Several weeks ago I commented
on the scandal over at Penn State. And now it’s coming home to roost because the sad reality is that child abuse and poor responses to it are not a Penn State or even a Catholic Church “thing.” They are a human thing. And that has been made abundantly clear recently as we’ve had to face the realization that our own churches and institutions can’t escape it either.
Still while it may be inevitable that sin will rear its ugly head, our Christianity should
at least affect our ability to respond to it. Thankfully for some,
it has; and the amazing grace and humility of Christ has spoken louder than any lawyers or prevarications ever could. But sadly, for others it has not; and in some ways, we as a community are bettering the unbelieving world in our ability to look the other way.
And it makes me all very curious.
In Penn State’s case, it’s clear that there were plenty of reasons for the coaches and leadership to rationalize their choices to protect Sandusky. What would scandal do to a multi-million dollar football program and a top-ranked university? And while in many ways we’re still answering that question, and regardless of what part friendship and wanting to believe the best about a person played, the result was that leadership succumbed to the temptation to minimize the tragedy of what actually happened.
But what about us?
You would think that a community established on the very principles of human depravity and divine grace would be the very community able to handle these situations when they occur. But unfortunately we are proving that we can’t. And I’m wondering, why? Where’s the disconnect? What’s missing? What are we
A significant part of the problem is that for too many years our churches have been selling the gospel not by presenting sinners who have been redeemed, but by presenting perfect people. By presenting people who keep the right rules, who attend the right schools, and who have a “good testimony.” If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you actually heard public confession of sin and testimony to the greater
restoring power of grace. Think about the last time YOU felt free to confess the dark thoughts that afflict your own soul because you knew that there was grace and redemption waiting at the Cross.
But we aren’t and so we don’t.
And instead of being a people marked by grace that restores us in our sinfulness, we’ve become a people marked by not sinning in the first place—or so we’ve convinced ourselves. And slowly in this context, grace became obsolete and we created a culture where the most dangerous thing you could possibly do is admit to failure. Because without grace, there is no room for that. Without grace, there is no help for broken people. Without grace, there is no security to acknowledge that we’ve done anything wrong in the first place.
Simply put, without grace, there is no hope when we sin.
So we must do everything in our power to keep from sinning and when we do, as is inevitable, we must deny it in order to protect ourselves. And when that doesn't work, when scandal finally erupts, our corporate response must be to quiet that as well because our theology simply can’t handle it. So, in the end, we will either minimize sin simply because we have no other choice; or in our insecurity, we will fumble around looking for someone else to blame for our missteps. By forsaking grace, we essentially handicap our ability to handle sin and back ourselves into a corner with no way out.
But what if there were a context that enabled us to own our sins precisely because we knew there was a power greater than evil? What if we could confess our wrongs to each other precisely because we knew we would receive mercy? What if instead of selling an image of perfection, we sold Jesus’ free, unadulterated, loving forgiveness?
Well, in that context, we would respond very differently to abuse and scandal.
Because in that context, victims would be safe because we could admit the heinousness of the sin and do everything in our power to protect them. In that context, we could freely confess the temptation of wanting to cover everything up to avoid embarrassment. And in that context, we could offer hope for all involved.
Even for the abuser.
This seems to be the thing that none of us really want to think about, much less talk about. Just as much as the victim needs grace, so does the victimizer. But he needs it in a different way. He needs grace that will be strong enough to reveal the ugliness of his sin in order to free him from it. He needs grace that can kill the demons that plague his soul. He needs what no watch list, no prison sentence, no public shame can offer. He needs redemption.
And grace offers that. And more. Because not only can grace redeem, it can also restore and accomplish what no trial by jury or guilty verdict can ever do for the victims--it can actually heal the wounds of these little ones and make them whole again.
So what we all need, whether at Penn State or in our church pews, is a healthy dose of grace.
Grace that will empower us to say to the abuser, “I love you more than you love yourself and I will do anything to keep you from destroying yourself and those around you. Even if it means turning you in to the authorities.”
Grace that will empower us to say to the abused, “I love you and my heart breaks that have been hurt so badly. I will do everything in my power to protect you and anyone else from being hurt this way again. Even if it means making a public scandal.”
And then when we fail to do these things, we need grace that will empower us to say to each other, “I did not love enough; I was tempted to remain silent; I was wrong and I am sorry.”
by Ruth Younts Shepherd Press 2011
If your family is anything like ours, the last few days of Thanksgiving vacation were a mixed blessing of the joy of taking a break from the routines of life to spend time together and the absolute dismay of realizing how much fighting and nastiness happens when you do. And it was probably all capped off by the resolution to "get this house in order." Well, let me offer this book as a means to that end.
I recently reviewed Ruth Younts' Get Wisdom! here
and thought you might enjoy the tip. It's a great little book designed to teach children the basics of Christian virtue and help them work it out in practice (i.e. being kind means not spitting on your sister's back when you're brushing your teeth even if she IS blocking the sink.) Have a look and see if it might be just the thing you need to survive Christmas vacation.
