Our Politicians Have Lost Their Way

With all the mess going on in Washington…and the awful things they are saying to each other, the news media behaving like vultures and people jockeying for position to be called a hero, we now see this embarrassing fighting standing in the way of making sure the folks of our country are protected, secure and safe…

This particular passage I was reading getting ready for this weeks worship service struck a deep nerve.

 

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

Now regardless if one is a Christian or not…it seems to me here is a formula for working through this mess…a way of peace, a way of strength, a way of walking the talk. A way in which everyone could walk away saying they had a hand in working through the challenge.

I am sitting at my desk wondering if this country and it’s leadership have become so jaded and drunk with power, they have forgotten the basic tennet of our country which says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

Maybe it is indeed time for a change. I think this crisis proves what we have known for a long time…the politicians do not really care if you or I can pay the mortgage or rent. They do not really care if you or I have gas. HIV and it’s spread only matters if a large block of voters suddenly die or there is oil in the country. No,the only thing at stake is their position of power, money and comfort,and they would sell their own mother if they thought it would keep them in power.

The behavior in Washington and big business this week proves that all those “so-called Christians” have forgotten a key to their faith…”Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Yes, maybe now is the time to call for a change…and in the meantime all I can say to our goverment:

Shame on you Mr. President. Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Congressperson. Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Senator.

Finally but not least by any stretch of the imagination, shame on all those big CEO’s and big business people who forgot why they were in business to begin with,”…that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We are faced with the conservative political right and the religious right constantly beating us over the head with their brand of morals and practice of faith, telling everone how to think and what the bible says.

We are face with the political left not listening to the real concerns of folks and the progressive people of faith forgetting it is not a contest of “their way or my way”.

Dammit folks, read this passage one more time:

 

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

 

Do you get it now? Do you see what it is going to take?

Just a passing pastoral thought on this bizarre Friday afternoon.

Bulletproof Faith: New Book for Gays and Lesbians Facing Religious Attacks

I wanted to share this press release with my readers. I am so proud of my friend, colleague and sister, Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge!

A refrain heard relentlessly by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith is: “God hates fags!” Whether it’s hurled as a direct insult or stated more subtly in a “Love the sinner, hate the sin” theology, the message to GLBT ears is the same: “God hates you and so do we!”

“Gay and lesbian people are constantly under attack,” said Rev. Chellew-Hodge, the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. “We’re unable to marry the person we love, and many support writing that discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. Churches continue to argue about our lives and many insist we must become something called, ‘ex-gay.’ We’re tired of constantly being a target.”

This trend against GLBT people isn’t abating. The church attended by Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin is promoting an “ex-gay” program and Palin herself told the Anchorage Daily News in 2006 that although she “has good friends who are gay” she supports denying them benefits and marriage equality. Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain has also, in the past, expressed his support of constitutional amendments against marriage equality for gays and lesbians in both Arizona and California.

Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu noted in his endorsement of the book that, “Gay and lesbian Christians are constantly demoralized and told they are not children of God. Bulletproof Faith reassures gays and lesbians that God loves them just as they were created and teaches them how to stand strong, with compassion and gentleness, against those who condemn them.”

Bulletproof Faith, published by Jossey-Bass, helps readers reclaim the spiritual self that criticism from society and religion has led them
to give up. Instead of arguing over biblical texts, Bulletproof Faith helps GLBT people live authentically into their faith despite criticism. Bulletproof Faith empowers readers to withstand even the most aggressive assaults without fear, doubt, or anger by providing:

  • Solid, proven tactics that can be used successfully when faced with an attack
  • Practical tools to discover one’s “authentic self”: the bulletproof part of each of us
  • Guidance on how to turn attacks into opportunities for spiritual growth

Bulletproof Faith doesn’t argue; instead Rev. Chellew-Hodge’s approach – born out of 12 years of being on the frontlines in the controversies surrounding gay and Christian identity – teaches readers to draw on their own inner strength and to return abuse with the spiritual Aikido of gentleness, compassion, reverence – and strength.

Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge is the associate pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C., and founder of the online magazine for GLBT Christians called Whosoever, which reaches nearly 1 million people a year. She is an award-winning former journalist with 25 years of experience including six years as a news writer, reporter and editor with CNN. She is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

For more information and a free 25-page study guide for Bulletproof Faith, visit http://www.bulletproofbook.com.

An Open Letter to Sean Hannity re Jim Adkisson

I know I have not written in some time, that is about to change, long story as to why…but just as I am getting ready to write one of my closest friends writes an open letter that was just too good to not share with you.

This is a letter to Sean Hannity (in response to the Knoxville shootings) from Rev Candace Chellew-Hodge , the founder and editor of www.whosoever.org .

In sharing her letter with the Whosoever community Candace explained “In light of the shootings at the Unitarian church I have written an article called “An Open Letter to Sean Hannity.” News reports say Hannity’s book along with books by other conservative authors were found in the shooters home. This is where he got this twisted idea that “liberals” are to blame for the world’s woes.

I know Sean Hannity. I worked with him in Atlanta back in the 90s right as he hit the big time, so I addressed a letter to him.”

“If the Left succeeds in gaining and retaining more power, the well-being of future generations will be at greater peril. I fear (our children) will inherit a nation that is less free and less secure than the nation we inherited from the last generation. It is therefore our job to stop them. Not just debate them, but defeat them.” — Sean Hannity

Dear Sean:

I found these words on page 11 of your book Let Freedom Ring. This book, and similar ones from your conservative colleagues Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage, was found in the home of a man who read those words, internalized those words, and then loaded his shotgun. He took 76 rounds of ammunition with him to a place of worship—a place where he knew he could do his job to stop and defeat some liberals. At the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jim Adkisson, a fan of yours, killed two people, wounded five others, and left an entire congregation and country shaken by his actions. Actions prompted, as he testified in his own written notes, by the ideas contained in your words.

I don’t know if you remember me, Sean, but I worked with you in Atlanta in the early 1990s, right as you got your big break with FOX News. I was an anchor and reporter (under the air name Candace Petersen) at WGST, your last low level stop before hitting the big time. I remember your last night on the air before you left for the big leagues. I approached you in your office, a cramped back room that I’m sure resembles a hovel compared to your FOX digs. I asked if you, during your last show, would tone down your rhetoric against gays and lesbians—stop demonizing our community for just one night. You refused. You explained to me, as if I were a child, that to do so would be to let your audience down. They expected you to go on the air and rant about how liberals, minorities, women and especially gays and lesbians were ruining our country. You simply had to oblige.

Even though you explained it simply, I still didn’t understand. Your Girl Friday—your most trusted assistant on your show was a young lesbian. She admired you, for some strange reason, and you two were close friends, lunching together, spending time together outside of work. You didn’t seem to have a problem with this particular lesbian. She wasn’t the one you kept blaming on the air for the downfall of democracy. No, you had two different lives then—one on the air, where you performed your outraged conservative act and one in real life, where you enjoyed your lesbian friend and seemed like a decent, sane fellow.

