Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big Bang Theory and Christmas Reciprocity

"The foundation of Christmas is reciprocity.  You haven't given me a gift, you've given me an obligation."

My wife's family has raved about Big Bang Theory for years, yet I had never invested the time into another 30-minute sitcom.  However, when I recently stumbled on a re-run of a Christmas special, I was won over by the cynicism of Sheldon.  Further, the lanky genius' commentary on "the foundation of Christmas"  is not only comical, but also drips with pertinent theological claims.  Sheldon and his fellow nerds are in the midst of their Wii bowling night, complete with button down shirts and alley-esque rental shoes, when their neighbor, Penny, drops in and asks if hey will be putting up a Christmas tree.  Sheldon proceeds to explain why he does not celebrate "Saturnalia," the actual root of the Christmas tree tradition, only to be taken back when Penny thwarts his aversion to the holiday.  That is, Penny has purchased and wrapped gifts for her neighbors. 

Sheldon asks, "But why would you do such a thing?"

Sheldon refuses Penny's generosity and instead underscores her "silly neighbor presents" as attestation to Christmas "reciprocity," the foundation of seasonal anxiety and depression. 

Again, "The foundation of Christmas is reciprocity.  You haven't given me a gift, you've given me an obligation."

I have mulled over these Big Bang remarks and have come up with three musings in response to Sheldon's "theology" and scoial commentary:

1.     The intensity of Christmas consumption and related anxiety is indeed about as foreign to the Spirit of the season as Saturnalia.  We have become a culture that grosses nearly 450 billion dollars in frivolous purchases, ranging from the aged Ferbies to diamonds, as-seen-on-t.v. white elephant gifts to dust collecting stocking stuffers. We set monetary limits on gifts and "spend" entire weekends trying to make sure we have made our obligatory purchases for someone who may or may not be getting us something for the holiday.   And if we think for a moment that we are not a part of this oppressive cycle, maybe find it amusing "when it's not happening to us, " in an instant we are convicted and confess, "it's happening to us!"  In this regard, Sheldon is right, this obligatory reciprocity consumes Christmas and results in something many of us may no longer want to celebrate.

2.      We have great difficulty receiving free gifts of generosity and grace. We constantly respond to others no-strings-attached gifts with statements like, "you didn't have to," "but I didn't get you anything," or "you shouldn't have."  We see the "L" sticker with our name on it and we respond not with gratitude and thanksgiving, rather lamentation over our inability to offer something in return.  We are o.k. to be those who give charity, but hesitate to be recipients.  We feel vulnerable and weak and so maybe begin to make our purchases in the year-to-come a little earlier so that we are the first to give, not out of love, but as players in competitive charity.  Again, Sheldon, you are spot on.

3.      Still more, I wonder if Sheldon's remarks are comic sketches of missional theology.  In other words, maybe the foundation of Christmas is reciprocity.  Maybe the incarnation is not only a free gift, but also an obligatory invitation.  While we may be quite comfortable to sit as observers of Christmas pageants, listeners of the Christmas stories, hearers of Christmas sermons, and pew-sitters in sacred services, the advent of Christ is no diorama.  Instead, the gift of God as Immanuel invites a human response. We not only gaze, but also and especially engage.  We must move beyond observation and pursue participation.  Said best, "we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).  God's gift to us is an opportunity for us to give back in gratitude, as an act of worship that illustrates our love for the one who first loved us.  Again, thank you Sheldon.  Actually, Merry Christmas Sheldon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tebow. Maccabees. Advent of Christ.

I have a confession: Tebow Mania has won me over. I have become enamored with the young phenom's ability to win despite critics and cynics, to include his coach and John Elway.  While I am not convinced that Tebow will be able to have a long and successful NFL career as a prolific pocket passer, his reverse-Lebron performances (i.e. absent for three quarters, come up big in the fourth) have proven that there is something about this kid that enables him to win games.[1]
Some have called it magic.

Others attribute it to his faith.

All find it difficult to explain.  Tebow is unorthodox in technique.  Timmy T is awkward and even slow in his delivery.  And when it comes to his uncanny leadership, selfless demeanor, and ability to win, win, win, the Gator turned Bronco, born in the Philippines to missionary parents, is the byproduct of some of the most unnatural skill sets the NFL has ever seen.

And no one is quite sure what to make of it. 

