Yesterday I visited Sedona, Arizona for some hiking. Sedona is a magnet for various new-age wackiness, but it is still strikingly beautiful. After all, “this is my Father’s world”. Here are some pictures.
Tony Bennett gives himself a B. This is the definition of wishful thinking.
Mr. Bennett is Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. In that role, he has made a name for himself as a sort of crusader. In his race for re-election, he has taken huge amounts of money from out of state interests, and at last account his war chest was an astounding five times that of his opponent. His war cry is “accountability”; that is, he wants to hold teachers, schools, and school districts “accountable” for their practices and policies.
This is a good thing in theory. But, as always, the devil is in the details, and one ignores the law of unintended consequences at great peril. We are seeing that peril now.
Mr. Bennett’s tool for accountability is summed up in one phrase: high stakes testing. Almost everything will depend on how students take standardized tests, particularly the ISTEP. Though this test has been around for years, it is now being used increasingly as a the cornerstone of evaluating everything about a school and teacher. Schools now receive a letter grade (from A to F) based primarily on these scores. Teachers are not only being evaluated on how many of their students pass these tests, but their salaries are now tied to it. Schools (and soon, if Mr. Bennett has his way, entire districts) will be in danger of being taken over by the state if they do not measure up on the ISTEP.
Is this a bad thing? No. It is worse than bad. It is disastrous.
The first problem with Mr. Bennett’s policies is that they marginalize most students. To understand this, imagine yourself as a teacher in a school where, in order to not face penalties, 70% of students must hit a certain level on a standardized test. Say the cut-off for passing this test is 35 out of 50. That is, if a student gets 35 or more questions out of 50 correct, then that student “passes”. It makes no difference if a student gets 35 or 50, nor is 34 any different than 0. And it also makes no difference what a student’s score is compared to what it was a year ago. You have perhaps 22 students in your class. You care about all of them, but in terms of high-stakes testing, only about a fourth of them really matter. 13 of them will pass ISTEP no matter what you do; they could have passed it at the beginning of the year. Four of them will not pass it this year no matter what you do; you are not pessimistic, but neither are you naïve. That leaves five students whose ability to pass ISTEP this year will depend a good deal on how and what you teach. These are the “bubble students”. Where, as a teacher, under immense and growing pressure to get a certain percentage of students to get a 35, are you going to focus your work? Obviously, on the students who are just below making the cut. The students on the complete bottom are a lost cause, while those in the top will pass anyway. The system is set up to almost guarantee focusing on the bubble kids while ignoring the others. The bubble kids are the ones you must focus on. All the “stakes” in high-stakes testing depend on them. In this way, high-stakes testing that focuses on the percent of students who pass an arbitrary cutoff actually reduces the importance of helping the majority of students in your class. It is designed to reward schools and teachers that focus on the bubble kids, at the expense of the other students.
The second problem with the high-stakes focus on ISTEP is even deeper and more fundamental: the corruption of the goal of education. ISTEP perverts the very goals of classroom instruction, and placing more emphasis on it is a fundamental mistake.
Phi Kappa Delta, the highly respected national association of professional educators, has developed a list of 18 goals of education. Among the most important are these:
- Developing good character and self-respect
- Develop skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening
- Develop a desire to learn now and in the future
- Learn to respect and get along with the people with whom we work and live
- Develop pride in work and feelings of self-worth
When, however, carrots and sticks are applied to only One Goal (passing a test), then the message that both teachers and students hear is that the other goals are options, to be jettisoned when they conflict with the One Goal. It takes little imagination to think of the long-term adverse effects on society if these other goals are neglected. As Theodore Roosevelt has said, “to educate someone in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society”.
The goal of public education is not simply creating citizens who can pass tests in two or three subjects. It is to create citizens who can function well in society. This means that they must have a certain amount of knowledge, yes, but this knowledge must be fuller and more diverse than what can be measured on a two or three subject test. And it also means that they must have character, wisdom, good health, and critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, these are the very things de-emphasized when ISTEP is emphasized. ISTEP measures skills in two areas: math and literacy (reading/writing). There is no testing at all in history, social studies, civics, critical thinking, music, physical education, health, arts, or anything else outside of math and literacy. The consequence of placing more instructional capital (time, energy, staff, money) on only those two subjects means that less time, money, energy and staff will be given to those other areas because for the purposes of teacher and school evaluation they simply do not matter!
In a survey of 300 school districts by the Center on Education Policy, 71% of local administrators admitted that subjects other than math, reading and writing were being reduced at the Elementary level in their districts under NCLB (No Child Left Behind). Again, this would only be magnified under the even higher stakes of the Mr. Bennett’s policies. And, indeed, how can we expect otherwise? If a teacher is told their pay or even their job is dependent on their student’s scores in those three subjects, what is the rational choice for that teacher to make? Of course history, geography, music, art, social studies, and even science will fall through the cracks. Of course there will be less time for PE, recess, or even teacher-student bonding. And of course this will affect the student’s feelings about school (a huge motivator) but also his or her preparedness to be a thoughtful citizen in this world.
The trend toward de-emphasizing everything beyond math and literacy has already started, and there is every reason to think it will deepen. Thus, Mr. Bennett’s obsession with high-stakes testing based on ISTEP not only marginalizes most students, but for all students it narrows and truncates the education they receive.
Other unintended consequences of Mr. Bennett’s policies can be summed up more briefly:
- Special Education students have, contrary to recommendations of almost all theorists, been pushed to be excluded from the main classroom (and thus from the testing mandates). This can be demoralizing; already under NCLB the drop-out rate of Special Ed students has increased.
