Monday, June 25, 2007

Take the Test. Take Control. Take a Vacation.

You think HIV is old news, right?

Since we have drugs, and HIV is no longer the death sentence it was in the early 1980s (at least in the developed world), we don’t have to worry about it, right?
  • Tell that to the 40,000+ Americans who will contract HIV this year.

  • Tell that to the 1 million+ Americans who are living with HIV.

  • In particular, tell it to the 25% of that latter group who have no idea they are HIV-infected---and who therefore put every one of their sexual partners (and their sexual partners, etc.) at risk out of ignorance.

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I’ve been writing about HIV professionally for seven years now. The numbers haven’t come down in that time, despite our best efforts. And all the data I’m seeing now indicate that the numbers are going up. The prevalence rates for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in major metropolitan areas are rising dramatically.

STIs are harbingers of HIV/AIDS. They serve almost as a public address system---“This person is engaging in unsafe sexual practices!” They also make people more susceptible to HIV infection.

Mark my words, HIV is going to be news again. The question is: Will anyone pay attention?

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Wednesday, June 27th, marks the 15th annual observance of National HIV Testing Day---a day devoted to encouraging voluntary HIV testing. Prevention is the best defense against HIV, of course---but until we can find a cure and/or a vaccine for HIV (still a long-shot), testing is our next-best option to defeat it.

The motto for the day is Take the Test. Take Control. People who know they are HIV-infected can take precautions to avoid transmitting the virus to their partners. People who know they are HIV-infected can get the medical care and other support they need to remain healthy longer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend that, in all healthcare settings:

  • Americans between the ages of 13-64 be tested for HIV as a routine part of medical care.

  • HIV testing be done on an opt-out basis, so that people will be routinely tested unless they explicitly declare that they do not want the test.

  • All pregnant women be tested for HIV, and women in areas with high rates of HIV be retested in the third trimester.

  • People at high risk for HIV be tested at least once a year—and more often if their risk factors indicate a need. High-risk individuals are those who:

    • Have shared injection drug needles and syringes or "works"

    • Have had sex without a condom with an HIV-positive partner

    • Have had a sexually transmitted disease, like chlamydia or gonorrhea

    • Had a blood transfusion or received a blood clotting factor between 1978-1985

    • Have had sex with someone who has done any of those things

That means each and every one of you reading this blog (since I doubt seriously that I have any readers under the age of 13) should be taking an HIV test this week---or at least at your next physical exam.

Don’t tell me that you aren’t at risk. If you have ever had sex with another person, you are at risk. Period. Ditto if you’ve ever shot up.

It is true that your risk may be miniscule. But by taking an HIV test, especially when your risk is negligible, you lessen the stigma of taking the test for those whose risk is NOT negligible.

Stigma is our biggest challenge to stopping the spread of HIV. People don’t take the test because they fear getting a bad result. They don’t take the test because they fear that people will make assumptions about them---that if they need an HIV test, they must be doing something “nasty” (I actually heard an elected official use that term recently).

When HIV tests become as routine a part of a medical exam as a blood count, or a urinalysis, we will have gone a long way toward defeating the virus.

You can do something about the stigma, if you dare. You can help us stop the spread of HIV simply by being willing to ask your doctor for an HIV test if s/he doesn’t offer you one at your next medical visit. (And if your doctor does offer you a test, be sure to comment on how happy you are that s/he is offering the best standard of medical care!)

If your risk truly is negligible, why not? You already know what the answer is going to be. And the new rapid tests involve only an oral swab---no blood required! You can know the results in about 20 minutes.

If you are worried about your doctor wondering what you’ve been up to because you ask for the test---well, now you know how it feels to someone who is genuinely at-risk, and is afraid to admit it.

That person could be your next sexual partner. Or your child’s.

I know we aren’t supposed to use scare tactics to motivate people anymore. But I’m tired of the numbers. Tired of seeing the graphs either flat-line, or beginning to inch inexorably up. On this blog, at least, I’m not above using scare tactics, or just plain old-fashioned guilt.

Which one will it take to get you to be a part of the solution?

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You can find a testing location near you at HIVtest.org. Simply enter your ZIP code and indicate how far you are willing to go for a test, and the search engine will find a site for you.

And if you need more information about HIV/AIDS, please visit AIDS.gov. You can find links there to just about anything you would need to know about the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic. I particularly commend to you the National HIV Testing Day “Webinar” for Bloggers. (And please don't give me grief about the "webinar"---I didn't make it up.)

