"It gets better." Those are the words of promise that many of us spoke to Internet audiences this past autumn to encourage adolescents who are considering suicide. "It gets better." You may not think that anyone will love you, and your parents may never understand you, but "it gets better."
Those words of promise and hope buoy me up on Global AIDS Day, December 1, when we remember those who are affected by AIDS. Today is also the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus.
But this is the challenge ... so often we focus on the "It gets better" that we forget the sorrow and the pain of now ... and thus is the challenge of this season of Advent. We wait as a people of hope -- but what are we waiting for? What are we hoping for?
We praise God for Rosa Parks -- for her courage, diligence and conviction. But for anyone in this nation (and there are many!) who think that her actions and the Civil Rights Act are enough, we have more work to do. Until the "cradle to prison pipeline" is dismantled and the "New Jim Crow" laws are eliminated, we have more to do. So many think it's lovely that Rosa Parks has a seat on the front of the bus -- but very few would want to get on the bus with her and, it seems, even fewer would want to pay the price that she and all those who walked so many miles in Montgomery, Alabama so many years ago.
Rosa Parks was one person, who did what she could in the belief that "It gets better."
As we sing songs of anticipation in the midst of Advent, I must also mourn the loss of my friend David with whom I sang and played music. He was very gifted -- and he had to hide his identity so that he could keep his job. I grieve the loss of Jeffrey who was one of the most talented musicians of our time. If it were not for him and his worship leading, the church he served would not have grown as exponentially as it did. I miss his twinkle of a smile as he excitedly showed me yet another song for the hymnal committee he sat on. We would play at the piano together, and he would show me how the song would be done in Cuba or Africa, and I would show him how it was done in the Swedish community where I grew up or how it would be done in Dutch or Scottish circles.
I give thanks to God for the Rev. Anthony Hollins who actively pushed for AIDS education. Anthony died three years ago. In one of his obituaries a colleague commented: "It is a very rare occasion that someone is willing to be vocal in a Christian setting about their sexuality and HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. He was truly doing Jesus' work. He touched the lives of so many youth through his dance instruction and leadership. Through his many gifts, talents, and ability to stand tall in all that God created him to be, none of us who knew and met him will be the same nor will we ever forget him. When you met Anthony, you walked away saying 'God is up to something.'"
"God is up to something." So we proclaim with hope and tears as we say, "Even so, Lord Jesus, Come."
According to the 2008 UNAIDS report, Africa is inhabited by only 14.7 percent of the world's population, but it is estimated to have more than 88 percent of people living with HIV and 92 percent of all AIDS deaths in 2007. Does it get better?
Yes, it gets better. And God is up to something! When I get discouraged I return to Archbishop Desmond Tutu's God Has a Dream to the chapter entitled, "God Only Has Us." He writes of Mary's willingness to be used by God and notes:
Mary was a poor teenage girl in Galilee and reminds us that transfiguration of our world comes from even the most unlikely places and people. You are the indispensible agent of change. You should not be daunted by the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit; stand up for human rights where these are being violated with impunity; stand up for justice, freedom, and love where they are trampled underfoot by injustice, oppression, hatred, and harsh cruelty; stand up for the human dignity and decency at times where these are in desperately short supply (61-62).
God only has us and God is up to something! It does get better, by God's grace.
Rev. Ruth Hawley-Lowry is a pastor in Michigan who is looking for the next place where she might "break the silence."