Thursday, November 19, 2009

World AIDS Day and the Marker Project

Marker Project Event Page on Facebook

Sunday I will be gathering with the Church at First Baptist on Poplar and Parkway to participate in a project that has become very dear to my heart. Each year for the last decade, in conjunction with World AIDS Day, the congregations at First Baptist and at Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist which sits just across Poplar join together and install thousands of red velvet ribbons on stakes in the yards of the two buildings. Each of those ribbons represents a person with AIDS from Shelby County who has died from the disease.

The focus of the World AIDS Day Marker Project is three-fold:

• COMMEMORATE the lives of those lost to HIV/AIDS
• CELEBRATE the lives of those who are successfully living with HIV/AIDS
• EDUCATE others to prevent further loss of life from HIV/AIDS

For me the focus is much more personal. For me it is about honoring the memory of four men...Jeffery Scott Shepherd, Michael Robinson, Charlie Leonard and Robert Michie. Each of these men were special to me and in a brief five year period in the late 80's/early 90's I lost each of them to AIDS. It is also about Laura Finn, my husbands childhood best friend, who we lost to AIDS less than 3 years ago. And it is about my friends who are HIV positive or living with AIDS. As I hammer markers into the ground, I honor their fight, I remember their lives, I mourn those who are absent and I pray that we as the Church will repent. We seem to have compassion for our brothers and sisters with AIDS in other countries but we show a glaring lack of that same compassion when it comes to our brothers and sisters with AIDS here. In our country. In our city.

This display of red ribbons, simple as it is, gives me hope that at least SOME in the church "get it". That the Fred Phelps of the world are not the voice of the church on the issue. That it is possible to both love God and love our GLBT brothers and sisters who ALSO LOVE GOD but who have been ostracized and marginalized by his church. I don't pretend to have the answers. My GLBT friends would probably tell you that I mess it up on a regular basis in knowing how the details of it all should work out. But I love them and they love me and we love God and try really hard to work out the details together. We have failed our brothers and sisters in the GLBT community in so many ways and one of the most glaring to me is our response to the AIDS epidemic in THIS country.

I have often wondered what kind of message it sends when we raise money to combat AIDS in Africa (a noble cause, don't get me wrong) and yet in this country our so-called leaders of the "religious Right" felt it appropriate to say stuff on national television like:

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." - Jerry Falwell

"I know one man who was impotent who gave AIDS to his wife and the only thing they did was kiss." - Pat Robertson

Rantings of whack jobs? Sure. But also the vocalization of the ignorant beliefs of far too many of their followers. And that's just the tip of the iceburg of the ignorance and ugliness that "christians" spew about GLBT people in this country. An ugliness that goes suspiciously silent when it comes to fighting AIDS in Africa.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for fighting AIDS wherever it is ravaging lives and families. I think that dealing with the epidemic in Africa is critical. I just wonder what it says about the American church when our priorities seem so obviously skewed to the foreign mission and our attitudes toward those struggling with the same disease in this country are so condemnatory. So if you want to be a part of something that isn't...something that represents the best of what the Church can be when she is showing her compassionate heart and you're in Memphis on November 22nd at 11 am come to 1st Baptist and worship and then join us in placing the markers and going to lunch afterward. See you there.

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