A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse

A heart for those who want more of God. A desperate plea for those who don't.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Blue and White......Oh, So Very Blue.....

I sat with a notebook today trying to make a chart of who has been affected by all the loss and tragedy and I didn’t have enough room on my page. One person. One person’s sins weaving into the lives of others and from there it bred like a bad virus, claiming so much promise along the way. What happens in Happy Valley, stays in Happy Valley – yeah, right. If this isn’t all a prime example of poor choices (to say the absolute least) affecting millions totally outside your stratosphere, I don’t know what is.

When I was starting fifth grade, my family moved from New Hampshire to Johnstown, PA, and among the first question asked to me by my peers was “Pitt or Penn State?”. Well, I didn’t really know what they were talking about. I hadn’t discovered the glory of sports yet. I remember saying “Pitt” because I knew the person who asked me liked Pitt, but it was only weeks after that my eyes were opened to truth and I saw the error of my thinking. (Pitt people, I kid. I’ve been to your campus and it is so amazing, really. I even have pictures of the panther statue.)

Anyway, for reasons I long ago forgot, I changed my mind and soon became an all-out Penn State fan. That year, baseball, football, and other sports became something incredibly exciting to me, and I’ve been that way since. September-December is my favorite time of year, and the excitement of the autumn sports season is one reason why.

My Penn State worship grew, especially in those glory days of a national title and big bowl games. That’s what it was, really: worship. No matter that we moved again, this time to New York. My heart stayed with Penn State. In my senior year of high school, I applied to Penn State for college, was accepted at Penn State, and then I went to and graduated from Penn State, earning a husband along with a degree. It’s just part of me, even if it hasn’t all been peachy-keen. While living on campus, I remember my annoyance being woken at around 6:30 on weekday mornings by the Blue Band practicing the Star Wars theme song in the field across the street from my dorm complex. Or the kamikaze squirrels that would just run right up to you on the walkways between buildings. I remember the fun we had going to volleyball games in Rec Hall and taking walks around campus on weekends, and how depressed I was my first semester away from home because of how big and impersonal and draining college life seemed to me. It felt a lot more like thorns than roses at first, but it became roses as time went on and I adjusted. Today I still look back and wished I had spent more time there, getting involved in things, not rushing through it all. It holds a very special place of beginnings to me; something I’ll always cherish.

As years went on, though, something began happening: Jesus. He began happening more and more in my life as He called me towards Him in such subtle ways that I can’t really even point to any thing that really happened except to say that He happened. And He shined light onto things that I never thought beforehand were all that dark to begin with. Beyond Penn State, I’ve been a big baseball fan and an NFL fan and a huge tennis fan, and I still am all of those things, but I saw how twisted my sense of emotional priority was, even just in this little corner of my life......how I was letting my time be prioritized around games and my sense of joy around who was winning and I began to see that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. I remember it was probably 7 or 8 years ago and God had gotten a hold of me. I sat in my living room, eagerly awaiting the Penn State game to start one Saturday afternoon, and the announcers kicked off with an analogy about the worshipping throngs gathering at their sanctuary, Beaver Stadium, to worship the god of Penn State football and its leader Joe Paterno, and I was immediately struck - and sickened because I realized he was right, and talking about me. And I shut the game off before it even started, and didn’t watch football for awhile after that, because the conviction of what sports had been to me brought me to a place where I had to turn from it in order to get its power out of me. I’ve had to do self-imposed sports fasts periodically to keep myself in check over the years. I remember watching Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams in an unbelievable Wimbledon final years back and being so caught up in it that I wasn’t paying the slightest attention to my infant son. My infant son. After the match was over and I returned to earth, I was appalled at how devoted my attention was to something that provided only entertainment and nothing more. I didn’t watch anymore tennis for 6 months, skipping the US Open that I anticipate every year. I don’t tell you this for self-congratulation. I’m saying it because I know how easy it is to fall into the worship of anything that even slightly brings us a sense of fulfillment, however empty and fleeting it may be. There's a place for the things of the world that we enjoy, but the those things can't take a place any higher.

