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Pandemic Keeping You From Church? Get Your Praise On Regardless.

COVID-19 didn't ruin church. You've just gotta do it...differently.

Inspiration

I'm willing to bet some pretty good money that, when a lot of y'all attended watch night service at your church on New Year's Eve of 2019, you had absolutely no idea that it would be months before you would step foot back into your church again. And yet, here we are. COVID-19 threw us all for a loop and church is one of the casualties of it. At least for now.

As you wait until you can meet with your pastor and the members of your church of choice again, there are some things that you can do to keep the devil from stealing your joy. As we're all navigating through how to live in a pandemic, I've got a few tips on how you can get your praise on, even if you can't currently do it in the church (and pew) that you're used to doing it in every weekend.

First, Refer Back to Acts 2 in the Bible

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When I first transitioned out of regular church attendance (check out "What's The Difference Between Being 'Religious' And Being 'Spiritual', Anyway?"), a Scripture that some people literally kept throwing in my face was "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together". If you read all of Hebrews 10:19-25, that is not in reference to church going, just fellowship. And since the Word also says, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20--NKJV), I'm a firm believer of (and am at perfect peace with) the fact that you don't need a huge congregation in order to get into the presence of the Most High or worship and fellowship with others.

Matter of fact, Acts 2:40-47 speaks of believers not only meeting at the temple but—catch it—also going from house to house. Both of these fall under the title of "A Vital Church Grows" (in the New King James Version of the Bible). So, if there happens to be some part of you who feels really guilty about not attending church or you're avoiding putting your own health (and the health of others) at risk by going, during a pandemic, cut yourself some slack. Worshiping in your home isn't a bad thing. Some would even say it's quite biblical.

Be Thankful This Is Happening When There’s Online Church

I've got a friend who struggles, basically every Sunday, with which church they want to go to. It's because they are super fond of three of 'em. "Thanks" to the pandemic, though, now they are at home. The silver lining to that is now they can attend all three, simultaneously, because they literally keep three different browsers open so that they can watch all of the services at the same time. Yeeeeeah, personally, that would wear me all the way out. But something about what they are doing does bring up a really good point. If your church isn't currently open (or you'd prefer not to attend right now), technology does make it possible to watch church online. You can either Google your favorite church/pastor to see if they've got an online streaming service that's available. Or, you can check out a site like Christian World Media that literally has a list of streaming services all around the world, including the church, date, time and what kind of services are taking place. You can check that out here.

Hold a Zoom Service with Long-Distant Family Members and Friends

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Lawd. If anyone didn't foresee their stock rising crazy high in 2020, it would have to be Zoom. I mean, who hasn't had a Zoom meeting, of some sort, this year, right? Well, an alternative to online church is to hold your own church service with some of your loved ones via a Zoom conference call. Each of you can lead a particular part of the service and, while it won't be just like being at your home church, the cool thing about this option is you can worship with people from all over the globe; folks you may not have connected with in a while. If this is an option that piques your interest, the article, "9 Key Tips for Planning an Online Worship Service" can help you to organize your Zoom service in a way that can feel like you're holding an actual service—just from the comfort and convenience of your own home. Oh, and if you somehow have gotten away with never using Zoom before, you can get instructions on how to set it up here.

Create Your Own Praise and Worship Playlist

As far as church music goes, you could give me some old school Winans, The Imperials and Andre Crouch and The Disciples (yep, I took it way back) and I'd be all good on that front. And while I know that a lot of people go to church, in part, for the good music that might be awaiting them there, remember that being at home means that you are literally your own praise and worship DJ. You can think about all of the songs that you like, create a playlist and jam to them all day long, if you'd like. If you don't feel like making your own, you can always go to your favorite search engine and put "praise and worship playlist" or "gospel music playlist" into the search field; it'll automatically pull up several options for you to easily choose from.

Make Your Own Communion Bread. Serve Your Own Wine.

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I'm a pretty literal person. So, while I know that communion is a traditional part of most church services (due to the context of what the Apostle Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 11:17-34), I also know that when Christ instructed his disciples to eat bread and wine in honor of his sacrifice, when he said, "do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:14-23), he didn't say it in a temple/church. That said, just because your church may not be collectively meeting right now (or you may be personally choosing not to go for health reasons), that doesn't mean you can't partake of communion. I know a few married couples who do this together every week. Even before COVID-19, I did it. You can simply reference Luke 22 and/or I Corinthians 11 and then partake of grape juice (or red wine). Shoot, you can even go all out and make your own unleavened bread if you want to. I found a really easy recipe here. (If you want to wash feet as well, all you need is a basin of water and you're all set.—John 13:1-7)

Lots of Folks Are in Need. Give to Some. 

Tithing comes from Malachi 3. While I do find it fascinating that so many churches profess that the Old Testament has "passed away" yet somehow the exception is made when it comes to collecting coins, that's another article for another time. For now, what I will say is, according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, all of the Bible is relevant and applicable. Still, different people interpret tithing different ways. I get that.

What I will say is, what's not up for debate is Christ once saying that, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35—NKJV). Whether it's sending money to your church, supporting an online ministry that you've been checking out since the pandemic or simply giving to someone in need, make sure that you sow into someone else's life.

Two things that I've been giving to, as of late, is The Black Chef Movement (it consists of two Black female chefs who feed protestors and people in need, free of charge) and the needs of Navajo Nation (check out The Navajo Water Project). Anyway, tithe literally means "10 percent" and the Bible says that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9). In a nutshell, this means that we've got to actually sow something. Being out of church should never hinder that. Please make sure that you do it.

If You’re in “Phase 2” or Up, Hold a Small “Praise Brunch” at Home

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Now, I'm mentioning this one, mostly for the extroverts out here. While I am more of an ambivert myself, I do personally know extroverts and it's pretty legit how this pandemic is taking a toll on their spirit, due to the constant lack of social interaction. That said, I live in Nashville. We have a different health department than Tennessee, so we kinda do our own thing. Anyway, at the time that I'm writing this (because 2020 really has been all over the place), we had to rollback to Phase Two which consists of being allowed to have private gatherings of 25 or less people. If your city is in the same phase (you can always Google to find out or contact your mayor's office to confirm), while I wouldn't advise 20-something folks being all up in your crib, this does make it possible for you to have a few family members and friends over for a brunch on the day that you observe whether it's Saturday or Sunday.

I don't know about y'all, but I grew up in a church where, it was common practice for there to be a potluck dinner, immediately following church service. It was a cool way to catch-up with people you hadn't seen all week and enjoy a meal while you're at it. And in times like these, brunching/potlucking is a good reminder that, even though church may not be going the way that you're accustomed to, there are alternatives that can make Saturday or Sunday pretty sacred, special and enjoyable—in spite of.

Remember God Is Everywhere. And Is for Responsible Living and Good Health.

Yeah. I'm not gonna even link all of the stories I've read of church leaders and congregants who defied their city's mandates and either met up at church when they shouldn't have or went without a mask on. All I'll say is, for every person who claims that it's their God-given right to go to church, even in a pandemic that could put them and others in harm's way, the Bible that they are toting on their way there says this:

"And here's why: God gives out Wisdom free, is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding. He's a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well, a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere. He keeps his eye on all who live honestly, and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones."—Proverbs 2:6-8(Message)

Seeking out knowledge and understanding about what's going on right now and then applying common sense to it? The Bible itself says that it can help to protect you. Let them.

I know that 2020 has been on some 2.0 stuff when it comes to creating and adjusting to a new normal. But that doesn't mean that a different way of living can't still be good. As far as church goes, I'm literally praying that these options can make living in the time of COVID-19, just a bit more bearable. Until you can attend your home church, once again.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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