Focus Text: Ps 62 and Isaiah 49:8-18
A couple of days ago, my small son spilt some tomato sauce on a new white shirt. As stains generally do, it spread as I tried to mop it up and, despite all the available cleaning products, I could not get the faint dark mark off the shirt. It is now only good for using as an under-vest or as a washing rag. It can no longer be used for its original purpose.
I use this simple analogy because I think social stigma follows much the same pattern. Like a stain, it spreads and buries itself into the very fibres of our community. The people who are stigmatised are often discarded, to become part of those communities we label as “sinful”. We push people to the edges of our society so they live on the margins – suffering the indignity of being reduced to rags. Furthermore, half truths and lies often swirl over these communities which keep them on the margins and keep people in the centre fearful that they could be stigmatised. Thus secrets are kept, lies evolve and fear is strengthened. As the psalmist notes, “they seek to bring me down from my place of honour; lies are their chief delight” (Ps 62:4).
However, the psalmist raises a question, “what is my place of honour”? God answers that in a fairly extraordinary way, God answers by saying “you are my child, my beloved son or daughter, I cannot forget you”. That is who you are and, therefore, that is who others are. Thus, we can never remove people from their place of honour, close to God’s heart and embraced by the Everlasting Arms. It gives us a responsibility to do two things. Firstly is to wait in silence for God so that we can hear the whispers of the Spirit and experience the deep love and inclusion of the Eternal God. Then we need to go out and ensure that those people who have been confined to the rag-edges of our society are included. That is the vision of the Kingdom of God described through Isaiah and we, if we have the courage to recognise that we are the children of God, can be part of this Kingdom.
Despite this vision, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the way this world threatens life. People are battered and beaten because of their sexual orientation, are raped at rates that are incomprehensible. Children of God are being trafficked and sold and are pushed into being the rags of our society. HIV has highlighted these gross abuses, but this has come to many of us through the lies and half truths of stigma.
In this toxic sludge I try and hold onto two things: I am a child of God and God’s vision of God’s Kingdom is so compelling and life giving that I want to be part of it. I want a world that is HIV free because I believe in the radical expression of hope that Isaiah gives us. Stigma has no place in this vision, HIV, despair and hopelessness have no place. I want to pray and work and advocate for this vision as I am God’s beloved and so are you.
Written by: Ms Vanessa Michael, INERELA+