Some thoughts on the Penn State tragedy

Dear friends of ours — Matt and Kristin Odland — posted this on their blog last week, and we wanted to share it with you as well. Matt and Kristin have a friend who works with Cru in the Pittsburgh metro area. The Cru team leader at Penn State shared this message at the university’s weekly meeting last week. Like Matt and Kristin, we appreciate the challenge of his message, and the Christ-centered approach to the devastating situation going on at Penn State. If you’d like to read or listen to it in its entirety, please visit Penn State Cru’s web site.

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Love Notices Wet Hair
An abridged version of the talk, “A Deficiency of Love”
Tim Henderson
Campus Director, Penn State Cru

The campus community at Penn State University has been reeling since the horrific allegations of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse were revealed in the Grand Jury Presentment on November 4, 2011. Interim President Rodney Erickson acknowledged this as “one of the saddest weeks in the history of Penn State.”

Episodes like this can create a fog. But they can also bring clarity. In pursuit of that clarity consider that Jesus said the most fundamental responsibility we have is to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In light of this he was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” which is another way to ask, “Whom am I obligated to love?”

At Penn State, we have been asking questions about obligation all week. Who is obligated to report what to whom? Who is legally obligated to report sexual abuse of a child, and to whom must they report it? Who is morally obligated to report sexual abuse of a child, and to whom must they report it? Is there a difference between moral obligation and legal obligation?

Were they obligated?

Jesus responded to the heart of that question in his famous story about the Good Samaritan. Surprisingly though, He didn’t actually answer that question, He answered a more important one. More on that below.

First though, consider two of the victims described in the Grand Jury Presentment: victims two and six. According to the report a graduate assistant saw a 10-year-old boy (victim two) pressed against a shower wall being raped. He then left, called his boss and reported what he had seen, just as he was legally obligated to do.

In contrast to this, when victim six returned home from a visit with Sandusky, his mom noticed he had wet hair. On the basis of that small detail alone she was concerned and learned that they had showered together. Immediately this mom called the police, cooperated in a wiretap, confronted Sandusky to his face, interrogated him about the details of showering with her son, grilled him about the effect he had on her son, and rebuked him, telling him never to shower with another boy again. What’s the difference between these cases?

Love is the issue.

The difference is the mom loved her son. She loved her little boy and was moved to outrage by the simple fact of his wet hair. She moved aggressively. She wasn’t fulfilling a legal obligation, and she wasn’t fulfilling a moral obligation. Obligation wasn’t the issue.

Love is the issue.

The shame engulfing Penn State is about a deficiency of love. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as much as, and in the same manner, that we love ourselves, is the chief responsibility of our life. “Who is my neighbor?” is the wrong question. According to Jesus, the right question is “Am I a neighbor?” It’s not “Who must I love?” It’s “Am I one who loves?”

Again, the chief responsibility of our lives is to love God and others as we love ourselves. But we don’t. If we’re honest, it’s not even close. We don’t love anyone with the vigor and thoroughness that we love ourselves. Jesus Christ is the only one to walk the earth who fulfilled that command. He is the ultimate Good Samaritan, and he is the one who loves radically. He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” And then He did just that. He loved radically; gave himself away—not just figuratively but literally. He laid down his life as a sacrifice on the cross to protect us from the punishment our sins deserve. He loves you as much as He loves himself.

To the extent that fact penetrates your heart, it will transform you and make you love better. It will give you not just the affection of love, but the courage of love. A love that moves to protect. That moves into danger. A love that doesn’t measure obligation, but that suffers so that the beloved won’t. The kind of love that would notice wet hair and respond immediately.

In order to love like that we need to first mourn over this evil. There has been an urgency to get past or even deflect this shame. Don’t do that. Let the shame into your heart. Grieve. Mourn. We are Penn State. If we will accept the glory of that we must also accept the shame and this is a shameful moment.

Let shame produce softness and repentance in your heart. Perhaps God will give you the grace to see in other’s failure to love, your own failure to love. As you mourn that and confess it to Him, you can experience His love, become one who notices the wet hair all around you, and moves to love others.

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