On Penn State, and Protecting Your Camp

I read an article on CNN this morning that was talking about the utter failure of Penn State to protect children from Jerry Sandusky when they were well aware of his fondness for raping young boys.

Apparently, the image of the school and its storied football program was much more important than the physical harm, sexual abuse, and irreversible psychological damage done to a series of boys over something like a decade.

This is so hard to get my mind around. These men knew what Sandusky had done and could potentially still do. And they did nothing. Marine and blogger “America’s Sgt Major” wrote a great piece back in 2011 just as the story was becoming nationally prominent.

Let me be as clear as I am able. As a believer, I am well aware of the measure of forgiveness dealt to me, and I am grateful for it. As a man who is a father, and is not a pedophile, I think of it like this:

If I was camping with my family and a bear was threatening the camp, I would take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of my family. If a member of my family was somehow hurt, then typically the bear would be captured and possibly destroyed.

Or you could consider what would happen to a dog that bit ten people.

Either way, the animal would no longer be a threat. The men at Penn State had a chance to prevent a lot of pain and they pissed it away out of self-preservation.

I know that as a follower of Christ I should forgive Sandusky and pray for him, that he might repent of his many sins.

I struggle with that. Some things–as a man and father–are difficult if not impossible to forgive.

Now, thankfully, Jerry Sandusky is reaping what he has sown. He is no longer a threat. And he will likely be a marked man wherever he is incarcerated.

Now I find myself thinking not that I hope he turns to Christ, but that he meets a very special friend in prison that will show him what it feels like to be a victim.

I know it’s wrong to feel that way, but I am a human being. I think of the DC Talk song “In The Light.”

This only serves to confirm my suspicion
That I’m still a man in need of a savior

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Sometimes…

I look at what the world has become and it is easy to imagine Jesus weeping over a city.

It seems that we–both as individuals and as a culture–have not just forgotten God, but have forgotten how to treat others as people.

Death is everywhere. There are wars and rumors of wars. We make movies and write books about kids fighting to the death for entertainment. We play games where you can wander the streets and kill prostitutes.

Society has also taken an act designed by God to show love between husband and wife and made all manner of perversion commonplace. There’s a series of widely read books right now that has millions of stay-at-home mothers thinking Sadism & Masochism is normal (and we’re not just talking about a little slap and tickle).

It’s not the way God wired us, people.

Yet we have so damaged each other through our actions, words, and even entertainment that bondage and murder are fun ways to spend a few hours. Playing at them, anyway.

It’s like we’re on a treadmill powered by the world and getting pulled farther and farther away from God and his plan for our lives.

The question I’ve been thinking about is how do we get off the treadmill without making things worse?

What comes to my mind is Jesus sitting on a hill and weeping for the people that will soon call for his execution.

He didn’t weep for himself. He wept for his people.

He still does.

The Gray Haired Man

We stopped at the Circle K on 24th Street and avenue B on the way home from Sunday dinner at Ken & Linda’s place last night. I had a paper to write on the Passion Week and knew I’d be up a little later than usual and would need a caffeine boost so I’d be able to retain my usual literary standard of mediocrity.

We pulled up in front of the store and I could see a few customers in line as I got out of Jen’s car. One of them was a sixty-something older gentleman with long, dirty gray hair and a straggly beard. He was an obvious homeless man by the look of him. I didn’t see what he bought, and I didn’t see him leave the store as I walked in.

I got Jen and I some drinks and as I turned to pay, I could see he was gone. David came into the store just then and told me Jen told him to come and tell me there was a man on the sidewalk outside and I should get him something.

I said OK, and stepped out of line.

I grabbed a sandwich and bottle of water from the cold case as I stood and talked to David.

“Mom said he was by the pay phone,” he said, “but I didn’t see him.”

I wondered how many other people hadn’t seen him? I probably would not have if David had not come into the store. I told David to go back to the car and I would be there in a minute.

I stepped outside and the gray haired man was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk next to the pay phone, holding an almost-empty bottle of water. He was looking left-to-right, right-to-left and muttering unintelligibly to himself.

I crouched down in front of him and handed him the bag with the sandwich and the water. “I thought you might want something to eat.”

He looked at me almost like he was angry, and continued the muttering and whispering and darting his head back and forth. Jen told me later the woman in the car next to us told her the gray haired man “didn’t like people to help.”

“My name is Tom,” I said. He looked at me for a second and stopped muttering. He held out his hand. I shook his hand and noticed he had lesions of some kind on his face.

“I knew a guy named Tom once,” he said clearly. Then he went back to scanning and muttering.

I listened for a moment to see if he’d say anything else I could understand, and he just looked back and forth, back and forth.

“I have to go,” I said. I wished him God’s blessing and got back into Jen’s car.

As we backed out, we could see him take the cap from the new water bottle and pour a little on the sidewalk. I told Jen we used to do that if or when someone died. We’d pour out a little beer and say, “for absent friends.”

I wondered if the gray haired man poured water for an absent friend, or if he had a friend at all. Either way, I was glad I’d spoken to him, and shook his hand.

Whatever clouded his head had cleared long enough for him to reach out his hand to mine. He’d understood me, and had spoken to me so I could understand him.

He’d known a guy named Tom once. And now again.

It occurred to me once again I have not arrived yet where I need to be. I should not have needed my wife or my son to tell me someone needed help. I need to pray for better vision, and eyes to see.

I need Jesus to break my heart for what breaks his.

I plan to do my best to see people from now on, least of these or otherwise.

Everyone deserves to be seen.

My Leather Jacket

I wish I was a better person. My wife, now she is an extraordinary woman who loves people, and serves God. I think of this one time we were in San Diego for a visit. Jen went over to Starbucks while I was in line at the Yogurt Mill. She was getting some snacks and coffee for the ride back to Yuma.

A man behind her in line who was from some El Cajon church (I wish I remembered which one) paid for her things, and I think for a few more people in the store. Jen came back to where I was and as we were about to get back into the car, she noticed a homeless guy on crutches leaning against a dumpster.

“I’m gonna give him this stuff,” she said, gesturing with the food. And she walked over there with David and did that very thing. She paid it forward that day.

I want to serve God with that kind of heart.

I remember a while back, some friends and I had gone clubbing in downtown San Diego on January 2nd, and it was still pretty darn cold. I remember walking back to the car after being out at about 2am. There were people sleeping here and there on the sidewalks and in doorways. As we stepped past this particular doorway, I could sense a very strong direction from God to give my jacket (it was a pretty nice leather jacket) to a particular homeless man, who was sleeping sitting up, his back against a wall.

I didn’t do it. I was cold.

After that, I could not get around what I’d done–or not done, I guess. I’d always wanted direction from God, and when I got it, I looked toward my own best interests, and did not clothe one of the “least of these.”

I couldn’t wear that jacket again, and went so far as to stow it in the trunk of my car. I still ask God for forgiveness of that one. My leather jacket stayed in the trunk for a good long while. And then one day a friend from my small group was doing a “jacket outreach” to downtown San Diego–it was the next winter, I think. I handed the jacket over to her without thinking about it.

I don’t say this to convince anyone of what a great person I am for doing something I should have done the year before. I only say it because not doing what God prompted consumed me for the better part of a year. And this time of year, I feel like there might be a lot of people out there who feel like they should do something to help someone that needs it. To offer food, or clothing, or simply a friendly ear to a person who needs any of those things.

Please, please if you feel that kind of prompting from God, or the Holy Spirit moves you in some other way, just do what you feel led to. Don’t wait. Especially this time of year. There are people out there hurting, and needing, and wanting. I think of a posting my friend Jorge had on Facebook today about a young mother that lost her job and had nothing. I don’t know if it was true or not, but it still moved me.

We did a really big outreach here in Yuma about a year-and-a-half ago to Crossroads Mission and a couple of other places. I was fortunate and blessed enough to speak to a gathering of about 20 men in an after-dinner chapel service they are made to attend when they stay at the mission.

I remember talking to some of the men (and women who worked there but were not residents) prior to and after the chapel service, and they were such amazing people.

But I imagine they were used to getting stepped over in doorways.

If you live here in Yuma and you ever have the chance to serve there, I cannot encourage you more. You will be blessed to know those folks, I promise you. There are plenty of places like that in San Diego, too.

Find one.

Serve there, if you can. Serve anywhere.

But don’t let another doorway pass you by.