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Rick Warren Out, Openly gay bishop Gene Robinson In? Seriously?

Robinson, 61, said both Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will attend the event, and Obama is expected to speak. As for himself, Robinson said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll say, but he knows he won’t use a Bible.

“While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,” Robinson said. “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”

Read the whole thing here

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This past year I have read Internet Monk….. almost daily, before checking almost any other blogs. So I’m not being glib or just name-dropping when I reccomend that you check out his last post on American Evangelism, and while you are there check out his last few months of blogging. It’s some of the most real, up close and personal, and honest writing I have seen on the web, as well being “spiritually edifying”. Check it out.

I found an excellent post by Carl Trueman at Reformation21, by way of Justin Taylor this morning. It’s sparked by the controversy over Rick Warren, an evangelical who is opposed to gay marriage and other gay issues being selected to pray at President-Elect Obama’s inaguration. By all means, go and read the whole thing, but here’s his thoughts when it comes to the church at large:

 

You can have the hippest soul patch in town, and quote Coldplay lyrics till the cows come home; but oppose homosexuality and the only television program interested in having you appear will soon be The Jerry Springer Show when the audience has become bored of baiting the Klan crazies. Indeed, evangelicals will be the new freaks.

There are two temptations here which must be resisted at all costs. The first is to compromise biblical standards. The mainline denominations and seminaries are already doing this. As usual, as soon as religion’s cultured despisers find something else to despise in religion, the mainlines, with their various seminaries and colleges, abandon it and join in the general anti-orthodox chorus, as radical, original, and revolutionary as a trust fund kid with a Che Guevara teeshirt and a Lexus. To apply a quotation from Michael Heseltine, like a pathetic one-legged army they march along, `Left, left, left, left left.’. They are merely part of the problem, not the solution. But there is a problem here for the orthodox too. The pro-gay issue is carried along by a veritable cultural tidal wave, with everybody from high-powered political pundits to soap opera screenwriters helping to create an environment where to be opposed to homosexuality is regarded as irrational, implausible bigotry. This can only be resisted in two ways: mindless anti-gay bigotry built on hatred, which is sinful and unbiblical; or a vigorous commitment to high biblical standards of morality. Such a commitment can only exist where there is a vigorous commitment to a high doctrine of scripture. There’s the rub for Christian colleges, seminaries, and denominations: the winds of cultural change on this issue are so strong that they will very quickly expose the strength of the commitment to scripture amongst these various groups. My view? When church leaders, faculty, and the movers and shakers of the evangelical world find themselves excluded from the reputable avenues of power and cultural and professional influence and preferment, then we will see what their doctrine of scripture is really like, whether it really is solid, whether it really shapes their lives, their actions, and their priorities. The question is: will those in positions of authority in the schools, colleges, denomination and seminaries have the backbone to do what is necessary? Will they be willing to consider the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt? When the invitations to the Larry King Show dry up, to be replaced by those from Jerry Springer, will they hold the line? I wish I had seen more evidence that that was the case and could be more confident about the future. As Don Carson commented recently, American Christians have yet to wake up to the fact that the gospel really is despised by the world. And I would add: in a culture where everyone seems to need to be liked, affirmed and, above all, agreed with, that realization is going to be very hard and challenging for the evangelical establishment to take on board.

The second temptation is to become what the pro-gay left are saying we are already: hatemongers. It is vital we remember that nobody can be reduced simply to their sexuality. No heterosexual person is simply heterosexual; no gay person is simply gay. We are all complex human beings, defined by the basic category of image bearers of God, not sexual preference. As soon as we start thinking of people as a sexual preference, not as image bearers, we lose sight of them as individuals. They become mere labels or slogans, not persons. It is hard to love a slogan; indeed, it is very easy rather to hate such. Even as we are being labeled and turned into mere sound bites, we must not respond in kind. Let us stand firm on biblical ethics, but let us also reach out to gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals with the love of Christ. As Luther would remind us, our task is not done when we simply preach the law to the lost; we must then also preach the gospel to them and point them to Christ. For such, as Paul once said, were some of you; and, thankfully, somebody treated you as a lost person not an abstract moral category or a sexual preference.