Something else may seem quite unnatural, certainly not normal- reading the Apocrypha as an Advent discipline.  That's right, I decided to read what was going on in-between the Testaments that provided context for the first Christmas.  So I am plowing my way through 4 Maccabees, an anonymous portion of Christian Scripture (according to 2/3 of the Christian church)[2] that underscores God's gift of reason:

"Now when God fashioned human beings, he planted in them emotions and inclinations, but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all. To the mind he gave the law..." (2:21-22).
The author(s) proceed to illustrate, through various athletic metaphors that bear resemblance to Pauline writings, the vitality of reason in the training of God's people for witness, mission, and life lived in the economy of God. This is especially pertinent as Maccabees builds towards the narration of seven brothers martyred by the evil Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whom some have labeled as the first Hitler.  In other words, the essence of Maccabees is to goad God's people towards faith and reason found in the Law that may be quite unconventional and unnatural:
"Thus as one adopts a way of life in accordance with the law, even though a lover of money, one is forced to act contrary to natural ways and to lend without interest to the needy and to cancel debt when the seventh year arrives...It is evident that reason rules even the more violent emotions: lust for power, vain glory, boasting, arrogance, and malice" (2:8,15).
 ...to act contrary to natural ways.

Yes, this is the mandate of God's people whose minds are governed by the reason of God.

And God's reason is quite unnatural.

The Advent of Christ and all that surrounds it- quite unnatural.

A virgin pledged in marriage conceives the promised Messiah.

An elderly woman and her priestly husband shamed by infertility give birth to an unconventional prophet.

Shepherds as visitors to a manger maternity ward.

Magi and wisdom teachers from the East, a land known for its oppressive history towards God's people, bring gifts to this child and reroute in order to avoid an oppressive Roman emperor and his malicious plan.

Even more, the message and mission of this Christ child who grows into his Messianic identity- unnatural.

The first shall be last, the last shall be first.

Sell all you have and give to the poor.

If you want to save your life you must lose it.

Carry your cross.

Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.

Blessed are the peacemakers, they are the children of God.

Woe to the rich. 


Turn the other cheek.

Give your cloak, too.

Go the second mile.

Crucifixion at the hands of an oppressive empire.

Resurrection as hope for us and the whole world.

This is the reason of God-in-Flesh.

This is the mind of God that governs the Messianic passions.

We, too, are to have the mind of Christ.

Tebow. 4 Maccabees. The Advent of Christ.  Unnatural, yes.  Yet maybe that's how God has, is, and always will move in and through the faithful. May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear how we may be called this Advent, Christmas, and everyday thereafter, to live into this unnatural kingdom of God.

[1] As an aside, I actually agree with commentators who suggest that if Tebow did not have such a gifted defense and a kicker who was able to boot it through the uprights from 59 yards out, that we may be saying different things about Tebow and the Broncos.  However, Tebow is the first to turn attention those same players, "It's not Tebow time; it's Bronco time."

[2] Catholic and Eastern Christians incorporate the Apocrypha in their canons.  That said, I find it my Christian obligation to at least explore the texts that many of my christian brothers and sisters consider to be inspired and sacred texts.

[3] A great way to pursue unnatural Christmas giving is through the Advent Conspiracy, or your own variation: http://www.adventconspiracy.org/ 

Also, one of the best articles to date [updated post on 1/14/12] in regards to Tim Tebow.  Simply beautiful: http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/7455943/believing-tim-tebow 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Partners in Mission: Youth Showing Us The Way

The cover photo is of Imago Dei and Honduran Youth.
I recently co-autored an article with PCUSA mission co-worker, Mark Wright, which was published in the latest edition of PCUSA World Mission's magazine, Mission Crossroads.   I encourage any one in the denomination to contemplate how to engage this extension of our vocation as a people of God and our interactions with the global church.  If not connected to PCUSA, I encourage you to contemplate how you can engage your particular faith community's partnership with the church universal, especially within the developing world.

The article, "Partners in Mission: Youth Showing Us the Way," explores the process that lead the Imago Dei Youth of Westminster Presbyterian Church to partner with PCUSA World Mission and the Presbytery of Honduras.  I have previously blogged about missional experiences as pilgrimage and partnership, see "Service Blitzes, Missional Pilgrims, and Jim Forest."  However, this article underscores some of the nuts and bolts of what our pre-trip preparation looks like, a vital element of any youth ministry missional partnership. 

Another great resource: "Short-term Missions: Paratrooper Incursion or 'Zaccheus Encounter'?" by Hunter Farrell, Director of PCUSA World Mission, and published in Journal of Latin American Theology: Christian Reflections from the Latino South (2007).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spiritual Formation of Our Seven-Month Olds?

