I fondly remember, from when I was growing up and as a young boy, visits with my mom’s parents during family gatherings. My grandfather, Daniel, was a Methodist minister (and his mother was also a Methodist minister, which was uncommon for a woman in those days). He would tell me from time to time that he hoped I would follow in his footsteps and become a minister myself one day. He apparently saw something in me that I didn’t, and which suggested to him that I had been “called.”
I was petrified and at the same time a bit curious—I was intrigued by the idea of ministering to others, but I somehow knew that a life in the church just wasn’t for me. Since I never really had the heart (or was it the guts?) to tell him so, I would just smile and kind of nod my head whenever he would bring it up in conversation.
I had forgotten all about this piece of my childhood until the other day, when I was going through some old papers of mine that my brother had passed along to me during a recent visit. I came across an old birthday card from my grandfather with the words “I’m counting on you!” that he had scrawled along the bottom. It got me thinking about the different ways in which we minister to others, and the meaning of faith, and how it plays a role in our day-to-day lives.
This issue of Positively Aware delves into the topic of faith and HIV, with a specific focus on religion, and encompassing, as one writer puts it, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” It’s hard for many people to separate the concepts of faith and religion—for some the two go hand in hand. Unfortunately, these days I think many people have been disillusioned with the standard dogma and tenets of modern religion. There are the ongoing scandals of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests, and the cover-ups by those in authority that took place afterwards which allowed it to continue. And there is the fire-and-brimstone mentality of those who take the gospel word for word, and use it against those whose lifestyles or sexual orientation they either don’t agree with or can’t even attempt to understand.
It’s no wonder that people have lost faith. But faith is much more than brick and mortar or words on the page of a book.
My parents would make us go to church every Sunday when I was growing up, and I came to dislike it and would sometimes pretend I was sick just so I wouldn’t have to go. But I look back at it now and I’m grateful for those experiences, because it instilled in me a faith in something greater than myself, something beyond this world and this realm of experience, which became unshakeable. I stopped attending church years ago, but my faith in a higher power remained firm—it’s something that I believe lies within me, and within all of us. I have also come to believe that, regardless of the circumstances in our lives, we are always presented with a choice in how we perceive what is happening in the world around us. And that choice gives us the power, and the strength, to create change, or at least a change in perception.
So here I am, all these years later, a minister of sorts, I guess. I feel extremely privileged and grateful to be able to do work which allows me to have a voice, to reach out with a message of hope and inspiration about living and thriving with HIV, and provide information and support to help people live healthier and more productive lives in the face of HIV/AIDS.
I know from experience it’s important to hear these messages of hope. My mom told me years ago, not long after I tested positive, that she somehow just knew that I was going to be okay. I believed her, and it turns out she was right. That was 1989, over 22 years ago. She gave me the faith to carry on, even while she was fighting her own struggle with metastatic breast cancer. Even though she eventually lost her battle, she fought bravely and valiantly, and I now feel a sense of responsibility to share my own story in the hopes of helping others—and to try to be as authentic as possible while doing so. Hey, I’m by no means perfect, and I make mistakes just like everyone else. But I do believe I’m in the right place, at the right time, doing exactly what I need to be doing. And that’s what keeps me going. I have faith that Grandpa, and Mom, would both be proud.
Take care of yourselves, and each other.