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The Sneeze

Sunday, after I finished preaching, I consecrated communion and then made a mad dash for the airport. I’ve had to do that a few times over the years, but it makes me feel guilty, like leaving the table in the middle of a wonderful meal … which is what I did. The folks at church are very understanding, but it still left me feeling bad. The long lines that threatened to make me miss my flight didn’t improve my mood. I made the flight, though, and, just as I was about to sit down in my aisle seat, the woman in the middle seat let out a ferocious sneeze. Rather than saying, “Bless you,” I said, “I hope you don’t have a cold.”

What I really meant was, “I hope you didn’t just sneeze your cold germs all over me.” Fortunately, I recognized immediately that I was being ungracious and tried to make amends, but the truth is I was in a very grumpy mood. That was a poor sign because I was coming from church and catching a flight to Hartford Seminary where I am joining their Doctor of Ministry program and becoming a faculty associate. Obviously, I need all the religion I can get … or perhaps I just need a day off …

Ironically, the class to which I was rushing is reading American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. I say “ironically” because one of the points this 688-page survey of American religiosity discovers is the more religious a person is the better a person is. They measure this in a variety of ways like volunteering, giving to charity, voting, giving up their seat, giving blood, and helping their neighbor. According to their extensive surveys, it doesn’t seem to make a significant amount of difference what religion you are, but it does make a difference HOW religious you are. That is: simply believing makes you behave slightly more neighborly than not believing at all. Attending services makes you a bit better human than simply believing. Attending regularly and faithfully seems to upgrade your behavior even more, but the best people seem to be those who are genuinely engaged in their community of faith, regardless of what that faith is.

It is an interesting conclusion, one that I promptly disproved by bring rude to the woman sneezing on me on the plane. Mr. Putnam and Mr. Campbell, I am sorry I lowered your average. I will try to do better today. Maybe we would all do better if we took our faith a bit less casually. At least that is what I got out of that 688-page book.


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Rev. Michael Piazza

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