What Scandals Can Show Us

I can remember where I was eight years ago when the news about Jerry Sandusky broke. It was the first weekend of November. A rare weekend that was free from Blue Band commitments since the football team had a bye week. I was scrolling through the Facebook news feed when I saw our drum major share one of the first articles to break with the story of Jerry Sandusky’s arrest with a simple status update. “Oh no….”

Since the news broke on Saturday and the details were sparse, it was difficult to tell at the time just how significant this story was. I know I didn’t expect the story to get the traction that it did. Not because if wasn’t a significant crime and story. But because I had never been closely associated with a story this big before. But by the time Monday rolled around it was the talk of every news station. It was everywhere on TV and the news stations had their vans lined up in front of campus, reporting from the town where it all transpired.

To be honest, I didn’t know an outrage nationally could occur this quickly. And I had never been a part of a community as rocked as ours was by this sudden turn of events (or at least the public revealing of past events). My only connection to the story was that I was a student at the university. But that didn’t keep people in the comment sections from saying that students like me were a part of the problem. A school, student body, and family of alumni that for years touted “Success With Honor” as one of our main mantras was left wondering was there ever really honor associated with that success?

Friends of mine lost sleep over Joe Paterno’s firing and soon-to-follow death. Some students transferred out of fear of remaining associated with an institution who’s name had been significantly tarnished. And trust in the leadership of the university and its athletic programs was shattered. Nowhere near as shattered as the lives of the victims must have been. But nonetheless, the sins of a few men had much wider ripples that extended beyond these young boys. Ripples that extended to their families and to the community at-large.

One cannot help but think about how much this story undermined what so many thought they had at Penn State. A seemingly infallible persona in Joe Paterno. A football program that was supposed to serve as the epitome of molding men and student athletes. A football program that was above reproach. And it was an identity that so many fans and students adopted willingly and joyfully.

The removal of the Joe Paterno statue eerily represented the sudden decline in the institution’s public image. And many were left wondering if Penn State ever was representative of the ideals we flaunted.

Just a quick reminder, the Penn State Scandal wasn’t the first scandal to ever occur. Nor will it be the last unfortunately. A similar one from the recent past occurred within the Roman Catholic Church. A similar coverup of sexual crimes against minors that had been pervasive throughout leadership. And just like the news with Jerry Sandusky, the revealing of these transgressions and the subsequent concealment of these issues, led to a similar distrust of authority within the church, widespread abandonment of the Catholic Church and the questioning of the Christian faith in general. This scandal leaves us with similar questions. Did the church or Christianity ever represent the ideals they claimed to hold?

The Penn State Scandal, a representation of when school spirit and the protection of an identity as a successful athletic program goes bad. The scandal within the Catholic Church, a representation of when a church hierarchy degenerates into an institution that is more preoccupied with preserving its image than serving as ambassadors for Christ and protecting the least of these. But the scandals don’t have to be at a national scale for them to impact us.

How about when you find out a friend has stabbed you in the back? Was that friendship ever really genuine? Did I ever mean anything to that person? What do I do with all those memories that at the time seemed so positive? Hasn’t this backstabbing distorted these memories and left us jaded?

Or how about being cheated on by a significant other? Doesn’t every memory come under immense scrutiny? Where did it go wrong? Did they ever love me? Can I ever see myself being back in a serious relationship or trusting someone else again? Could a child of divorced parents ever convince themselves to pursue marriage after seeing it fall apart?

And what about the revealing of significant errors made by politicians, CEOs, and celebrities? Does this undercut our ability to have any confidence in them or the organizations or agencies they represent?

The list goes on. We see parenting, politics, religion, friendship, sports, and life itself done in so many ways that are to the detriment of others. And when these seemingly good things go bad they eat away at our certainty in what has often served as pillars and foundations for our lives.

When I was at Penn State, this scandal fractured the school pride that I had at the time. To associate with Penn State was embarrassing for a while. My self-worth wasn’t wholly tied up in the school’s image, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t partially connected. This scandal forced me to ponder two questions.

