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March 7, 2020

This month in worship we’ll be focusing on compassion. Compassion is a crucial virtue for us to cultivate in these difficult days. At its core, compassion arises from the simple understanding that we are all members of the same human family and, like it or not, our destinies are interconnected. What impacts one of us impacts all of us.

That is a truth that is impossible to ignore as the world wrestles with how to respond to the virus that causes COVID-19. Its spread is a direct result of the increasingly intertwined nature of human society. No one knows how significant its impact will be. It is likely that, throughout the world, hundreds of thousands more will be infected, and it is probable that thousands, across the globe, will die. What will happen beyond that is unknown.

Not knowing can provoke anxiety and fear. Listening to and reading the news, I have learned that many Asian people have been targeted or discriminated against because of the virus outbreak. Some have been shunned or even been the targets of verbal abuse. They have wrongly been linked to the disease. The virus impacts people regardless of race or ethnicity.

Health care workers in some places also report being shunned for fear that they are spreading the virus. The emergence of this kind of social stigma, the association of the disease with particular groups of people, could make it more difficult to formulate the kinds of societal responses that are needed to a large-scale outbreak. The World Health Organization has helpful information about how to respond to the social stigma that is emerging as the virus spreads. You can read it here.

We can and should be compassionate towards those who have been infected with the virus. We can and should extend our compassion to the health care workers who are working to deal with the virus. Stigmatizing healthcare workers and particular groups of people will make it less likely that people are forthcoming if they fear that they have been infected. It might fuel denial for fear of facing demonization.

Alongside extending compassion, the most important thing that organizations like ours are being urged to do is to share accurate information about what we can do to slow the spread of the virus. We will no longer be shaking hands on Sunday mornings. All staff and volunteers are being urged to stay home if they feel sick. In addition, people are advised to follow the same precautions they normally do during the flu season:

— Cover your cough with a Kleenex and then throw the Kleenex away;
— Wash your hands often;
— Assist children with handwashing;
— Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose as much as possible.

To help people keep their hands clean, we are placing hand sanitizer throughout both campuses.

We will have more information as necessary about how we will be responding to COVID-19 as a religious community. The staff and I have scheduled a weekly meeting, open to Board members and health care workers, to further develop plans on how we will be addressing a potential virus outbreak. If you are a health care worker and would like to attend, please contact or call 713.526.5200 for details.

In addition, Dr. Kim Waller will be presenting a forum after the service on March 22nd at Museum District on how to prepare as individuals and members of a religious community for outbreaks of the virus that causes COVID-19. Dr. Waller is a member of our congregation and an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas, Health Center of Houston. Dr. Waller has been advising the staff, Board leadership, and I on how we might best prepare and we are very blessed to have her as a member of our community.

As we seek to develop compassionate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, the work of the church will continue. We will be holding worship and launching our exhibit for FotoFest: “Now is the Time: Leonard Freed’s Photographs of South Africa’s 1994 Election.” I hope that you will come to this Friday’s opening and attend the exhibition lecture, “Leonard Freed: Photojournalist of Injustice” on March 15th at 7:00 p.m. It is being offered by my father, Dr. Howard Bossen, who is a Professor of Photography and Visual Communication at Michigan State University.

We will be observing Women’s History Month as part of our Sunday services. All of our readings for the month are coming from women. On March 8th, Zsófia Sztranyiczki will be participating in the service at Museum District and sharing with us the work of the International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women (ICUUW). Dr. Sztranyiczki is both a member of the congregation and the Executive Director of the ICUUW. At the end of the month, we will be offering a service titled “Once Upon a Time We Had… Time” on the latest developments in eco-feminist theology. The sermon will be offered at the end April in Richmond at the end of April when I am leading worship at the Thoreau campus.

This month, I close with a poem that we used in the February 23rd service at the Museum District from Angelamaria Davila. I translated it into English with assistance from our wonderful Membership and Communications Coordinator.

“Before So Much Vision” by Angelamaria Davila

In the face of so much vision of history and prehistory,
of myths,
of half-truths–or quarter-truths–
in the face of so many dreams, I saw myself

The light from two words took the shadows away from me:
sad animal.

I am a sad, standing animal, walking on a globe of dirt.
The animal thing, I say it with tenderness,
and the sad thing, I say it with sadness,
as it should be,
as the color grey is always taught to you.

An animal that speaks
to tell another animal what it hopes for
A sad mammal with two hands
inside a cave thinking about dawn.

With an awkward childhood and oppressed by unrelated things.
A small animal on a beautiful ball,
an adult animal,
a female animal with offspring,
that sometimes knows how to speak
and that wants to be
a better animal.

A collective animal
that grabs sadness from animals as shared bread,
that learns to laugh only if another laughs
–to see how it feels–
and knows what to say:

I am a sad animal,
I am a hopeful animal,
I live,
I have offspring,
On a globe of dirt.

The Rev. Dr. Colin Bossen, PhD
Interim Senior Minister
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Houston
African American Religious Studies Forum Affiliate with Rice University’s Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning; twitter: colinbossen ; instagram: colinbossen

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