Last week, the XIX International AIDS Conference was held in the US for the first time, here in Washington, DC. This conference is the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV/AIDS, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV/AIDS and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic.
On Sunday, one of the conference attendees, Proscovia Atoo worshipped with us. She was walking by the church and decided to stop in. In our brief conversation, I learned that Proscovia was from Uganda and that her organization works with over 500 AIDS orphans. She had been granted a full scholarship to attend the International AIDS Conference, and I got the sense that she was overwhelmed by the resources in this country. (Emily later mentioned that Proscovia expressed shock that she had found a perfectly good pair of shoes in a trash bin.) Her expressed desire was to figure out how to get more resources to the AIDS orphans in her district.
Proscovia's story, her life and the plight of the orphaned children in her district provided a perspective adjustment for me. On a day when I was overwhelmed by the prospect of buying shoes for my four kids, the prospect of procuring shoes for 500 orphans gave me pause. As I was considering which pair of brown shoes to wear to work yesterday, I wondered how many pairs of shoes I'd purchased, grown tired of, and given away. As I was listening to news about the growing number of Americans who find themselves "living paycheck to paycheck," I wondered about how many people (here and world-wide) were going without basic necessities while we talked about rallying our consumer driven economy.
As a follower of Jesus, I know that poverty is a manifestation of sin. The prophets excoriated Israel for the disparities between the rich and the poor. Amos's voice rings loudly, "Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land...The Lord has sworn: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds." (Amos 8:4,8) And while I am proud that at the last General Convention, the Episcopal Church resolved to continue to fight against poverty, I recognize that our culture's way of dealing with the poor is to hide them or ignore them or blame them for their poverty.
In Speaking of Sin, Barbara Brown Taylor says, "...most of us prefer remorse to repentance. We would rather say, 'I'm sorry...I feel really awful about what I've done'...than to actually start doing things differently." True repentance is figuring out how to live differently. The Episcopal Church is per capita the most educated and most affluent denomination in the country. I think that it is entirely within our church's ability to actually do something about poverty, here and abroad, if we are only willing to figure out how to live differently. I wonder what that would look like. Perhaps we could try to find out together.