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Saturday, July 11, 2020

My Experience Getting a COVID-19 Test


7 am. I’m standing in line at a local “doc in the box”.  I won’t mention which one.  It doesn’t open for another hour but there are already 4 people in front of me in line.  I’m curious what they are here for.  They don’t look or act sick.  Is it perhaps the same as me?  I’m here for a rapid result COVID-19 test.  I’m not symptomatic. I have no fever, no cough, no more congestion than I normally do.  I feel fine other than I get out of breath easily – which could be due to any number of factors, non the least of which is my weight. 

I’m here because my wife has been struggling with – well, let’s just call it intestinal issues- for over a week. My daughter-in-law, a nurse at UAB – as well as a social media post by one of my wife’s friends indicated that such intestinal issues can be a symptom of the COVID-19 virus.  I don't know.  I'm skeptical. She has no other symptoms – well, she does have headaches, too – also something both sources mentioned.  On the other hand, a typical stomach virus does not last this long.  We needed to know, so yesterday she finally went to the doctor and the first thing they did was give her the test and order her to quarantine herself.  Other than that, they couldn't tell her anything.  Unfortunately, she did not get a rapid response test.  She has to wait - five days - waiting and quarantine.  Great. 

The problem is that I am a pastor.  Tomorrow is Sunday and I have to know - today.  I came down to this same facility late yesterday afternoon because they said it is one of the few places that gives rapid response tests, but I came too late to get a test.  So here I am, bright and early, on the one day I was hoping to sleep in just a little bit late.

As I am waiting, however, I am perusing social media and read an article by a local weatherman detailing his experiences from late fall 2019 that he and his doctor wife both believe was COVID-19 – even though supposedly it did not hit the US until March 2020.   I have heard several of these stories.  I even have a pastor friend who had a terrible respiratory sickness in early February.  He decided to take the antibody test and it came back positive. So COVID was apparently here in February. Another friend had a similar experience in December but he hasn’t had the antibody test. That doesn’t matter to him – he is convinced he had “the Covid” or as he sometimes says "the covert" or "the plague."

Chris and I in Eluru, India
Flashback to January 2018 – a full 2 years before the pandemic hits the US.  Chris Bond, Executive Director of Designs for Hope (www.designsforhope.org), and I are in Eluru, India.  We are to spend a few days there and then head on to Sri Lanka.  It was a scouting trip for potential ministry partners.  Within a day or two of being on the ground in India, I develop a cough.  By the time we leave Eluru for Sri Lanka the cough is persistent.  By the time we land in Colombo, Sri Lanka (about a day later) I am truly sick, but we are headed about 8 hours inland.  By the time we get to our destination, I am very sick.  I have fever, chills, difficulty breathing, and a horrific cough.  By midnight, there is no avoiding the inevitable.  If I don’t get medical attention, things are going to get very interesting. 

With a little coaxing, we got our host to drive us back to Colombo and the hospital there.  Our host was clearly concerned for my health because he drove like a maniac through the winding mountainous roads.  If I had not been so sick I would have feared for my life.  Chris said he did. 

Me, in a Sri Lankan Hospital
So there I was – on the far side of the world in a hospital in Sri Lanka – and it wasn’t good.  Let’s just forget about the fact that conditions weren’t exactly what we might be used to here in the US.  I’m sure the doctors were competent, but it wasn’t home. They really had no idea what I had, except to say I had a severe respiratory infection. My lungs were in really bad shape and my oxygen levels were below 90%.  They wanted to admit me. I wanted to go home.  We were at an impasse, so they brought in a specialist to convince me to stay in the hospital. 

After much urging on his part, I finally looked him in the eye and said “Doc, tell me the truth.  If I get in that plane, will I die?”  His response wasn’t encouraging but it was all I needed to hear – “You won’t die, but because of the altitude, it will be a horrible trip and you will be in far worse shape when you get home than you are now” - to which I replied “Maybe, but at least I will be home and with my own doctors.”

They said I was not contagious (I wonder about that now) so I walked out of the hospital a very sick man. Chris was awesome – he really took care of me on the trip home – even made sure I had a first-class ticket so I could be more comfortable.  However, I have to say it was the most brutal, most excruciating 24 hours of my life.

The doc was right about one thing.  I was in pretty bad shape by the time we got home.  Keep in mind, this was January 2018.  Even our doctors really had no idea what I had except they knew it was a bronchial infection of some kind.  I have permanent scarring in my lungs from it (which could explain some of the shortness of breath). I did eventually get better but man was it a rough go. 

Fast forwrd to today.  Standing here waiting to be tested, this is not the first time I have wondered over the last 5 months – could it be?  Did I have COVID-19 back in 2018?  That was well before anyone knew of such a thing.  I just don’t know.  To my knowledge, no one got sick from me back in 2018.  Maybe it was exactly as advertised - just a very severe lung infection brought on by the poor air quality in India.  After all, the air pollution in India is really bad. 

