Friday, November 30, 2007

An Unhappy Anniversary

December 1st marks the 20th annual observance of World AIDS Day. That's 20 years of commemorating the dead and tending the sick. Twenty years of pain, loss, and sadness. Twenty-five million dead of AIDS so far---and an estimated 33 million living with HIV.

Father Jake did a wonderful post on World AIDS Day, for which I thank him. He asked me there for additional information, but when I tried to post it, I got the message that there were too many links...so I have moved my answer to him here.

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My office created and runs AIDS.gov and coordinates HHS' involvement in the HIV/AIDS Awareness Days. I've written or edited a good bit of the text for those sites. I'm very proud of what we do!

AIDS.gov is now the main gateway to information on Federal domestic HIV/AIDS resources. It will link visitors to a wide array of information on HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and research. You can also get information on Federal HIV/AIDS policies there. We'll be offering a new user interface in the next week or two, so be sure to visit and give us some feedback.

I also encourage you to watch our World AIDS Day webcast. It featured four of the top Federal officials who are working on HIV/AIDS, and even I learned a lot from it!

The CDC's site you link to (HIVtest.org ) is another great site. You can use it to get information online about nearby HIV testing centers.

Thanks to the generosity of the Kaiser Family Foundation and the CDC, you can use your cell phone to get that same information. Just text your preferred zip code (home, work, whatever) to KNOWIT (566948) and, within seconds, you will get the name and phone number of the nearest HIV testing site that is open to the public.

I also like the CDC's main HIV website, and their National Prevention Information Network site.

If you want a more global site, I really like AVERT.org, which is run out of the United Kingdom. They have great information on the epidemic across the globe.

Again, I appreciate so much your taking the time and space to note this day. We work on this observance for a good portion of the year---it is our best opportunity (along with National HIV Testing Day--June 27th) to remind people that HIV is still a deadly threat to global health.

There is no cure, and no vaccine, on the horizon. As Dr. Kevin Fenton, head of the CDC's HIV Bureau said during the webcast I mentioned, "We cannot treat our way out of this epidemic." Prevention is our best hope.

And prevention requires that people know their HIV status. I keep saying this over and over: Get tested. Even if you don't think you are at risk. Especially if you don't think you are at risk! Because stigma is still our biggest challenge when it comes to HIV prevention.

Until HIV testing becomes as routine as having a complete blood count or a urinalysis during your annual physical--and the CDC has recommended just this approach--we are going to face this problem. It would really help if primary care physicians routinely did HIV tests as part of their exams---and if patients would ask their physicians if they are following the new standards of care, as outlined by the nation's premier disease prevention office.

Take the test. Take control. And 10 years from now, I hope we'll be celebrating the rapid decline in new HIV cases instead of looking back on millions more dead and suffering.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Great Commission

I feel like an anomaly in the progressive Episcopalian blogosphere---though maybe I'm not. I came in as a quasi-Unitarian who was drawn by the liturgy and the sacraments. It was people like +Spong and Borg who brought me into the church. But the longer I've been here, the more "orthodox" I've become.

But that's because, like Terry Dyslexia, I've embraced the mystery. Stopped trying to "understand" things in the academic way I analyze everything else. Learned to feel God in the sacraments and in the liturgy. Learned to see God in the faces of those I love---and to look for God in the faces of those I don't even like.

But my movement towards theological orthodoxy has not convinced me that I need to convert nonbelievers or those of other faiths to Christianity. I'll never ask anyone if they've accepted Jesus as their personal savior, because I find that question highly intrusive. I'll never tell a Jew or a Muslim or an atheist that they had better find Jesus, and quick!, or they'll be wishing for asbestos underwear in the afterlife.

In that respect, Christians of a more evangelical persuasion will probably consider me a failure at the "Great Commission" that so concerns them.