I don’t know if you’ve bought into your own shtick or not these days. If you truly believe half of what I could manage to read in your book (thank God the quote I found was in the early pages), I feel sorry for you. I don’t know how a person who obviously has no problem with homosexuality in their friends (or used to have no problem, anyway), can rant about how disgusting homosexuality is on pages 156 to 157. (Many thanks to your editors for the index.) I would call you a hypocrite, but if you’ve become a true believer, I guess the label no longer applies.

I hope you are not too far gone, your conscience too eaten away with greed, to understand the violent and vile object lesson that Mr. Adkisson has provided for us in Tennessee, because it’s a lesson you need to learn: Our words matter. Our words have power.

If you tell a child long enough that they are stupid and will never amount to anything, it won’t be long before they’ll believe that and live up to those words. If you tell the whole population of a country that their woes can be blamed on something called “liberals” who hold different ideas than you do, it won’t be long before those “liberals” will become the scapegoat for all social ills. Those words matter—they have power. Adkisson was a true believer.

Your book is rife with paragraphs bashing “the Left”—an enigmatic group of “liberals” painted so broadly that your label for them must be capitalized. These are the people to blame if anything goes wrong in the world. Terrorism? “The Left” didn’t hunt down the terrorists before they struck. War? “The Left” didn’t do enough to protect us from our enemies and have opposed our military readiness. Job losses? “The Left” taxed the corporations so much they moved overseas.

In your world, and the world you convinced Adkisson of, “the Left” is the bogeyman under the bed. But your book never mentions how the last eight years of Republican leadership has already left our children a nation that is less free, less secure, and as a special bonus, deeply in debt. Republicans are responsible for bankrupting our country, chipping away at our civil rights, sending our monetary and human treasure to waste away and die in the desert, leaving us paranoid and afraid of anyone who may look different, undermining social safety nets like unemployment and food stamps (which Adkisson had recently just lost), and generally making us a more selfish and divided nation. You have done this with your words, Sean—words of division, words of hate, words of war, and words of greed.

The sad irony here, Sean, is that if Mr. Adkisson had gone to that Unitarian church and told them he was out of a job and his food stamps had just ended, they would have helped him. They would have fed them from their food pantry and used their network of friends to help find him a job. Not because they’re liberal socialists, but because they understand that it’s not “us” against “them.” Instead, what made this country great is that we pull together in times of crisis—we bear one another’s burdens and put aside our differences in order to be of service to one another. They would have reached out to Mr. Adkisson without asking him if he was Democrat or a Republican or a liberal or a conservative. Labels don’t matter when someone is in need—or they shouldn’t.

But, Mr. Adkisson did not know that about the Unitarian church. You didn’t tell him liberals could help him. You only told him they’re to blame for his misfortune. His mind had already been poisoned by the words of hatred and division from you book. He saw the Unitarians down the road, not as fellow human beings who would generously help him in his time of need, but as enemies—the very reason his world had gone to hell. His job, since he had no other because of a bad economy created by Republican policies, was “to stop them. Not to debate them, but defeat them.” And so he loaded a gun.

Sean, you occupy a position of power. All words have power, but some words are more powerful than others simply because they are amplified from a larger stage. With power comes responsibility. If there is any of that old Sean left—the one before the big office, the popular TV and radio show and best selling books—I appeal to that man. Understand the power of your words. I know that words of division are profit-making words for you. We human beings apparently love to see a good fight, or feel our views justified by a good argument. But I hope this incident will give you pause and help you begin to choose your words more wisely. I hope, in choosing future words, you’ll consider not what’s best for the Hannity bank account, but what’s best for humanity.

I long for the day when profitable words are words that uplift, encourage, and inspire people. The strength of this nation has always been our unity in diversity and our unity in the face of adversity. By using your words to create a world of “us” and “them” you only perpetuate violence and discord in our society. I am asking you, Sean, to examine yourself and your words. You don’t have to agree with liberals and their views, but you can oppose liberal ideas without painting those who hold those beliefs as enemies who need to be stopped or defeated. If conservative ideas are truly superior, then a compelling case can be made for them without resorting to the politics of personal destruction.

Sean, your words have the power to heal and the power to destroy. The choice is yours.

Sincerely,

Candace Chellew-Hodge

Thank you my sister for writing what should have been said to this fool long ago!!

EXPOSING THE LIE

I have said for a long long time…the idea of fighting the spread of AIDS through “abstinence-only” programs was a powerplay on the part of the religious right and a cheap way for politicains to get conservative votes. They were never concerned about saving lives, just controling peoples expressions of sexuality.

Now the lie of the religios right and the political right has been exposed. I noticed it did not get any play on the network news shows as the debate over “bitter” and “flag pins” seem to be far more entertaining then exposing a policy that will cause us to have a whole generation of our young people sick and dying.

I usual write my own opinions here but the truth of what follows just screams to be told, so without further delay please sit back, get a cup of whatever you drink and get into a comfortable reading position and soak in the tesitmony of Max Siegel before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Testimony of Max Siegel

Policy Associate, AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families

Before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
April 23, 2008

Good morning. I am grateful for this opportunity to address abstinence-only-untilmarriage education, a policy that has transformed my life. I share my recommendations on how to improve sexuality education programs as a person living with HIV who has spent the entirety of his young adulthood working to prevent new infections. My goal is to accurately portray the personal impact of this policy while explaining how the lessons I have learned may apply to other young people, who comprise 15 percent of all new HIVinfections in this country every year (CDC, 2008). Thank you to Chairman Waxman and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for including an HIV-positive young person in today’s hearings.

Abstinence-only programs do not work. Beyond the responsibility we have to provide
young people with accurate, complete, and lifesaving education about their sexuality, I see no room for failed programs such as abstinence-only education in this time of shrinking public health budgets and increased accountability. Please end this horrible experiment so we can begin the work of saving young people’s lives.

I experienced abstinence-only-until-marriage education taught by my junior high school gym teacher. In a session, he told me and my male classmates that sex is dangerous and that we should think more seriously about it when we “grow up and marry.” He was clear that sex was something only for married people. He was visibly uncomfortable, and he conveyed to us that sexuality was not to be discussed extensively in an educational setting. Even if it were, my gym teacher made it clear that only one kind of sexuality—heterosexuality ending in marriage—was acceptable to talk about. Already aware of my sexual orientation, I found no value in his speech. It did not speak to me and my life. It might as well not have happened.

While most formal abstinence-only education programs in this country are more
extensive than the class I experienced, they rely on similarly exclusive and stigmatizing messages that lack basic information about sexual health. My classmates and I required nonjudgmental, practical information that was tailored to our individual needs. I am evidence that the basic abstinence-only lesson I received was ineffective. Multiple studies, including a 10-year federal evaluation, have found that the more expansive abstinence-only programs do not work either.

Unfortunately, this abstinence-only lecture was the only education I received on the
subject. As such, I was ill-equipped to make responsible decisions about my sexual
health. When I was 17, I began seeing someone six years older than me. The first time we had sex, I took out a condom but he ignored it. I did not know how to assert myself further. I knew enough to suggest a condom, but I did not have an adequate understanding of the importance of using one, and even if I had more reasons to use a
condom, I had no idea how to discuss condoms with my partner. The abstinence-only
message did not prepare me for life, and I contracted HIV from the first person with
whom I consented to having unprotected sex. I was still in high school.

