Pastor Don Wolan

Pastor Donald Wolan
Downriver Christian Community Church
Melvindale, Michigan

Friday, January 27, 2012

Say It Ain't So Joe!

On Sunday, January 22nd, long time Penn State University Head Football Coach Joe Paterno died from lung cancer and a broken heart. For those who are not familiar with "JoePa," a quick review of his accomplishments would not even begin to do justice to a remarkable life that spanned 86 years and was filled with accomplishments too numerous to list!  Many have already written about his remarkable life as well as the controversial set of circumstances that brought his career to a crashing conclusion. Although I could go into great detail as far as what his accomplishment were - and there are many - it was the way he lived and ended his life that most impressed me. Praying with his family, comforting and challenging those who came to visit him on his death bed, or telling all who would listen that he held no grudges against Penn State University or the people who demanded his firing were the way Coach Paterno approached the last hours and minutes of his remarkable life.

In the last few months of his life, Coach Paterno was fired from his head coaching job because of actions he did or did not take according to the "moralists" of our day. One of his former assistant coaches was accused of the sexual assault of a young man in the Penn State athletic facilities showers. Coach Paterno did not witness the incident, but had it reported to him by a grad assistant coach the day following the assault. Coach Paterno notified the athletic director of Penn State University about the incident and was told that they would take care of the investigation. Coach Paterno left the matter with the athletic director and the school administration. It is at this point of the story where all the trouble and the second guessing begins.

Apparently, there was no investigation by the athletic director or school officials. Depending on who is telling the story, either the case was never investigated - or, if it was, there was no follow through. Coach Paterno came under intense criticism because he supposedly never followed up with the athletic director in regard to the progress of the investigation. Although it was determined that Coach Paterno did in fact report the incident to the proper school authorities as soon as he learned about it, he was came under fire for "not doing enough." Coach Paterno did in fact express his sorrow after his firing that "he could have done more" in hindsight. Although the local police and prosecutor both cleared Coach Paterno of any dereliction or malicious wrongdoing, he was publicly chastised by the head of the Pennsylvania State Police and Penn State officials for not doing "enough" or "the correct moral" thing!

Did "not do enough" or "the correct moral thing" can be a funny and nebulous accusation on a college campus. For us as Christians, morality is derived from religious teachings taken from the Bible. We behave and act a certain way because the Bible instructs us in how we should behave. We don't lie because the Bible says, "Thou shall not lie!" We don't murder because the Bible says, "Thou shall not murder!" All societies base their "moral code" on some type of religious foundation.

One of the most famous of Jesus' parables was the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, a man is robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Some religious people pass him by, but refuse to get involved in the matter. Later, a Samaritan man comes along, takes pity on the dying man, and cares for him until he recovers. Jesus uses this parable to illustrate the point that we should go beyond the written regulations of the law in regard to helping someone. It was at this point that the head of the Pennsylvania State Police Department and powers at Penn State University believe Coach Paterno did not go far enough "morally" to help the victims of the sexual assault. Though he took some steps, he did not take enough in their opinion.

Evaluating someone "morally" on a college campus nowadays is almost equivalent to judging someone "morally" in most churches - it never happens unless the you know what hits the fan! A question goes through my mind in this whole matter. Is there some type of "moral code" that everyone knows and adheres to? If so, what is it and who decided what the code should be and who should enforce it? Does it cover "gray" areas of responsibility? And who decides if one did the "correct" thing or not? Questions like these and many others have not been asked to those making the "moral judgment" that Coach Paterno did not do "the correct moral thing!"

The Bible tells us that ALL men are corrupt because of their sin nature inherited from their first parents Adam and Eve. This sin nature affects EVERYONE who has ever lived and the Bible proclaims that ALL mankind are sinners and in need of a savior! Because nobody lives up to God's "moral code," we are ALL guilty of negligence and justly condemned!  

Coach Paterno lived an exemplary and consistent life with the principals he taught and things he believed. He tried to transmit these ideas to those he coached with and over. His career was marked by devotion to the young men under his guidance and the school he represented. Wins and loses were not the most important thing in his life - sending his players out into a hostile world prepared for what lay ahead of them took priority in all his mentoring.

May we all remember that all of us fall far short of the glory of God and do or say things inconsistent with what we profess. Coach Paterno, of all the men I know, illustrated for all of us a life that for most parts was very consistent with what he believed and taught. He was not perfect, and we should not expect people to be so! Men like Coach Paterno are a great rarity today, even when flawed! If he was negligent in some capacity in the matter of the sexual abuse of children by his ex-coach, I'm sure he was heartbroken and sorry for his failures. I'm sure all of us can all look back on our lives in hindsight and wish we could change something we did or did not do.  May we all be mindful of our shortcomings and live our lives consistently with what we profess and in doing so hope to influence the next generation by the consistent example we set in the service of our king, Jesus Christ!

Goodbye Coach Joe, the final season of your life is over. Enjoy the comfort of your Savior's presence and rest in peace for a job well done!

From the time time began
You always chose a man
To lead the people safely by your way
To be a voice and echo what you say
Like David or Abraham
Your Word is full of such men
And if the Bible had no closing page
And still was being written to this day

I want to be a man that you
Would write about
Oh a thousand years from now
That they could read about
Your servant of choice in whom
You found favor
A man who heard your voice

Generations away it is my prayer
That they will look back and say
“Oh to have that kind of faith and love
What a solid man of God he was.

Stay Holy, My Friends!

Pastor Don

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Readers - I'd love to hear your comments! - Pastor Don