Dan Nold, a pastor of a church in State College–hometown to Penn State and the recent turmoil of sexual abuse scandal with one of the football coaches–provides great insight for the Church in being an agent of redemption amidst turmoil and strife. I think this is extremely pertinent for those of us who are in ministry to people deeply wounded, hurting, and who minister in schools, cities, and communities of “broken cities”. The article was posted originally at Q Ideas.
The news trucks have not left our streets since November, since the Penn State child sex abuse scandal broke open and revealed the junk in Happy Valley that no one wanted to acknowledge. The eyes of the nation have been on our community ever since. We’ve been on ESPN more times in the past three months than we were during the great football years. For those outside of State College, PA, it’s been a sensational news story. For those in our community, it’s been a gut-wrenching season. And in the aftermath of this scandal, Coach Joe Paterno—a grandfather to tens of thousands of students, a coach and mentor to hundreds of football players, a philanthropist to the university, and a good neighbor to the city—was fired, and then died.
I’ve lived in State College, home of Penn State University, for 17 years. Our city is the winner of countless quality of life awards; it is also the city where children are sexually abused. Our city is a place where students riot and where they also hold candlelight vigils. Our city is the home of Thon (the largest student run philanthropy in the world) and also a top-rated party school. Our community is caught in more tension and more turmoil now than at any point during the last 17 years.
The question now before me, a pastor and a leader, is the question of redemption. How do we partner with God to redeem seasons of turmoil and tragedy? How do we, as the Church, live as agents of redemption in our very broken city? I’ve found the most helpful answers in Isaiah 62’s city-redemption metaphors. Isaiah 62:4-5 reads:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you…
Married to the land. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you (the city). Over the last 17 years, this has been a dominant city-redemption metaphor in my life and in our community. Are we married to the land? Do we love our city?
The watchman metaphor follows this in Isaiah 62:6-7 and is more fully developed in Ezekiel 33. The watchman’s responsibility is fulfilled when warning is given. Too often, this is the only role the church takes in a city. Only watching and only warning. Imagine that your only communication with your spouse involved warning; warning her when she was doing wrong, warning him when he was headed in a dangerous direction. Not helping, just warning. A watching-and-warning only relationship probably would not last long–my wife Lynn nods her head in vigorous agreement. Even though the warnings are needed, they would probably not be heeded.
When we are married to our place, we realize that watching and warning is never enough, necessary at times, but never enough. We are called to see our city as she could be, and called to love our city until she is what she could be. In the midst of the turmoil, being married to the city has shaped the response of the church. When you love a city, you pray for its peace. You give grace. You warn, but you are part of the warned and as such you go all-in to lovingly redeem.
Do you know what we have found being married to State College in this tempestuous hour?
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