JOE PATERNO: “HE DESERVED BETTER”January 25th, 2012
The headline on page 1 of the sports section caught my eye. A piece written by Jim Litke, Associated Press columnist, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the firing of legendary Penn State Nittany Lions football coach Joe Paterno last November. With Paterno’s death from lung cancer this Sunday, the wounds the university has suffered since the child molestation charges against Jerry Sandusky, one of Paterno’s assistant coaches, and the subsequent Paterno firing have broken open all over again.
According to Litke, on the night of Paterno’s firing an assistant athletic director knocked on the door of the Paterno home and “wordlessly” handed him a note with the name and phone number of John Surma, vice chairman for Penn State Board of Trustees. Paterno dialed the number, asked for Surma and in that ‘mercilessly brief call, [he] was told that after nearly a half-century as head coach of the Nittany Lions, he was being fired ‘effective immediately’” (South Bend Tribune 1-23-12). When Paterno hung up from the short phone call, his wife Sue picked up that slip of paper, dialed the same number, and told the voice on the other end, “‘After 61 years he deserved better,’” and hung up.
And who would disagree? No matter the magnitude of the legal charges against his assistant, no matter how complicit Joe Paterno was or wasn’t in responding to the reported incident years earlier, wouldn’t he still deserve, at the least, a personal visit from somebody “higher up” with word of the Trustees’ decision? How swift their decision—but how sad that “they couldn’t muster enough courage or decency to fire Paterno in person” (ibid). “After 61 years he deserved better.”
But while I brooded over this story, I began to wonder about my own modus operandi. Have there been times when I’ve chosen to summarily dismiss someone (in my mind, if not in person) as being “guilty as charged,” without ever extending the common decency of allowing that person to explain his or her stance or behavior or choice? Do I find it easier to avoid Jesus’ Matthew 18 interpersonal relations admonition: “‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you’” (Matthew 18:15 NIV)? Do I avoid personal confrontation by hiding behind a board or committee action? In short, I wonder, does the Golden Rule (“Do to others what you would have them do to you”) get shelved, when I don’t have (take, really) the time to put myself in that other person’s place?
“After 61 years he deserved better.” Sue Paterno was right. And so is Jesus: “‘By this all will know that you are My disciples [people], if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35). Because never mind Penn State. What counts for the Kingdom are the friends of the King. And it is that headline that lasts long past page one.
A MINI-TITANIC LESSONJanuary 19th, 2012
Anybody for a cruise in the Mediterranean? The capsizing of the massive luxury liner, the Costa Concordia (twice the size of the ill-fated Titanic), has galvanized the attention of the gaping world. According to some reports a mere 300 feet from shore, this luxurious $450 million floating city of 4200 passengers and crew struck a rocky outcropping in the reef off the island of Giglio, gashed a fatal hole in its hull, rolled to one side and began to sink. Only the snagged reef kept the vessel from sinking to the seabed 160 feet below.
As a missionary child in Japan I sailed with my family around the world twice in ocean liners. And Karen and I have enjoyed a couple cruises along the way. But I can only imagine the panic of that sea-faring vessel tipping to its side at night, the power out, all its occupants and furniture slammed into heaps against leaning walls precariously becoming floors! It’s the stuff of nightmares, I’m sure. And to listen to the survivors’ harrowing accounts of those dreadful hours trying to get to life-boats or at least to one of the decks in order to leap into the black waters—all the while the captain of the sinking vessel had already abandoned ship with some of his officers—you can hardly blame those who have pledged not to “cruise” again . . . or at least not for a long time!
But for the rest of us land-lubbers, what’s the point in this morality tale? It is Titanic redux. The Costa Concordia boasted state-of-the-art technology and opulent comforts second to none. What on earth could possibly harm this gaily-lit, sea-faring, horn-blasting ocean vessel of revelers, partiers and vacationers?
It is the tale of our own civilization in the “fourth watch” of earth’s night, isn’t it? Not unlike the besotted revelry that possessed Belshazzar’s palace that last night on earth—where in the night watches the vessel of that ill-fated empire suddenly lurched, gashed open by the bloodless hand writing on the wall: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN—you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 4:25-28). Time’s up, the party’s over, here comes the Judge.
What will save our own civilization in this fourth watch of the night? Not the hubris of the captains and titans of industry, government and finances, that is certain. Earth’s only hope lies in the One who walks upon our stormy night waters. “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). Christ still cries out into the night His offer of salvation, and we who know Him best must tell the rest. To not share our Savior with those on this sinking ship would be tantamount to scrambling into the life boat ourselves, but ignoring the countless others who, unless we reach out to pull them on board, will likely perish in the night.
