Pastor Ingram's Keynote Address at the 2011 Biennial Conference. 4/11

For those of you who were unable to attend the 2011 Lutheran AIDS Network Biennial Conference read Pastor Andrena Ingram's (St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Philadelphia) keynote address here.

April 2011

The 2011 Lutheran AIDS Network Biennial Conference was held April 11 & 12 in Minneapolis. For those of you who were unable to attend, read Pastor Andrena Ingram's (St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Philadelphia) keynote address here.

"The Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced, therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.". Amen....Isaiah 50:7

I give thanks to you and Lutheran aids network for having me as keynote-speaker. My mom is tickled...in fact she is tickled with most anything I have done in the past 23 years. And I am always tickled when it comes to talking about what God has done in my life. I give thanks to God for anointing my life, as broken as it was, at one time.

How else can you explain a little girl's life cut short by the sexual abuse of her father, years of alcoholism and drug abuse, homelessness, back alleys and hits of crack, or a pint of Wild Irish Rose...journeying from one abandoned house to another, coming through all that.... to receiving the promise of "this is my body given for you" from our savior Jesus Christ. During those years of living in the dark, I longed for love, in all the broken forms it came in. Yes, I come from brokenness. A brokenness so obscure, the only release it allowed me was abusing myself and living in it's shadows; brokenness which manifested itself in crack houses, in the darkness sucking on a pipe to ease the pain, to numb the feelings of low self worth, trying to forget about things I had been subject to and people, places and things I subjected myself to.

But that was then, and this is now. Yes, God had an anointing on my life from the very beginning. I have learned a lot. I am much much older, and I am much much wiser. God has poured out God's spirit on my life. And it is because of that anointing that I speak publicly and openly about what it means to live as long as I have with the HIV virus. I'm going to share with you, "the silver edition of my curriculum".

I'm 56 years old, and have been living with the HIV virus for over 23 years. I take my new drug regimen seriously, keep my monthly doctor appointments, and reach out to those newly diagnosed to share my hope and strength with them, that a diagnosis of HIV is not a death sentence. There are a lot of people I am in contact with who are longer survivors than I. I have a lot of positive friends in many different social networks (and before I forget, they all send their regards). Support is a big part of my curriculum: Positive people *pun intended*

But, it hasn't been easy...

My husband has been dead for 19 years. And before you try doing the math, I didn't contract the virus from my husband, nor he from me, not that it matters, because we both came from brokenness. I didn't know him long enough to understand the complications that plagued his life, that drove him to the needle and ultimately the virus. I contracted it from unprotected sex. He would die from complications of the AIDS virus in 1993...his death certificate states pneumocystis pneumonia .. PCP. I have lived long enough with this disease to recognize the complications for what they were back in the early 90's. What he really died from was stigma, shame and guilt and the fear of being rejected. Instead of reaching out, he turned in on himself and basically self-destructed. Didn't take that long. 6 months tops.

His death taught me a lot. That to get on the road to wholeness, I had to do opposite of whatever he did. The first hurdle for me, was to get over myself...to forgive myself, to stop looking for the who, what, when and where and why...and get on with the business of living. I had to seek out people who would support me emotionally.

I began with my family, who have been my strongest supporters from the time I entered drug rehab in 88 until now. My oldest daughter would not allow me to use the 'woe is me' excuse, and would not remain friends with anyone who had something to say about 'those people'.

God had a curriculum for me: get from under the bed covers and get back into the land of the living. God sought me out from under the covers of depression and into a place called Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx, under the tutelage of a pastor who would see nothing less than good things in me, when I could not...and would not. Who told me yes, every time I said no.

It hasn't been easy. A lot of therapy...a lot of crying, and positioning myself with resources that enabled me to get medication and psychotherapy. I partnered with GMHC (the Gay Men's Health Crisis center in Manhattan). In the late 90's, they were breaking strides as far as medication and counseling were concerned. Through them I was placed in many trial programs...being a guinea pig for different medications before they were FDA approved. Through them I met a fantastic therapist who worked with me from the period of my diagnosis, right up until I decided to enter into ordained ministry. She remains a dear friend til this day. I was enrolled in the Ryan White program... when my insurance wouldn't cover something, the Ryan White Foundation did. I currently serve in Philadelphia on the Ryan White Planning Council. Trying to give back and learn as much as I can statistically about this disease.

