thoughts about the AIDS Walk Colorado
Yesterday was the 21st annual AIDS Walk Colorado. It raises money for many AIDS related organizations and research. My church has supported the wonderful group HIV Care Link for years and I walked with their team. The organizers changed the event from Sunday to Saturday for the first time ever so that churches and faith-based organizations could participate. This year was the first year I participated though I don’t really know why – Sunday events are ok with our church. Sabbath is meant to be a quieting of our lives and a cessation of work to connect with God but it is also meant to be very communal. And for those who can’t bear to miss anything we have a Saturday night service too.
I am old enough to remember the days in early 80’s when there were a dozen funerals a week it seemed, of young men dying of AIDS. We lived in another city at the time. The Christian community had turned their backs en masse in fear and disgust. It was a tragic time on so many levels. I was working as a nurse back then so I think that helped to pierce through the fear and prejudice for me. We cared for our patients no matter what. (The proliferation of AIDS was the birth of what is now the commonplace “universal precautions” used by health care workers when dealing with blood and body fluids so we could do our work.) But it was disconcerting to work amongst such compassion in the “secular” world and then go to seminary or church and hear judgment and fear. I remember one friend from seminary who chose to visit gay bars. He went to tell the people there that God loved them. They were incredulous. They were terrified. My friend didn’t know he was a pioneer. I realize now that that time was the beginning of the awakening of God’s type of justice in me. I was learning the justice of the God who breaks down walls –any walls- to rescue his Beloved.
So back to the present. Yesterday was a lovely day under the bright blue Colorado sky. During the Walk/Run was a strong sense of communal spirit, friendliness and hope even though there is still a long way to go in the battle against this disease. AIDS has wiped out nearly a whole generation in some African countries, leaving millions orphaned. We should be aware that that will have a huge impact on the world in decades to come. And the rate of infection is the US is much higher than previously thought. Even so, in the face of these harsh realities the day was a celebration. People were coming together for a purpose larger than themselves.
I also felt sad and I confess, I was more than a little frustrated with some of my more conservative friends who are as sincere Christians as they can be but who feel that to support this fundraiser is to “show approval” for the lifestyles that caused people to be infected. Hemophiliacs and blood transfusion recipients aside (and there’s other groups too), Jesus never said to anyone, “So, you want to be healed? Well let’s see, did you do something to get this way?” He loved and embraced everyone who came to him with simple desire and trust. He sees us as we are but doesn’t measure us; he understands our weakness and brokenness. He moves from a different paradigm of how to understand people.
The tendency of the fallen human heart is toward homogeneity: where all are alike and are thinking the same, and all have the same opinions and inclinations. Sameness. No one should step too far outside the lines. That sort of oneness is based on conformity to an ideology or ideal. For earlier cultures it was a matter of self-preservation to not trust the outsider. In my search for what is true church, I have come to believe that this tendency is at the core of what has created the conservative Christian “subculture” that pervades so much of what we think and do. As Miroslav Volf says, (quick aside: He’s my favorite theologian. Does it expose my excessive geekiness to have a favorite theologian? And shouldn’t he get to wear a cape? But I digress.) Anyway, Volf says, “Sin here is the kind of purity that wants the world cleansed of the other rather than the heart cleansed of the evil that drives people out by calling those who are clean unclean and by refusing to make clean those who are unclean.” That says it all: the heart that drives people out.
True oneness is unthreatened by diversity because a larger purpose is what unites us, and the core is love – making space for each other. This oneness is created by a Person. Jesus is the one who heals and changes the human heart and we can leave that in his capable hands by creating an environment of healing encounters with him. And I think the most miraculous change that we ever experience is when he expands our hearts enough to come out of our small places and truly love those we view as “other”. That’s the lesson of the incarnation – when God loved, became and dwelt with the “other”. He still does.
BTW, the Channel 4 news crews were out covering the event and wanted to talk to someone from a faith-based group because of the change they made for us. So here’s my 3 seconds: