Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just Wash Your Hands, Okay?

A Common Household Apple Pie

On Monday, my son made an apple pie.  That night when I got home from my church meeting, the four of us sat down to have some pie, just like old times around our kitchen table.  I reported on my meeting.

Me:  Guess what we talked about at my meeting?  Do you know what communion by intinction is?

Husband:  It’s when you inject the wine into the congregation members.

Me:   No.

Son:  I thought a tincture was a mixture that included alcohol. 

Me:   There is no wine in the Presbyterian church.

Husband:   So is that why Jesus turned the wine into water?

Me:   What?!

Son:    If you turn wine into water you would get more molecules of water than of wine because of the molecular structure of the ethanol.  Since you have to maintain mass, there would be more water.

Husband:    The cup would be overflowing.

(Seeing that this was probably going to be a conversation I would want to remember, I left the room to look for a piece of paper.  By the time I came back, somehow the discussion had moved on to latkes.)

Son:    How can you use latkes for communion?


Husband:    It’s when you dip the latkes in the wine.

Son:    I thought you were supposed to dip things at Passover. 

Me:   There are no latkes in communion. 

YD:  Latkes are for Hannukah, not Passover.

Me:  Intinction is when you have one person holding a loaf of bread and another person holding a large goblet filled with grape juice.  Those people stand at the front of the church.  You walk up, tear a piece of bread off the loaf, and then dip it in the juice.  And then you eat it.

Husband:  No double dipping!

Me: Well, yeah.  That was what we talked about at the meeting.  The Presbyterian Book of Order says that communion by intinction is a perfectly acceptable way to do it.  But some people don’t like it. 

Husband:  What is the Book of Order?  Is that like the Presbyterian Talmud?

Me:   One reason they object to it is they think it will result in passing around germs.

Husband:    Ebola! 

Me: Some people might be thinking that, but I think mostly they don’t want to catch a cold.  Another reason they object is that they think it is not properly Presbyterian, but the Book of Order says it’s fine.

Husband:   I have a solution for the fear of germs: just take everyone’s temperature as they enter the sanctuary.  Like they are doing at some airports.

* * * * * * * *

Being me, I did some research online.  I didn’t want to just dismiss out of hand the concern about passing around germs during communion, or the issue of intinction not being properly Presbyterianish.  Here are my conclusions.

- There is some risk to picking up an illness through communion by intinction, but it is quite low. 

- There might be even less risk if we served the grape juice from a silver chalice rather than pottery.  Silver apparently has germicidal properties.

- There might be even less risk if we served wine instead of grape juice, because the alcohol content has some germicidal properties.  But 98% of Presbyterian churches serve grape juice.

- I suspect that risk of illness from intinction is less than the risk of illness you underwent when you put your hand on the church doorknob to open the door to go into the sanctuary.  Or, for that matter, the general risk to your well-being when you got in your car and drove to church. 

- The PC(USA) Book of Order, which is indeed the Presbyterian Talmud, recognizes communion by intinction as valid.  Note that the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) feels much differently. 

- Intinction is likely the way it was done at the time of The Johns (Calvin and Knox).  You can’t get much more Presbyterian than that.

- There are an awful lot of opinions, both scientific and theological, on this topic.

- I believe that God is present, somehow, in those communion elements of grape juice and bread.  It's a blessing for the congregation to join together, no matter by what method, to receive communion.  Some people find one method more meaningful than another.  I can participate in my less-preferred method because I know it has great meaning to someone else in the congregation, and hope that others would be able to do the same for me.

- Wash your hands, people.

- Quite possibly, the only good thing about this post was the pie.
Part of a retreat prayer walk: a reminder of the sacrament.
That's the closest I could get to a photo of communion.

The End

* * * * * * * *

Lengthy Appendix
This next part is just included here mainly for my good friend who has memorized the Book of Order, and for my own reference.

* * * * * * * *

Warning!  Sciency words and statistics ahead!

There are plenty of opinions out there on whether taking communion puts one at risk for a communicable disease.  There are even more opinions on what the communion serving methods mean, theologically, with some people adamantly opposed to one or another method.

The infectious disease aspect of communion has been pondered for over 100 years, basically since knowledge of infectious diseases developed.  There are also a few actual scientific studies.  Most of them concern everybody in the congregation drinking from the same cup. Some scientists advocated shifting from a common communion chalice to communion by intinction in order to avoid passing around nasty illnesses.