Did the abstinence-only message make me HIV positive? It did not force me to forgo the condom. But, it did nothing to prevent me from contracting the virus. My coach could have told me that gay people had value and that delaying sex could benefit me too. He could have told me that I could still take actions toward healthy sexual relations even though I could not get married. He could have talked to me about how essential condoms were to stopping the spread of infection among sexually active people, and he could have taught me how to navigate weighty topics such as emotions, love, and condom use within a relationship. These topics also are absent from abstinence-only programs operating today, which puts thousands of young people across the country at risk for disease and teen pregnancy.

I met with a healthcare provider a few months later. Before informing me of my HIV
status, the provider asked me about my plans for college. An idealistic teenager, I had a great deal to say about one day earning an advanced degree in a helping profession. The provider responded simply: “Well, after today, you can still try to do those things.” I knew then that I had HIV. Unfortunately, I had no preexisting knowledge of what my prognosis could be or any of my healthcare options, which is information that should have been provided for me during my school’s sexuality education program. Beyond shock and hopelessness, my initial reaction was extreme guilt.

My friends and family were devastated upon my new disclosure. We had no substantial
knowledge about HIV and we quickly developed false and damaging beliefs about my
situation. I came to consider it unfair for me to confide in my loved ones for support because, through having unprotected sex with a single individual, I had committed a heinous crime that brought suffering into their lives. I thought that while a single HIVinfected person adversely impacts an entire community, it is this person’s lone undertaking no matter their age or circumstance to reconcile the consequences of this disgraceful infection.

It seemed as though I had done something particularly disgraceful, but it never occurred to any of us that I in fact had engaged in fewer behaviors that could put me at risk for HIV infection than the majority of my peers. I wish I could say that my parents did not reinforce such notions. Like many young people’s, my parents were in no position to educate me about HIV or AIDS because, although otherwise extremely well-educated, they did not have a comprehensive understanding or knowledge of sexuality and sexually transmitted infections. Instead, they mourned the loss of their child. As a community, we identified contracting HIV as someone’s fault. We had no examples for how one might live well with the virus or any other chronic, sexually transmitted infection. None of us had received adequate education around these issues and what arose from my diagnosis was a widespread crisis. This crisis could have resulted in my absence from the medical continuum, a refusal to disclose my status to future sexual partners, and suicide among other all-too-common occurrences in the lives of people living with HIV. It fortunately did not.

Soon after diagnosis, I decided to pursue a career in the prevention and treatment of the virus. I thought I had little time on this planet and that I was automatically in a unique position to help people because of my status. I have gone on to earn national recognition for my HIV-related endeavors. I hope I have demonstrated that those living with HIV can be relevant, meaningful members of society—even though the abstinence-only messages I received failed to teach me otherwise. The most personal career choice I made was to assume the role of an HIV counselor and to provide rapid HIV antibody testing to the general public. Working in HIV counseling and testing for three years, I gained a great deal of insight into the shared experiences of individuals living with HIV. These experiences cut across gender, race, and class, and I learned to pay particularly close attention to individuals’ unique needs and perspectives.

That which makes me proudest in my life has been my willingness to be present for those who were otherwise alone. I have never averted my eyes from a client’s suffering. I have not allowed discomfort to prevent me from addressing the needs of those around me and,as an educator, from reacting in ways that are proven to be helpful. Sexuality education should be no different. Adults should not allow their moments of discomfort to supercede the needs of youth for complete and accurate information.

Sexuality education programs must be as specifically focused as my counseling sessions. Programs must be tailored to meet the needs of individual students, the majority of whom will be sexually active before high school graduation. They should encourage abstinence while providing useful information about the potential consequences of sexual activity.

Students of all ages should recognize abstinence as a primary mode of maintaining one’s sexual health, but they must be given tools in addition to abstinence that will equip them for later life. These tools should be discussed in language that is accessible to students’particular ages by educators with whom students can identify and communicate openly.

We must facilitate critical thought about sexuality in terms of keeping students healthy and, ultimately, alive. Sexuality education programs should promote skills related to self-esteem, condom use and negotiation in terms of maintaining health as a priority, and self-efficacy while being inclusive of varying sexual orientations and gender identities. They must instill knowledge of local healthcare services, including the availability of HIV counseling and testing, and they should contribute to peer-led dialogue about healthy sexual behaviors, including abstinence. These programs must acknowledge relationship violence, which increases one’s risk for HIV infection and is most commonly reported among married women (Lichtenstein, 2005). One’s decision to abstain will not be honored in the presence of violence and coercion. Young people should be prepared for the wide array of emotions, not all of which will be bad, that result from engaging in sex.

Age appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education should be built into each grade level as sexuality is an issue of daily life. Effective sexuality education requires well-informed educators who posses the professional skills to be able to deliver this important information in a confident and understanding way. Students should leave sexuality education programs equipped and inspired to discuss HIV in terms of risk and transmission. Sexuality education should help individuals who are not living with HIV better understand the realities of a positive status for the purpose of preparing individuals who test positive later or have peers who are diagnosed for the medical and psychosocial ramifications of the virus. This requires a well-rounded portrayal of the lives of HIV-positive individuals. Students should have increased awareness about HIV and the bidirectional relationship between HIV and society. These programs should assume that many lessons arise from the AIDS pandemic. Themes such as stigma, isolation, discrimination, and unequal access to education and healthcare services are global and worthy of examination. Educators and policymakers must ask themselves: What effect does cultural legacy have on the marginalized communities most impacted by AIDS? Is it important to consider others’ contexts in a holistic sense, including a history of sexual violence and family abuse, while striving to instill healthy sexual behaviors? Our leaders and role models are sacrificing young people’s long-term survival in order to avoid momentary discomfort.

What I experienced in my junior high gym class is a routine example of the messages of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that children across our country are still
experiencing every day. On top of being proven ineffective for students (most of whom
identify with traditionally heterosexual views of sex and gender), these programs also ignore the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, and even condemn them. The message I received in junior high was essentially that deviant life choices such as homosexuality or sex outside of marriage are not to be acknowledged. Furthermore, my educator implied that said deviants could never engage in sex in a healthy manner since non-heterosexual couples cannot “grow up and marry.”

Acknowledging that sexual minorities may be as healthy as anyone else is by no means
an endorsement of their behaviors; however, abstinence-only programs utilize
government dollars to actually lash out against LGBTQ young people. From a healthcare
perspective, it is important for the scrutiny of abstinence-only programs to concentrate on the consequences of abstinence-only programs’ condemnation of sexual minorities, including men who have sex with men, who are at high-risk for HIV infection. This government-funded condemnation impacts majority-identified community members as well. Many men who have sex with men, especially young men and men of color, will not disclose their sexual interactions with other men due to the negative social consequences of acknowledging their behaviors (CDC, 2003). Nondisclosers are more likely to contract HIV, less likely to receive HIV testing, and more likely to have sexual contact with women (CDC, 2003). Even if one does not place value on educating

LGBTQ individuals about reducing their risk for HIV infection, these individuals
inexorably overlap with heterosexual-identified community members. The diversity of
sexual orientations and gender identities in our world is irreversible. For everyone’s survival, we must realize that a failure to attend to the needs of these individuals is a failure to perceive the risk that befalls anyone who might be deserving of life-saving education.

Young, straight women also are in need of education that includes, but is not limited to, abstinence. I have worked with various individuals who contracted HIV within marriage. Many of these individuals were women who had children, and some of these children were infected at birth. Women of color are at particular risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Latina women have nearly the same HIV/AIDS rate (15.1) as white men (16.7) (CDC, 2008). Among African American women, the rate (56.2) is almost four times as high (CDC, 2008). Abstinence-only programs neglect the needs of women of color through curricula that reinforce gender roles and emerge from a context of ethnocentrism. Abstinence-only programs frequently portray sexually active young women as dirty, scarred, and inferior. Regardless, staying faithful to one’s partner will not protect a woman whose husband or boyfriend has been incarcerated when rates of HIV infection among inmates is exponentially higher than in the general population. And a woman asking her husband to respect her decision to abstain from sex or to use a condom is not consistent with abstinence-only programs teaching sex as an expectation within marriage or that condoms do not work.

Sex education must be appropriate for as many populations as it plans on helping, and
HIV prevention must respond to the state of our domestic epidemic. I have assumed the
responsibility of trying to help the women and children with whom I have worked to the best of my abilities, but there is no sufficient reason why this completely preventable infectious disease should have impacted any of our lives. After six years of living with HIV and striving to prevent sexually transmitted infections in others, I strongly believe that it is society’s responsibility to provide young people with all the tools they will need in order to lead healthy lives. Any American infected with HIV is a societal failure.

More individuals have this virus now than ever before in history. Most children born with HIV no longer die; they are growing into adolescence and adulthood. Within and outside of marriage, these young people must know how to prevent transmission of HIV to their sexual partners and how to protect themselves from further co-infection, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy. Understanding proper condom use is imperative to their wellness and to that of others’. Abstinence-only programs stigmatize individuals living with HIV through conveying inaccuracies about the virus’ transmission, such as by stating that HIV may be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact(Duran, 2003, p.19). Rarely have I encountered a sexual health forum in which youth or older adults in the audience could collectively identify the four fluids that are known to transmit HIV. If asked, would you be able to do so?

Popular abstinence-only curricula rely on scare tactics, which do not work and adversely impact individuals who are diagnosed with HIV or even other sexually transmitted infections. One abstinence-only program has utilized an in-class exercise in which students roll a die to represent the risks they take by having sex and, in the caseof the die landing on four, the leader of the exercise told students that they have AIDS and, “You’re heading to the grave. No cure” (Hughes, 1998). What does this do for adolescents who are already living with HIV, or whose parents may be HIV positive, except cause fear?

HIV-positive young people could be harnessed as powerful peer educators as they are
more frequently in other countries. Instead, fear of them further discourages all
individuals from discovering their status and fails to encourage individuals to follow theCenters for Disease Control & Prevention’s recommendation that everyone ages 13 to 64 receive routine HIV testing (CDC, 2006). Abstinence-only curricula do not meet the needs of individuals who are living with HIV, whether they are aware of their status or not.

One of the most common barriers to effective HIV prevention among youth that I have
encountered is apathy toward one’s risk for infection. How are we to expect young
people to recognize HIV as a legitimate concern when our policymakers and educators
ignore overarching evidence that HIV prevention interventions must be administered in acomprehensive manner? The claim that comprehensive sexuality education encourages
sexual activity among youth – despite evidence to the contrary – is an indication that policymakers are not aware of young people’s willingness and capacity to make
responsible decisions about their sexual health. This claim is counterintuitive to the numerous HIV-negative client success stories that I might tell, and it has not been proven in research.

Comprehensive sexuality education programs are shown to increase the use of condoms and contraception while reducing a young person’s number of sexual partners and pushing back the age of sexual debut (Kirby, 2007; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

I came to recognize the importance of condoms from my personal and professional
experiences. Although condoms are not 100% effective at preventing HIV, they do come
close. I have never screened a client HIV-positive who used condoms correctly and
consistently. Unfortunately, abstinence-only allowed to note contraception or condom use in terms of failure rates. Research shows that abstinenceonly students are less likely to use condoms or contraception when they do have sex (Bearman & Bruckner, 2001) and are less likely to seek medical attention in the presence of a sexually transmitted infection (Bearman & Bruckner, 2005).

The Mathematica Policy Research conducted a large, comprehensive study of students in abstinence-only programs that showed these students to be no more likely to stay abstinent than individuals who do not undergo any sexuality education whatsoever (Mathematica Policy Research, 2007). The evidence shows that comprehensive sexuality education is more effective at keeping our young people abstinent than abstinence-only.

In summary, please stop funding abstinence-only programs and start funding comprehensive sexuality education. As a tax-paying young person living with HIV, I
urge you to use our federal dollars for programs that actually do protect our sexual health.

References

Bearman, P.S., & Bruckner, H. (2005). After the promise: The STD consequences of

adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36(4), 271-278.

Bearman, P.S., & Bruckner, H. (2001). Promising the future: Virginity pledges and the

transition to first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology, 106(4), 859-912.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2003). HIV/STD risks in young men

who have sex with men who do not disclose their sexual orientation. Retrieved April 7,

2008, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5205a2.htm.

CDC. (2006). Revised recommendations for HIV testing of adults, adolescents, and

pregnant women in health-care settings [electronic version]. Atlanta: Author.

CDC (2008). Cases of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and dependent areas,

2006. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/reports/2006report/default.htm.

Duran, M.G. (2003). Reasonable reasons to wait: The keys to character. Chantilly, VA:

A Choice in Education.

Hughes, K. (1998). Passions & principles leader’s guide. Chandler, Arizona: One Way

Publishing.

Kirby, D. (2007, November). Emerging answers 2007: Research findings on programs to

reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases [electronic version].

Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Lichtenstein, B. (2005). Domestic violence, sexual ownership, and HIV risk in American

women in the American deep south. Social Science and Medicine, 60(4), 701-714.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2001, July). The Surgeon

General’s call to action to promote sexual health and responsible sexual behavior

[electronic version]. Rockville, MD: Author.

30 SECONDS OF FEAR

Friday night March 14, 2008 is going to stay with me for a long time. For that night my partner and I witness all to close the raw fury of nature having a major temper tantrum.

About 9:30pm I settled into my new gaming chair to play my play station 2 major league baseball games. My partner Bill was in the study working on job applications…when it began to rain.

No surprise as that had been the weather forecast for the evening and most of Saturday…thunderstorms and rain. There was nothing about severe weather that caught my attention.

Suddenly our lights flickered and Bill called out from the study asking if it had started to rain? I responded that it had and the lights flickered again. With the 2nd flicker decided to disconnect the computer rather then lose it to a power surge.