But Jesus didn't say we were to make "Christians" of the whole world. He wouldn't even have known what that word meant. He said "disciples"--you know, that group of dim-witted people he constantly told "If you love me, feed my sheep." Take care of them. Shelter them. Love them. Die for them, if necessary.

He didn't say "Get them to say the Nicene Creed without crossing their fingers. And be sure they are 'orthodox' in their belief in the Trinity. And don't forget that bit about the atonement---be sure they get that right!"

To me, the Great Commission is nothing more than Jesus' restatement of his summation of the law: Love God and love your neighbor. Only he was adding, "Get off your butts and DO something, people!"

I think we make disciples of the whole world when we love them, and they, in turn, love others. And I mean practical love. Food, shelter, and education love. ERD and the school in Tanganyika love. HIV medicines and clean water love.

Because I don't think saying "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" is the ticket to salvation (whatever that means...). I know people who say that loudly, every chance they get---and don't do a damned thing for their fellow humans. They are clashing gongs and clanging cymbals in my book.

And I don't mean that we earn our salvation by our good works either. But doing good because we are responding to the call of Christ changes us. Like prayer changes us. We respond to the love of God and, by grace, become more loving ourselves. And when that happens, a bit more of the Kingdom of God is able to break into this chaotic world of ours.

I'll never ask you if you have been "saved." I'll never offer to share my personal "testimony" with you. (I'll tell you my story if you ask, but only then.) I'll never tell you that confessing that Jesus is Lord is your only hope of getting into "heaven" (whatever that means...).

It's not my way.

But I will help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. I will mentor Education for Ministry. I will teach my daughter's 1st grade Sunday School class (God help me!). I will donate my money and my time to my community of faith and to the wider community in which I live. I will pray for you and for the world. I will try to worship God in everything that I do and say---even though I know already I will fail. Every day, I will get up and I will live as if God matters and as if my neighbors matter.

If those things lead someone into the Christian fold, fine. If not, I trust that Jesus will know what I was trying to do. I'm hoping he's a "partial-credit" kind of guy...if not, I'm in a heap of trouble, no matter whether I preach on the street corner or not.

If I am to make disciples for God, it will have to be in the ways that work for me. I will not ask if you are "saved"--but I will show you what salvation looks like in my own life.

It looks a lot like joy and hope and peace---and I'll be happy to talk about it with you, but only if you ask.

If I am serious about my faith, however---and I like to think that I am---I can't help sharing it, whether you ask or not. I'm the former agnostic, Unitarian-leaning, heretic who has discovered that the call of Jesus Christ to discipleship is irresistible. My prayer is that you see something of that call in my life. That is the only witness I feel capable of offering.

But, if I do it right, I suspect you will get the message.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It is finished....

At one time, I thought I would begin this post with "Free at last!"

But tonight, I am feeling introspective, so that didn't seem apropos.

I got a call from my attorney's office this evening. Apparently, there was a mix-up with my divorce papers in the county clerk's office. After the clerk recorded the divorce, someone put them in the wrong box and they were never sent to my attorney.

My divorce was actually final weeks ago.

I have been separated for almost 18 months, so, in a way, the whole thing is anticlimactic. In my view, the marriage was over when I moved out in May 2006, but there is something different about getting the news that things are, indeed, finished.

I am sad, in a way. Sad that something that seemed so sure on April 30, 1993 turned out to be so wrong. Sad that someone I once loved can no longer bear to be in the same room with me. Sad that my children have joined the legion of children in America who do not live with both their parents. None of this is what I wanted when I made my vows.

But though there is loss, there is hope now, too.

I once felt that my future was nothing but a gray and endless road, unfurled through the desert of my life. There was a time when death felt preferable to continuing to walk that road.

Today, that thought seems absolutely foreign to me.

Today, there is hope and a sense of excitement about my future. My world is no longer gray, but full of color, music, poetry, and laughter.

I grieve for yesterday, but I look forward to tomorrow.

It is finished. Kyrie eleison. Deo gratias.