Today, December 1, 2011 is World AIDS Day. In this day and age, I would guess that every person reading this blog entry knows someone who has been affected by or infected with HIV/AIDS. Therefore, I want to urge us all to take a moment today to explore what we can do to reach out to those in our circle of friends, our families, our community, and our world who are battling HIV/AIDS.
This morning, as I reflect on my awareness of HIV/AIDS in the world, I am reminded of how far we have come…and how far we still have to go in our understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Do you remember when AIDS was only something that impacted “those people”? And, who were “those people”? At first, it was only “those people” in Africa. Then, as time passed and HIV/AIDS became more widespread, “those people” grew to include homosexuals. Over time, “those people” began to include drug users as well. And, do you remember how fearful we were made in regards to AIDS…and how it might be spread. Oh, how ignorant we were (and sometimes still are).
As our awareness of HIV/AIDS grew, we began to see that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate as we do. HIV/AIDS did not limit itself to “those people” in Africa, to “those homosexual people”, or to “those drug-using people”. I can recall how Ryan White changed the face of who can become a casualty of HIV/AIDS.
This morning, I found myself recalling the memory of an ignorant conversation I had with friends in a public place on the topic of HIV/AIDS. We were all fairly conservative in our “Christian” faith. And, I guess we took that as a license to be ignorant and hateful in our language and attitude towards those with HIV/AIDS. We basically came to the conclusion that HIV/AIDS was really something that only affected “those people” and that we were extra-blessed because we were not “those people”.
Then, something happened that began to change my entire theological perspective on life. An older gentleman happened to hear our conversation and decided that he needed to drop some knowledge on us. He was quiet, gentle, and patient as he began to explain that HIV/AIDS was not limited to those people…that anyone…even conservative Christians could be infected. He was extremely knowledgeable on how HIV/AIDS could be contracted and spread. And, then, he shared these words, “I know this because I have AIDS.” He was not from Africa. He was not gay. He was not a drug user. He would not have been labeled as one of “those people”. Nope, he was just a “normal” guy…who happened to have AIDS. And, he shattered my entire understanding of HIV/AIDS…and really, life in general.
At that moment, I made a conscious decision to do all that I could to stop being an insensitive, judgmental, arrogant jerk. Yes, I can still be an insensitive, judgmental, and arrogant jerk. However, I no longer use my Christian faith as a license to cast out hatred and ignorance on anyone who is not like me. Instead, I’m making an effort to let love be the rule of my life.
Since that interaction, I have encountered numerous people who have HIV/AIDS…some friends…some acquiantensces…some just folks with whom I happened to cross paths with. But, all have had a major impact on helping me overcome my ignorance and my fear when it comes to HIV/AIDS…and how I treat others in general.
I believe that Jesus was pretty clear on how he desires his followers to respond to all people…healthy or sick; gay or straight; drug-user or straight-edge; black or white. He calls us to lead lives of love and humble service.
One of them, a legal expert, tested him. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. (Matthew 22:35-40, CEB)
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)
So, what will we do today, tomorrow, and in the years to come to love, serve, and encourage those in our circle of friends, our families, our churches, our workplaces, our schools, our cities, and our world who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Will we be insensitive, judgmental, arrogant jerks? Or will be known for our humble service and our love?
If you are in the Greater Indianapolis area, I would encourage you to head to Scott United Methodist Church from 6:30-8pm for what will be a powerful evening featuring the “Faces of Hope” photography exhibit and music from Blended Hearts and Josef Kissinger. Check out a flyer for the event by clicking HERE.
If you are an Indiana UMC person…or if you are interested in learning how the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church is responding to HIV/AIDS…check out the page on the conference website HERE.
For more information on World AIDS Day, click HERE.