“The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” – Religious Affections

 

Some things I notice from this short excerpt from Religious Affections:

  1. Edwards saw singing as a duty of the Christian, so he took the Biblical commands to worship through singing seriously.
  2. He saw that singing “moved our affections” more than other forms. An honest and excellent observation.
  3. And most importantly he saw no fault with this. He knew many were carried to ungodly emotional excesses thoughout the Great Awakening that came upon New England in his time, but this did not dissuade him from believing that true Religious Affections (or godly emotions) accompany conversion and subsequent growing in Christ, and that singing is a God-appointed outlet for these emotions.

I was also interested to find out that Edwards “urged all Christian parents to give their children singing lessons and proudly notes that his own congregation, especially during its time of Awakening, sang loudly and heartily, and in three part harmony.” pg. 242 The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards– John Piper & Justin Taylor

This is where I have the biggest beef with the model of church we often see in our cites and towns in America. Often when we look under the surface we don’t seem very humble in how we spend money, and I believe it is directly linked to our view of how we should live the Christian life, and our view of discipleship.

 

 

Look across any town or city, and it will seem as if many churches are in a contest to see who can have the largest sanctuary, the newest “Christian Life Center”, or the nicest landscaping. Or compete in terms of technology and programs by outdoing each other with a ridiculously overdone vacation bible school, “youth programs” complete with video games and sports equipment, expensive outings, etc. Its the religious equivalent of our rampant American consumerism where we tend to judge the things of our world by their packaging and marketing, and not our needs or the product’s effectiveness.

 

To be fair, we see these things more often in larger mega churches and “seeker centered” churches, and not so much more traditional protestant churches. But even smaller churches, though humble in size, might spend money proportionately similar to their larger, more overblown counterparts.

 

So, when you tell someone “The bible instructs you to give at least 10% of everything you earn”, and then you in turn spend that money on incredibly self-focused and consumer-minded things- you lose your own credibility in my eyes and many others. The bible has plenty to say about growing your wealth to the exclusion of growing your reward in Heaven. So ideal church, here some things you could tell me to convince me that you are concerned with glorifying God more than maintaining a status quo……..

 

Tell me you brainstormed, and planned, and found a more economical way to build your meeting place, or that you found an existing space to use when new construction would indebt the church for decades to come, instead of just following what the other big churches did across town with their new facilities.

 

Tell me that you plan on using your facilities to serve the community in ways you can, like offering an affordable after school program if feasible, a recreation program for area youth, or opening up your building as a meeting place if needed.

 

Tell me that you considered hiring an additional minister, but decided against it because you thought it better to raise up more layperson leaders within the church to assist the pastor(s) you do have and see that money go towards more mission-minded goals.

 

Tell me there is a servant attitude within your church that sees that needs within are met, instead of constantly hiring out the smallest projects just because you can afford it.

 

Tell me a large percentage of the church’s budget will go towards seeing to it that children in third world countries will eat today, and then hear the Gospel with a fully belly, and equip native people to build a better future for themselves.

 

Tell me that your church helps support local crisis pregnancy centers, soup kitchens and shelters, bible translation ministries, foreign missionaries, and church plants…… before it thinks about redecorating.

 

Please tell me that if your church ever gets to the point that it struggles to meet budget, it will do more than just grit its teeth and try and do whatever it has to do to keep its doors open.

 

Tell me that your church is concerned with more than just surviving financially.

 

Tell me that the overall mission of Christ’s church is actually of the highest priority to you, and you would consider merging with another church, letting another church meet in your building to share the financial burden, or even selling your facility that is too large or expensive for you…….. even if it hurts people sentimentalities.

 

Do many of the things our churches cling to truly produce disciples by aiding us in maturing in our faith? Or do they cater to our sensibilities and keep us religiously pacified and entertained, all the while spending enormous amounts of money to keep the train rolling on its tracks?

Just a continuation of this series. Go back and read Part I , Part II , or Part III

 

 

Employs various styles of worship music that reflects the congregation’s diversity, from the Psalms, ancient hymns, early American and Puritan hymns, contemporary music, and even music written by musicians within the church, but should ALWAYS done with the utmost reverence and sincerity, not for the sake of entertainment. Excellence should be pursued in worship for God’s glory, not man’s approval from the pews.

 

What I would argue for here, in place of some of the extremes we see in churches across America is an approach that embraces diversity in musical styles, but ultimately is authentic in its worship.

 

How is worship authentic? Well, first I would distinguish “authentic” from “sincere”. We can be copycats of whatever music is coming out of some Nashville based Christian music label, or vice-versa blindly follow a hymnal and organ like its still good ol’ 1890. We can do either of these and still offer it with sincerity in our hearts to God. But neither is really authentic. They are extremes we gravitate toward by not pursuing a richer, fuller idea of how music can be used to praise God.

 

By placing great importance upon the width and depth of musical sources we draw from, we are in effect celebrating the history of the church and the saints through their words, and participating in an ongoing celebration of music that is focused on Christ and our redemption through Him. This stands in very stark contrast to much of the modern church where we become very exclusive in our musical styles and sources, and we enshrine our own tastes as a tradition to be guarded. (Ever heard someone lament the presence or modern music or instruments, or someone complain because a church didn’t have a rockin’ praise band?)

 

The Psalms were the original hymnbook for the nation of Israeal, but take a look at most post-1950’s hymnbooks and try and see how many Psalter tunes are there. Not many, which is unfortunate. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing scripture! When we memorize Psalms that we sing regularly, we are memorizing God’s word to us.

 

Hymnwriters from Puritan England and early America like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, Joseph Addison, Joseph Hart, John Newton, and William Cowper to name a few wrote hymns that beheld a majestic and merciful God, and sinful man in need of mercy. There was not a lack of theological depth or biblical language in their words. We would do well to not forsake hymns from this important period in our own church history.

 

Some contemporary praise music is quite good. Not the majority of it, but I can be forgiving because that is the case with any period of music. Ultimately the majority of it gets weeded out and the best remains. There will be music written in the last 20 years that one day will be included in hymnbooks and become standards (maybe, unless the hymnbook passes away from use in our churches)

 

There is even a place for homegrown music in an ideal church. What better way to pursue artistic excellence for the sake of Christ than to encourage our musicians and songwriters (if you have ‘em) to use their talents within the church? Many musicians have felt as if they had to leave their talents at the door and submit to a stiff tradition that’s inherited. This is wrong. The nation of Israel had large numbers of musicians employed from the tribe of Levi for temple worship, men who pursued excellence musically.

 

But….. think back to my first sentence; Reverence. Without it, our worship becomes empty, our words become hollow, and our music becomes entertainment-driven and is idolatry. This should be our arbiter of judgement, not merely subjective taste. There is room however for differing tastes and opinions. A community of believers should have the ability to talk openly, and not accusatorily, about what elements of its worship it finds lacking in reverence and find some middle ground. No member should be able to stand apart from the rest and demand that their views be catered to.

 

Diversity in the instruments present in worship according to the talents and preferences of the congregation, from piano and organ to acoustic guitars and strings, or electric instruments, but… done with the utmost reverence and sincerity.

 

Here is an illustration: Imagine we sent missionaries to a foreign country and they had great success in sharing the Gospel to a remote group of people. In an attempt to introduce them to parts of the larger Christian tradition and history they taught them a few songs. What if the organ and piano were foreign instruments to them? Would we require they adopt the same traditions as we use in our own cultural setting, or would we encourage the use of their own native instruments to sing their praises?

 

Likewise, when we minister to our communities around us we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more comfortable with instruments they are familiar with. Should we be suprised that to someone in their twenties an singing to an organ is culture shock, or that electric guitars and drums become distracting to someone who grew up in the 1950’s? This is the area that requires the greatest sensitivity. Ultimately its domineering for a generation to expect everything to stay the same for the sake of their own tastes, just as its presumptuous for a younger generation to seek to reinvent a church’s worship in its own ideal overnight. There has to be compromise, dialogue, and a mutual appreciation for differing tastes. Otherwise we end up with segregated services, or people leaving to form their own churches over what is only a cultural issue, and not even a matter of theology or ecclesiology.

 

If a church is to be authentic, we have to allow this. Cultural wars in which we pit our traditions against the “worldliness” we see in music outside the church is a self-defeating position because throughout history the church has borrowed from outside culture, or at times helped fuel it. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is something sacred because of its nature, or because of its use? I would have to admit that there is nothing inherently sacred about our music, or our instruments, or our songs, but everything sacred about their use.

Earlier this spring I attended a satellite service/ church plant of a large First Presbyterian Church. The dress was casual, the music contemporary (Chris Tomlin and some Hillsong style stuff with drums and guitars), the apostle’s creed was dropped from the typical Reformed liturgy. The pastor spoke fairly clearly and seemed to strive for clarity while preaching from a narrative text (book of Acts).

 

Within his sermon he made mention of being “missional”, but yet… He did not define it, did not articulate what it means, or describe what it looks like in action. And unfortunately, as a first-time visitor I left easily without being greeted by anyone except for an assigned greeter at the door.

 

To me, this attempt seemed very cross-wired between Modern/seeker-sensitive and an attempt at being more forward-thinking missional. Good intentions might have gone into putting together this service, but it wasn’t purposeful and intentional enough. It was just a re-dressing of a typical church service.

 

However, being “missional” does not mean dropping historic statements of faith like the Apostle’s Creed (which isn’t even burdened with denominational or sectarian baggage), to only replace it with more bland praise music.

 

Being “missional” doesn’t mean just dropping the word in sermons hoping people will figure out what it means. It takes talking about specific issues of the church’s mission, grounding them in scripture exposition, and trying to engage your church into thinking about, planning, and pursuing missional goals communally; not merely planting ideas in people head’s that they will individually pursue once they leave the four walls of the church building. That kind of individualism is what is plaguing the church already, we don’t need to blindly continue in it.

 

At this point I risk being very arbitrary and subjective; but I believe being “missional” requires us to faces some challenges, including but not limited to:

  1. Understand the people we minister to, by seeking to understand the people and subcultures we live among, which in some form requires us to be involved in oiur communities.
  2. Place people and our ability to spread the gospel to them ABOVE our buildings and our budgets. When we are capable of giving financially to support the traditions we have built up that serve us as believers, and are willing at times to even guilt a congregation into giving a certain percentage to maintain this, but leave many types of ministry to parachurch ministries- we are showing that our priorities lie with mainly serving our own needs- this hardly advances the Gospel.
  3. Humbly realize our minority status as Christians in our country, city, neighborhoods, etc; and adjust our church’s ministry focus to reflect this. Hanging our sign and worship times out by the road inviting the outside world to come join us is not enough.
  4. Avoid pragmatism, (because the ends do not justify the means); but yet still hold our traditions in question as to their effectiveness in communicating the Gospel to our communities.
  5. Be willing to sacrifice our comfort zones because outreach gets messy, sacrifice our time because mercy ministries demand it, sacrifice our money because serving others sometimes ain’t free, and even sacrifice our traditions if they set up needless boundaries.
  6. and *insert other additional radical, mission-focused, jesus-glorifying, self-sacrificing, neighbor-loving, community-engaging activities here*
  7. All of these things cannot be done by adding them onto what we already “do” or “are” as a local church. Being committed to them requires us to actually change how we do church, and shape what that ultimately looks like in motion.

This list is from a post over at Reclaiming the Mind. Read the whole post here.

 

Emerging Theologically

Calling into question many traditional Christian doctrines. This questioning can result in agnosticism toward the particular doctrine, marginalization of the issue, or a settled humble conviction concerning the issue. This is closely tied to being emerging epistemologically.

Examples:

  • Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)
  • Less tendency to recognize or give strong credence to traditional theological divisions (e.g. Catholic-Protestant; Reformed-Arminian)
  • Not too keen to systematic theology since to “systematize” ones theology usually implies a seemingly forced system of harmonization that is seen to be inconsistent with both human ability and divine revelation
  • Hesitancy about taking traditional labels such as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liberal, or even Emerger since the labels associate them with a systematized system of beliefs and thought
  • 1) Agnostic with regards to the destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. we don’t know the eternal condition of the unevangelized)
  • 2) Inclusivistic with regards to destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. Christ’s blood can save those who don’t have the chance to hear the Gospel)
  • More agnostic toward the nature of hell
  • Willing to see value in multiple theories of the atonement, not just the vicarious substitutionary view
  • Traditional Protestant theology of imputation questioned

 

First of all, kudos to those guys at RTM for dealing with emerging characteristics in sich a straightforward and irenic way. If you are reading this, you really should go over and read their post in its entirety.

 

Now, I would say that most of the items on this list do not characterize myself, even if I might sympathize with those who might hold these views more than your average Reformed guy would, but I would have to whole-heartedly agree with the first item on the list. In fact, I agree with it so much that I can’t understand why we shouldn’t view the church this way. Read it again:

“Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)”

 

Why shouldn’t we view the church this way?

 

Theologically speaking, when did the church cease to be a worldwide universal communion of believers on a mission, that only happened to be expressed in the local congregation that usualy met in a building; and became only a local group of card-carrying members that from time to time has to stop and actually remind itself that they are 1) on a mission to spread the gospel, 2) only a small part of the church universal, and 3) not limited by their meeting place/building in being the church? When did this happen?

 

Why should it take an emerging generation of Christians to re-discover and re-awaken a new consciousness of something that the church was all along; a body of believers on a mission?

 

The early church was scarcely limited in their minds to only existing as a designated place to worship at a designated time. The idea of being on a mission to its immediete surroundings and the whole world while being in dynamic communion with one another and participating in community that was intentional and relational was certainly radical but it was implied and understood who lived it. The motivation and drive to draw outsiders unto the Lordship of Christ caused an explosion of growth while simultaneously inspiring great care and concern to be displayed for all others who were ‘in Christ”, even across the cultural chasm that seperated Jews and Gentiles, and different economic classes.

 

Tomorrow: My thoughts on being “missional”.

Just another installment as I elaborate on the initial post.

Part 1: The Ideal Church

Part 2: Creeds and Confessions

  • Uses ecenumical creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasius, and Chalcedonian) to celebrate and reflect on the overarching themes and truth of scripture.

Why? Well, the early creeds of the church are the only confessions we have that are truly ecenumical, or are held to by the church as a whole. The fact that the church was once in enough agreement to draft and affirm such creeds shows us as we sit within our own particular denominations that we are a small part today of a much larger painting of God’s redemptive history. We weren’t the first to believe the Gospel and be changed by it, and we shouldn’t forget that fact.

Creeds celebrate this unity, and aid us in reflecting in the overarching themes of scripture that cannot be expressed from lone passages of scripture.

It is important to provide transcendence in our worship to remind us of this overarching communion we have with Christians from the past and present. I love the fact that even though we can’t avoid differing on finer points of theology with other Christians, we at least have real unity in the content of the early creeds of the church.

But which creed of the major 4 to use? All of them, I say. The Apostle’s Creed is great in its brevity and utter simplicity. But the Nicene Creed is absolutely beautiful in how it refers to Christ’s eternal nature and substance; “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of the same substance as the Father”. As well, the Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds are equally significant because they focused on critical matters of the humanity, deity, and substance of Jesus. All of them testify to watershed moments in our church history when a biblical view was affirmed and thus, heresy rejected. Also by using all of these, it lets us rotate them and guards our tradtion from becoming ritualism as they force us to focus on the words and meditate on them when we employ them in worship.

  • Uses denominational creeds and confessions to further affirm theological convictions corporately, like the Westminster Confession, or the Heidelberg Catechism.

Inevitably, when we venture into more recent confessions in Church’s history they become more theologically divisive than the earliest creeds, and they pit our views of finer points of theology against other denominations or churches views.

Rather than avoid this, I think we should embrace it with a sober frame of mind. Even the simplest of believers operates on theological assumptions of some kind, so we all stand on some form of theological foundation whether we realize it or not. We’re going to have different views of election, the sacraments, perseverance, etc. We should observe the hisorical foundation of our particular branches of Christianity, test it against scripture, meditate on it, and use it as an aid in communicating the overarching themes and truths of scripture that we have inherited through scholasticis. We shouldn’t flee from our differences but study them carefully.

I’m Reformed, so I’m obviously biased towards the Westminster Confession and I don’t apologize for it either. The Westminster Confession of 1646 is arguably the most exhaustive and comprehensive statement of faith ever produced, with the Anglican’s Thirty-Nine Articles coming in a not-so-distant second place. Obviously those outside the Reformed tradition would not embrace every article of it, and even many churches who use it as their statement of faith like mine actually use a slightly revised version from 1789, but overall it has stood the test of time and in many a scholar’s opinion has not been superceded by any confession since.

As far as catechisms go, The Heidelberg Catechism is more brief and succint than the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, which is why I like it more, and it is actually divided into 52 sections that allow it to be read corporately and completed in one year by reading a section every Sabbath. 

One great part of responsive readings or recitations is that they allow the whole congregation to participate. In an age where the church is growing more consumer-minded, and “special music” or dramas take a stronger presence, the reading together of confessions cements very objective ideas in our minds through our participation and allows us to reflect on them, refer to them later, and even memorize them.

Some objections:

Some Christians, young and old, might object to creeds and confessions having a prominent place in worship. Some proclaim “no creed but Christ” which is ridiculous because at some point you have to define specifics about Christ. Some might interject that creeds and confessions are stodgy and don’t reflect our freedom in Christ, or are too exclusive. I’m not going to even touch that one. But overall, I think one of the biggest misconceptions Christians might have about creeds, especially from “missional” or “emerging” Christians; is that they turn away new Christians or “seekers” who see them as dogmatic or confining.

I would argue, to this point, that if someone is truly “seeking” then they are seeking answers, answers to questions they have, objective affirmations of a historic faith, not ooey-gooey feel-good pop culture theology. People in emerging generations crave authentic, historic, transcendent…… and not so much flavor-of-the month expressions of faith. Maybe I’m being generous here, but there is very much a sentiment among younger Christians to break out of the box our parents and grandparents built, but that doesn’t mean doing away with what our ancient spiritual ancestors have produced but connecting with it instead.

So, if people don’t explicitly disagree with creeds (which would put them outside orthodoxy anyway) but are still put off by them, then maybe we should handle them differently. Maybe have a sermon series, or a class, or even just a blurb in the bulletin explaining the nessesity, history, and content of these ancient expressions of the Christian faith so people can have a more distinct connection with the words they are reciting.

There is a very good article this month in ByFaith Online (the PCA’s denominational magazine) about being “Created For Community”. Check it out or read this exceprt from it:

Battling the Kingdom of One

Yet with all of our gratitude, it is important to recognize that there is something powerful inside each of us that drives us away from these two essential communities. That thing is sin. In its fundamental form, sin is anti-social. A verse in 2 Corinthians 5 captures this well: “And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves … .” He died for my sin—which causes me to shrink my life down to the size of…my life. Sin causes my thoughts and motives to be dominated by a powerful triad of self-focus: my wants, my feeling, my needs. Where sin reigns community struggles.

Think further with me. Sin is not first the breaking of rules. Sin is first the breaking of relationship. When I love God above all else, I gladly keep His law. When I love myself above all else, I will step over God’s boundaries again and again.

So our problem with community is not just the result of the cultural influences that surround us. Our primary problem with community exists inside of us. Sin causes us to lose sight of the grand purposes of the kingdom of God while we expend all kinds of effort to build tiny little kingdoms of one. So, even when we are in relationship with others, we try to co-opt them into the service of our kingdom purposes.

Unfortunately, i think much of this line of thinking, while being expressed and articulated at the level of the Presbyterian Church in America’s national magazine ByFaith, is absent or overlooked at the local church level. I want to brainstorm some ways our practices and traditions can take into consideration our need for community to a greater extent. More later.

 

Also, another good article about what the PCA is doing about AIDS.