Nevertheless, I do have to wonder.  What if I test negative and my wife tests positive?  Given our daily close proximity, there is no way I could avoid getting the virus - unless I must be immune – and that means 2018 was probably COVID before anyone knew what COVID was.

All this is just speculation...

Today, questions are racing through my mind:
Does my wife have COVID-19? Do I?  Between my weight and the weakened lungs, that would be really, really bad – especially based on what I experienced in 2018.  If COVID is worse than that I do NOT want it.

If I can’t get results back today, should I cancel church services tomorrow – or at least cancel myself from the service?

But what if I don’t have it?  How many of the people standing here in close proximity to me have it (the line now is really long)?  Thankfully, we all have on masks – and at least for now are outside.

Am I just overreacting?

To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to this.  My wife said they put a Q-tip up both her nostrils and literally touched the back of her brain – or so it seemed to her.  Yeah. I don’t do so well with stuff like that. 

Inside now.  It turns out everyone is here for the same thing – a rapid results COVID-19 test.  Like me, none of them appear symptomatic.  One of the other patients is like me in another way – a pastor trying to decide what to do about church tomorrow.  What a world we live in now. 

Clearly, first come, first served is not as advertised.  I was fourth in line, but 8 people have gone back ahead of me.  “Our system just does that sometimes. We are working it.  I promise you are on the list.”   I get it.  They are overwhelmed.  This is God teaching me patience in the face of incompetence.

Finally, in a room.  As I was walking down the hall with the nurse, I could hear other nurses talking.  "Did you find him?"  "Yes, I’m putting him in 5."  They were taking about me.  Hello.  I was in the waiting lobby.  Where I was supposed to be. How could they possibly "lose" me?

They get to business immediately. 
It's swab time, and they are NOT kidding here folks.  Touched my brain. That ought to be illegal.

Thirty seconds with the doc and I am ready to go – and now we wait – for a phone call. The doc says, “It should be around lunch time today, maybe later, but definitely today.”  However, with a twinkle in her eye, the nurse says “You’re one of the lucky ones. You got here early. It won’t take that long.”

“Twinkle in her eye”.  That is not a statement I would have said 6 months ago, but her smile (assuming it to be there) was hidden beneath a colorful surgical mask.  This pandemic has changed lots of things, and one of them is that I have become far more adept at reading people’s eyes.  Your eyes don’t lie.  They tell everything.  Love, kindness, anger, hate… emptiness.  Her eyes said “despite being overwhelmed with all these COVID tests, I am going to be kind.”

And overwhelmed is probably an understatement.  As I left, I noticed there were more people waiting now than when I first went inside.  There were cars parked in the middle of the parking lot waiting for people like me to leave so they could have our spots.  These are strange times.  2020, you not our friend.

The nurse was right about one thing.  I did not even get home before I received the call.
Rapid results.  Very rapid.  I’m impressed.

Oh. And in case you are wondering.  Negative.  ***whew***
Church is not canceled this week.

Now we wait for my wife’s results.



Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A (White) Pastor's Perspective on Racism




Hello, my name is Joel.  I am white and I am racist.  Hold on. Hold on. Don’t cancel me yet. There is a second part of that statement.  Give me a chance to explain.  I am a racist – and (no matter who you are reading this article) you are too.  Still want to cancel me?  Please - bear with me a few moments and read the rest of this article.

No, I am not a neo-Nazi, name-calling, bigot.  I do not wave around a confederate flag.  I do not use the n-word or any other derogatory language – although if I said that I never have, I would be a liar.  Sometimes I cannot keep up with the latest in what is derogatory or offensive; but trust me – if I knew it was derogatory or offensive, I would not say it.  Here is the thing:  I am just a human being – but one who knows who he is and has taken steps to overcome it (more on that in a moment).  You see, the tendency to see others who are different than yourself in a different light is part of the human experience.  It does not matter how much melanin you have in your body.  It does not matter if you are red, yellow, black, or white (or brown or any other shade).  Because you are human, you are racist.

Sociologists will tell you that racism is a learned activity.  I am sure there is truth to that.  I can tell you many stories from my childhood.  I grew up in a part of town that was “changing” (you know what I mean there).  All around me were scared white people trying to deal with what was happening around them.  “White flight” was happening all around us – and eventually we moved also.  My grandmother was the last remaining white person in her community.  I can assure you, there was PLENTY of sociological influence towards racism.  I can even remember my grandmother talking about how much she loved her neighbors – individually and collectively - even as she called them by the n-word - and no, she did not mean it derogatorily at all.  It just was.  You see, my grandmother (God rest her soul) had no idea that, despite the love she had for her neighbors, she was still a racist.  If you had accused her of it, she would have been mortified.  Ignorance in this area does not necessarily mean you deserve to be canceled.  It just means you still need to make progress.

