Just a few weeks ago, before the snow dump which morphed into a polar vortex and encored with a double ice storm leaving a whole bunch of people, including us, with no electricity, heat, or running water for 36 hours, there were two dates smashed up next to each other on the calendar both focused on human dignity.
The third Sunday in January, our pastor affirmed the sanctity of the tiniest lives, the unborn people being knit together in their mothers’ wombs and the next day my mailbox sat empty, the stock market went quiet and public offices closed their doors to commemorate the sacrifice of MLK Jr. and the dignity of all the black skinned image bearers of our Creator who share the same inalienable rights as every other epidermal variation. Truth is, each person representing every race, age, demographic and sexual orientation is stamped by God as innately valuable and deeply loved.
As I tidied up my Mac book desktop this wintry night, I uncovered some rough scratchings I’d typed up about hazing and its presence on my daughter’s college campus. The story is old news now, dating back to spring of 2016. Since then, several football players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and a confidential settlement with the victim has been negotiated following a legal action against Wheaton College and select students. I’m chewing the cud belatedly and redigesting God’s pronouncement of worth on humankind and the struggle to steward that gift responsibly. So, here goes my conglomeration of jotted down thoughts on the topic spanning Fall 2017-Winter 2019.
….As a Wheaton College mom to a recent graduate, I’ll admit it, I’m tired. Tired of the negative national news coverage, tired of misinformation and propaganda. I’m tired of media attacks on evangelicalism. Just do a google search of Wheaton College scandals and it feels a little like reading Frank Peretti’s novel, “This Present Darkness.” There’s no doubt in my mind that spiritual warfare is wrecking havoc at Wheaton College.
We sent our kid there because that’s where God led her. No doubt about it. We looked at a dozen other schools but it was Wheaton she connected with even before her first campus visit. She’d read dozens of missionary stories as a girl, including Jim Elliot’s published journal. She’d reasoned that if Wheaton College was good enough for her hero of the faith, that made it good enough for her too.
The day she got her scholarship award in the mail, we literally jumped up and down for joy. My husband and I, we saved and scrimped. She worked. God even provided, ironically, one summer through a seasonal waitress-bartending job and she’s a teetotaler. Go figure.
Over the next 3.5 years, she embraced her adventure, taking classes with some amazing professors, knowledgeable, caring, gifted people who invested in her life. And she forged incredible friendships that have gone the distance. She owned her faith and metamorphized into an autonomous adult. All of the boxes checked.
Though I’m grateful for Wheaton College, I admit that I often scratch my head bewilderedly. You see, Wheaton stands front and center on the firing line of secular society because of its prominence as one of the most respected christian higher education institutions in the country. It’s an easy target for shooting practice on political and social hot buttons and this particular scandal plastered across newsfeeds accusing a handful of football players of kidnapping a student, assaulting him then dumping him half naked in a local park, it’s an easy feeding frenzy.
Many universities including Wheaton have initiation traditions, annually repeated activities that are attached to the school’s culture and community. My daughter says that they’re meant to be crazy and strange and fun and “everybody’s generally cool with them”; however, when “fun” morphs into insensitive, derogatory, humiliating words and actions, it earns the label “bullying” and “hazing” instead. And neither of these is OK, especially for Christ followers.
The Wheaton students I’ve known are over achievers, academically excellent, careful thinkers, community servants who aren’t inclined to live on the wild side; however, football players everywhere are notoriously stereotyped as conceited jocks who think they’re too cool for rules and unfortunately, these particular Wheaton guys have given that image some traction.
Here’s the thing, truth is we’ve all made some pointlessly impulsive and insensitive choices we’re not proud of after the fact, decisions that demeaned and devalued others. Research indicates that especially for males, the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until post-college age. Even after that, maturing is a lifelong journey for all of us. It’s our tendency to sweep our foolishness under the rug or ignore its impact, though sometimes our better self compel us to apologize. But what if the consequences for our choices result in justly deserved disciplinary action and if we end up committing a crime, there’s no easy out? While our legal system may do its job painfully slowly, due process runs its course eventually. And so, these guys are going to have to pay for their folly, big time.
In addition to community service and an 8-10 page paper, they lost time on the field, ended up with a criminal record and a hefty $50K pay off to the victim in a civil suit. I’m guessing that all of those big, burly dudes wake up many mornings a few years later tempted to cry like babies because the consequences of their dumb prank stink. And while I might be tempted to sit piously in judgement of sports jocks, I find myself ruminating on the ways I’ve trashed the canvas of God’s image in others too. Sometimes intentionally, but usually more subtly, thoughtlessly even.
I hang up on a telemarketer,
Or unleash my frustration on a customer service representative after I’ve been on hold,
I speak derogatory words about the driver who cut me off,
And look away from a homeless person holding a sign at a traffic light,
I diminish a person’s reputation with gossip,
Or roll my eyes at my husband because he annoys me,
And too often, I devalue my daughter’s contributions to a conversation by interrupting and half-hearted attention.
I, too, am a perpetrator of harm and that realization leaves me with an ache– a bit like the one I’m guessing those Wheaton guys wake up with every morning.
But I’m not just a perpetrator. Sometimes I end up on the receiving end of others relational recklessness too. I could generate a laundry list of ways my personhood has been devalued and so could you. Honestly, that’s a gnawing pang too.
I wonder how God manages all this human brokenness? It’s entirely contrary to His original design. While the apex of His creation just keeps attacking each other’s human dignity, how does He meet out compassion and love, justice and mercy faithfully day after month after year? Honestly, I can’t even wrap my mind around it. But somehow, His fresh mercies just keep looping every new morning, always enough. And right here in the middle of our mess he declares,
“I love you.”
“Mistakes and all.”
“Failures and all.”
“I’m right here with you as you experience the guilt, the shame, and the consequences of mistreating others.”
“And I’ll walk with you through the pain of being roughed up too.”
It’s almost Valentine’s Day now, our official holiday celebrating love. We’ll give each other chocolate and cards and kisses. And that’ll feel nice for about a minute… until we hurt each other again. And as we sit in the aftermath of our disillusionment, here are the Words we will need to hear.
This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. I John 4:10
The most lavish expression of human dignity is this: That God valued us so much, He gave our punishment to His son in order to bridge the relational gap between our sin and His holiness. That’s how worth it we are to Him. So, if you’re looking for an example to follow on how to treat others, look no further than Jesus and pay it forward.