Next year, I hope to be able to tell you that the numbers are dropping.

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On a personal note...National HIV Testing Day is one of my biggest days of the year, workwise. Now that it has finally arrived, I am officially exhausted, and I have earned a vacation.

I’m going to take a break from blogging (my own and others) and, particularly, from Anglican Communion politics! For the next couple of weeks, I hope to do some writing, some reading, lots of sleeping(!), and reconnecting with family and friends.

I will continue to keep all of my Invisible Friends in my prayers, and I ask that you keep me in yours. When I return, I hope to have some interesting things to share.

Until then, go with God. And take the damned test!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Random Things About Jesus and Me

Okay, I’ve been tagged for two different memes now, and I’m way behind, so I’m going to do this MY way. I’m not posting the rules, because I don’t want to. And I’m not tagging anyone else, because we are an incestuous lot and most of us have already been tapped.

I started out by alternating the memes in a long, long list, but it got confusing fast---so now I’m just going to break them into two groups, but put them in the same post.

I suppose I should put Jesus first:

1. I dig that Jesus doubted that God was really there and that God loved him. “My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?!” Since we believe that Jesus is God (or one part of the Trinity, anyway), that means God doubted Himself. Makes me feel better about my own lack of self-confidence.

2. I dig that Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance was to the women who had been faithful to the end. Jesus knows who his friends are---the guys may be great for fishing and drinking, but the women are the ones who will stick with you.

3. I dig that Jesus was wrong about something—and admitted it and changed his mind. (See the story of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed in Matthew 15.) So God doubts Himself, and God can change His mind. Gives me hope.

4. Re: #3--I dig that the only argument Jesus ever lost was to that woman. Did I mention that I am an excellent debater? ;-)

5. I dig that Jesus forgave people who didn’t ask for it and didn’t “deserve” it. Gives me hope that he’ll forgive me---because even though I don’t deserve it, I ask for it. A LOT.

Okay, now we’ll talk about me!

1. I believe in God because of the Hubble telescope and Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor (especially the largo…).

2. I always wear perfume. I am not a girly-girl in any other way, but I love to smell good.

3. I am the only woman I know who had a mid-life crisis and bought a minivan. I am the happiest minivan driver you will ever meet. (And yes, I know, I know—it gets terrible gas mileage…but it holds my entire family and the guinea pigs. With room left over!) But if I won the lottery, you’d see me zipping down the road in a BMW Z4 convertible---I had no idea I was so shallow until I saw that car, but it just takes my breath away.

4. I live almost entirely on meat, cheese, and eggs. I was eating Atkins before anyone ever heard of him. I am carnivorous by nature. My last physical (July 2006) showed that my cholesterol is in the normal range and my ratios are fabulous.

5. I hate shopping. One of the best compliments I have ever received (and it was only yesterday!) was “Doxy, you shop like a man!”—meaning I run in, pick something out, pay for it, and go.

6. I believe in miracles, because I am watching the miracle of my own life unfold in front of my eyes.

7. I cannot abide people who honk their horns to make you hurry up at stop lights. If you do this, stop it. Right now. You gain what? 2 seconds? And all you are going to do when you get there is sit. Chill.

8. Outside of the Bible, C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, has had the greatest single impact on my faith. It made me stop being afraid of hell---no small accomplishment for this former fundamentalist.

I thank all of you who tagged me. These are fun---and forcing myself to write them (I initially typed “right them”—Freudian slip!) is helping me overcome my recent mild bout of depression. Merci beaucoup!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Davis, Josh, Doxy, and the Dog

I had really good intentions about blogging Davis Mac-Iyalla's visit to my church. Alas and alack, I have been engaging in a wrestling match with the Small Black Dog.

Apparently, his bigger brother, the Big Black Dog, has decided he has other people to worry---go visit Mary Sue at Order of Santa Ignora and you'll see what I mean. (Mary Sue, if you see this, I tried to leave a comment on your blog but it wouldn't go through. I'm praying for you.)

So I'm getting the best of this one, but it's tired me out.

I do want to say that having Davis and Josh visit us was a real blessing. My fellow parishioners were wowed by both of them.

As you might imagine, Davis is as warm and engaging as any native Southerner---he fit right in from the moment he stepped off the plane. I knew his story of course---but to hear him tell it still brought tears to my eyes.