In 1995, Dr Anne LaGrange Loving, a microbiologist, carried out a controlled scientific study in which a procedure similar to communion by intinction was mimicked by 43 volunteers.  You can read the entire study here.

Here are some results from that study:
Seven individuals (16.3%) dipped their fingertips into the wine during the intinction process. In every case (100%), the following wine samples yielded no growth [of bacteria]. ….

The cultures of the entire amount of wine remaining in the chalice at the end of the samplings yielded no growth at all. …. 

Overall, the intincted wafer cultures yielded the same flora as the parishioners contained on their hands in most instances, indicating no greater risk to an individual than placing one's fingertips in one's mouth. ….

In 29 (67.4%) out of 43 cases, the bacteria which grew from the wafer were the same as those found on the individual's fingertips. Of those cases in which a different microorganism grew on the wafer than was on the individual's fingertips, it was usually Bacillus species. In two (4.7%) instances, a potential pathogen was found on the wafer of a person whose fingertips did not contain it (S. aureus). In one instance it might have been passed from the previous parishioner who was a carrier; in the other there had been seven individuals without S. aureus immediately prior.

All (100%) of the wafer cultures that were intincted by the minister yielded some growth, as opposed to 79.1% of those that the parishioner dipped for himself or herself. In two (4.7%) consecutive instances, a potential pathogen appeared on the wafers (Enterobacter cloacae), and in both cases the minister as well as the parishioner had touched their fingertips to the wine, and the minister had touched the lips of both individuals.

And the study’s conclusion :

Although intinction does not abolish all risk of infection to a parishioner, it does seem to reduce the risk over that of sipping from a common communion cup. Fingertips may contain fecal pathogens, but these do not always get transferred into the wine and thus to subsequent parishioners. Intinction by the minister appears to be slightly more risky. The cleanliness of the minister's hands seems to be a factor, as the intinction-by-minister cultures yielded more growth overall.

Dr. Loving also did a survey in 1997, and concluded:

No significant differences were found in the rates of illness among Christians who receive Holy Communion, Christians who attend church but do not receive the sacraments, and people who do not attend Christian services.  The only significant health factor found in this study was the presence of young children in the household, a commonly observed phenomenon.  Replications in other seasons and in different locales might be warranted to further test this question.  However, these data suggest that receiving Holy Communion as often as daily does not increase risk of infection.

On the appropriateness of communion by intinction in the Presbyterian Church (USA)
From The Companion ToThe Book Of Common Worship, Peter C. Bower, Editor,
Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
p 38-39

Going Forward to Receive Communion. The earliest Reformed method for Communion was for the people to approach the Lord’s Table to receive the bread and cup. “With Calvin, the people came forward as they had always done . . . one by one, receiving the bread from one Minister at one end of the table, and the Wine from another Minister at the other end.”17 In the English congregation in Geneva, John Knox had the people leave their places to sit at tables set up in the church. This practice continued in both Scotland and the Netherlands. Under the influence of the English Puritans, the Scottish church slowly and reluctantly moved toward receiving Communion in the pews, beginning in the mid-seventeenth century. Pew Communion provides an opportunity for Christians to serve one another; it also tends to reinforce the individualism and passivity that characterize many sacramental occasions.

At a minimum, congregations should try other serving methods than their present one as a way to add to the richness of receiving the Sacrament. As the Book of Common Worship indicates: “The people may gather around the table . . . the people may go to persons serving the elements . . . or the bread and wine may be served to the people where they are” (BCW 44).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Leafy Math

This post is in honor of my friend who is studying math – algebra, to be specific.

This afternoon Younger Daughter, Son, and I raked leaves, because it is the most pressing thing on my list, because it was a beautiful day, and because the Common Household labor force nearly doubled with the arrival of my son.
How much does that yard bin hold, anyway?
After about 30 minutes of raking, I dismissed the kids, partly to reward Son and Younger Daughter for doing it without complaint (! it does happen !), and partly to promote sibling camaraderie.  I steered them to two other projects: putting up some Halloween decorations, and composing word problems having to do with leaves and raking. 

When I rake leaves I am usually doing informal science or math in my head.   Just the other day I did an experiment to see which was a faster way to get the leaves to the top of the hill. 

Method 1: rake the leaves into a pile, lift the pile into the yard waste bin, drag the yard waste bin to the top of the hill, and then dump it out at the edge of the street. 

