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According to the information released from the Texas Department of State Health Services, a cumulative total of 3836 tests for COVID-19 have been given in Wharton County since late April, with a cumulative total of 368 positive cases of COVID-19.
If we look at the last two weeks of data, 1089 tests were performed in the last two weeks, with 165 positive cases, or about 15%. To give you something to compare this to, when we met for one Sunday in June, tests were averaging around 6-9% positive for the previous two weeks. The virus is continuing to be spread, and can only be reduced by the action of everyone in the community.
So what can we do?
There are 5 specific things that we can do as Christians to assist in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.
- Pray for God’s mercy and protecting hand to sustain the health of the ill, the vulnerable, the elderly, those who must work to provide for their families, the medical workers who care for the ill. Pray that everyone considers the welfare of their neighbors, of the vulnerable, and those who need our support to avoid being put at risk of contracting COVID-19.
- Take this seriously. Remember that the majority of the people who are infected with COVID-19 show few if any symptoms. In fact – strange as it may seem – people tend to be the most contagious before they develop symptoms. In addition, we still do not know about long term health effects, but physicians report seeing high rates of blood clots (causing strokes), inflammation of and damage to the heart muscle, cardiovascular damage, lung damage, neurological symptoms, and kidney damage. We are still learning what this virus does and how to treat it. This is NOT ‘just a flu’ and we cannot afford to treat it that way.
- Wear a mask. Your wearing a mask protects me. My wearing a mask protects you. The virus itself is tiny, but is spread between people in ‘respiratory droplets’ – small droplets formed from our speaking, breathing, coughing, sneezing – that travel from an infected person to a new host. Even a cloth covering traps most of the respiratory droplets and reduces the spread of the virus. As the state opens up and more people are out in public, wearing a mask becomes more important – not less.
- It is worth noting that the CDC, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Wharton County Office of Emergency Management, all encourage or mandate the use of masks in public. In addition, stores such as Apple, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, Dollar Tree, Kohl’s, Starbucks, Target, Trader Joe’s, Verizon, Walmart, and Whole Foods all require masks to be worn while inside their stores.
- Wash your hands. In addition to the respiratory droplets, objects around an infected person can become contaminated and help spread the virus to a new host. (These contaminated objects are known as ‘fomites’ ) Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds breaks down the virus, and helps prevent its spread. Wiping down faucet handles, door knobs, and commonly touched surfaces with a disinfectant helps prevent fomites from infecting new persons.
- Social Distance. Limiting face to face contact with others is another way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This ties in with wearing a mask – staying out of the range of any droplets the other person produces from singing, talking, breathing, coughing, sneezing, shouting – and keeping distance from any fomites the infected person creates around them.
As you know, I called for a suspension of in person worship services in March. This was done in response to the latest and best information we had at the time. I also freely admitted that I hoped that I was overreacting, and looked forward to being mocked after the fact.
Any time I consider if it is time to open the church for in-person gatherings again, I consider three ‘Gating Criteria’ guidelines given by the Federal Government.
These Gates are as follows:
- Symptoms: There shall be a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses reported within a 14-day period AND a downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period.
- Cases: There shall be a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period OR a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (with a flat or increasing volume of tests).
- Hospitals: Able to treat all patients without crisis care AND Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.
At this time, from the best information I have available, none of these three Gates are met.
Symptoms: Documented COVID-19 cases are increasing.
Cases: The percentage of positive tests have gone from 16% to 14% over the past two weeks, but are still much higher than the 6% in June, and higher still than cases in May.
It is my duty as your called Shepherd and Pastor to apply the Gospel to our lives, to make available God’s Word and Sacraments, to teach, preach, provide pastoral care and support for members.
I cannot in good conscience ask God’s people to gather together in what is considered a high risk event when there are alternatives available. The Church is not a gathering in a building, but something that exists wherever the Gospel is properly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered (Augsburg Confessions, Art VII).
I thank God daily for the radio service that we have, which allows a consistent, (relatively) low-tech way to reach our members. I rejoice that we are able to administer the Sacrament of Holy Communion using the all-weather entrance at the church building.