I’ve cried a few times since this Penn State story broke, which is unusual for me......a crier I am not. I can go months without shedding a tear, and I don’t say that as some sort of attempted display of depth and toughness. Sometimes it’s a commercial about puppies that breaks the streak (all right....well, not puppies since I find animals annoying, but just go with me on this). I just don’t cry easily. But this has shaken me, and it’s weird grief – weird, weird, layer-upon-layer grief. It’s grief for these children – most of whom are now grown men and have been carrying this invasion and betrayal through the toughest period of life. It’s grief for these families who felt the wall of powerlessness around them as no one listened and they watched the effects of what had been done to their children. It’s grief for the suspect, who must have been and continues to be tormented internally in unfathomable ways to commit such trust-breaking atrocities, if it’s all true. It’s grief for the people around this man who never had an inkling any of this was inside of him and don’t know how to process something we’re clearly not wired to. And it’s grief for the institution, that something so horrible could’ve been overlooked, and the overwhelming sadness on how badly the ball was dropped.

It’s grief for those who should’ve done more than the bare minimum, and the way I can only imagine this must’ve been haunting them over the years since and still today. The disappointment we feel about it is good – it means there’s still an underlying expectation that good naturally will come forth from those around us. But there’s sympathy, too, because as much as I hope to believe that I would’ve acted differently had I known, I understand that panicked feeling of trying to tally up how I, me, I, me will be affected when confronted with something that feels bigger than I can manage and whether it’s worth the cost. So I suppose some of my grief is also pointed in our combined failure as a people to live with the honor and integrity we assume we always do.

These institutions, these brands that we follow – whether sporting teams, movie stars, technological gadgets, whatever – so easily become idols. Our hope for personal victory and glory gets linked with them for whatever reason – maybe it’s a fear that we’ll never know it for ourselves otherwise. But idols fall. They always do. Sometimes, in God’s grace, it’s the only way to get our attention away from them.

A beloved figure has announced his farewell today. I’ve never met him; I only know what others have said about him and from what I’ve decided to believe about him from the pieces of experience that I’ve mentally put together. Long ago I realized he represented something bigger that was most unfair to pin on him: glory. I admire greatly who I think he is but in the honest truth I don’t know him and I don’t know what happened and I don't know what he knows and there’s just no getting around the stark truth to that. Idols will let you down every time, and not necessarily because they’re evil or any such thing. Simply because they’re human or they’re made by human hands or human minds, and when we look for ultimate fulfillment in anything but God, we will lose every time. But there's still such thick, pregnant sadness.....underneath the brand that is Penn State lies the reality that it is people who are Penn State, and all the people who are part of it in any way are suffering loss in a manner that has no category in which to comfortably package it up. So I grieve for this, too.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to my dear Penn State, and I let go of trying to figure out what the right decisions are to make here. But this I believe: beauty can come from this, it really can. Orchards full of the finest fruit can come forth, but not from shouting “We Are.......Penn State”. There’s an immeasurably important role for community in times like these, but not if we’re going to shout slogans together and then cut each other off in the parking lot on the way out, and be rude to Creamery employees, and drunkenly abuse ourselves and others at parties. Use the “We Are......Penn State” mantra as merely a bridge to a greater discovery: only God can bring the grace and healing and forgiveness we’re all longing for and need in this. And it’s already there if we’ll let Him show us.


  1. Jen, my heart aches, too, because I think there is a lesson in putting our faith in the wrong place. Joe Pa did what he was "supposed" to -- report to his superiors -- and he had faith that they would do the right thing.
    The same story can be told of the "institution" we call church. One person's action(s) can create so much hurt and shame, and another person's lack of being called to accountability can tear apart a local or denominational group. You and I have seen it happen. When it does, the world's vision of who Jesus is, and what the church is, becomes tarnished, blackened. Thank God HE can purify and refine, and return us poor sinners to beautiful, shining reflections of His love again. Mom

  2. This is an AMAZING post. I am a Penn State fan and you put in words what I am feeling and I am sure a lot of people are.