I went into the study and started the process of shutting down the computer, when the patio swing began to bang against the side of the house very hard and I thought, “What the hell direction is the wind coming from?” “That swing never hits the house except a little bump now and again and never that hard”…then I heard what I could only describe as a low growl.

I turned around to see what one of our labs, CoCo was growling at; except she wasn’t there…she was in the front room with Bill. The house went completely dark…which was about the time Bill starting shouting, “Oh shit, OH SHIT, TREES ARE FLYING EVERYWHERE…PAUL, PAUL TREES…!”

I came out of the study in time to see the top half of a 50 foot Oak fall not 5 feet from our house. I froze…time stopped except now for an awful sound…I start thinking fast, “we got to get into the crawl space…get all 3 dogs together…damn the bird (A Catalina Macaw) who is now screaming right along with the wind…. Billy, damn get from in front of the window!”

I was never able to verbalize any of those thoughts…I couldn’t move…I couldn’t speak…I just stood there watching hell breaking loose all around my house. Then just as quickly as it started, it stopped. It was still, death still…no noise, no wind, no rain.

We opened the front door and what we saw was beyond anything I can find the proper words for. The steps leading to the deck of our house were smashed flat by the falling tree. Billy’s Honda was a good two feet lower to the ground; the back tires flat, windows blown out. My Nissan top was caved in…our drive way was nothing but tree branches and debris.

We started to pick our way through the branches when we were hit in the eyes by the neighbors flashlight, yelling, “Are you hurt? Are you OK?” I said, “yes, just shook, but yea we are fine.”

Bill and I along with the neighbor got to the street and saw huge 100-year oaks down everywhere. Houses that stood for years in this neighborhood were now damaged beyond recognition by the huge trees falling into them. Wires were down all over and still no sound except the voices in the neighborhood of people coming out of their homes calling to others, “Are you OK? Do you need help?”

Bill and I and the rest of the neighborhood spent the next several hours making sure everybody was OK. Amazingly, no was killed, no was hurt. The only death on our street that night was a squirrel that had gotten trapped with the falling tree. In the quiet of the aftermath of the storm it’s screaming was mind numbing…then it stopped. It served as a reminder how close we all had come to the same fate.

One lady on our street had been at her computer just before the fury hit. Had her husband not dragged her away from the computer and to the basement of their house…well she was sitting directly in the spot a 10’ diameter tree crashed into the front of the house.

2 hours into this a police officer came down the street telling us we ought to get back inside as another storm was on it’s way. I thought to myself, “dear God we can’t take another hit, enough, enough!”

We went back inside and decided to try to sleep on the fold out couch, as the idea of more storms and trees crashing through our up-stairs was not a pleasant thought.

The dogs, Sara-14, CoCo and Koda both 3 were breathing and panting so hard, we thought they would have heart attacks and they could not get close enough to Bill and I. So, there we were Bill, me and three 70-pound dogs on the fold out trying to sleep but not getting there, for if we went to sleep, it might not end.

Around 5am the 2nd round of storms arrived…no real wind but lots of thunder and lightening. We just lay there hoping and praying to see the break of day.

I guess some sleep came as we were awoken to the sound of chain saws and heavy equipment removing trees and debris…the beautiful sound of life, the sounds of renewal.

In the daylight I could see where the tree had been broken off and hurled to the ground and knew that with a just slight twist of the wind, rather then the cars it would have been the house and where Billy was standing…and I began to cry… it was too close, too fast and I had froze and would have never been able to save him. It hit me hard, that I am not ready to die, not ready to be a widow, not ready to not see my friends, my congregation, or my family. It also became very apparent that the Reverend Bitch. Sir is not so tough or so in control as I think I am.

The words of Jesus floated into my mind,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”

Yes, I was reminded of an important lesson…life is fragile…the love we share with someone can be gone in an instant…in 30 seconds or less it can all be gone and with a lot of stuff unfinished.

Our Church celebrated its 10th anniversary Saturday evening. I cannot explain how good it felt to have one more opportunity to see the people I love, to hold, to hug, to have the opportunity to tell each and everyone of them I love them, need them, want to be with them as long as possible. I will endeavor to remember this 1st and foremost in the good times as well as the rough.

Oh yea one more thing just in case my husband ever wonders or has any doubts, he can come back and read this testimony. Cause you know folks you can’t say this enough or write this in enough places for the one you love…

“Bill, I love you with all my heart. I cannot imagine life without you and I praise God this night and every night that I have another day to share with you. Each night when I go to sleep with you in my arms I will know that God has looked upon us and said, “It is good, it is good.”

HOW SAD IS THIS?

I know most of you have heard seen this many, many times over the last week…but it bears viewing again. For this is a clear picture of a person stating lies under the cover of Christian belief as if it were fact. It is sickening, vile and disgusting.

There have been thousands of responses to this, but then I came across a letter from a list serve that I am on called, “Institute for Welcoming Resources” and is a response that captures how bad the Representative blew it with the general public.

After I read it I realized this is the response Rep. Kern needs to read and consider deeply in her “Christian soul”, as it appears she has more then just the LGBTQ to make amends to. I wonder do these folks ever stop to think when painting with such a broad brush of intolerance how many people they really cover with their hate?

I have often thought about that when Fred Phelps calls someone a fag…he is calling someones child that…anyway I digress, here is the letter with the permission of the poster on IWR Forum:

Rep Kern:

On April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City a terrorist detonated a bomb that killed my mother and 167 others. 19 children died that day. Had I not had the chicken pox that day, the body count would’ve likely have included one more. Over 800 other Oklahomans were injured that day and many of those still suffer through their permanent wounds.

That terrorist was neither a homosexual or was he involved in Islam. He was an extremist Christian forcing his views through a body count. He held his beliefs and made those who didn’t live up to them pay with their lives.

As you were not a resident of Oklahoma on that day, it could be explained why you so carelessly chose words saying that the homosexual agenda is worst than terrorism. I can most certainly tell you through my own experience that is not true. I am sure there are many people in your voting district that laid a loved one to death after the terrorist attack on Oklahoma City . I kind of doubt you’ll find one of them that will agree with you.

I was five years old when my mother died. I remember what a beautiful, wise, and remarkable woman she was. I miss her. Your harsh words and misguided beliefs brought me to tears, because you told me that my mother’s killer was a better person than a group of people that are seeking safety and tolerance for themselves.

As someone left motherless and victimized by terrorists, I say to you very clearly you are absolutely wrong.

You represent a district in Oklahoma City and you very coldly express a lack of love, sympathy or understanding for what they’ve been through. Can I ask if you might have chosen wiser words were you a real Oklahoman that was here to share the suffering with Oklahoma City ? Might your heart be a bit less cold had you been around to see the small bodies of children being pulled out of rubble and carried away by weeping firemen?

I’ve spent 12 years in Oklahoma public schools and never once have I had anyone try to force a gay agenda on me. I have seen, however, many gay students beat up and there’s never a day in school that has went by when I haven’t heard the word **** slung at someone. I’ve been called gay slurs many times and they hurt and I am not even gay so I can just imagine how a real gay person feels. You were a school teacher and you have seen those things too. How could you care so little about the suffering of some of your students?

Let me tell you the result of your words in my school. Every openly gay and suspected gay in the school were having to walk together Monday for protection. They looked scared. They’ve already experienced enough hate and now your words gave other students even more motivation to sneer at them and call them names. Afterall, you are a teacher and a lawmaker, many young people have taken your words to heart. That happens when you assume a role of responsibility in your community. I seriously think before this week ends that some kids here will be going home bruised and bloody because of what you said.

I wish you could’ve met my mom. Maybe she could’ve guided you in how a real Christian should be acting and speaking.

I have not had a mother for nearly 13 years now and wonder if there were fewer people like you around, people with more love and tolerance in their hearts instead of strife, if my mom would be here to watch me graduate from high school this spring. Now she won’t be there. So I’ll be packing my things and leaving Oklahoma to go to college elsewhere and one day be a writer and I have no intentions to ever return here. I have no doubt that people like you will incite crazy people to build more bombs and kill more people again. I don’t want to be here for that. I just can’t go through that again.

You may just see me as a kid, but let me try to teach you something. The old saying is sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Well, your words hurt me. Your words disrespected the memory of my mom. Your words can cause others to pick up sticks and stones and hurt others.

Sincerely,
Tucker

New Testament and Homosexuality Teleseminar

From Romans 1 to 1 Corinthians, GLBT people are told that the New Testament is a source of condemnation of their very lives. When people quote Bible verses against GLBT people, these two verses are most often used from the New Testament.

Our second part of the Homosexuality and the Bible teleseminar series has been scheduled. Here is the info:

  • Date: Tuesday, March 4, 2008
  • Time: 7 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Hosted By: Rev. Paul M. Turner, Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia and Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge, founder and editor of Whosoever Magazine
  • Cost: One time donation of $5.00 to Whosoever

In this upcoming seminar you’ll discover that these texts and other “clobber” passages from the New Testament are not texts of terror for GLBT, but instead re texts of hope and affirmation.

In this teleseminar you’ll learn:

  • Why Romans 2 is just as important as Romans 1
  • Why 1 Corinthians may hold more condemnation for those who condemn GLBT people
  • How to answer those who use these verses to condemn you

For a one-time tax-deductible donation of $5.00 to Whosoever you can join the call, receive a workbook and notes along with access to a recording of the call afterward.

Whether you’ve heard this material a million times or if this is the first time, you’ll come away blessed and able to defend yourself whenever someone tries to use Scripture to condemn you.

We want as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of this seminar so we’ve lowered our suggested donation to $5.00 to make sure the price is not too steep for anyone who wishes to be part of the call.

We look forward to “seeing” you on the call!

We had a blast at the Old Testament and Homosexuality teleseminar. Audio of that seminar is available here.

Blessings,
Rev. Candace and Pastor Paul

NOT LIVING WITH IT

We have just gone through an awful couple of weeks. There was a mass shooting at a mall in the Chicago area and then at a University in Illinois another mass shooting.

If that were not enough a 15 year old boy was shot in the head and killed by a 14 year old boy because he was gay.

Then I came across this:

States with the largest number of nuclear weapons (in 1999): New Mexico (2,450), Georgia (2,000), Washington (1,685), Nevada (1,350), and North Dakota (1,140)

(you know these are the devices that we don’t want Iran to have because it will cause untold danger to us)

William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Joshua Handler, Taking Stock: Worldwide Nuclear Deployments 1998 (Washington, D.C.: Natural Resources Defense Council, March 1998)

Then I came across this concerning the war in Iraq:

The costs…
$275 million per day
$4,100 per household
Almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 60,000 wounded (don’t even get me started on the medical and mental health treatment they are getting when they finally get back home!)
700,000 Iraqis killed and 4 million refugees

Then I came across this piece concerning “Capital Punishment”:

“Wrongful execution” is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment.[27] Many people have been heralded as innocent victims of the death penalty.[28][29][30] At least 39 executions have been carried out in the U.S. in face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt.[31] Newly-available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration of more than 15 death row inmates since 1992 in the U.S.,[32] but DNA evidence is only available in a fraction of capital cases. In the UK, reviews prompted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission have resulted in one pardon and three exonerations for people executed between 1950 and 1953 (when the execution rate in England and Wales averaged 17 per year), with compensation being paid.

Then just for the fun of it I came across this:

Money Spent on the War On Drugs this Year
Federal $2,595,017,000.00
State $3,983,398,000.00
Total $6,578,415,000.00

The number of drug deaths in the US in a typical year is as follows:
Tobacco kills about 390,000.
Alcohol kills about 80,000.
Sidestream smoke from tobacco kills about 50,000.
Cocaine kills about 2,200.
Heroin kills about 2,000.
Aspirin kills about 2,000.
Marijuana kills 0. There has never been a recorded death due to marijuana at any time in US history.

All illegal drugs combined kill about 4,500 people per year, or about one percent of the number killed by alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco kills more people each year than all of the people killed by all of the illegal drugs in the last century. More people have been killed by fighting the drug war than drugs themselves have ever killed.

Source: NIDA Research Monographs

Then earlier this week I get a call from the Questing Parson, who tells me I need to get a copy of Atlantic Magazine the March issue. It apparently is going to have a story concerning Archbishop Akinola primate of the Church of Nigeria, the second biggest church in the Anglican Communion, numbering about 18 million members.

It will among other things have this tidbit:

“In response to the Muslim rioting, Akinola issued a statement in his capacity as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria: “May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation.” … inciting Christian counter-riots against Muslim targets in Nigeria (for example, Christian mobs in Onitsha retaliated against Muslims, killing 80 persons,[14], burned a Muslim district with 100 homes[15], defaced mosques[16] and burned the corpses of those they had killed in the streets[17], forcing hundreds of Muslims were forced to flee the city [18]).

This is the guy for whom some of the Anglican Church is going to because of the consecration of a gay Bishop? These people don’t like gay folks so they are going to line up with a cold-blooded killer?

I am sorry but this little journey of reflection during this Lenten season has caused me to be in anguish and mourning for my faith which seems more set on destroying, excluding, ignoring, denying basic human rights to those who don’t toe the creedal line and if all else fails kill them.

If you start adding up all the money spent in all the afore mentioned quotes how many hungry could we have fed? How many people could we have clothed? How many could we have given drink to? How many of the sick would not be sick? How many of the addicted would be on the road to recovery?

My friends it is really not about money, it is about our attitude. We have become the sin of the “garden of Eden”. We have decided that we can be God, and when so moved kill whoever we don’t like or agree with. Oh we come up with all kinds of justifications for the killing but conveniently forget that Jesus said, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Let us not be fooled, this is not about original sin. This is now the 21st century when we should know better for we have the teachings of the Christ.

How can someone be pro-life and yet be in favor of capital punishment. After all is that not a person who is a late term abortionist?

How can we have a President who calls himself a “born again” Christian telling us we have to kill them before they kill us? I mean seriously does that not go against Jesus’ one and only command to us “love one another as I have loved you”?