Amber and I gifted this to Lily on her baptism.
This past Sunday my wife walked into worship mid-way through the sermon with Lily, 2 of 2 limited edition Klimovitz twins.  Amber had arrived late due to our kids recent week-long battle with a wicked cold, yet the belated handoff was one of the more sacred moments I have experienced in worship. While it is quite common for our kids, not long after we make our grand circus entrance into the worship space, to be passed around and down the aisle of our friends and church family, this service I refused to let Lily go.  I am not sure if it was the passage being read, a lyric sung, or the reminder that we were another week into Advent, but for some reason I felt a different grip of the Spirit. Then Amber walked in with Noah, i.e. 1 of 2, and the sacredness further enveloped me.

This time last year, Amber and I were anxiously waiting through Advent in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy.  We were scared.  We were hopeful. We were dreamers. We were worriers.  We we were confident.  We were uncertain. We held in tension the wonder and mystery of soon-to-be parents of two.  Although at times we doubted, God was present with us the whole way.

I can say without hesitancy that those same things hold true today.

I wonder if that is what gripped me?  I think it gripped us both.  So as we moved through the liturgy, I could not help but not only sing out, but also sing into the ears of my daughter.  I could not hold back from not only the recitation of prayers, but also gently whispering them into Lily's young mind. I could not refrain from incorporating my little girl into the sacredness of worship, an invitation for even her to enter into the life as a child of God, a baptized disciple of Jesus, and a member of the community of faith called the church.

In a way, these are the beginnings of Lily's spiritual formation.  And as Amber held Noah next to me, I think these are the beginnings of his, too.

It could be said that when Christians have children they enter into a sacred and subversive art of spiritual formation.  This artistic discipline, as Hauerwas and Willimon suggest, is also our baptismal obligation:
"Christians have children, in great part, in order to be able to tell our children the story. Fortunately for us, children love stories. It is our baptismal responsibility to tell this story to our young, to live it before them, to take time to be parents in a world that (though intent on blowing itself to bits) is Gods creation (a fact we would not know without this story). We have children as a witness that the future is not left up to us and that life, even in a threatening world, is worth livingand not because 'Children are the hope of the future,' but because God is the hope of the future." (Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, 60).
Amber and I have pondered what it will mean for us to tell this redemptive narrative to our kids.

How will we live into our responsibility not only as parents, but also and especially as baptized believers?

How will we form our children in the Way of Jesus and citizens of an alternative colony within the belly of an empire?

We have contemplated...

...what will happen if they begin each day with the Lord's Prayer as a different sort of pledge of faithful allegiance?

...how we will enable the dinner table be opportunities for holy laughter, shared stories, and reflections on divine encounters throughout the day?

...where we will be awakened by the movement of the Spirit through evening prayers?

...when we will provide space to ask questions and ponder the Scriptures together?

...how we will imagine opportunities to live into God's dreams for the world as a family and members of our church?

...how we will invite our kids to become channels of grace to their neighbors, friends, community, and especially those on the margins of society?

...ways we will seek to protect them from the world and ways we will be challenged to courageously expose them to it, even the most rawest and darkest elements?

Noah's baptismal gift :)
We recognize that for now we can only ponder.  Yet this Advent reminds us that as we wait for the coming of Christ at Christmas, we also are invited to wait for the coming of our kids into their identity as faithful disciples and dreamers of God's future. And as we wait, we must continue to implement sacred rhythms and disciplines into our own lives as parents so that when they are able to take notice they cannot help but participate and enter into this sacred dance called faith.

Until then, we will continue to soak in these moments when we can hold either or both of our kids in worship as we enter into the sacred rhythm.  We must, because these moments are certainly limited editions.

A great resource I have poured into recently is the latest edition of CONSP!RE, "a quarterly magazine of faith, art, justice, and community."  The Summer 2011 edition was titled, "Children of God: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," and incorporated a wide variety of articles and insights in regards to the spiritual formation of children.  To subscribe visit:  To view this edition: http://www.conspiremagazine.com/.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Are We Waiting For? (First Sunday of Advent Sermon Text)

Sermon Text: Mark 1:1-11

What are we waiting for?  This is a common advent theme, as Advent is the season of waiting, expecting, longing, and hoping for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.  While I would love to to begin with a clever story, a crafty illustration from my childhood, or even a humorous anecdote that would "prepare the way" for this sermon, I confess- I have nothing. That said, I thought that I would dive right into today's theme, text, eventual proclamation from today's "Face of Advent," John the Baptist, and what all this means for us as God's waiting and expectant people in and for the world.

