Monday, July 23, 2012

It's not about the statue

It's not about the statue. It's about how Joe Paterno as a person, how Penn State and the NCAA as institutions, and how we as a society deal with power and its abuse.

Look... it's a crappy statue. Joe Paterno was more than this cartoon expressed in bronze. At his best, he stood for excellence on the football field and for the role sports and academics can play in shaping character.

But we know that Joe Paterno was less than his best. Choosing his program, his salary, and a coverup at the expense of children raped by his buddy is a character flaw which pretty well overwhelms anything else he did in his job.

Behind his statue was the legend "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." Humanitarian is off the table. It was certainly within his power to protect the vulnerable kids who suffered sexual abuse by his colleague Jerry Sandusky. As an educator, at this point Mr. Paterno serves principally as a lesson for how moral failures have a way of catching up with you. As a coach... I feel sorry for the people that he did well by, who now know that some part of their experience with him was compromised by his pursuit of success at the expense of others.

It has been noted how Coach Paterno, a practicing and prominent Catholic, may have been affected by the Church's failure to do the right thing. His diocese, like Mr. Paterno, chose cover-up, protecting the insiders who perpetrated abuse rather than protecting the children in its care. They chose a short-sighted (and ultimately wrong) strategy of trying to protect the institution rather than standing with the victims. It's an old story, choosing to avoid confrontation and scandal. But scandal is to be welcomed if it comes in pursuit of justice. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness..."(Matthew 5:10).

Joe Paterno will be remembered at Penn State. But the time for celebrating him is long past.

But it's not about the statue. Those in positions of responsibility will be happy if people think that taking down the statue or "harsh" sanctions to Penn State football is the end of the story.

It is reported that the NCAA will punish the school for its complicity in the abuse perpetrated by Mr. Sandusky and covered up by Mr. Paterno and high-level university officials. But when mega-money and prestige are at stake there will always be the temptation to overlook "collateral damage."

This is going to be true tomorrow, whatever the NCAA does to Penn State today. Big money college football relies upon the exploitation of young people, who expose themselves to injury, who are often physically damaged by the sport, and who reap little financial reward. The institutions profit from their labor and from their pain, giving the student athletes occasional glory, but keeping the money. Unfortunately, what Mr. Paterno and Penn State did was completely in character with the kind of system they were running. That is what needs to change.

That the NCAA's response is about damage control and protecting its franchise and brand is seen in several respects. 1) Immediate "extraordinary" action without following its normal procedures. 2) Stepping far afield from its role in policing college athletics to "cultural change". 3) The gratuitous step of attempting to re-write history by stripping college and coach of wins after the sexual abuse came to official attention. The NCAA wrongly identifies the "cultural problem" as located in the outsized role of the coach, rather than the outsized role of football and football money in what are otherwise educational institutions. A modest suggestion for further changing the culture of big money college football: how about the NCAA supplement the $60 million victims' fund with its share of revenues from Penn State televised games, bowl games, and merchandise licensing for 1998-2011?

See "N.C.A.A. Gives Penn State $60 Million Fine and Bowl Ban," Pete Thamel, NY Times, 7/23/12; also "Penn State penalties," Rana L. Cash, Sporting News, 7/23/12.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blessed in Christ - Ephesians 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ... Ephesians 1:1-3

Probably the most prevalent image of God in scripture is of God as Father, a parent who conceives and provides for, who watches and worries over his children. In the New Testament, this fatherhood is creatively reimagined as an adoptive relationship. New members are continually being added to the family, not by birth but by rebirth through faith and in the waters of baptism.

In our church, we saw this happen last week with a young woman named Iris, and will see it a few weeks hence with newborn Diego. All because God’s parental vision for us is founded in love. You have seen the way new parents look at their children, beloved and perfect. How much more is this the case with a parent whose love is beyond measure.

All God’s children share in that love as we share in God’s welcome table. It’s a big family, a big table, and all are welcome.

P.S. After writing this short post and finding the illustration, I located the original source of the photo. Art ain't got nothing on life. Read the article.

NFL linebacker Demarcus Ware holds his daughter Marley, named after Demarcus’ favorite reggae artist. In 2008 Mr. Ware and his wife Taniqua adopted Marley after three failed pregnancies. Photo by Images of Grace Photography, published with Greg Bishop's "Cowboys’ Ware Fulfills a Challenge for Fatherhood," in the New York Times, June 15, 2008.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

9/11 prayer group

I am posting this announcement about a prayer group for people with ongoing concerns related to 9/11. Some friends and I were talking recently... and now it exists. It's an interesting return for me. I founded an online prayer group ( immediately after 9/11, which ran its course and ended in 2002. A decade later, people still live with 9/11 and continue to feel the need for prayer.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New 9/11 Prayer group
Please share and repost

Like so many others, we have been affected by 9/11, our experiences of that day and its aftermath, and the many wonderful people we have met. People move on, and people still struggle with the effects of 9/11.

As our community moves through life, we can remember each other in prayer. Prayer connects us to a higher power, and prayer also connects us to one another.

This 9/11 Prayer group is for people involved in the events of 9/11 to share prayer and requests for prayer. The group is founded and maintained by 9/11 responders.

Post your prayer requests and prayers. If you have a name or prayer concern you would like prayer for but would not like to share publicly, please use the Facebook ABOUT tab or the website's “About us” page to email the group administrator(s). We hope that many participants will commit to including these prayer concerns in their regular prayers.

This is an interfaith group. People of different beliefs participate. Please feel free to speak in your own voice and with your faith tradition, and please respect others.

Anyone can join the Facebook group. Anyone can see the group and who's in it. Only members see posts.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Prayer for the day

When we are low, O God, send your spirit to set us on our feet,
open our lips and our hearts, and make us able to do your work.

We thank you for the grace you give us each day:
   for breeze and cool water in the heat,
   for companions to care for and to care for us,
   for teachers and preachers and prophets to make your word known.

Grant that we may be faithful stewards of your gifts, and
profligate scatterers of your grace, through Jesus Christ
our savior and Lord. Amen.

Photo: Sugar Hollow Reservoir, 1949. Part of the Dunn-Bing collection.