Archive for November, 2011


Working our moral muscles

I beg your indulgence for a quick reflection on the events surrounding the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno last week. I am sure you are feeling as if you’ve heard about as much as you can stomach and are ready to move on to something else… ANYTHING as long as it is a little more positive and affirming.

I know exactly what you mean. I am sometimes a little too emotional about things, but I have to tell you… any event involving the injury or exploitation of children both turns my stomach and enrages me. But this one also caused me to pray and reflect on what we all might be able to learn as a result of this unspeakable tragedy and I decided that one conclusion was worth taking time to share.

During the flurry of media coverage and interviews surrounding this story, there has been one question that has seemed to baffle everyone who has ventured an opinion. The question is, “Why did no one speak out sooner? Why did it take so long, at the expense of so many more children, before anyone went to the authorities or confronted Joe Sandusky directly about the horror of what he (allegedly) was doing?”

Many theories about this answer have been put forward: some say it is the power of the Penn State football program, the fear of tarnishing the image of JoePa, the natural reluctance of people to intercede in an emergency, and on and on. The real answer – for me – goes right to the heart of why we are doing what we are doing as people who decide to follow Jesus Christ. You see, as most of us go through the routines of our daily lives, I would guess that we are not regularly faced with the opportunity to make dramatic, life-altering decisions, or to take actions that have the capacity to make a profound change in the direction of another person’s life. We see our lives as more of a collection of “small” steps and “small” decisions that have some consequence, but certainly not HUGE or LIFE-ALTERING consequence. And so as a result, our “moral muscles” get a little flabby and out of shape.

Then, when we suddenly find ourselves confronted – in the blink of an eye – with the need to dramatically speak or act to confront some monstrous evil that has just reared its head, we find ourselves weakened… unable to “rise to the occasion.” The heartrending result of our “moral flabbiness” is that evil goes unchecked. Lives are damaged, right there in front of us.

I believe that if our faith means anything to us at all, it should be a compass that guides us through every decision of every day. I believe we are wrong to label the moments of our life as “big” or “small.” I believe that for God, every moment is big. I believe that you and I – and every person alive – have the capacity to see God actively at work and to collaborate with God’s work in even the most mundane encounters of our day. I believe that “God’s will for my life” is not necessarily revealed in a huge master blueprint for the next 50 years, but through discerning and doing the right thing in this next moment, and then this next moment, and so on for the rest of our lives. I believe our faith should be not just the filling station where we fill up, but also the gas tank that fuels our every movement.

When we adopt this mindset about our faith, it is like doing the daily exercises – the curls, the pull-downs, the sit-ups, and push-ups – that keep our moral muscles in shape. And then, when that “moment of monstrous evil” confronts us, we are ready to meet it and respond as Christ would have us respond.

When Jesus said, in Matthew 24, “… be ready… for no one knows the day or the hour,” he wasn’t just talking about the time when he would return to the earth. He was talking – I firmly believe – about how you and I daily live as his disciples. 

So the question is: are you ready?

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