Joe Paterno. Even a dyed-in-the-wool football avoider like me has heard of Joe Paterno. Generally in hushed and reverent tones. A best friend who matriculated at Penn State probably helped that recognition and reverence just a tad.
I must also confess here that I am also a consummate avoider of news programs, newspapers, etc. I am, however, an avid user of social media. My first indication of anything untoward happening was a Facebook post by the aforementioned best friend. The topic of her post sent me scurrying to the internet for more information. In the ensuing minutes, hours, days, I have learned more about Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, Penn State and “State College” than I ever dreamed I wanted to know!
Then came the next POTSC Never Beyond poster…
So, okay, POTSCers…and others…this is a tough one for me. For starters, I have a nine-year-old son. If anything even remotely close to what is being alleged at Penn happened to him, I would like to say that I would take the high road and leave the vengeance to God but in reality, I think I’d try to chew up the person who hurt my child and spit him (or her) out after I gutted him in the town square. I’m not sure anyone who knew about it and hid it would fare any better. I know that sounds harsh and I know I (probably) wouldn’t revert to primeval methods of torture and murder; however, I just don’t know how able I would be to extend grace. I know that it would take time to even be able to contemplate the idea.
From what I have read in the media – social and otherwise – and have had occasion to discuss, there are two ways of looking at the potential dispensation of grace for Mr. Paterno. The basic question concerns grace on a purely personal level and, given his celebrity status, the further question concerns grace on a professional level. Should this “incident” (which just doesn’t seem a harsh enough word if the allegations are true) mar an otherwise unblemished 45-year career…should it extinguish the flame of near hero-worship which has burned so long in the hearts of so many?
Okay – so here’s my take (it’s about time, right? I mean, I’m only 350 words into the post, after all…)
On the issue of personal grace. YES! Absolutely! Jesus died so that Mr. Paterno COULD be forgiven. A metaphor I used yesterday about abuse has a similar application here…we do not discriminate between the large and the small fires when deciding whether to extinguish them. We extinguish them all. We do not distinguish between the long fall and the short fall into the precipice of sin. We extend the hand of grace no matter how far away the ledge. In all honesty, we never know when we’ll find ourselves on a ledge even further down and need that loving hand.
Everything I have written, I believe. I ALSO believe we should be angry. The allegations coming out of Penn State absolutely obligate us to be angry! THIS BEHAVIOUR IS NOT OK! Those who perpetrated it and those who didn’t report it or covered it up should, without question, receive punishment! As many have already said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” –Edmund Burke or Leo Tolstoy (there seems to be some debate) That is, essentially, exactly what happened in this situation for far too long. Good men did nothing and that should be enough to make us angry!
I further believe that a large number of people do not think they can extend grace because grace precludes anger. Grace no more precludes anger than does forgiveness mean that nothing bad happened. I have written it before and I will probably write it again – anger is a healthy emotion. We can use it for good. Anger galvanizes us to action and is not incompatible with grace. However, without grace, anger frequently progresses to rage and hate. Rage and hate keep us from action. We remain paralyzed within the confines of our own emotions. They are selfish, unproductive and incompatible with grace.
Now, as to the issue of professional grace. (I really hate to do this because, as those of you who know me have come to understand, I have an opinion about everything.) I don’t know. I have wrestled with this issue for days. As I mentioned earlier – I couldn’t care less about football – but the issue is important because it applies to so many situations in life. Someone works decades to build a reputation – a standing – and they make one fatal error. Should it diminish or destroy the brilliance of the former accomplishments?
I just don’t know.
On the one hand, to say “yes” smacks of the “what have you done for me lately?” phrase which is so biting and detrimental to growth in corporate America. Yet, to say “no” feels like excusing them for the harm they have done and the hurt they have caused. That doesn’t feel like fair, either. Doesn’t feel like justice either way to me.
I’d like to tie this all up in a package with a neat bow by saying…(picture me thinking…thinking…thinking…)
Nope. There’s no neat bow here. Life is messy. Grace is messy. It is necessarily radical and often irrational. I try to keep a few things which I have read in various POTSC related posts in mind and remember that, as they apply to me, so they apply to all. I’ll leave you with these thoughts:
“Jesus left heaven, dove head first into a vile sewer, to rescue me from drowning in my own nasty mess.”
“practicing what I preach means finding the courage to say grace is enough…even for ________________.”
I guess, for now, I’m still “chasing faith” enough to extend grace without question. One step at a time – I’m getting “ok” at extending it without condition.
The picture which inspired this post is part of the People of the Second Chance NEVER BEYOND series which is challenging us to exhibit grace in new, radical, irrational ways.
POTSC is a haven for those of us who are broken. It is a place where love is given freely and judgment not at all. POTSCers attempt to live in a state of grace and offer that grace to the rest of the world – without boundary and without condition. Come see what we are all about at POTSC!