There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
If you are like me, you watch the daily Coronavirus map to see which states have rising, decreasing, or steady cases of COVID-19. During the lockdown I would take comfort, even pride, in the ways that California, and LA County, would hold steady, send federal resources home, and maintain a very low rate of positive tests. As the state started to reopen, California went into the “Increase 10%-50%” category, and I would hope that we were at the low end of that range. Then, in the last few hours, California showed up deep red, meaning the cases rose by over 50% from just a week ago. That struck fear in my heart.
This Wednesday there will be a new telebriefing by LA County. Last week’s briefing was quite confusing because the message given during the briefing was much stricter than what was on paper, so I hope that this week’s briefing will clarify some things. They gave us enough notice that you can listen in as well, if you want. I do not know whether there will be new information (sometimes they just do it for people to ask clarifying questions), but given the increasing numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in our area, I cannot imagine they will be loosening any restrictions.
So I pray that you are finding ways to get used to staying at home, participating in online worship, and keeping your masks on.
The controversy over masks has been perplexing, but the most troubling is the ways public health leaders keep trying to figure out how to convince people to wear a mask, not for your benefit, but for the benefit of others. After weeks of this, they have finally started to say that wearing a mask will partially protect you from exposure to the virus. I don’t know if this is helping the cause, but it does seem that the appeal to care for others was not compelling enough to elicit universal usage.
In contrast, we are also seeing a major change in race relations because people are speaking in support of others. When asked if this season of protest is any different, several Black leaders point to the diversity of the protesters, and they seem honestly surprised and delighted to see many White faces among the groups saying “Black lives matter.” What I have noticed, as well, is the number of Black leaders who are also speaking about indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ people, seeming to want to bring more people into the boat once they are allowed in.
Even when DeSean Jackson hit a major speed bump with his anti-Semitic post, I was touched by the response from Zach Banner, a young offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mr. Banner is probably seen as African-American, though he also has Chamorro roots in Guam.
From his time at USC, Mr. Banner met and came to love Jewish people (he said some have become members of his family). Not only did he become emotional remembering the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but he asked that no one “flip the script” by stepping on the backs of others to achieve equality, even as he acknowledges the need for this nation to allow all people, including Blacks, to rise.
One of the basic demonstrations of the Christian faith should be the ability to reach across old barriers of race, class, gender, and religious tradition as we all accept our status as children of the Most High God. While the barriers are erased, we can still recognize and even appreciate and utilize the varied perspectives and gifts that come from our varied backgrounds, just as we do with family members that bring their individual perspectives and gifts to a family enterprise.
I have often thought about how families are able to receive members from other backgrounds through marriage or adoption, and how the military develops esprit de corps among the most diverse population of any institution in the USA. What can the church learn as we seek to be unified in love among diverse members?
So far, here’s what I have observed:
- The new members learn about and are willing to abide by the values of the group
- The group is intentional about helping the new members understand and participate in the group
- The group is willing to receive, accommodate for, and promote the new members, usually based on the new members choosing to contribute to the well-being of the group
- There is general acceptance of the values of the group that is stronger than individual differences
- There is support for the values of the group, even within the context of a larger culture that may or may not uphold the values of the
This column is getting too long, so I will continue next week!
In the meantime, consider what makes your church distinctive from the world, and what special ways has God formed your church to be a unique witness to that world. How well do you receive newcomers, and love and respect them as family, so that your unique witness can be refreshed and reformed into the future? More later.
Blessings on your ministry,