Put away the White Wash: A Lesson from the Ongoing PSU Scandal

Things have settled enough, I think, to say something about the scandal that’s been pouring out of Penn State the last few weeks.  The alleged crimes of former football coach Jerry Sandusky that are coming to light are truly awful — sickening, really.  Not far behind has been the silence of those who could have cut off the atrocities long ago.  No one disagrees; these are terrible facts rising to the surface from all parties.

As is common whenever horrific and particularly shameful incidents tarnish a community, Penn State, in the immediate aftermath, is attempting to distance itself from Joe Paterno, its iconic head football coach.  (I use “iconic” in the strongest sense, for JoePa is revered even by Nittany Lions who couldn’t care less for football.)  Not only has Paterno been the longest tenured head coach in college football’s premier division (he’s been at PSU since 1950 and head coach since ’66), but he has won more games (409) than any other head coach in history.  Nevertheless, the university has rightly fired JoePa for his silence on this issue.

By all accounts, the Penn State trustees’ hands were tied.  Paterno had to go.

Beyond this, however, there resides in Happy Valley an uneasy tension.  Just how far should the university community remove itself from this man, who virtually built the town single-handedly?  At least one writer is wondering aloud whether the university should purchase whitewash in bulk.

As bitter these days are for Penn Staters, it would be unwise to so quickly attempt to expunge their history of Paterno’s presence.  As detrimental as it would be to overlook the current scandal within the community, it would do an equal disservice to forget the highlights of JoePa’s legacy.

There is no perfect hero.  The sooner we recognize the fact, the better equipped we’ll be to respond well to the inevitable disappointment.  Hide this from ourselves, and we’re more likely to cover over wrongs and operate in denial.

From a biblical perspective (yep, I went there), David is among the most revered characters in the Jews’ long history.  He is consistently remembered glowingly as the high water mark in the age of kingship in Judah and Israel. Moreover, his name becomes synonymous with all messianic hopes as they develop over the centuries.  Abraham, Moses, and David rise above Jewish biblical history like three proud and sturdy peaks over the plains of Israel’s story.

And yet, David’s own story, as recorded in 1 & 2 Samuel, is an inseparable mixture, both sweet and sour.  Indeed, it is commonplace among commentators that David’s life from 2 Samuel 11 (the Bathsheba affair) is an unmitigated disaster.  With hardly a merciful bump along the way, David proceeds straight downwards toward his death following the conspiracy with Bathsheba and against Uriah.  His family disintegrates, his hold on the throne is threatened by on of his own children, and he ultimately dies weak and dispassionate.

Nevertheless, the biblical authors saw fit to record and preserve both halves of David’s life.  The truth, both pretty and unpleasant, is of the highest value.  Indeed, both sides of every human being ought to be preserved.  For the Penn State community, though it will take time, healing will come in its fullest forms when they can review Joe Paterno the man in all his strengths as well as his flaws.  Both sides can and must live side by side.

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When You Go to Worship, Bring Something with You

Have you ever heard a pastor or worship leader ask you to leave your worries at the door when you enter a worship service?  Or worse, have you ever been in a church gathering where someone, perhaps even clergy, prayed that you would forget your troubles in order to better worship God?  (Passive aggressive prayers are the worst.)

We know, of course, what these people mean.  They want us to be able to completely focus our attention in worship on the One who is worthy of our praise.  They want us to set aside the morning’s struggle to get the kids up, fed, dressed, and wrangled into the minivan.  Their motives are good; they simply don’t want us distracted by petty concerns.

But such a sentiment, that we’re to leave all distractions behind in order to engage with the Lord, inadvertently perpetuates a basic falsehood about the Father.

To invite people to leave their struggles at the door of the sanctuary is to suggest that God is not concerned with your troubles.  It implies He doesn’t want to hear your sob stories.  All God really wants, we are unconsciously told, is your flattery.  We must tell God how great He is, even though He doesn’t want to hear about what’s bothering us.

Such imagery, however, is completely contrary to the God of the Bible.  The picture of the Lord given in Scripture is a God who is entirely concerned with the problems of humankind, generally, and people, individually.  He is the God who delivered the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, who answered Hannah’s prayer for a child, who responds to Hezekiah’s prayers for health in the face of death, and who saves all humanity from the effects and power of sin.  The biblical God is a God who cares deeply about the concerns of people.

Let’s not leave our hardships at the door of the church.  By all means, let’s bring them in and wail loudly for the Lord to act on our behalf.  Then, let’s watch and listen for how He might meet our need.  (It may not come as we expect it.)  Let’s see, then, if we aren’t able to fully to worship our God, our deliverer.