MLK JR AND THE SDA CHURCHJanuary 12th, 2012
On this weekend when the nation recalls the life and mission of Martin Luther King, Jr.—frail like every life, but focused like a laser on a mission towards the equality of all—it is appropriate for this community of faith to ponder that mission in the light of our own.
Were Dr. King to join us around our communal table, what would be the conversation? In fact, let’s pull up another chair to the table and invite President Barack Obama to join in this table talk. Would the conversation change that much? If our chatting drifted toward the judicatory organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, and these two African-American leaders (one deceased, the other very much alive) began to question us as to why we are organized the way we are, how would we respond? What would be the line of reasoning we would put forth to defend regions of this nation divided racially (essentially) into “separate but equal” conferences or ecclesiastical units of administration? How would we justify the organization of separate (but equal) black and white congregations in the same city based upon the prevailing racially distinct conferences? Would recounting the history of our faith movement in this nation and our own accommodation to the prevailing social norms a few generations ago be helpful in defending our present course? Would the suggestion that our ecclesiastical division is a provision so that “all” might enjoy the prerogatives of administrative leadership be persuasive? Would Dr. King and President Obama find our logic strong and our rationale convincing?
But never mind those two leaders—let’s ask it another way. Would society today—does society today, the American public at large, lend much credence to “the way we’ve always done it” defense in matters of racial equality? The truth is—history may be our mother, but it doesn’t have to be our master.
We yield allegiance to another Master, which was precisely Paul’s stunning point to the church in Galatia two millennia ago: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NRSV). Paul’s declaration did not minimize the massive challenge that preexisting walls were to the church of Christ. But his assertion means that the community founded upon Calvary can never peacefully coexist with such dividing walls—no matter how difficult their disassembling may turn out to be.
Besides, if “revival and reformation” are the watchwords of our third millennial community of faith, then would it not follow that as a prerequisite to such a revival we would join together in tearing down any walls, all the walls that divide us, whether on paper or in the heart? For how can the Holy Spirit possibly be poured out, when a wall blocks the way?
And so I am praying that God will raise up a new generation, passionate for the unity of Christ and willing to do the hard work to rewrite a future without walls. Not for the sake of Martin Luther King, Jr.—but for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord, who upon the eve of His own death, prayed for us all: “Holy Father, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11).
IOWA, NEW HAMPSHIRE AND THE END OF THE WORLDJanuary 5th, 2012
Look, I’m not suggesting that the just concluded Iowa caucuses and the upcoming New Hampshire primary are strategic pieces in some sort of apocalyptic end game. But I would invite you to ponder the power of the press and/or paid political ads.
Even the talking heads within the beltway of the nation’s capital this past week have been chattering in amazement over the swift collapse of one candidate’s heretofore anticipated victory in Iowa’s caucuses. Riding high in the pre-caucus polls, the candidate’s sudden tumble from prominence has been attributed by most news media commentators to the power of negative political advertising, financed by political action committees (so called “super PACs”). The $2.8+ million that these technically “independent” super PACs invested in Iowa alone are evidence enough of the power of negative advertising. I.e., it works!
What’s that have to do with the rest of us who will never touch $2.8 million in our life time? Stepping away from political allegiances or nuances, it does make you wonder, doesn’t it, how fickle we the public are, if three-weeks of non-stop television and radio ads can actually change our minds? Never mind those who justify this gushing of advertising dollars into a relatively, politically inconsequential rural state. It still makes me wonder how easily swayable we Americans are to the power of the media, the press, the advertising agencies.
Which being interpreted means, I wonder if, in a time of crisis or critical decision-making, a relatively small cabal of individuals—with the financial horsepower to back themselves—could sway an entire nation to pursue a particular course or come to a particular decision. I wonder if the American public (perhaps even the global public) could be as easily persuaded as the Iowans were. Include some momentous catastrophe (financial, natural, political) and it wouldn’t take much to “guide” the public to a desired outcome, would it?
For all our crowing about the independent American spirit, the truth is that a stadium full of screaming fans can pretty much set the agenda for an entire city, can’t they?
Apparently the Apocalypse thinks so. In no uncertain terms Revelation 13 describes “all the world” (v 3) being led down the primrose path of disaster. Which is why I love the corollary narrative in Daniel—the compelling story about three young politicos who refused to yield to the full-court press of the press and the government. The entire nation (as it were) bowed down to the king’s golden image—but not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18). I.e., we will not be bought or persuaded away from our allegiance to the Creator.
God give us that threesome generation when we will need it! But in the meantime, the next time the press or the super PACs attempt to persuade you in 60 seconds what to think or do, do the Shadrach thing and simply refuse. Your allegiance to God in the New Year isn’t for sale, no matter when the world ends.