I got to say we have got it wrong, terribly wrong. They say if you tell a lie often enough that you will begin to believe it…well damn we are there. If you don’t think so read the first part of this blog again. We have made it far easier to kill then to save, far easier to destroy rather then cultivate a sense of dignity, respect…ah hell to even have a modicum of common courtesy.

Read the Questing Parson’s blog called “Please, Do Not Drop Me” posted 02-12-2008.

Or consider this snippet:

“I am a child of the earth.

Please do not drop me.

Two days after the celebration of the birth of the Christ child last year the ethnic cleansing began in Kenya. While some children rode their Christmas bikes and listened to their bright iPod my sister was driven with her mama into the famine and drought stricken wilderness. Thousands of our cousins were driven away with her.

I am a child of the earth.

Please do not drop me.

Ten million of my cousins under five die every year.

Two million of my cousins die every year on the same day they are born.

My cousin is now scavenging through rotting garbage to find something to eat; another is neglected in her own shanty because her mother and father lie on their cots dying of AIDS.

Some of my brothers and sisters did not go to school today. For thousands and thousands there is no school to attend if they had the energy to do so. For thousands and thousands of others they stayed home to avoid others seeing their swollen battered faces after another night on being a punching bag.”

How can we continue to allow our resources to go to blood thirsty, selfish, power hungry despots both religious and secular? How can we not be outraged? How can we not cry out at the injustice of our so-called leaders? How can we not demand something better?

We make the words of Jesus in Matthew 23 truer today then when he spoke them.

We have forgotten that Jesus made it clear how God would view things-Matthew 25:31-40. Honestly this is where our efforts should begin.

It is estimated that two million people per year are homeless in the United States.

A report issued by the Urban Institute in 2000 stated that 2.3 million adults and children in the United States are likely to experience homelessness at least once in a year.

Here is the response, which I am afraid, is far more common then we want to admit.

By REAL TALK

Jan 25, 2008 9:07 AM
“The people need to be locked up or disposed of. They offer nothing to society but a black eye. Many of the “homeless” choose to be so and want to rely on us to pay for everything. This is not what America was built on. This country needs new ideas on how to deal with the homeless. One idea is to euthanize them like dogs. Why not. I went to Georgia State and had to deal everyday with the homeless. They are Terrible. All they offer society is disease, crime, and drugs. Either you have a home, or you go to Jail.”

Cornelius Tacitus (c. 116 A.D.) said, “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” He might be on to something there…how thick is the Methodist Discipline? Have you tried to read the Book of Roman Catholic Cathecism? This is true in each and every denomination; we have become more concerned about rules then God. And when was the last time you walked into a law library?

I was told by a friend this week to whom I gave a sampling of my blog, “you are really naïve and you are too idealistic, this is the way of the world you need to learn to live with it.”

Now in this moment of reflection I say, “That may be the way of the world but it is not the way of Jesus.” It is not the way of God.

So in the days to come I will not “live with it” instead I will do my best live out my life in the manner of my Savior’s proclamation: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because God has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The Small Surrenders That Lead to the Ultimate Freedom

We have begun the 6 week journey of reflection and introspection of
ourselves that leads to the Easter experience. I was reflecting on what to write when I recieved an e-mail that caught my attention.

I belong to a gay clery list serve and one of the members shared some
thoughts concerning this Church season. I thought this was worth our
consideration and offers powerful wisdom of our daily journey with God.

LENT

 

We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this
endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions,
leads to our transformation in Christ.

-Thomas Merton

“WHAT ARE YOU GIVING UP FOR LENT?” This long-established custom of
giving up treats, chocolates, caffeinated or sugary beverages,
alcohol, or tobacco is perhaps the way we most often think of Lenten
discipline. And it makes good conversation in casual situations. But
we know it is surface stuff. Choosing to give up something good for
something a bit less is a play-it-safe strategy. Something tells us
there is more to spiritual transformation than this. We suspect that
playing it safe is not what Christ lived and died for.

Thomas Merton’s view, that we must undergo a series of large and
small inner revolutions, is a truer picture of Christian
transformation. When we choose some exercise for Lent, daily worship,
daily prayer, abstinence from one thing or another, it is not so much
the practice that transforms us. It is our willingness to change. And
Merton says the process is endless. It’s not about getting there,
it’s about being on the way.

Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let
down our defenses against the grace of God. We admit to ourselves our
need for improvement. We notice how hopeless we are. We tell God
we’re doing our best but we wish we could do better. We put ourselves
in God’s hands.

That is what Jesus does when he goes into the desert. He puts himself
completely in God’s hands. In Matthew’s Gospel we read: Then Jesus
was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the
Devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he
was famished. (My first thought: don’t try this at home.) By exposing
himself to hunger Jesus opens himself up to assaults from the Devil.

But he isn’t just performing daredevil stunts. He makes a deliberate
surrender of the will, a spiritual exercise. Jesus is placing himself
in the Creator’s hands.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is a time of preparation. It
is a kind of training. Jesus has a larger mission to fulfill, a
ministry, a life’s work. He is preparing himself for a larger call.
When we go into the wilderness with Jesus our motive is similar,
surrendering ourselves as a kind of preparation.

But how can we compare our little Lents to the walk Jesus takes in
the wilderness? Of course the gap is huge between our holiness and
his. We can hardly say our own names in his presence. But Jesus
doesn’t notice this gap, or he seems to overlook it.

The huge divide between our lives and his is a gap he is constantly
closing. He wants us to come into the wilderness with him, if only
just to observe at first. “Watch how I do this,” he seems to be
saying. “Notice these steps, this maneuver.” Practice, he is telling
us. Practice, and you’ll improve, without even knowing it. Practice.

One thing we can learn from Jesus in the desert is to fortify
ourselves with God’s word. When the Devil tries to goad him into
turning stones to bread, as a kind of power play, Jesus answers with
words from Deuteronomy, Scriptures he knows by heart: It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from
the mouth of God.” The Devil wants him to break his fast. More
important, he wants to weaken Jesus’ allegiance.

What can we learn from just this little visit with Jesus in the
wilderness? From watching him resist the Evil One?

We know, by watching Jesus, that emptiness is the beginning of
holiness.

We know that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for
righteousness. We know we will be filled.

We walk with Jesus to be purified. We walk with him to be fortified.
Nourished by sacrament and word, we walk through desert places more
easily. We learn to deal with our own gaps, our lapses. We find that
we can tolerate our hunger and our thirst.

We are converted not only once in our lives but many times. And the
conversion is little by little. Sometimes it is as imperceptible as
grass growing. But Lent gives us a time to move the process along.
Intentionally. By small surrenders.

Merton says we “may have the generosity to undergo one or two such
upheavals, (but) we cannot face the necessity of further and greater
rendings of our inner self. . . .”

Merton says we cannot. But I think he knows we can. That is how our
holiness grows, by small surrenders, without which we cannot finally
become free.

Silence=Death

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend who is HIV positive and has been since 1994, let me know that the medical cocktail he had been taking was no longer working. His viral load had gone from undetectable to unacceptable levels. He has been feeling tired of late and he has had to deal with some skin irritations while not painful make him look like he has a severe sunburn.