One of my friends at church called me after the afternoon forum and said "I feel as if I've just heard Frederick Douglass." I did too.

And Josh may be quiet, but when he does speak up, it's like E.F. Hutton ...everybody listens.

I don't think I will ever forget the way Josh wrapped up the forum---which was quite tense, given the presence of a combative Nigerian who had come to upbraid Davis for spreading what he termed "the gospel of gay."

Josh coolly and calmly reminded everyone of why Davis was there---to shed light on the willingness of certain bishops (!) in our worldwide communion to lie, slander, steal, and even expose certain members of their flock to persecution, violence, and possible death while claiming the moral high ground.

If you haven't donated to Davis' fund and you have the funds to do so, please go to Dailyoffice.org and do so. Right. Now.

Trust me---unless there is illness or death in your Circle of Life, there is NOTHING you have to do today that is more important than this. Davis is doing the work of God, at the risk of his own life. The least we can do is open our wallets to support him.

To Davis and Josh, I say "Thank you!" and "Y'all come back soon, now--ya hear?"



(I made the Dog stay outside.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Equations and Delusions

I left academia because I have a very low level of tolerance for nonsense. I adored teaching, loved my students with a passion, and was always energized by the exchange of ideas (and, to tell the truth, the arguments) among people who were passionate about learning and knowledge.

But academia isn’t about those things, really. Teaching is denigrated, publishing is God, and the exchange of ideas is often more about proving the size of your genitalia and burnishing your ego than it is about learning or stretching your mind.

For the last few days, I have been at a conference that focuses on religion and science. There are a lot of scientists here who are happy to tell you that God doesn’t exist (or certainly not in the form that moves and inspires you). And there are a lot of scholars of religion---very few of whom, as far as I can determine, are actually people of faith. They use a lot of big, postmodern words that I can understand because I used to be an academic, but it feels very much to me as if they are speaking Martian and I am having to transliterate everything they say into English.

I am a fish out of water here.

I am an educated person of faith who believes in God---believes in the Incarnation and that the God I worship made this unspeakably beautiful universe. I hold a graduate degree in a social science, and I know the rules of scientific inquiry---by any rational measure, I should not believe those things.

I sit through the presentations, look at the MRIs that show brain activity of those in religious states, try to decipher the mathematics (poorly, I might add). And I am not moved.

My faith is not challenged by what I have heard here. I can appreciate what they are trying to do---to separate what we can know about the cosmos, and our place in it, from tribal superstition and blatant religious delusion.

But they cannot reach me, because my experience of God is personal, interior, and unique to me. They will never find it in a lab. And no matter how much they want to convince me that what I “know” to be true is a delusion, they have failed.

Because I feel God everywhere. See Her in the flowers that bloom so profligately on this university campus. Hear Him in the music I experienced at the beautiful Anglo-Catholic church I attended on Sunday with one of my blogging friends. Find Her in the Hubble telescope photos, and the impossible-to-decipher equations, and the MRIs.

What I feel, and see, and hear, and find may be no more than a trick of my brain---some leftover evolutionary artifact that exists because there was a biological advantage to a belief in the transcendent.

But---at the end of the day---the scientific explanations of religious experience do not reach my heart and my soul. Only music, and beauty, and wonder, and love can do that.

I wish them well in their endeavors. I hope they find the elusive Explanation for Everything that they seek. An explanation that will not have the messy implications of love, sin, death, sacrifice, mercy, evil, grace, and meaning that I find in the transcendent being that I call God.

But I do not envy them, in their world devoid of mystery and miracles. They look down on religion because they cannot load it into an equation, and because it is the cause of so much pain and strife in the world---and they are right to be skeptical.

But they eat frantically from the tree of knowledge, despite the fact that it seems to bring them no peace or joy. As far as I can see, the only thing their expenditure of effort brings them is the pressure to publish the next article, so that the five people in the world who understand what they write can cut it to ribbons. I tried that life once, and found it wanting. I find it no more attractive now.

I am delusional. I believe in God and mystery and miracles. No scientific experiment will ever prove that I am “right.” Whether I experience evolutionary artifact or Ultimate Truth, I cannot say---but tomorrow I will go home to my children, and my community of faith...to my music, and my work, and my beautiful life. And there I will find what I did not find here. A reason for living, a sense of gratitude for my place in the world, the inspiration to be better and do better, and hope for the future.

Maybe I did learn something after all...