Penn State & False Idols

“Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” – John Calvin

It seems like this Penn State story just won’t die. Every week there is a new angle to take, or another press conference to cover. First, we had the Sandusky verdict. Then we had the release of the Freeh report. Then the statue was taken down. Now, the sanctions were issued by the NCAA . At some point in this process, I am sure many Penn State fans were hoping for some sort of vindication for the longstanding face of the football program, Coach Joe Paterno. But at every turn, those fans are disappointed. The Freeh report concluded,

The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims….

Not good. What it says is that the most powerful people in at the University, and apparently that region of Pennsylvania — University president Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and coach Joe Paterno — did absolutely nothing to protect the dozen or so victims from a child sex predator. They exhibited an incredible lack of empathy by failing to inquire about the safety of the victims, and even allowing Jerry Sandusky to have continued access to official university facilities right up until his arrest.

If this had happened at any other University, the statue would’ve been torn down like it was the statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad. But the residents of the — now, fairly ironically-titled — town of Happy Valley, PA have protested tooth and nail every repercussion of these incidents.

This leads to the question, what is it about Joe Paterno and the football program at Penn State that makes covering up 12 years of sexual abuse okay?

I think the answer to this lies in what many have called the “cult-like worship” of Saint JoePa. For so long, Joe Paterno stood as this irrefutable figure, a pillar of exemplary class and work ethic. He was held up and idolized for hundreds of thousands of Penn State students, alum, and fans. For many, the statue of Joe Paterno outside of the football stadium still stood for this reputation for always doing the right thing. The only problem is, for most people outside of the reach of the Happy Valley kool-aid, that’s not what that statue represents anymore.

And that’s the thing with false idols — they always disappoint.

Early on in the Hebrew Bible — Leviticus for those following along — it says that we are not to turn to idols or make cast images for ourselves. And what’s a statue if it isn’t a cast image? Even though we can think of Leviticus as washed up and having no place in society — which some if it is — this part still hits the nail on its head. For the people of Penn State, the JoePa statue gave meaning and identity to the school and its students.

This is why people in the early days of the Israelites made idols. They couldn’t find God so they created statues and idols to be God’s place. But when we try to pinpoint God’s placement, it often doesn’t work well for us.

But we buy into this all the time, don’t we? We chase things that we feel will give us meaning — the newest technology, a nicer car, a bigger house — but they never do. That’s because it’s a sign of success, but it’s hollow. There’s nothing backing it except pride and desire for approval. There’s no faith. There’s no compassion. There’s no justice. There’s no love.

There’s just the hollow feeling that false Gods leave on their way down.

Cheers,
Eric

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A National Crisis of Leadership

A wonderful op-ed in the Washington Post has been circulating lately. It seems to summarize many a lot of the thoughts in my head surrounding the culture in our country that has actively detracted from the number of strong leaders in this country. Instead of me paraphrasing the entire thing, I figure I would just post it. It has some great things to say about some current events and how they speak to a lack of leaders in our world. I think it also represents a lot of the angst of the Occupy movement well. Without anything further, here it is. [Bolded items are mine]

Penn State, My Final Loss of Faith

By Thomas L. Day

I’m 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile foundation.

And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents’ generation.

I was never harmed by Sandusky, but I could have been. When I was 15, my mother, then looking for a little direction for her teenage son, introduced me to the Second Mile’s Friend Fitness program. It was a program resembling Big Brother, Big Sister with a weekly exercise regimen.

Instead of Sandusky’s care, I was sent to a group of adults, many of whom were in their 20s. They took me from a C-student to the University of Chicago, where I’m a master’s student now. They took the football team’s waterboy and made a 101st Airborne Division soldier.

I was one of the lucky ones. My experience with Second Mile was a good one. I should feel fortunate, blessed even, that I was never harmed. Yet instead this week has left me deeply shaken, wondering what will come of the foundation, the university, and the community that made me into a man.

One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.

They have failed us, over and over and over again.

I speak not specifically of our parents — I have two loving ones — but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”

They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.

Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.

We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.

Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

This failure of a generation is as true in the halls of Congress as it is at Penn State.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration this week of our leaderless culture came with the riots in State College that followed Paterno’s dismissal. The display resembled Lord of the Flies. Without revered figures from the older generation to lead them, thousands of students at one of the country’s best state universities acted like children home alone.

This week the world found the very worst of human nature in my idyllic Central Pennsylvania home. I found that a man my community had anointed a teacher and nurturer of children, instead reportedly had them hiding in his basement. The anger and humiliation were more than I could bear. I can’t wait for my parents’ generation’s Joshua any longer. They’ve lost my faith.

Strong and poignant words.

What did you think of this? Did anything stick out to you as particularly persuasive or not at all? Positive or negative reactions to some of his thoughts on this? I think it’s an interesting conversation starter, for certain.

Cheers,
Eric

Words of Faith in Dark Times

Usually blatantly outright displays of faith in settings that aren’t the church often make me a bit squeamish and, to be honest, a little cynical. But watching the Penn State and Nebraska coaching staff and players gather together to pray before the game yesterday gave me chills. It’s a prayer that preaches. Ron Brown is the guy who leads them in prayer. He is the running backs coach for Nebraska, and used to be the Nebraska director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization. I am always in awe when acts of grace and unity rise up out of the ashes of turmoil. Check it out.

 

Cheers,
Eric

You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me

20111112-124621.jpgThis past week, the whole Penn State situation has dominated the news. Questions of why no one who had information of sexual abuse came forward in the over 13 years since this happened have been constantly asked this week. On the other side of the news, we have the fight for the GOP nomination heating up between Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and the rest of the crew. In light of the shock felt throughout Pennsylvania, Herman Cain’s camp made a particularly shocking comment this past week.

There have been a number of women who have accused him of sexual harrassment at some point in the past. I will leave alone his disparaging comment toward Nancy Pelosi in the most recent debate, but instead want to focus on his lawyer’s most recent comments. In a recent interview, Cain’s attorney, Lin Wood, said that any new woman who are thinking of coming forward with any allegations against Cain should “think twice” before they do.

So here we are. At the crossroads of communities crying out for support for victims of sexual harrassment and abuse, and wondering in shock and awe of how no one could have thought to report the insanely vicious and criminal acts of Penn State. Simultaneously, we are being threatened by a presidential candidate NOT to report harrassment and abuse under the insinuation of retaliation by the campaign.

What the hell kind of leadership is this? Instead of someone, anyone, stepping up to lead us in this mess… we can only stand by while potential victims are threatened into silence. Call me old fashion, but that just cannot stand.

We need a leader. Someone to help us make sense of what happened. In the midst of a presidential campaign, that would be a wonderful time. And the ball is dropped. Again.

I’m not sure exactly how to move forward in this, but we have to do something. On Monday, I’ll have a post about our crisis of leadership looking deeper into what we can do about it.

Cheers,
Eric

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