Print Version June 10th, 2001
Did you ever see a triptych, one of those altar pieces or icons with three panels? Well I’ve got three images to look at today. One is a photograph of the first moon landing. Second is a painting. It’s a naked man with an IV in his chest and purple lesions over his body. The title is “Christ with AIDS.” The third image is a kind of composite, I guess, a video monitor showing clips from a bunch of films—there’s Pearl Harbour, there’s Shrek, there’s Moulin Rouge. I’m not sure quite what happens when you put these three images side-by-side but let’s see.
The films first. Nothing more obsesses us as a culture than love. You can’t sing a song or make a film without romance. But no one ever sings songs or makes films where love is straightforward. There must be obstacles. The course of true love must run awry. There must be a fly in the ointment. Every Ben Affleck has his Josh Harnett. Every Shrek has his Lord Farquadd. And though Ewan McGregor sings his silly love songs to Nicole Kidman there has to be an evil Duke to ruin the day. Our perfect image of perfect love is one-on-one. Two’s company and three’s a crowd. The dreaded love triangle! Somehow we have to get rid of the third side. Find a dragon to swallow it whole. A war to heal it or a death for its dissipation. Is it any wonder, then, we have trouble with Trinity? As love goes, one-on-one won’t do for God. There has to be a third. What we view as a fascinating evil, God sees as essential.
Second panel. 20 years ago this week the plague came upon us in confusion and horror and fear. And, while tens, then hundreds, then thousands of young men were dying and a new public horror of blood was being born, an ancient vision of God was being roused. How do you name God when the plague is raging? Enemy or friend? Consoler or nemesis? For some it was clear: God is God of the pure. Everett Koop, who was Surgeon General, couldn’t even talk about AIDS at the White House because the Christian Right saw it as God’s punishment for being queer. It is an ancient idea. Bad things never happen without a reason. You must have deserved it. It’s your own fault.
Which is just the same thing they said about crucifixion 2000 years ago. It’s your fault. God has cursed you. No one mocks God. But, cross or sickbed, you can only keep that up if you can keep your distance, can keep compassion at bay, if you do not know. You can only name God destroyer if you can keep God distant, at bay, unknown.
But Jesus could never keep God at bay. He knew the name of God, knows where he belongs. God has AIDS.
Paul Monette, in his AIDS memoir “Borrowed Time,” calls his experience of coping with his lover’s diagnosis as “living on the moon.” Lonely, distant, cold and hostile. That’s my third image, that epic photograph from the moon with the flag that pretends to fly even though there’s no wind, the everlasting footprints in the dust, and the man sealed in a spacesuit to keep him from the hostile, airless, cold grasp of nature. That picture is such a scene of triumph and wonder but it’s also a perfect parable of what we’ve done to ourselves as we’ve conquered the world.
There’s a kind of knowing which has to step back to get a good view, best of all to be outside whatever it is we wish to know. It is a kind of knowing that is fair, and honest, and in most ways accurate. Impartial. Just. Unbiased. It’s a way of knowing that pretends that it is possible to withdraw yourself, the one who knows, out of the picture entirely. Science knows that way. Schools tell us it’s the only way to know. But it is a fraud. Imagine you want to know about the whole of creation. Where do you stand to get the perfect view? How can you stand outside everything … without being nothing yourself? That’s what this kind of knowing has to do—pretend that human beings like you and me are nothing. Or imagine again you want to know about human beings, about a wife, or a lover, or a child, or a friend with AIDS. How far away do you have to get to see them properly? And when you get that far can you see them at all?
What is essential is invisible to the eye. But it is real. What is real about a wife, a lover, a child, a friend is the fact that we are part of them, tangled up with them in relationship, in love, in nets of feeling. And that’s a kind of knowing too, a kind of knowing from inside, from up close—a very partial, unjust, involved way of knowing. We call it wisdom. You cannot love without getting involved. You cannot know from a distance. There is no safe viewpoint.
Same with God. God knows this world but not because God has stayed safely outside. If that were true God could not care, could not even see what is essential, that we are alive. God knows you and knows me with wisdom not science. God knows the world from the cross. God has AIDS. God has the best seat in the house and this is the kind of theatre where the audience participates. This is liturgy. God is tangled up with us. And we call that entanglement the Spirit.
Our so called love triangles aren’t triangles at all just angles. There isn’t really a third side. But what makes God God is that the love between Parent and Child is so complete, the knowledge they have of each other is so intimate, their entanglement so profound that it is as real as they are. So real and so entangled that three cannot describe God at all. God is one. But one won’t do either because right in the heart of God there is love, there is self-revelation, there is community, there is entanglement.
Is the Holy Spirit here this morning? Where is she? Not in any of us. The spirit is here between us, in the gaps. The spirit is our entanglement. In so far as we love one another, know one another, suffer with one another, then the Spirit is here. And we, in that same measure, are not many but one. And, in that same measure, we are God.
I think that’s what we celebrate today.