World AIDS Day—December 1, 2019
I have an AIDS ribbon tattooed on my left shoulder. At the two ends of the ribbon there is a pencil tip and a pen tip.
A Balm in Gilead: A Sermonette and Prayerpoem” for World AIDS Day, December 1
by Marvin K. White
I have an AIDS ribbon tattooed on my left shoulder. At the two ends of the ribbon there is a pencil tip and a pen tip. I endured the needling because I needed a way to remind myself that as my friends were dying from AIDS, somebody would have to listen and tell and continue their stories. I knew I wanted to be that person. I was called to be a writer in this time. I knew that I had to carry and account for countless stories at risk for not being told. I tell you this because somewhere in and on our bodies, we all carry and are all responsible for the stories of those who are living with and have died from HIV and AIDS. I tell you about my tattoo because science has told us that HIV is not transmitted through the telling of stories and that love and desire and longing are not risky behaviors.
My AIDS ribbon tattoo reminds me to not leave it up to history to tell their stories because history can erase, diminish, lie about or leave people out altogether.
So, I read this poem for the many people who missed advances in medicine by one year, one month, one week and even one day that could have changed their death sentence into a manageable and chronic illness. I read this poem for the gay men and women, pregnant with possibility, who showed up to their families, their doctors, and their jobs with HIV and AIDS and were told there’s no room in the inn, there’s no comfort for the afflicted, there’s no cure for you here. I read this poem because the story doesn’t end there.
I read this poem because I knew them when they were told that there was no hope. Then, when their hope became regimens of 30 pills a day. Then, in their struggle to adhere to the often toxic regimens. Then, in their lives being taken and again in them taking their lives. Then, when they were moved to hope with the introduction of medicines that could stop the virus from attacking them. Taking HIV medicines used to be a hate crime. I read this poem because I know even if they are not here in the flesh they can hear their names within these medicines.
I read this poem so that when you take a pill for anything, you come into the understanding that your swallowing puts you in solidarity with all sick and suffering people, all over the world, with and without adequate health care. So now, I declare when you take your pills, that you are indeed through this Eucharistic act, saying a prayer that creates coverage for everyone. When you take your pills you are saying, “If there is a balm for me, then let there be a balm for everyone.”
I also have doves tattooed on my body. They are reminders that I am, and that we are required to make peace with ourselves. I am required to help decriminalize diseases of any kind. These doves and this ribbon inked into my skin is where my theology is shaped.
I want to live a theology and not just study it, then regurgitate it. My body is a theology that says, for my friends who are HIV positive, their diagnosis no longer means that they have failed a test, because we now know that there is a God that takes on the stigma and knows what it means to be the parent of a child “at-risk” and who engages in risky behavior. My body is “the body” of Christ.
It is a theology that doesn’t shame the infected, but holds price-gauging hedge-fund-turned-pharmaceutical dudes accountable for profiting off of the vulnerable by insisting they stay sick, so he can get richer.
I read this poem to you because I hope you will join me in addressing the shame that keeps people from being tested and treated.
I hope you will join me in being living monuments to the lives Lost to AIDS. And If their lives are not inked on your skin, then maybe when you leave here, on your hearts.
I hope you will help us rewrite the narrative that says only that “their lives were lost” when we know now that the dead’s names are also the names of God.
I read this poem in hopes that you will leave here and spread the news that God is in the medicine. God is the medicine working. AIDS was not God’s plan. Help was always the plan. Unconditional love was always the plan.
I believe today that the medicine, whatever you’re taking and whatever you’re taking it for, is working today and I read this poem as a prayer in the name of the elemental God that compounds God’s self into pill form for us. Into solubility for us. Into a new thing easy to swallow. Into a shame and time releasing technology delivering into the world’s bloodstream a steadier stream of compassion.
And finally beloved, I read this poem in honor of every man, woman and child who died from AIDS. Let us exhume and redeem their bodies and stories with the knowing that “Nothing they ate, nothing they did, nothing they said, no one they loved, no one they trusted, nothing they forgot, or nothing they drank or smoked can keep them from God. And that God, in God’s dispersal and dispensing of God’s love, has always been saying, “HIV and AIDS must remind us to not love less but to love more.”
