I’ve been thinking, as much of the nation has, about the terrible events at Penn State. It makes me sick to think of all the pain, anger, frustration, and a host of other emotions that come from these events. I am heartbroken for the children, for the fans, for those who acted but did not act enough, for the families and friends of those involved…and the list goes on.
One thought that keeps coming back emerges from my days in seminary. During my last year at Sioux Falls Seminary, we hosted Dallas Willard and Richard Foster to speak on spiritual development. In particular they spoke of the spiritual disciplines. Foster defined discipline along the lines of “the ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.” The spiritual disciplines train us to act decisively when action is needed.
I come to these thoughts when I consider the graduate student who encountered the coach in the shower with the young boy. His reaction was to retreat to his office and call his father and subsequently Joe Paterno. He did act…but probably not sufficiently. Why did he not stop that horrible event? This is what everyone wants to know. But while we are right to ask such questions, I suspect that many of us have failed to act decisively at times as well. Have we witnessed bullying? Abuse? Humiliation? Intimidations? Did we do anything about it? Sure this case at PSU is certainly worse but there are helpful parallels that we should examine in our own lives.
A Facebook friend posted a thoughtful comment on the shame these actions have brought upon the institution. Again this brings me back to Foster’s comments on discipline. Will we have the ability, when under pressure, to act rightly, to not bring shame, to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done?
It is easy to stand on the outside of these events and ask pointed and judgmental questions about various inactions in these events. But the question I keep asking myself is, “How would I have responded had I encountered such a shocking event?” I would love to think of myself in the best light that I would have stepped in and stopped the event. I would love to think that I would have followed up on this event and made sure it made it to the police. I would love to think that I would have done the right thing when it needed to be done. But I cannot be sure that I wouldn’t have done something similar to the grad students actions. Call me a coward or whatever…but I simply do not know.
What I do know, is that to respond rightly is both a matter of prayer and practice. The disciplines become means of training the right behaviors, affections, thoughts so that we might persevere when times deserve it. They are practiced with the Spirit, retraining us and our thought and action patterns to align with Christ’s. It is a physical and prayerful exercise. My prayer is that my spiritual exercises will leave me well trained on the day that requires decisive action and that I may act rightly, and do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.