Saturday, July 14, 2012

Telling the Truth

If the following *quotations don't create some kind of deep emotional response within you, I don't know what would:

"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for fourteen years to protect the children Sandusky victimized."

"In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university...repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities..."

"These individuals...empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the allowing him to have continued...access to the university's facilities..."

"...that continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims."

"...coaches, administrators, and football staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky's behaviors..."

What can ever be done for the victims of these crimes? What can ever be said to console their parents? While Jesus Christ is more than able to help those who have been hurt in this way, how many of them may be so embittered by this experience that they will close their hearts to Him?

Why didn't anyone with knowledge or suspicion of these crimes make any statement to the authorities who could have put a stop to it? 

Why wouldn't anyone tell the truth?

In this particular case, the reasons are evident:  Those with knowledge or suspicion chose to value their personal stake in the reputation of their university and football program over the safety and innocence of children. They chose to protect a child molester.

How could these people have made this choice?

Why is the temptation to "not get involved" so strong?

It seems the simple answer to this question is fear. Fear that getting involved may bring something bad into my life. Fear of embarrassment or scandal or damage to something important to me. Fear that the bad guy will do something bad to me. Fear that the bad guy's friends or family will be mad at me. Fear that the matter won't be simple or short-lived. Fear of being on my own in a tempest.

And while several people conspired to conceal Sandusky's actions for some of these same reasons, he went right on preying on young boys.

Sometimes, the inhibition is not even based in fear, but in a twisted form of loyalty.

Several years ago, I questioned a student while investigating a matter, and found the student unwilling to share the information I strongly suspected he knew. The student was committed to the idea of not being a "rat" under any circumstances, and when I asked whether he would hypothetically report a student who had a weapon at school, he provided one of the most disturbing responses I have ever heard: 

"It would depend on whether it was a friend of mine."

I'll never forget those words.

I can't tell you how many times I've dealt with parents who actually encouraged their children not to report information about misconduct or abuse, regardless of who had been hurt or stood to be hurt, for the fearful reasons mentioned before. These folks have planted in their children's minds horrific visions of severed horse heads under the bed sheets, and drive-by shootings choreographed by omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent gang-bangers who miraculously know who ratted them out before the helpless saps ever get home from the principal's office.

These fearful parents have taught their kids that life is one big mafia movie, and that good people have too much to be afraid of to tell the truth.

And if you assume these fearful people who prefer to protect evil in order to avoid personal risk are all unbelievers, guess again. Do we think none of the exposed Penn State officials would identify themselves as Christians?  

I'm not saying there is no risk involved in telling the truth, especially when fortunes and futures are at stake. But I am asking when people forgot just who it is we serve, and how it was we decided that other factors, confined to the temporary world of this life, should outweigh the reality of God's power and truth?

In fact, God has something to say about who or what we should be afraid of:

*Luke 12:4-5 -- "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!"

*Jeremiah 1:17 -- "Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them."

*Deuteronomy 31:6 -- "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."

*Isaiah 51:7 -- "Do not fear the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings."

Is there comfort to be found in these assurances? Yes, but there is more than that: A command, an expectation, that we will keep in perspective the frightful choices we face, and never allow our fears of those who might threaten us to cause us to act as if God isn't there, as if our personal stake in some earthly matter is all there is to consider, as if telling the truth should be contingent upon the possible repercussions for my life, my standing, or my comfort.

There is a moving lyric in an old hymn, "Now the Day is Over":

"...those who plan some evil, from their sin restrain..."

This is certainly a worthy prayer. God's people should pray that those who are planning to carry out some sinful act would reconsider their actions.

But we should also pray that God's people would be people of courage and truth in the face of potential backlash. Those engaged in actions that hurt others should never be able to count on the cover provided by the silence of the people of God. 

Yes, if I report a crime to the authorities, or report an abuse of company time or materials to the boss, or if a student reports another student's misconduct, there is a chance the perpetrator could learn who reported the matter and seek some form of revenge. 

And yes, it's possible that something unpleasant could happen to the one who told the truth.

But what would you rather live with? 

The pain of suffering for telling the truth? Or, the pain of knowing you allowed someone else, possibly many other people, to suffer because you wouldn't get involved?  

What would God have you do?

Behave like a frightened citizen of Gotham City, helpless against the all-powerful agents of darkness, silently cowering in the face of their threats?

Or, carry yourself as a child of God who knows full well that no earthly threat can come close to frightening Him?

In retrospect, what are those men from Penn State wishing they had done?

God, please give us the courage to remember You when we face the choice of whether to speak up in defense of the innocent, or keep the truth to ourselves in favor of an abuser.

It shouldn't be a debate at all. 

*Quotations taken from excerpts of report found here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Texting God

I'm a Christian who struggles with prayer.

Don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't want to pray, or don't like to pray. I love the intimacy with God that is found in prayer, and I desperately want it in my life every day. But I often catch myself gliding through the motions of another busy day without having invested time in personal, private prayer.

It's the most discouraging thing, isn't it?

"Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."*

If that hymn has not brought tears to your eyes at some point in your walk with God, I don't know what else could.

I know I'm not the first to struggle with this, and I know it ultimately comes down to making prayer a priority. Those who pray consistently have trained their minds and hearts for this discipline, in ways that I have not.

To combat the usual issues with difficulty concentrating, falling asleep, and losing track of people and concerns I wanted to pray about, I've tried many things, from finding a specific spot for prayer, to praying out loud, to writing down prayers in a journal. Any and all of these have worked for me when I made prayer a priority, and have worked less well when I didn't.

But I have a new strategy I am really enjoying, and I'd like to share it:  Texting God.

I've created a prayer blog (on Blogger), and set it up to where I'm the only person who can access it. It's only for me. Blogger also has a free smartphone app, which I installed on my phone.

I treat this blog just like you would a prayer journal, except it's accessible to me through my phone, just as I would text anyone during the day. For lengthier posts, I can access the blog on my laptop, or for shorter ones in the middle of the day, I just open the Blogger app on my phone, and it's thumbs away! (I just keyed in a short prayer while sitting in a drive-through line about an hour ago.)

The most rewarding part of this process is going back later and reading earlier posts. It's nice to be reminded of where I have been, and what was on my mind to bring to God at different times.

I'm not saying spiritual disciplines should be morphed into a smartphone-ready format, but it has been rewarding to me to weave prayer into my everyday use of a vital tool that never seems to leave my hand.

Texting God is not a cure-all. It will not create a prayer life where there isn't one. But it may be a way for you to "slip away to the wilderness and pray", even in the midst of the demands of a busy day, like Jesus was known for doing. (Luke 5:16)

May we always ask, like Jesus' disciples:  "Lord, teach us to pray"!

*"What a Friend We Have in Jesus (Joseph Scriven, 1855)