We must leave here knowing that, “As much as the virus seeks out the optimal opportunity to infect and mutate, that there is a God and that God is viral, and comes to all of us through the blood, also looking for the most optimal conditions and accommodations to show us how to care through crises, to suffer with the suffering, and yes, to heal and recover with the afflicted. God contracts and expands the virus to give it new meaning— that God is love and love is radical and radical love is unconditional.
The God of the FDA and of my Combination Drugs.
The One True Atripla and Combivir God.
The Epzicom of Prayers.
The First Trizivir and The Last Truvada.
The Great Fuzeon Lord of the Entry and Fusion Inhibitors.
Mother and Father Nucleoside and Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors.
My Rescriptor, my Sustiva God, and my Viramune God.
The one they call Ziagen and the Trizivir of Peace.
The Epzicom sample and The Videx Hope.
My Emtriva waking and my Epivir sleeping God.
The Bottle Twister of my Zerit and The Sweet Coating of my Viread.
The Deliverer of my Retrovir.
The God of Opportunity in Opportunistic Infection.<
God of the Living Rifadin.
The True Ambisome Shining.
The Zitthromax Light.
The Pill Giver.
The Most-High Radiess.
My Biaxin Keeper and The One Whose Date Does Not Expire.
My Liposomal God.<
The Mysterious Dissolving One.
The one they call Marinol of Oakland, Baraclude of Atlanta,
Procrit of New York, Etopophos of Jackson, Toposar of Chicago and Diflucan of DC.
The Elixir. The I AM.
The Cytoveene. I AM.
The Globulin. I AM.
The Nydrazid. I AM.
The Sporanox. I AM.
The faithful Megace.
The One who prescribes my Taxol, Peginterferon, Alfa2 God.
The Holding It All Down God of my Mycobutin and Serostim.
Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Serostim.
My Bactrim and my Septra.
My Main Man.
The One on Trial.
(Agenerase Reytaz Prezista Lexiva Crixivan Kaletra Viracept Norvir Fortovase Invirase Aptivus Aptivus Aptivus Aptivus.
That’s The One called hope!
The One Who Brought Hope!
The Blood Giver and The Blood Taker.
(Oh My Pneumocystiscarinii, Cytomegalo, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptococcussporidiumdiosis, Meningitis, Enterocolitis, Mycobacterium, Avium Complex, Tuberculosis, Bacillary Angiomatosis, Salmonella, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Retinitis Kaposi Sarcoma, Progressive Multifocal Leuko-encepha-lopathy God!)
The God of Morphologic Change.
The God who is both Change and Constant.
The Lipodystrophy and Atrophy and Trophic God.
The God riding my Buffalo Hump.
The Way Maker of Cardiovascular Disease.
The One not wasting this my Wasting.
The Saccharine God of My Diabetes.
The One Higher than My High Cholesterol and my Triglycerides.
(Oh My Dyslipidemias, Insulin Resistant, Gynecomastia, Hyperlactatemia, Visceral Adiposity, Hyperlipidemia, Infective Endocarditis, Myocardial Infarction, Histoplasmosis God! Still GOD!)
The One Who Temples Headaches.
The Fever Fanner, Fatigue Breaker, Rash Clearer and Flu Shaker.
God of inches.
La Transformista, The Transgender God.
The First and the Fifteenth God.
The Social Working God.
The Clinic and The County Hospital God.
The Welfare God.
The Long Line and The Long Wait God.
The Deep Breath Before I Break God.
The Ohm Before I Jump Across This Desk and Down Her Throat God.
My Mother God.
The God of Ash.
Our Midnight Cry god.
Our Ouch God.
Hearing our inside God.
God working in the medicine.
God working through the medicine.
God working of the medicine.
God working around the medicine.
God working on the medicine
My ADAP Way Maker and always my Amen when ain’t no men.
© 2018 Marvin K. White. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.
For more information about the AIDS epidemic and the UCC response, check out http://www.ucc.org/health_hivaids