The first was, where should I put my faith if these other things have failed me. I have never been perfect in my dependency on God, but He has served as that firm foundation. He has been unchanging, faithful, and dependable through the difficult chapters of life even when I haven’t always been steady in my response and trust. He was before dependable before the scandal rocked my community. He was during it. And He has continued to be afterwards. I’ve tried to set aside these foundations I formerly had and that did not hold up in difficult circumstances. And to the degree that these foundations have been exchanged for my faith in God, is the degree to which my security improved.

The second question has taken a longer time to answer. That question is how do we move forward after being hurt by others and/or institutions that fail us. Sometimes we withdrawal. Sometimes we lash out in anger. Sometimes we quickly try to find something new to fill that void left in our life. We will all respond in slightly different ways in the immediate aftermath of something significant like a scandal.

What I have found to be true in the long term though is that in almost every scandal or breakdown in relationships and communities, it is because something that was good became twisted from it’s ideal purpose.

The Penn State Scandal hurts because school spirit and community are not in and of themselves bad things. But when that school spirit motivates people to worship coaches and conceal criminals to protect an image, it has been distorted.

The scandal in the Catholic Church hurts because the church itself has incredible power to love and serve people. But when those who are entrusted to lead the flock, protect the wolves in sheepskin, the power of the church gets turned into something incredibly demonic and all authority and credibility gets destroyed.

The same goes for our relationships. Divorce is so unfortunate because the potential good of a healthy marriage, not just for the individuals, but for their families and community is lost. A broken friendship casts a shadow of how incredible a dependable friendship can be.

Just because a friendship or a relationship go as planned doesn’t mean we need to give up on all friendships and relationships. Just because a leader or an organization fails us, doesn’t mean we need to disassociate from any and every group.

As C.S. Lewis states in his book “The Great Divorce,” the stronger an angel, the fiercer devil it is when it falls. Some of the most tragic and scandalous things we see in the world don’t occur because they are inherently evil. It’s because something that has the potential for much good has fallen, been corrupted, and now has the power to do so much damage.

As I reflect on eight years since the Penn State Scandal broke, I continue to think about these two things. What is my foundation built on? And am I willing to open myself up to the good that can come from things that have gone poorly? Am I willing to up myself up when I’ve been betrayed before?

There can still be some good there. It will take courage to fight through the instinct to pull ourselves back. We just have to keep a discerning eye, always watching for when the good goes bad. And remembering that even the bad can show us glimmers of the good when we’re willing to search for it.

Changing for Better or for Worse?

Well these past four years sure did go by fast, and upon reflection it’s amazing how much I believe I’ve changed since my freshman year. I can remember auditioning for the Blue Band and then thinking that so much of my self-worth was riding on that result. I remember planning to pursue engineering because I enjoyed the subject, but also because I wanted to live comfortably and this occupation would give me the money to do so. I remember thinking that wearing your dorm key on a lanyard was cool. I couldn’t have been more wrong on all three (especially that last one).

We are constantly changing. Day-to-day we may seem the same person, but really reflect over the past few years or even months and I’m sure there’s something that has changed in your personality, your temperance, your desires, or your dreams. To believe that we are unchanging, that we can’t grow and develop or diminish and decay, can be dangerous. The truth is, we are taking one of those two paths in almost every situation. So are you changing for better or for worse?

First, what are you working towards? What is culminating goal that you have set for yourself? Your final destination dictates the trajectory that you will try to take and therefore should be given much thought. The thing to watch for though is that in pursuit of this goal, does it cause you as a person to grow or deteriorate? Pursuit of happiness, a common goal for people, could lead to the compro In the grand scheme of life though, lanyards are of much less importance than things like relationships and our contributions to our community. The goal you have makes you more aware of the progress or the retrogression you make over time.

Second, what setting are you putting yourself in? A plant placed in fertile soil with plenty of nutrients will often thrive more successfully than when it’s planted in a bunch of rocks. Are you surrounding yourself with groups that instill good values and support for you? I wrote a post before called “The Rule of Five” which talks about this exact topic. The people we surround ourselves with will have a big impact on who we change into.

Lastly, what attitude do you have regarding change? In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. They both go into the temple to pray. The Pharisee was prideful and lists off all of the great things he does and then lists the ways that he is better than the Tax Collector. But the Tax Collector simply humbles himself and asks for mercy. Humility leads to positive change because it allows us to recognize our shortcomings instead of keeping them in the dark. We can always find worse actions of others to compare ourselves to. If we use these actions to justify our actions ourselves entirely we’re in trouble.

This world is changing, and watching the news lately I have been deeply saddened by just how much more pain, violence, deceit, and discouragement there has been lately. We all contribute to how this world changes, for better or for worse and we probably contribute more bad than often we would like to admit. So let’s do our best with what we have because we could always use more people consciously trying to change for the better.

Unanswered Questions

People act weird sometimes… I mean, isn’t it strange some of the habits we have? All of the tendencies and social norms that we adopt as we age. They are natural reactions that are cued by scenarios that we are presented everyday and they are almost all dictated by what society as a whole has deemed “correct” or “wrong.”

Andrew Hales has a whole YouTube channel dedicated to forcing these awkward situations. Here’s a great video of him putting people in one of his socially awkward situations.

As much as I love the awkwardness of seeing how people react to Andrew trying to hold their hand in this video, I think we can easily observe these strange tendencies in an “unfabricated” setting.

The typical classroom situation where the teacher asks, “Does anyone have any questions?” is my favorite. The teacher opens the discussion to anyone in the class to speak up, and students with questions look around unable to get themselves to just raise their hand. Students turn their heads side-to-side, avoiding eye contact with the teacher, and hoping someone will ask their same question so they can get the answer without all the attention of the class. Embarrassed about not knowing everything, we are afraid of just the thought of asking a question. 

Two years ago, two big life questions were constantly on my mind. 1. What is my purpose in this life? And,  2. Why is it that no matter how hard I try, I can’t be as good of a person as I feel I should be? Up to this point, I had refused to address deep questions like this, unable to quote-on-quote “raise my hand” in life, and I enjoyed the simple life where I acted like I knew all the answers afraid to come across as not knowing.

But then I realized, if I don’t ask I’ll never know. Something has to be true. There must be an answer, whether I ask the question or not, and I want to know it. But who do you ask to answer these questions? And if many people claim no one can know the answers to these questions, why ask at all? Sticking with the classroom scenario, if in the classroom the answer to a question could determine whether or not you pass or fail the course would you ask it?

I ran into students at Penn State who lived with a purpose, and seemed to be living a good life and wanting to know what made them different I spent time with them and learned from them. I asked questions. The answer to those two questions came from people I barely knew explaining the story of Christ to me.

This is still the only answer that appropriately answers all of my questions about humanity, this world, our past, our purpose, and what our future will look like. For the first time ever I was in a classroom where I wanted to ask the teacher every question I had and could come up with. And every step of the way that teacher has followed through on answering those questions, because I asked Him.

We all have questions, and there are answers to those questions whether we ask for them or not. And by no means have I had all of mine answered. But in times of doubt He has “conveniently” had me read the stories of Gideon, David, and Thomas, who doubted the existence or plans of God also. Yet God/Jesus was patient with them and helped them step-by-step in overcoming these questions and doubts. He’s not expecting us to understand everything right away. He wants us to ask questions about Him and His purpose for this world and watch as our questions get answered.

I still don’t have all the answers, but I had found where I could get them from and I have never felt more fulfilled than in these moments when I learn from Him. Every day that I spend time reading His Word more truths become visible and present. I believe we all have those moments where truths about this world “resonate.”

Andrew and some of the individuals in that video embraced the awkwardness and some didn’t. I find the ones who play along or have fun remarks afterwards are more enjoyable to watch than those who are annoyed. Are you willing to embrace going against the social norm of staying quiet? Are you willing to ask questions? Are you willing to ask the tough questions? To come across as the person who maybe doesn’t know everything? Because that may be the most freeing decision you ever make in your life. It was for me.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”                                                                                                      – Matthew 7:7-8 –