So, what are we waiting for?

As my family gathered for thanksgiving this year I was reminded that many Americans are waiting for the holiday shopping season to begin.  Actually, we cannot wait so Black Friday is now Black Thursday night.

This time last year Amber and I were anxiously waiting through a high risk pregnancy.

The Imago Dei Youth have spent the past four weeks working through and conversing about the message of the prophet, Habakkuk, who begins his discourse with a similar question consistent with many of the prophets, "How long, O, Lord?"  Here were some of their responses of waiting written on old pieces of wood:

I could ask those who attend Celebrate Recovery, "what are you waiting for," and they may say, you may say: we are waiting for strength to overcome addiction.  Comfort as I struggle with deep rooted grief.  Healing of pain buried for far too long.

If you ask members of this congregation and the roughly 8-10% of our national population (depending on polls), "what are you waiting for," the response is sure to be: steady employment.  I am waiting for work, a paycheck.  I long for the ability to provide for my family and their future.

If I asked new friends in Honduras, "what are you waiting for," they may say: we are waiting for an improved education system.  We are waiting for our police force to provide protection versus promote corruption.  We are waiting for justice in the political realm and peace in our neighborhoods. 

If you ask victims of abuse, "what are you waiting for," you may give pause to their hopes for a voice, justice, healing, to be heard, safety, and protection.

If I asked the same question to Occupiers, "what are you waiting for," they would probably say: a fair and balanced economy.  We are waiting for accountability.

I bring these up, because, despite what this season may reflect in the consumer-driven culture, we are a people and a humanity that are waiting for far more than new products, great deals, and Black Friday shopping sprees.

We are a people who have deep-seated anticipations and longings for the world around us to be different. 

While we may participate in the race to nowhere, we want to be taken somewhere. 

While we may wait through suffering in silence, we long for a voice. 

We want to be delivered.

We want the creation to be liberated.

How long, O Lord, will this day ever come?

Then we turn to the first century, the very real context of today's passage, and we are invited to ask, "what were they waiting for?"  What was John the Baptist, this prophet from the wilderness, waiting for?

In order to gain a glimpse of the longings and expectations of those who eagerly gathered by the Jordan to hear John's message, we must consider the religious tradition of Judaism.

Judaism is a religious tradition that hinges on story, narrative, and memory.

The poetic stories of creation. The flood stories.  The patriarchal stories, i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Yet the bulk of their storied tradition hinged on the Exodus motif.  That is, they were to remember their story as an oppressed and enslaved people in Egypt, liberated from Pharaoh, and delivered through the waters of the sea.

This led to the Torah story and the gifting of God's people with a way of being in the world through the Law.  They were to remember this story and live into this story as God's called and covenanted people, a light to the surrounding nations. In other words, the liberated people out of Egypt were to be a liberating community in and for the world, especially for the poor, oppressed, widows, orphans, resident aliens, and dwellers on the margins.

Again, their story of liberation and deliverance was to be the world's story of liberation and deliverance.

Yet everywhere they turned they witnessed suffering, injustice, oppression, and heinous crimes against humanity, to include those committed by God's people.  They would even be overcome by neighboring nations and violent emperors, empires, and related armies.  In short, their story and God's story were not meshing with reality. It could then be said that the story of Israel up to and during the time of Jesus was of exile, oppression,wandering, pondering, hoping, and expecting for God to act again and bring a new exodus, a final way out. This exodus, which would be led by a new Moses, a Messiah even, would be once and for all. 

The real story of ancient Israel was of waiting.  What were they waiting for?

Waiting for deliverance.

Waiting for salvation.

Waiting for peace.

Waiting for fair and balanced economics.

Waiting for direction.

Waiting for hope.

Waiting for home.

Waiting for God to act and make all things new and right.  This may sound familiar...

Prophets often vocalized this waiting.  How long, O, Lord? They would cry.  Will you forget us forever?  They would plea.

Prophets would even head out to the desserts to fast and pray on behalf of God's people.  In the wilderness, much like their storied ancestors before they entered the land of promise, these prophets would petition and wait for a voice from God to announce that deliverance, once and for all, was coming...