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:15)
But no offering comes without loss. No sacrifice without pain.
So today, on this Thanksgiving Day, giving thanks means laying down our cynicism, our doubt, our need to control, our anger and fear. Laying them on the altar, taking the knife, and plunging a death-wound. Giving thanks means surrendering those things we’ve been holding—those things that we’ve been using to keep us safe. And instead, giving thanks means saying, “You are the One who cares for me, You are the One who keeps me safe. You are the One who holds my heart.”
And when we do this,
when we offer up our entitlement, there is room for blessing;
when we offer up our anger, there is room for forgiveness;
when we offer up our cynicism, there is room for hope;
when we offer up our doubt, there is room for faith.
And we discover that what rises from that bloody, twisted mass of sacrifice is an aroma of praise—praise and thanksgiving to the One who took them from us when we finally offered them up.
Several years ago, while visiting family friends in Israel, my husband and I took a day trip up to Jerusalem. We wandered through the covered streets, ducking in and out of the shops that lined the walkways and towards evening we found ourselves in the Arab Quarter pausing in front of one particular stall. The shopkeeper, a short man quickly stepped out and ushered us inside.
In broken English, he welcomed us warmly to his city, to his Jerusalem, assured us of his particular love for foreign visitors and his persistent sadness over the divisions between Israeli and Palestinian, Jew and Arab, Christian and Muslim.
“Ah, if only we could all just live in peace,” he sighed. After a moment, he asked “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Surprised, we declined at first not wanting to impose on his generosity; but he insisted and quickly waved his young assistant toward a back room. He quickly returned carrying a tray with a small bowl of sugar and cups of steaming mint tea. With the first sip, its sweetness and aroma flooded my senses and in combination with the heady scents drifting from the spice stall next door, created the definitive Proust moment. So this was the famed Middle Eastern hospitality I had heard so much about, that ancient tradition that welcomes strangers as brothers and resolves differences over steaming pots of coffee and tea. Here, cradled in my hands, were millennia of generosity distilled into one piping cup of sweet tea, complete with a sprig of mint.
I began to walk around the small shop,scanning the bits and pieces on display. The shelves held much everything the same as the other shops we had passed: nativity sets carved from olive wood, brass and silver menorahs, and Armenian pottery brightly colored in a distinct blue and red mosaic.
Suddenly I saw a small olive wood statue of the Holy Family. Carved from a single stock of wood, it depicted Joseph protectively embracing Mary as she cradled the vulnerable Christ child. The three figures merged into one at the base, emphasizing the tenderness and intimacy of the young family. It was the only one in the shop; it was the only one like it I had seen all day.
I had to have it.
Hiding my enthusiasm, I casually asked my host how much he intended to sell it for. He replied, “Fifty shekels.” I went back to sipping my tea. After walking around the stall for a few more minutes, I turned to the shopkeeper to begin another longstanding Oriental tradition - bargainingand soon with the help of our Israeli friends, we settled on a price of 30 shekels. While his assistant wrapped my purchase, I paid him and he handed back my change. Like any good American, I glanced at it before returning it to my pocket, and like any good American, I was startled when I realized he had returned only eight shekels instead of the expected ten.
Not wanting to offend such a liberal host I shyly I held out my hand, displaying the eight lonely shekels. “But sir, you said the statue would cost only thirty shekels, and I gave you forty."
“Yes," he quickly replied, "Thirty shekels for the statue. And two for the tea.”
It’s been that
kind of week—actually it’s been those
kinds of a couple weeks lately. Whether it’s scandal
, economic instability, or watching close friends suffer, it’s been the kinds of weeks that make me want to hunker down, hold my little ones close, and eat excessive amounts of chocolate.
Believe me, I don’t intend for this blog to be consumed with angst or metaphysical struggle. And I really didn’t anticipate it becoming what someone described as “a Christian blog - often deals with problem of suffering (has an emphasis on depression).
That wasn’t exactly what I was going for.
But I want to be honest, and the truth is that this life can get pretty difficult and the darkness can seem overwhelming at times. So overwhelming that our first instinct is to tuck ourselves away with the people we love, where we are warm, secure, and at peace. When the days are cold and dark, when life is more challenging than we ever knew it could be, all we really want to do is huddle up in our dens and count the blessings that we already have.
But there’s another truth about this life. The truth that Light penetrates the darkness, that grace is alive and working, and that we have a hope that carries us through it all. And so maybe, instead of shutting ourselves in from the darkness, we should throw our doors wide open to let the Light shine out.
Because when we open our doors, when we welcome others in, we offer them a haven from their pressing cares, rest from their journey, and fellowship along the way. We offer them warmth and security, joy and beauty, and maybe for the briefest of moments, we offer them Light. And when we sit together around a table, and laugh and love, we tell each other that the evil of this world will one day be less than a memory. We remind each other of that greater feast day yet to come when the greatest Host will welcome us into His eternal home.