Method 2:  rake the leaves onto the tarp and drag the tarp to the top of the hill, then dump it out at the edge of the street.  

Method 1 takes umpteen years and Method 2 takes an eon.  The end result of my experiment was blisters on both my hands.

Or I do some math musing in my head – How many leaves are still in the trees?  What is the probability that the leaves will stay in the piles at the top of the hill?

There are a few more weeks' worth of raking up there.

How long before they fall to the ground?

In recognition of the courage and determination of my friend who is studying algebra, I asked my kids to come up with their own leaf algebra problem.

The Common Household Mom pondering some leaf math.
Just in case you would like extra math practice, or you wish to punish your children with word problems, I included the problems below.  I will admit I needed help to set up the equations for these problems.  Algebra forces you to think in a certain way (which is why it should be required in most curricula), and I am out of practice. 

Perhaps more interesting than the solution to the word problems is to gauge how realistic they are.  One of the tricky parts to these problems is that the leaves continue to fall while the raking is occurring.  That’s realistic, all right.

The algebra word problem lab

Younger Daughter’s word problem
Leaves are falling at a rate of 160 leaves per hour.  You can rake leaves at a rate of 3,000 per hour.  The leaves have been falling all week since you last got a chance to rake them, and you decided that you can’t stand it any more.  However, you only have 1.5 hours before you have to go to your church meeting.  How long would it take you to clear the yard, and can you do it before you go to church?  A calculator will be helpful.

Son’s word problem
Son, Older Daughter, and Younger Daughter are raking leaves.  Son can rake 1,000 leaves per hour, Older Daughter can rake 500 leaves per hour, and Younger Daughter can rake 1,100 leaves per hour.  If the total number of leaves in the yard is 5,000 and leaves are falling at a rate of 100 leaves per hour, how long will it take to clear the yard if
a) everyone starts at the same time, and
b) Younger Daughter starts 1 hour after Son and Older Daughter?

Answers in the comments.

If you have gotten all the way through this post, I am amazed and reward you with these questions:  Do you like algebra?  What is the most pressing thing on your list?

A fine afternoon's work.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Return of the Native

The happy event that I am preparing for is my son’s arrival home from college for fall break!  Alas, Older Daughter will not be able to come home, because she is on a different schedule.

I need to stock up on his favorite foods, which include cinnamon sugar on waffles and peanut butter and jelly.  Pumpkin bread is the only vegetable he will eat, unless you count pasta made with Ragu sauce.  All served with a big glass of milk.

This is the child who has said these things:

Me, issuing instructions on making dinner:  “Son, get out the leftover chicken and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes.”

Son:  “I assume you want me to turn on the microwave?”

* * * * * * * *

May 10, 2014
Me:  I hate Mother’s Day.  It’s just one of those made-up holidays.

Son:    I thought it was in the Ten Commandments.    You know, “Honor your father and mother.”  That would make it one of the oldest holidays of all.

Me:  Yeah, well, it doesn’t say “Honor your father and mother on one Sunday out of the whole year.”  You have to honor them every day, “So that you may live long in the land.” 

Son:  It doesn’t say that, does it?

Me:  (I arise in indignation, to look for my Bible to find the exact quote.)  Yes, it does say that.  I’ll show you.

Son:    Are you going to get the original tablets?

* * * * * * * *

I was repacking stuff from my purse into a smaller purse, in preparation for a Mother’s Day outing.  I said out loud, “Do I need my calculator?”  Son said, “No, you have me for that.”

* * * * * * * *

In his late teenage years, my son seems to be a bit prone to ear infections.  When he came back from college in May, he got another ear infection.  We were talking about his ear drops. 

Common Household Husband: “That stuff is just made of ascetic acid.”  (pronounced “ah-SEH-tic.”)
Son:    “Dad.  It’s not a-seh-tic, it’s ‘acetic’.” (pronounced “ah-SEE-tic.”)

Husband :  “No, it’s ascetic acid.”

Son:  “That would be acid that’s reclusive.”

* * * * * * * *

I went to the bank and the grocery store with the Common Household Husband  and Son. 
We went to the bank because Son had to make a deposit.  I said, “Can Dad and I stay in the car, or do you need us to come into the bank with you?”

Son said, “Is it against the law for me to leave my parents in the car while I run errands?”

* * * * * * * *

We are all looking forward to his arrival.