Insert John the Baptist here- dressed in an attire that included a leather belt and camel hair and disciplined by a diet of locusts and honey.  It is clear that despite the vocation of his father, Zechariah, John is no temple priest, rather a radical prophet.

What I love about today's text is that Mark's beginning is unlike any other of the gospels.  Matthew begins with a family history of Jesus.  Luke interweaves the birth stories of both John and Jesus.  The Gospel of John hints at Jesus as the Word of God in flesh as the  "beginning" of a new creation.  But Mark gives us a rather odd illustration and characterization of John the Baptist that seems to parallel not only the Baptizers ministry, but also and especially that of Jesus, with the prophetic hope for a new Exodus. 

Hear the echoes:

"Prepare the Way."

"A voice cries from the wilderness."

"They were baptized by him in the river Jordan."

John came out of the wilderness, as the passage Mark cites from Isaiah reminds us, to prepare the way out of captivity. 

The message of John is urgent.  John came out of the wilderness to announce it.  The Baptist prophet invited his disciples to be baptized into it as preparation for this new exodus that was on the horizon.

And John's baptism was a baptism of repentance.

The word repent is a difficult word to digest.  We have heard it on our television sets, maybe on city street corners, possibly at conventions, and on occasion in pulpits.  We may cringe when it is spoken...maybe we should?

But I think scholar and author, Marcus Borg, helps to redeem the word for us:

"to repent is to 'go beyond the mind that you have'- to go beyond conventional understandings of what life with God is about" (Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, 201)
That in mind, envision anew John's proclamation of a baptism of repentance.

It is as though the prophet John is saying to those gathered:

Go beyond your mind consumed by suffering.

Prepare yourself for an unconventional kingdom that is breaking in all around us.

No longer look towards temples or traditions, emperors or kings, for religious or socio-economic security.

Instead, get ready for God to act once and for all and incarnate a fresh understanding of what life with God is all about. It will be an unconventional way of deliverance.

Then we read the final stanza of today's text:
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Jesus is not baptized here by John because he is in need of the confessional rite.  Jesus is baptized because he is the one whom John has been waiting for.  Jesus is the one the people of God gathered by the Jordan had been waiting for.  Jesus is the new Moses, the Messiah, who announces and embodies this unconventional understanding of what life with God is all about.

Hear yet another Exodus echo as Jesus, much like the people lead out of Egypt, comes out of the water of his baptism, the Spirit descends upon this Messiah, and a voice announces, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased."

If you read on in Mark you will find that Jesus then immediately heads out, much like John, into the prophetic wilderness, only to return with a message similar to John's, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

As N.T. Wright phrases it:
"[Jesus] was, in fact, to this extent very like John the Baptist, only more so" (Jesus and the Victory of God, 163)."
This is what the people of God had been waiting for.  Jesus is who they had been, who we have been, waiting for.

And the signs, works, and message of Jesus' inaugurated kingdom are quite unconventional.

So, what are we waiting for?

It is easy to read today's text, sing a few songs, and leave this place inspired yet unchanged.  Yet Mark reminds us throughout his gospel, especially in the dramatic beginning, that deliverance has once and for all come.  Therefore, we are to stop waiting, change our minds, and live lives of urgent preparation for this unconventional kingdom of God that comes to us in and through the person and work of Jesus.

Again, what are we waiting for?

John calls us to look towards Jesus and pursue lives of unconventional preparation now.

In other words...

What are we waiting for to extend radical hospitality to our neighbors in need?

What are we waiting for to share resources and ideas in regards to poverty alleviation in our communities and around the world?

What are we waiting for to speak on behalf of those on the margins, the widows, the orphans, the homeless, and those long silenced by the powerful elite?

What are we waiting for to extend compassion to those who grieve and comfort to those who suffer?

What are we waiting for to look towards Jesus as the one who can set us free from addiction, lead us out of our greed, and move us towards a new family and community called the church?

What are we waiting for to confess our participation in unjust systems that exploit and creatively pursue alternative means to give, to serve, to love, and to live into God's future now?

What are we waiting for to share the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God with friends, family, classmates, and co-workers?

What are we waiting for?  Christmas?

May we repent from our waiting and proclaim with our lives and lips that in Jesus good news has come once and for all. 

May we be a people who live unconventional lives of preparation for this new exodus that began in Jesus and will one day lead all, to include you and I, into a new and resurrected creation we will all call home.

So, may Jesus meet us in all our forms of waiting and longing this Advent.