As I write tonight I am worried…I am scared…I am deeply disturbed. For you see for the last 20 years or so I have seen this before and this is reality come home again, for there are no fairy tale endings.

Yes, there are miracles, yes there are new discoveries and yes there is hope…for with the unconditional love of God there is always hope, always miracles, and always-new discoveries.

Yet, I suppose I am being selfish here…not wanting a friend who means the world to me, at the least suffer and at the worst die long before his time. I don’t want to see and feel the anguish, pain and suffering of his family, his friends and his partner.

With that said my friend is a strong man. He is a man of God. He is a man whose faith in his Christ is as deep as any ocean and as strong as any mountain. He will endure, he will stay strong and ultimately he will win this battle because he is wonderfully and uniquely made in the image of God. So I am just asking readers to prayer with me for him, for his healing…for his miracle.

I needed to get that off my chest so that I could talk about 2008. I want to sound a warning, ring an alarm, rise up and shout from the mountaintop to my brothers in the gay, bi and straight community…ENOUGH ALREADY…STOP IT…HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?

This is 2008 not 1994 nor 1982. We know for a fact how HIV keeps it’s bloody record of death going. We really know this is not a manageable disease, but rather a killer that does unbelievable harm to untold millions of people. We know that the medications used to fight off this virus have horrible side effects and in the long run lose their effectiveness. We know that whole generations of humanity will never see their 21st birthday.

Yet, many gay men, bi men and straight men still behave as if HIV is an after thought, as if the magic pill will arrive just in time for Christmas. While I dare say it is not a majority, it is significant enough to cause untold misery and destruction for millions of people.

This is 2008 and we know we have the weapons that can stop this disease in its tracks. The weapons are so simple. One is an object and the other a program.

The object is called a condom and the program is called “needle exchange” or harm reduction (needle exchange and harm reduction is another blog).

Yet when you talk to folks in the community you would think I was “Henny-Penny and crying the sky is falling…think I am kidding? Take a look at this: (not for the squeamish) Some samples from Craig’s list:

“I’m into a lot of different things such as public sex, fisting, bareback, bondage, w/s, group fun, Master/slave type “relationships”… and yes, that is meant to mean “strings”. I expect that anyone who wants to get to know me should at least be open minded and adventurous, even if they haven’t done it all. I live a polyamorous lifestyle. I hope this stuff here sums me up well.”

“I need to suck a **** and eat a large load of ***. I also get into rimming, body contact, J/O and whatever else you can think of. If you are negative I am bb friendly.”

“Yeah, bb btm loves to get plowed hard by raw ****
Into it? like seeding a hot, horny, furry hole?”


There are places in the fair city of Atlanta where one can go and have any number of sex partners in an evening and there are no condoms in sight or asked for. Before the straight folks reading this say ah hah it is you gays…let me be clear there are plenty of these clubs for straight folks as well and the men who are picking up women while out of town are not using condoms either. In fact go to any straight party club and well you get the idea.

I had a person in pastoral counseling who is now a recovering sexual addict tell me how he would go to a local hotel here in town…place an ad on Craig’s list giving his location and room number. He would invite anyone who wanted sex to his room to find the door unlocked and him blindfolded with his butt in the air waiting to receive all the bareback sex he could.

Or how about these websites that have thousands of subscribers for both gay and straight people:

Bare-back-central

Gay Bareback Sex and Hairy Masculine Men

Bareback Resources

The porn industry is a multi billion-dollar empire whose hottest films involve sex without condoms. If people are spending that kind of money you cannot convince me they are not doing what they see in film.

This is not a blog to sound a moral cry about how sexually loose society is, nor is it to start an ethics debate on adultery and or fornication.

Rather it is about admitting and recognizing people regardless of morals, ethics, or the churches teachings are going to have sex. They have been doing the “deed” since the beginning of time.

I will save the sexual ethics discussion for another time. Right now I am concerned about stopping the bleeding. For you see when a person is wounded, 9 times out of 10 before you do anything else you have got to stop the bleeding.

Stopping the bleeding in this case means if you are going to have sex use a condom.

Believe me, I know they are easy to use, easy to dispose of and can save one from any number of life threatening or life ending diseases. My partner and I have been together 25 plus years and have never had sex without condom use.

My friends don’t we have a moral obligation to not put others at risk for our sexual enjoyment?

For those who call themselves Christian can you really in good conscience put your partner or yourself at risk of a shorten or messed up life for a night of taking care of a “sexual itch”?

Do not those who consider themselves tops have an obligation to say no to bare backing?

Do not those who consider themselves bottoms have an obligation to say no to letting someone inside them without a condom.

How about straight folks…unless you are making a child and you both have tested negative, don’t you have an obligation to keep each other safe? I know all about the marriage vows of fidelity, however it is what it is…I mean really…do you want to find out your partner cheated on you when you come up with a positive test?

If you are going to cheat on your partner or even if you have an open relationship do you really want to introduce HIV or God knows what other disease to the one you say you love?

Isn’t the whole relationship thing difficult enough without adding a premature death sentence to it?

The moral police will tell me the answer is abstinence and then only sex in wedlock.

Well that has really worked well hasn’t it? Read the court dockets and the reasons for divorce. Look at the record levels of teen pregnancy. HIV rates of infection are up not down. STD’s are on the rise rather then declining.

People committing adultery in the State of Georgia can go to jail…but that is of little good to the one they infect and I might add too little too late.

Gay folk are denied marriage, so their only answer is no sex? Right-so now convince me that a healthy 20 something man is not going to have sex regardless of the marriage laws.

I was talking to a Pastor who works with folks who are HIV positive and he told me about an informal survey that was done for men in prison. People going into prison are given an HIV test. Of those who tested negative when they went into prison, 54% of them tested positive when they came out. Of course you don’t give prisoners condoms because that would be approving sex and the wrong kind of sex at that. What kind of screwed up thinking is that?

I want with all my heart to have conversations around long-term monogamous relationships.

I want to teach values, respect and commitment as a part of our sexual relations.

My faith walk encourages and even demands me to support and model that kind of sexual responsibility.

However, I am left with the reality people are going “sow their oats”, they are going to experiment, they are going to be wild, they are going to be stupid and do sexual things out of a lack of judgment.

Like it or not that is the condition of the human race, it is the way we live and learn.

Yet if I can convince folks who are going to have sex regardless of some moral authority, to use a condom they might live long enough to learn a sense of responsibility.

If I can convince folks that if you have sex without a condom you are either suicidal or are a totally self-absorbed selfish person they might live long enough to learn there is other peoples lives at stake.

So to those men in the gay, bi and straight community…I am begging you, pleading with you, save a life and use a condom.

One final thought for those who would blast me for writing this blog, thinking this is the wrong subject for a minister to write about or it was just too graphic please remember:

Silence=Death and my friends we have been silent far too long in the matters of safe sex and the use of the condom.

An independent, affirming and progressive church serving metro Atlanta. We are open, positive and inclusive.