Church is continuing. Church is happening. It is happening in a different format and a different medium then we have done before. If something develops where we cannot use our current methods, then we will, with God’s mercy and help, develop new ones. I daily, hourly pray for a reduction of this pandemic and a return to our more comfortable way of receiving God’s Word. Until that happens I ask that you join with me in that prayer for God’s ongoing mercy. I ask for your prayers for myself and the elders of the church, as we agonize over how to minister to you in this situation. I ask for your continued patience and trust.
You also have my assurance that as soon as the Gating Criteria are met and it is safe to do so, I will joyously, blissfully, announce to everyone everywhere that we are gathering in person again. I will celebrate with you that our many voices are joined together in one place and voice to sing praise to our faithful God who has protected us. Until then, we dwell in a time of waiting, dependent on God’s daily mercy and forgiveness – which is the very life of a Christian.
As part of our own exposure to God’s Word, a group has started to read Immerse: Messiah again. This will allow us to read through the entire New Testament in 16 weeks, with an average of 30 pages a week.
This week we are reading up to page 32 of our books. We will then meet on Monday evenings at 7:00pm via video chat and phone for our discussions of the readings.
Anyone is still invited to participate with us. If you need a new copy of the book, please reach out to me, as I have several extra copies in my office.
For those participating, there are lots of resources available here: https://www.tyndale.com/sites/immersebible/messiah-resources/ , including an audio recording of the readings, if you prefer to listen.
There’s also an introductory video for the first two week’s readings, which can be found on the page above, or right here: https://youtu.be/UBOVzxI10rs
Everyone is welcome to send an email to me at any time during the week with any questions, concerns, or insights you find. I can either answer them or bring them up during a weekly meeting.
For our video chat, here’s the information from the software we’re using for this:
Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (571) 317-3112
Access Code: 841-954-213
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
If you use the computer, tablet, smartphone, you’ll be able to see me and anyone else using a webcam. You *don’t* have to use a webcam if you don’t want to. If you prefer to just call in, use the phone number and access code.
As I wrote last week, I will be addressing a number of topics related to racism in society today. This is prompted from the murder of George Floyd on May 25th.
As Christians, we can and must address injustice when we come across it. However, our own ignorance can blind us to situations that may also be obvious to others. These articles that I write are an attempt to give us a common experience, a way of examining ourselves and our attitudes, so that we can begin talking and sharing our own experiences and understandings, and be able to look at ourselves through new eyes.
Today, I write about White Privilege. I’ve often heard White Privilege described as ‘Oh, everything is my fault because I’m white.’ I would suggest that ‘white privilege’ means ‘people don’t respond to my skin color in a way that hinder my ability to live my life’, or ‘my skin color isn’t something that creates problems for me.’
While researching for this article I came across the writings of Lori Lakin, the Editor-in-Chief of a website http://www.goodblacknews.org. She wrote an excellent editorial on July 14th, 2016 that I think really nailed the issue of White Privilege. I’m going to quote her article in total below. I have lightly edited it for formatting and some language. Next week I’ll follow up with a little more.
The article quote begins below:
EDITORIAL: What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege
BY GOODBLACKNEWS ON JULY 14, 2016 by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, GBN Editor-in-Chief
Yesterday I was tagged in a post by an old high school friend, asking me and a few others a very public, direct question about white privilege and racism. I feel compelled not only to publish his query but also my response to it, as it may be a helpful discourse for more than just a handful of folks on Facebook. Here’s his post:
“To all of my Black or mixed race FB friends, I must profess a blissful ignorance of this “White Privilege” of which I’m apparently guilty of possessing. By not being able to fully put myself in the shoes of someone from a background / race / religion / gender / nationality / body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m now hearing. Despite my treating everyone with respect and humor my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others. I’m not saying I’m colorblind, but whatever racism / sexism / other-ism my life experience has instilled in me stays within me, and is not manifested in the way I treat others (which is not the case with far too many, I know).
So that I may be enlightened, can you please share with me some examples of institutional racism that have made an indelible mark upon you? If I am to understand this, I need people I know personally to show me how I’m missing what’s going on. Personal examples only. I’m not trying to be insensitive, I only want to understand (but not from the media). I apologize if this comes off as crass or offends anyone.”
Here’s my response:
Hi, Jason. First off, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your post and made it part of mine. I think the heart of what you’ve asked of your friends of color is extremely important and I think my response needs much more space than as a reply on your feed. I truly thank you for wanting to understand what you are having a hard time understanding.
Coincidentally, over the last few days I have been thinking about sharing some of the incidents of prejudice/racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime – in fact I just spoke with my sister Lesa about how to best do this yesterday – because I realized many of my friends – especially the white ones – have no idea what I’ve experienced / dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened. There are two reasons for this :
- because not only as a human being do I suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, I was also taught within my community (I was raised in the ‘70s & ‘80s – it’s shifted somewhat now) and by society at large NOT to make a fuss, speak out, or rock the boat. To just “deal with it,” lest more trouble follow (which sadly, it often does).
- Fear of being questioned or dismissed with “Are you sure that’s what you heard?” or “Are you sure that’s what they meant?” and being angered and upset all over again by well-meaning-but-hurtful and essentially unsupportive responses.
So, again, I’m glad you asked, because I really want to answer. But as I do, please know a few things first:
- This is not even close to the whole list. I’m cherrypicking because none of us have all day.
- I’ve been really lucky. Most of what I share below is mild compared to what others in my family and community have endured.
- I’m going to go in chronological order so you might begin to glimpse the tonnage and why what many white folks might feel is a “Where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been festering individually and collectively for the LIFETIME of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today regardless of wealth or opportunity.
- Some of what I share covers sexism, too – intersectionality is another term I’m sure you’ve heard and want to put quotes around, but it’s a real thing, too, just like white privilege. But you’ve requested a focus on personal experiences with racism, so here it goes:
- When I was 3, my family moved into an upper-middle class, all-white neighborhood. We had a big backyard, so my parents built a pool. Not the only pool on the block, but the only one neighborhood boys started throwing rocks into. White boys. One day my mom ID’d one as the boy from across the street, went to his house, told his mother and fortunately, his mother believed mine. My mom not only got an apology, but also had that boy jump in our pool and retrieve every single rock. No more rocks after that. Then Mom even invited him to come over to swim sometime if he asked permission. Everyone became friends. This one has a happy ending because my mom was and is badass about matters like these, but I hope you can see that the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.
- When my older sister was 5, a white boy named Mark called her a “nigger” after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant but in her gut, she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go. I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it, it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant – that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement. If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life, where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.
- Sophomore year of high school. I had Mr. Melrose for Algebra 2. Some time within the first few weeks of class, he points out that I’m “the only spook” in the class. This was meant to be funny. It wasn’t. So, I doubt it will surprise you I was relieved when he took medical leave after suffering a heart attack and was replaced by a sub for the rest of the semester. The point here is if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation – you have white privilege.
- When we started getting our college acceptances senior year, I remember some white male classmates pissed that another black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t. They said that affirmative action had given him “their spot” and it wasn’t fair. An actual friend of theirs. Who’d worked his ass off. The point here is if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it” – that is white privilege.
- When I got accepted to Harvard (as a fellow AP student you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes?), three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day. The first was the white doctor giving me a physical at Kaiser: Me: “I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.” Doctor: “Where are you going?” Me: “Harvard.” Doctor: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?” The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested “what to bring with you” list. Store employee: “Where are you going?” Me: “Harvard.” Store employee: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?” The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said “what to bring” to Harvard. I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton, and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever. Woman, to the boy: “What college are you going to?” Boy: “Princeton.” Woman: “Congratulations!” Woman, to me: “Where are you sending your boxes?” Me: “Harvard.” Woman: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?” I think: “No b****, the one downtown next to the liquor store.” But I say, gesturing to my LABELED boxes: “Yes, the one in Massachusetts.” Then she says congratulations but it’s too late. The point here is if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, that is white privilege.
- In my freshman college tutorial, our small group of 4-5 was assigned to read Thoreau, Emerson, Malcolm X, Joseph Conrad, Dreiser, etc. When it was the week to discuss “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” one white boy boldly claimed he couldn’t even get through it because he couldn’t relate and didn’t think he should be forced to read it. I don’t remember the words I said, but I still remember the feeling – I think it’s what doctors refer to as chandelier pain – as soon as a sensitive area on a patient is touched, they shoot through the roof – that’s what I felt. I know I said something like my whole life I’ve had to read “things that don’t have anything to do with me or that I relate to” but I find a way anyway because that’s what learning is about – trying to understand other people’s perspectives. The point here is – the canon of literature studied in the United States, as well as the majority of television and movies – have focused primarily on the works or achievements of white men. So if you have never experienced or considered how damaging it is/was/could be to grow up without myriad role models and images in school that reflect you in your required reading material or in the mainstream media – that is white privilege.
- All seniors at Harvard are invited to a fancy, seated group lunch with our respective dorm Masters. (Yes, they were called “Masters” up until this February when they changed it to “Faculty Deans,” but that’s just a tasty little side dish to the main course of this remembrance). While we were being served by the Dunster House cafeteria staff – the black ladies from Haiti and Boston that ran the line daily; I still remember Jackie’s kindness and warmth to this day – Master Sally mused out loud how proud they must be to be serving the nation’s best and brightest. I don’t know if they heard her, but I did and it made me uncomfortable and sick. The point here is, if you’ve never been blindsided when you are just trying to enjoy a meal by a well-paid faculty member’s patronizing and racist assumptions about how grateful black people must feel to be in their presence – you have white privilege.
- While writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss – who had only known me for a few days – had unbeknownst to me told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had. And what exactly had happened in those few days? I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a pot holder on the stove and burn down her apartment. This character being a professional caterer. When what he said about me was revealed months later (by then he’d come to respect and rely on me), he apologized for prejudging me because I was a black woman. I told him he was ignorant and clearly had a lot to learn. It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’s prejudiced, uninformed “how dare she question my ideas” badmouthing based on solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.
- On my very first date with my now husband, I climbed into his car and saw baby wipes on the passenger side floor. He said he didn’t have kids, they were just there to clean up messes in the car. I twisted to secure my seatbelt and saw a stuffed animal in the rear window. I gave him a look. He said “I promise, I don’t have kids. That’s only there so I don’t get stopped by the police.” He then told me that when he drove home from work late at night, he was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car and they assumed it was either stolen or he was a drug dealer. When he told a cop friend about this, he told Warren to put a stuffed animal in the rear window because it would change “his profile” to that of a family man and he was much less likely to be stopped. The point here is, if you’ve never had to mask the fruits of your success with a floppy-eared, stuffed bunny rabbit so you won’t get harassed by the cops on the way home from your gainful employment (or never had a first date start this way), you have white privilege.
- Six years ago, I started a Facebook page that has grown into a website called Good Black News because I was shocked to find there were no sites dedicated solely to publishing the positive things black people do. (And let me explain here how biased the coverage of mainstream media is in case you don’t already have a clue – as I curate, I can’t tell you how often I have to swap out a story’s photo to make it as positive as the content. Photos published of black folks in mainstream media are very often sullen or angry-looking. Even when it’s a positive story! I also have to constantly alter headlines to 1) include a person’s name and not have it just be “Black Man Wins Settlement” or “Carnegie Hall Gets 1st Black Board Member” or 2) rephrase it from a subtle subjugator like “ABC taps Viola Davis as Series Lead” to “Viola Davis Lands Lead on ABC Show” as is done for say, Jennifer Aniston or Steven Spielberg.) I also receive a fair amount of highly offensive racist trolling. I don’t even respond. I block and delete ASAP. The point here is – not having to rewrite stories, headlines or swap photos while being trolled by racists when all you’re trying to do on a daily basis is promote positivity and share stories of hope and achievement and justice – that is white privilege.
Okay, Jason, there’s more but I’m exhausted. And my kids need dinner. Remembering and reliving many of these moments has been a strain and a drain (and again, this ain’t even the half or the worst of it). But I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours to whom you’ve only been respectful and kind. I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers but people you know and care for who have suffered and are suffering because we are excluded from the privilege you have to not be judged, questioned or assaulted in any way because of your race.
As to you “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and to not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, to not let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.
With much love and respect,