Still more, may Jesus lead us out of and beyond our waiting and into unconventional preparations for the kingdom of God.  Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Joe Paterno and Habakkuk?

"With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." (Joe Paterno)

This is more than an epitaph on the career of one of college football's greatest legends, it is an indictment on all of us.

I am not interested in writing too much about the Penn State scandal. In fact, I hesitate to write anything at all, as the emotions it generates within a youth pastor and new father are so raw that a blog post neither does justice nor brings appropriate healing. Moreover, the vileness of child sexual abuse should speak for itself. It should. But it doesn't. Instead, like most forms of injustice, abuse, violence, and oppression, the issues are engaged and the victims find advocacy only in hindsight.

I confess: I have been enamored over the past week with the constant streaming of interviews, anecdotes, updates, and press conferences that have regarded the Sandusky scandal, the Paterno firing, and the grand jury report that brought both to the forefront of all news stations (I cannot bring myself to actually read it). However, as I have contemplated the atrocity I have also found it ironic that at the same time our youth ministry continues to engage the prophetic and woeful visions of Habakkuk:

“Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,

setting your nest on high

to be safe from the reach of harm!”

You have devised shame for your house

by cutting off many peoples;

you have forfeited your life.

The very stones will cry out from the wall,

and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.

---Habakkuk 2:9-11

This is what I wrote for the students as an introduction to a contemplative and prophetic exercise, which engaged the above passage:

Often we interpret sin as when we do the wrong thing. But is it possible that sin can be understood as not doing the right thing? We are exposed to so many forms of suffering, abuse, evil, and injustice, whether they are in our homes, neighborhoods, communities, or schools. Even when we turn on the news it hits us: we live in a world that cries out to be made right and eased of its pain. Yet, how many times do we distance ourselves from these cries in the attempt to save ourselves, our stuff, our reputation, and our image? We have set ourselves apart from others harm only for the stones and plaster of our security to cry out on behalf of the weak and wounded of this world.

So what does Habakkuk have to do with Joe Paterno and Penn State?


Again, "with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

If we pause to consider the plethora of injustices and acts of violence that take place "on our watch," we would find that not only is Joe Paterno to be held accountable, but also each one of us. It is easy to demonize a fallen hero, much more difficult to listen to the cries of the stone and plaster walls we have constructed around our own reputations, families, goals, and lusts for security. We prefer to separate and ignore, isolate and overlook versus engage and advocate on behalf of a wide range of sufferings...and the list goes well beyond sexual abuse. How long must we cry never again and promise "not on our watch?"


Sexual abuse.
Domestic violence.
Oppressive schedules.
Declarations of war.

The list could go on ad infinitum. Yet what will it take for us, for me, to respond and engage suffering and injustice before any one of us has to offer our own statement, "I wish I had done more."

There are many reasons that have been suggested for Joe Paterno's forced exit. Some have suggested that it was the Board of Trustees best opportunity to make a coaching change that has eluded them over the past 10 years. Others have demanded his resignation or termination with a level of hostility that would make one think that he was the actual perpetrator.

But I wonder, is Joe Paterno not only the scapegoat for a University and community that failed to respond to one of, if not the greatest manifestations of evil, but also one who now bears the guilt of all of us who have ever failed to do something. In other words, is our anger not only warranted, but also the projection of the shame each of us carries in light of our ignorance and silence in the face of so many forms of human suffering near and far.

If that is true, may this scandal no longer focus on a football program, a university, or legacies that have evaporated right before our eyes. Instead, may this be the opportunity for us to allow the stones and plaster of our communities to cry out on behalf of all those who suffer from whatever form of injustice, oppression, and marginalization. Still more, may we no longer ignore these cries but choose to echo and reverberate them.

May we prefer to act out of foresight versus hindsight.[1]


[1] As a youth pastor, I encourage every person who works with children to challenge their ministries, organizations, and institutions to revisit their child protection policies. This must be done not just to protect and preserve institutions from legal threats and accusations, but primarily to educate and inform people how to interact with children safely and responsibly. This may be one of the most compassionate extensions of our missional vocation, i.e. protecting children from abuse. In Pennsylvania each county has a Children and Youth Service organization, e.g. Chester County: http://www.chesco.org/cyf/site/default.asp . On a national level, a great resource is: http://www.childwelfare.gov/index.cfm
[2] Also, a great sermon by good friend Tony Sundermeier: "Not So Happy Valley: Power, Abuse, Leadership, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ."