Monday, November 14, 2011

My Penn State Story

Today I left Breakthrough around noon to head back out to the western suburbs.  I passed a young man and woman.  They appeared to be arguing.  I slowed down and watched through my rear view mirror.  I saw him violently shove her.  Then he threw a giant roundhouse punch that landed on the side of her head.  More shoving. Then a slap.  No one else was in sight.

I know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to keep driving. And I almost did.  But I couldn’t. So, I turned the car around.  Pulled up near them. Opened my window and asked the girl if she was OK. No response. I asked again.  The young man then started yelling at me. Swearing.  That was fun.

The good news was that my presence stopped the violence.  I pulled up the block a bit but didn’t leave.  I called 911 and then flagged down a passing squad car.  The police officer immediately turned around to deal with the situation.  When I saw him engage the couple in conversation I left.

I’m no hero.  There was a tug of war going on in my head about stopping or driving away.  Interfering in something like this in an urban neighborhood can be a dangerous thing.  I remembered thinking …he might have a gun?  Would he assault me? But I came to the conclusion that I was the only person around who could stop this man from further harming this young woman.  So I intervened. Today, I’m able to look in the mirror and know that I did the right thing.  But I almost didn’t.  I could have called 911 and not stopped but sometimes 911 isn’t always quick to come in some urban neighborhoods.  That wasn’t the best option.  God was telling me I needed to intervene. But I almost didn’t.

Last week the news about Penn State broke.  I understand better today how hard it is to step up in the moment to stop something horrible.  Hard isn’t easy.  It is necessary though for good people to do hard things in order to stop injustice.  That means facing fear, praying for courage, and asking God for protection.  When we don’t lean into our fear and respond with some degree of courage people often get hurt.

On Sunday I was listening to a Christian radio station on my drive to church. I heard the host saying that he had heard about the Penn State child abuse incident but was choosing not to listen to any news details about it.  There was a bit more said that made me wonder if people were being invited to check the issues of the day in the narthex of their church.   I was hoping and praying people wouldn't hear that it doesn't matter what was happening out there in the world.  Or that that all we needed to do was "Praise the Lord" in our holy huddles and all the bad stuff will go away.  If so, I was going to be seriously ill. I was upset that perhaps some would actually believe that it was OK to close their minds and hearts to matters of serious consequence.

In a subsequent good conversation with that host I was assured that the message I heard wasn't the message intended. I will choose to believe in his intention and his heartfelt concern for the victims and his deep love for God. And yet I heard something that caused a strong reaction. Thinking through this I wonder if I wasn't filtering what I was hearing through an all too familiar and unsatisfying grid. Too often the church can close its eyes and ears to the world around them, waiting for the culture to get bad enough soon and then the Lord will come back and take all the good guys away, rescuing us from all things ugly and sinful. While I believe fully in the coming of the Lord again I also believe that we are kingdom builders in the here and now and required to deal with the world as it is as ambassadors of Christ. 

I’ve always believed that people of faith need to know what is happening around them.  I, too, want to praise the Lord but I believe that God wants me to care about the things that matter to Him.  Kids being raped in a shower room matters to God. Such things should inform our worship and bring us to our knees crying in the midst of our outrage and springboard us to action.  To close our eyes to the evil in our world is a sinful act. I was reminded of that when I saw the first punch to a woman’s face today.  Who was God going to use to protect her?  The finger, this time, pointed to me. Tomorrow, maybe you.

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