At the time of my husbands death and my own diagnosis, I was working two jobs. Newly widowed, newly diagnosed, something had to give and I quit my jobs to maintain my sanity, and to better position myself for the insurance I would require to begin medication. I did what I had to do to cope with the situation and not go back to getting high. It seemed that even then I knew that sometimes, you just had to get somewhere and sit down and be still..."be still and know that I am God", was my mantra for about a year. I joined the welfare rolls, took my shopping cart out every morning after the kids were off to school, and I worked every pantry and cheese line I could, before it was time for school to let out. Being on welfare, I had limited insurance...and so I was signed up for the ADAP Program....Aids Drug Assistance Program. This is the same program which has recently announced that over seven thousand three hundred people from eleven states are currently on waiting lists to receive medication.

How does one get from brokenness to wholeness?
Fix the system...our system has broken down. Which system? Take your pick...family systems, societal systems, government systems, cultural systems, medical systems, pharmaceutical systems.....all broken. Because we live in a broken world.

Ideally, it takes community...to help...

It takes community to reach out,

It takes community to break the cycle of stigma, to break the silence and talk about sex, to welcome the outcast, to comfort the downtrodden, to empower the powerless.

It takes community to hold our government officials feet to the fire/as well as our own faith communities to the fire of the Holy Spirit.

The church still has a long way to go in this matter. I can count on my hands how many pastors I know of, that are providing outreach as opposed to lip service about safe sex and abstinence. People are having sex, not only the married couples, or committed couples....our youth are having sex...and while we know that abstinence is the only safe sex, we still have teenage girls getting pregnant. It is time for real talk. I talk about HIV so much in my congregation, their eyes glaze over. Whenever I get together with our Lutheran youth...I am always talking to them about the decisions they make and how they can impact the rest of their lives.

I asked most of my long term survivor friends what issues they felt were important? I've already mentioned a few.

We are tired of "promises of HIV/AIDS strategies", that seem to come to the forefront every four years. We are tired of people not having access to treatment: including but not limited to sex workers and IV drug users; people who are especially vulnerable and on the margins of society.

People are still afraid to get tested, people are still afraid to walk into a drug store and fill a prescription for HIV medication. On the other hand, we have the younger generation, thinking that because there are so many medications on the market, that being diagnosed with HIV wouldn't be the end of the world...its a chronic disease, just pop a pill and live.

It's just a chronic disease....go to South Africa...or any part of Africa for that matter and try telling that to them.

The world system is broken..where IS the world community?

Yesterday, was a call to show or at least talk about a documentary called "The Lazarus Effect". It Is a short film which chronicles the lives of a few people, who on the brink of death are given ARV'S (medication) and are followed as they regain their health and come back to life. As Jesus calls out to Lazarus to come out of the tomb of death, these medications call out to those living on the brink of death to come back to life. The world calls out hurtful and harmful things to put people down and marginalized. And Jesus still calls to us all to come out of the caves we place ourselves in, after wrapping ourselves with the outer trappings of the world, to hide who we really are...Jesus calls us all to come out and loosen the things that have us bound inside our comfort zone, and restores us to fullness.

The community was present at the tomb of Lazarus. The community wept and mourned. Members of that community sent for Jesus, and when Jesus arrived...Jesus wept as well.

When is the last time you wept for us?

Not for me, but for those of us who are not fortunate enough to stand before you, face you to face, speak their truth, not caring what you do with the information, not worrying about if you are going to look at me funny, or talk about me behind my back... I hope you do... I hope you talk about me long after I leave here, talk about me when you get back to wherever you come from. I hope you talk about me and my community of positive friends.

But most of all, I pray you go back and talk about how great is our God who has called me out of my tomb, loosened my bonds....and set me free in the world to proclaim the good news, who vindicates me, promises me everlasting life, and whose body is given for me, and for you, again and again. Amen?

In 2006, at the AIDS CONVENTION in Toronto Canada, which I attended, we "made a promise". Some of you were there. Have you kept your promise? It's not too late to commit yourselves again...to keep the issues of HIV and AIDS in front of the church. To keep the issues of HIV and AIDS in front of yourselves and in front of your friends and in front of your community....

Let's begin shall we, by standing, holding hands as the community of faith, and call out the names of those who have passed away from this disease. They must not be forgotten...it is on their backs, and through their experience we are able to learn from and connect, and recommit.

 

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