Recently a friend of mine spoke to me about a Zoom meeting in which he recently participated.  In that call,  an African American pastor said “I truly believe that all white people are inherently racist.  It is part of their DNA.”

My friend was a bit surprised when I said “He was not wrong.”  But then I explained, because what that African American pastor failed to see or acknowledge is that there is nothing different about a white person’s DNA than there is his own DNA.  That African American failed to see that racism is just as much a part of his DNA as it is mine or anyone else’s.

You can deflect it and say your feelings are not racist at all.  Many people of all colors do this every day. You can deflect it and say it is all someone else’s fault – either my fault because I am white or the fault of all the white people who came before me.  You can even justify it and say your own thoughts, words, actions, and feelings are a righteous response to decades of actions by others – something that MUST be to overcome an insurmountable problem.

But at the end of the day, you are just deceiving yourselves – whoever you may be – whatever color you may be.  The truth is simple.  The first step to overcoming racism in our society is for all people of all colors to acknowledge and accept that we all have racist tendencies.  Having done that, we can then begin to take steps to overcome this basic human deficiency – a deficiency that exists because we are all unrighteous from birth.

And if you will bear with me, I would like to share a solution to my problem – and yours – on this topic.

I believe that there is only one thing that can overcome our universal tendency to racism, which means I believe there is only one solution to the problem of institutional or even personal racism.

Ironically, it is a solution that was put into place over 2000 years ago by a man of color who was living during a time in which some pretty intense racism existed.  His name was Joshua, although these days we refer to him by his Romanized name, Jesus – or as we often refer to him, Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Messiah, or simply Jesus Christ.  During his day, his own people, the Jews had a pretty nasty racial relationship with pretty much everyone – the Samaritans (half-Jews), the Greeks (non-Jews), the Romans (also non-Jews), pretty much they were the cream of the racist crop.

Racism, however, was only one of many problems that Jesus came to solve, because racism is only one of many problems caused by the unrighteousness that we were all born into.  We call that unrighteousness sin.  Sin is at the core of all of us and it separates us from a Holy God who wishes to have a personal relationship with us but cannot because of that sin.

The story here is not a short one, but to jump to the point, when Jesus gave his life on the cross (and was subsequently raised from the dead – and is alive even today), he made it possible for that sin condition within me to be forgiven so that HE could reconcile the differences between me and himself.  And in so reconciling me to himself, he made it possible for God himself to come and live within me.  And because he lives within me, he teaches me HIS ways – helping me (over time) overcome ALL my human deficiencies, including racism.  In fact, part of what he teaches me is that in Jesus Christ, there are no races other than one – the human race.  Here are some of the things that we learn from him through some of his teachers:

Romans 10:12 - For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:11 - Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Ephesians 2:14 -16 - 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Oh, did you notice that the same teaching that deals with the racism issue also deals with the #metoo issue as well as the issue of slavery?  That is right –we “White Christians” in the South got it wrong on the issue of slavery before because we did not listen to the teachings of the very one in whom we place our faith.  We also got it wrong in the 60s.  Yes, God is still working on all of us.  And there have been many apologies for that.  But here’s the thing.  I cannot promise we – even Christians - will not get it wrong again.  We all have to work together to keep that from happening.

To that point… because he reconciled me to himself, he teaches me that I, too, must reconcile myself to others.  He teaches me that I have to overcome all of those inner tendencies, putting them to death, and to actively seek reconciliation.  In fact, he has given EACH of us the ministry of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18 - All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

To which he was referring not only to help others reconcile themselves to God, but to actively seek reconciliation with each other.

You see, the solution to racism is for each of us to first be reconciled to God and then to be reconciled to each other.  Racism will never be solved politically.  Racism will never be solved socially. Racism will never be solved forcibly.  Sure, one side might “win” a fight and suppress the other side for a time, but racism will only be solved within the heart.  And THAT will only happen when we are given a NEW heart upon our reconciliation with God himself.

Jesus has not taught me to be color blind.  Rather, he has taught me to see the beauty in ALL colors - to recognize the magnificence and creative flair of our creator.  Color (or even the lack thereof) is NOT the source of racism, sin is. 

Do you want to solve racism?
Put your faith in Jesus for your own salvation.  Ask him to give you a new heart and surrender yourself to his Lordship of your life.

If you have already done that, LISTEN to what your King has taught you. LIVE what he has already accomplished.  This is not US vs. THEM.  This is US vs. the forces of darkness that has kept OTHERS OF US in bondage and captivity.  We need to RESCUE those held captive by the forces of darkness – but we can never do that until we look at one another and say “WE ARE ONE IN CHRIST”.