I’ve so far led a life of general good health.

(You’re so grossed out, I know. Just be thankful you’re reading this post safely behind your computer screen – even though that keyboard of yours is a bacteria pool beneath your scrolling fingers.)

All that is to say that I may not be the most reliable source when it comes to the use of hand sanitizer. But when it is one of a few select items that gets the privilege of sitting beside the holy alter, I start itching like a blistered hive.

Real SimpleAt my church, all it takes is a quick squirt of the anti-bacterial slime before communion and each server is prepared to offer Christ’s body and blood as hygienically appropriate as possible. Is this what Christianity has become in America, an avoidance of bodily filth for the sake of what – the sanctifying savior or just good manners? I’m going to go out on a very stubby limb here and say that Jesus’ broken body wasn’t sanitized at all. It was gory. grotesque. bloodied.

Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic living during the harrowing Bubonic Plague where a brief touch could wield death, believed that the only way we are kinned with Christ is through the blood, the guts, and the wounds. This, too, is how we are kinned with one another. Isn’t spit swapping then a least a Petri-sized dish of holiness?

My husband doesn’t agree. Maybe you don’t either. He says there are examples in the Bible about keeping our temple clean. But I can’t help thinking hand sanitizer at the communion table is simply a reflection of a white, upper-middle class, American Protestant ethic of perfection.

Think about it. If I offered communion to my poorer neighbors, I would be utterly embarrassed, ashamed even, to pop a squirt before serving the body and the blood. Manners – and beliefs on germs – are simply socially constructed aspirations of the wealthy, aren’t they? (Just flip through an issue of Real Simple or read Norbert Elia’s History of Manners for evidence.)

I’m not saying people who use hand sanitizer aren’t Christian. I get it. Sort of. But I am suggesting that Christianity is messy, dirty, germy even. And from my perspective, Jesus seemed to embody that brazen defiance of what and who was truly clean.

Christianity ain’t pretty.

But then again, I’m the one who hasn’t showered since Saturday. Why trust me?

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