Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A church that does it all

I was first introduced to my present church back in 1980 by a fellow first-year student at the University of Pittsburgh whom I met through the school's Inter-Varsity chapter. Two years later, when I was searching for another church and I was living on campus, I visited several times.

In those days, however, it was an almost-all-white, drive-in assembly which focused on maintaining conservative doctrine and foreign missions. Nothing wrong with either, of course, but I decided not to join then in part because I wasn't sure if I could fit in.

Eighteen years later, at a time when I was again church-shopping, I decided to give it another shot. By the end of that service, I knew that I had found home.

You see, the church had changed drastically in that time. Before my return, the then-new and current lead pastor encouraged the church to minister to the largely-poor and African-American neighborhood where it was located, in the process tearing down the spiritual stronghold of racism that had previously gripped its membership. On top of that, the church also began focusing upon "social justice" -- take that, Glenn Beck -- because of some of the political decisions that left that immediate area destitute. Eventually, members of the church began businesses that employed folks in the neighborhood; some years ago it received an award from the area Chamber of Commerce.

Learning that I was attending her old church, she came to Pittsburgh for a visit 2 1/2 years ago -- she has spent much of her life on the mission field and hasn't lived here since she graduated from Pitt in 1984 -- and decided to check things out. Even with its emphasis on neighborhood ministry, which I certainly agreed with, I assured her: "Don't worry -- it's still heavily involved in missions." (Which, with updates from four different missionaries, was borne out that day.)

I have come to appreciate my present church, which has grown in attendance about 10-fold in the past quarter-century, because of its willingness to do everything that the LORD tells us to do. In addition to what I've already mentioned, it has always believed in reaching the "lost" in this city. This is not to say that every person is involved in every ministry -- that would be impossible -- but there's an awareness of God's entire agenda and his/her place in it.

I bring this up because I've noticed that most churches don't do this because of what's considered "spiritual." White evangelicals, while rightly concerned about "saving souls" here and abroad, usually fail to recognize the suffering of people in this country of plenty. Black Christians, on the other hand, found themselves often in the forefront of social change, by necessity, but suffered from theological shallowness and a focus on entertainment during worship services.

Given these strengths and weaknesses, it just makes sense that folks should come together and build each other up. After all, even though we have many members, we belong to one Body, and all the parts have to function properly.

A former member of my church who is now a pastor in California noted that, when he was in seminary, four groups of students prayed with and for each other. One was focused on missions, another on social justice, two others had concentrations in other areas that I don't remember now. But all were aware of the passion of the others even though they was different.

For my part, though I've always been aware and have contributed financially, I have never had an inclination to do foreign missions myself. About 25 years ago I was wrestling with God about going overseas but confessed to Him that "I just don't hear the call!" He had to tell me, "No, I am not calling you to the mission field -- I have special work for you." That was all I needed to hear, and I'm grateful to be in a church where I don't have to leave the country to demonstrate my fidelity to God and His Kingdom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Random thoughts about the Penn State scandal

In the fall of 1983 and while hanging out at my fraternity house -- I wasn't in school at the time -- I became somewhat friendly with a Pitt sophomore woman who started visiting us regularly. She and I even went out a couple of times, and eventually she decided to pledge our "little sister" program. Keep in mind that I had a deserved reputation there of not just being a straight-edge but standing up for moral values.

One night I saw her in the room of one of my brothers who had a reputation of being a lech and saw a look on her face that, perhaps, she didn't want something to happen. This time, however, I think I panicked and ended up doing nothing, and I'm not sure why. Bottom line, she never came back after the next year, and I never saw her again.

I never did find out what happened that night and am not sure if I ever want to know, but in that instant I betrayed my highest principles.

In one sense I can thus identify with Mike McQueary, the former Penn State quarterback who, as a graduate assistant in 2002, witnessed now-retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a boy in the shower but never went to the police -- an inaction which eventually cost head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier their jobs, with athletic director Tim Curley stepping down because Sandusky had been engaging in that kind of behavior since the mid-1990s, according to some sources.

Was McQueary motivated by fear of unpopularity, not being taken seriously or the potential loss of his job? We may soon find out.

-- Many folks have complained for years that Paterno, who will be 85 next month, had been a coach at Penn State since 1950 and got the top job in 1966, had been there for too long. In 2004 he was asked to step down but responded, essentially, "Get lost" -- the team was still winning and graduating players, so he still had all the leverage.

I never took such longevity seriously until last week because it seemed that Paterno may have been bigger than the program -- and that was a real problem because things could be, and in this case certainly were, swept under the rug.

Contrast this with its former chief rival Pitt, which in Paterno's tenure as head coach has had, by my count, 12 head coaches. Last year after pushing out Dave Wannstedt the administration hired Michael Haygood, formerly with Miami University; however, after two weeks he was let go the day after he was busted on domestic-abuse charges. Paterno had not wanted to play Pitt because he couldn't get Penn State into the Big East Conference, whose main sport then was basketball, while admitting Pitt. That may change now.

-- The Sandusky scandal will hurt Penn State in another way that isn't yet obvious to most: With African-Americans. The main campus has always had a reputation, deserved or not, of being inhospitable to people of color; minority enrollment was the lowest of just about any school I looked at in the late 1970s, and it has always had trouble fielding a consistently competitive men's basketball team.

You see, Sandusky founded the "Second Mile Foundation," which helped underprivileged kids in that area and through which he found his victims, and it turns out that one boy who stepped forward was black. (It's suspected, but not yet proven, that other of the boys he abused were also African-American. Why? Because they were often fatherless and thus emotionally vulnerable.)

-- On Facebook one person blamed "liberals" for the fact that such a scandal could take place, quoting a militant gay group's alleged motto "Sex at eight before it's too late!" Here's the problem: Pedophilia is about power, not really sex, and has gone on for thousands of years (with the Roman Catholic Church especially suffering a black eye for the behavior of a number of priests).