I don’t quite know what to think of the scandal at Penn State and the demise of Coach Paterno’s coaching career. He is 84 years of age and is the winningest coach in football history. One mistake or chain of mistakes did him in. A person can do all the good in the world but a false step, a poor decision, a blind eye and it all ends. In part I sympathize with “JoePa” but a greater concern is for the victims of a pedophile. Joe Paterno had to go. All the good memories in the world cannot erase the negligence that perpetuated the horrible things done under his nose.
Theologically I recall Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after his denial of Christ. I can ponder Jesus’ words of assurance to the thief beside him on the cross who wanted to be remembered in Paradise. Both situations had grace offered, but not without consequences. Peter was told how he would die and the thief was crucified for his crimes. In Bonhoeffer’s words, “There is no cheap grace.”
It makes me all the more dedicated to live a holy life, and I have a long way to go! I have to be diligent in the means of grace; praying, serving, devotional life, Scripture study, and doing whatever it takes to be a friend of God. I have to be a friend to everyone else to be a friend of God.
As I think of Paterno’s situation I am reminded of investing in the lives of the least of these on a consistent basis. Jesus ever sought the best for the least, the lost, the lowest, and the last. On top of a self-helping goal of improving myself I cannot abrogate helping others. The message of the Penn State scandal is to make sure you look out for the vulnerable. Paterno’s personal faith is evident. His investment in his football program is fantastic. His failure came from disregard for those he thought weren’t somehow worth it. A disconnect? Mine, too, sometimes. If my life’s story is to read well then I better be remembered for doing the right things.
Thank God I had a mother and father who excelled in this. Thinking of my Dad, I used to thoroughly enjoy going to auctions with him. My middle brother was usually there, too. Both went to the same auction school in Indiana and were partners. Although livestock auctions were the family’s main emphasis, we also did land and estate auctions.
One of those auctions sticks out in my mind as I think about my life story. I can’t remember the exact estate or town, but I know that it was in Georgia somewhere below Augusta. One of the tasks delegated to me was to go through the dilapidated out-buildings and find anything of value. If anything seemingly worthwhile was found, I told my brother or father and the item went into the sale. The old house was definitely antebellum. The barns and sheds around it were ready to fall in upon themselves. There was old stuff everywhere.
I had frightful visions of snakes and giant rats ready to pounce as I went scavenging through the buildings. There were old chifforobes, combinations of wardrobes and chests of drawers. In this case they were like the family’s safety deposit boxes. I was pretty scared as I began to open them up and pore over their contents. They were like time capsules. There were plenty of pieces of antiquated clothing turning brown or to dust with age.
Then I found the mother lode, the treasure, the things that made me forget about the rats and snakes. There were old pocketbooks. Some were made out of what appeared to be chain-mail. Others looked like real carpet-bags. They might very well have been because one of them had Confederate money in it. There were also a few coins. I plundered the bags with the anticipation of an Indiana Jones. I hurriedly told my brother and Dad what I had discovered.
I spent the rest of the day exploring each building. By the end of the day I felt like I had been privy to the family’s history. I noticed the trunks with the travel decals pasted on the sides indicating where these folks had vacationed. I found hat boxes filled with letters from distant loved ones. One had a son’s letters from overseas during World War II. There were receipt books and ledgers from what must have been an old country store located on the premises. The prices of things were astoundingly low. There were ration books from war years when essential items were doled out. I can remember their green money-like feel.
The official business of life was intermingled with the unofficial business of life. It was as if I was had been allowed entry onto hallowed ground. Everything I saw and touched spoke volumes about life, but also about death. Estate sales usually occur when there’s been a death. They suggest a sense of finality, a realization that life on earth ends, and you can’t take anything with you. In many ways that day in those barns and buildings I came of age. The lesson learned: A seven-by-four feet chifforobe can speak volumes about what we valued, but it’s only a whisper compared to the legacy of our lives themselves.
In our he/she-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins world, perhaps we should dare to leave our most treasured possessions in other people. Everything else deteriorates or gets sold. Heaven is the ultimate chifforobe, the very best safety deposit box. Let’s prove our faith by making memories in people. Joe Paterno will not be remembered for his tenacity at Penn State but in letting down a bunch of young victims. I pray for better. Our values will be revealed, exposed, celebrated, or berated. In the words of Rev. R.G. Lee, “There’s going to be a payday someday.” God help us all.