So serve each other the same way: prepare a place, make room, and say, "Welcome. Come away from the cares of this life, come away from the burden of your work, come away from the cold and dark. Come inside, sit down, be warm, be blessed. And rest.”
I completely intended to have my next post dive right into hospitality. After all, that’s what I said, right
? But something else has captured my thoughts today and I’ll admit I’m just as surprised as you are. In fact, I hardly recognize myself for posting what you’re about to read. I’ve always thought of this blog as a quiet, reflective place, a place to get away from controversy, to bask in the warm glow of grace and love. But sometimes light needs to shine into very dark places and today is one of those days.
So here it is: I’ve been following the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.
For those of you who don’t know, the short version is this: pedophile in the top ranks of a collegiate football program + apparent systemic cover-up = shame and disgrace. (Think Catholic Church scandal and you’ve got the basics covered.) Initially I really didn’t want to know about all of it and I did a pretty good job of ignoring the headlines. I have two young sons of my own so anything of this nature hits pretty close to home
. And quite frankly, it’s just disturbing.
But I’m a Pennsylvania girl; and when you’re from PA, there are some things that you simply can’t ignore. Nittany Lion football is one of them. So when the rumors become allegations and the allegations become official charges, I knew I couldn’t deny it any longer. And just as quickly
, my denial turned to anger and here I am, interrupting a perfectly good blog with scandal.
And this is why: It’s not that abuse of this nature doesn’t happen elsewhere. It’s not that collegiate sports programs are squeaky clean. It’s not that we don’t all make mistakes in judgment sometimes. It’s this: the abuse and cover-up happened in a context of machismo and testosterone, it happened in the very heart of what we consider to be the manliest of American sports – football. It happened in a program
ostensibly designed to help boys become men. But when it was most important, the moment that manhood really mattered, no one had the courage to stand up.
And so I can’t help but wonder, what good is it to teach young men to dig deep, find the strength to overcome their opponents, to drive a ball down a hundred yards of field, if they can’t find the same inner strength to stand up to evil when it meets them face to face? What good is it if in the very same collegiate locker room the helpless and most vulnerable among us aren’t safe?
I have two sons. And one is a fighter—he once hit another boy at pre-school simply because the kid had said something (and I quote) “dumb.” He’s aggressive, he’s intense, he’s “all boy.” And I won’t change that. What I will do is teach him that the whole point
of his strength, isn’t to protect himself--it’s to protect those around him. What I will do is teach him is that he must
fight--he must fight for the weak and vulnerable. What I will do is teach him to overcome his fears so that he rush evil head-on.
Because this is the tragedy of it all--the tragedy that none of us can escape--because men failed to be men, little boys were hurt.
A little over a year ago, I spoke at a women’s conference of a church
nestled in the green rolling hills of western Virginia. At that time of year though—mid-October—those hills were more splashes of gold, purple, rust, and auburn than green. Initially, it had taken me some time to settle on a topic that would be personal, interesting, and concise enough, but when I did, it made perfect sense—hospitality.
Hospitality has always been a pet project for my husband and me. He spent five years working in the hustle and bustle of the industry, and boy, can he fold a mean cloth napkin. We’re also something of foodies--although real foodies probably wouldn’t think so--and we love meeting new people. So going into the conference, I felt confident and prepared. And by all accounts, it was a success.
And then life happened.
Now here, a little over a year later, I feel like the world’s biggest fraud because the last six to eight months has been our worst run of IN-hospitality yet. We’ve gotten pretty lazy, and it’s simply been too easy to find the perfect excuse.
‘We’re new in town…
“We have young children…”
“We don’t make very much money…”
“Everyone else is busy...”
“We don’t have enough space…”
“Did I mention we’re busy...”
And even though the excuses were always different, the result was always the same—I wasn’t going to be the one to make the first move; someone else was going to have to show hospitality to me. Slowly, I found myself slipping into complacency and expectation, and eventually right into entitlement.
But I’m also coming to realize that the best solution to entitlement is generosity and that the surest way to overcome hypocrisy isn’t to give up your ideals, it’s to simply keep pursing them. When you fall off the horse (wagon, the face of the earth, etc.), you just get back up. So this month marks a transition of sorts for our family, a transition back to open doors and full tables, a transition back to hospitality.
As I reflected on my own process, I thought that some of you might be stuck in the same place and, like me, could use a little motivation. So over the course of the next few weeks—just in time for the holidays—I’ll be running a series of posts devoted to welcoming friends, loved ones, and even strangers into our lives and homes. Don’t expect Martha-esque tips or June Cleaver roasts—I’ll leave that for more competent people. This will be more about exploring why we do what we do and what beautiful things can happen when we simply say, “Welcome to our home.”
But for now, enough philosophy; I need to run and red up
—we’re having friends over for dinner.