- Teachers are under increased pressure to “teach to the test”, that is, focus their method of instruction on what will help the students learn the information likely to be covered on the test, rather than creatively trying to convey the meaning, scope and wonder of the subject.
- Field trips, science fairs, or anything else that takes a fair amount of time are increasingly being reduced or eliminated. Even things like home-made valentines and school-wide Christmas programs may become a thing of the past.
- Students are be forced to repeat a grade based on a test, rather than the evaluation of the teacher, principal, and parent. The American Psychological Association and the American Education Research Council have both concluded it is damaging to a child to base retention or graduation decisions on an individual test.
I agree with Paul Wellstone, the late Senator from Minnesota, who said this: “Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker, and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high-stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.”
Mr. Bennett, methinks, is being far too generous with himself in grading his performance a “B”. I give him an F, and only because a lower grade is not possible.
See also: The Forest School
Last Friday we visited the Judean desert. For those not familiar with the name, this refers to the desert region in the southern part of Israel (but not the far southern part). This is not the sand-dunes of Arabia type desert, but rather something closer to the badlands of South Dakota, if those badlands were, in fact, on steroids. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, so here are a couple:
As you can see, this is a barren, austere land. It has one large body of water nearby (the Dead Sea), but since the water of that water is around 7 times saltier than ocean water, it won’t quench the thirst.
In the midst of this barrenness, two men both found a place of refuge. Both men found water and life. But how they did so is a study in contrasts.
Masada means “fortress” in Hebrew, but it was more than that. It was a palace of luxury, designed to both impress and intimidate people. Herod the great built it in the first century B.C., and like everything associated with Herod, it is marked by excess and paranoia. Masada was built on a large mountain, so as to be impervious to attack or assassins. There was only one way up the mountain, and this narrow path was closely guarded. A garrison of Roman soldiers manned the fortress, and Masada became one of three mountain fortresses Herod built in case he needed to “get out of Dodge”.
But Herod also went to incredible lengths to make it an example of his luxurious lifestyle and powerful connections. Herod was the second wealthiest man in the Roman empire (after the emperor himself) and had great pull at Rome. He would often invite lessor kings or officials to meet him at Masada, where they would see his personal palace, complete with a private, three-room bath. His soldiers also had a three room Roman bath, complete with a room featuring a heated floor and walls. No expense was spared to show off his lavish lifestyle. Thousands of slaves hauled water up from springs and cisterns designed to collect the occasional rain.
To live like this in Rome was one thing. To live like this in the midst of this barren desert land was something else: a deliberate attempt to impress and intimidate those who saw it. It was also an almost scandalous show of ostentatiousness in a land where many could not even feed themselves.
En Gedi is less than ten miles from Masada, and it is here that another king (to be) found refuge. David had fled to the Judean desert because King Saul was hunting him down. Seeing the countless cliffs and stony mountains, it is easy to see why David chose to run here. And here he found water. En Gedi is a small but lovely canyon with a stream fed by two springs at the top. The stream cascades over several small waterfalls. Our guide Jacob (who has travelled all over Israel for over 20 years as a full-time job) claims there is nowhere else in the country with such natural beauty.
Here, David found refuge. It was not the luxury of Masada, but neither did it require the enslavement of thousands of men and women to build and keep up. Instead of the wanton and cruel luxury of that fortress, it had only the natural beauty of God’s handiwork. Instead of water being stored and moved by clever designs and the slavery of others, the water simply flowed down lovely falls through the sylvan path God had designed for it. By the way, this was the only place our guide told us we could drink the water unfiltered; it tasted wonderful.
Two men. Two kings. Both seeking a refuge in the wilderness. One tried to make his own refuge by wealth and cruel slavery. The other had no wealth, and kept no slaves. One left ruins behind, a mocking testament to his luxury and wealth. The other left few ruins, but millions today still read his beautiful songs about trusting in God and His ways, even when life feels threatened. One king built his own fortress in the wilderness and found it proved useless against what ultimately destroyed him (you can read of his disease here, if you have the stomach for it). The other king found a refuge provided by God and a refuge in God. In the most barren land imaginable, God prepared him a table in the wilderness.
Tuesday was our first full day in Jerusalem. We started out by travelling to the mount of Olives. This is a hill overlooking the city, now filled with houses and buildings. The words “mount’ or “mountain” do not really mean what most of us think of us mountains (especially to those of us who have spent much time in Colorado). The mount of olives is only a few hundred feet higher than Jerusalem, but provides a wonderful view in the morning, since the sun in behind you.
From the mount of Olives, you can see how the Dome of the Rock dominates the view. In Jesus’ day, the temple was much larger and ornate than the dome, and would have appeared even more magnificent next to the more simple stone buildings of that time.
We then went to the Garden of Gethsemane. This is one of those “nebulous” sites. That is, the original garden of olive trees was certainly in this area, but to me it is doubtful that it is on this exact spot. The place we were shown was a about an acre in size, and enclosed by a wall. A couple dozen olive trees and a path filled the inner court, which was inaccessible (you had to keep on a sidewalk behind a rail all the way around the garden. There were perhaps a hundred people in this place. With the crowd and a few vendors hawking goods with a loud voice just inside the entrance (Memory cards! Memory cards!) it was hardly a place for quiet meditation. Nonetheless, it still managed to bring tears to my eyes (not that this is any great feat) as I sat thinking about Jesus praying among a grove of trees like the ones before me, in this same general area.
After this Jacob took us to the Old City, which is that part of Jerusalem enclosed by medieval walls, and the only part inhabited before the 20th century. We entered through the Jaffa Gate, and Jacob led us to what is called The Citadel, which is a tower that still stands from the time of Christ. This has been converted into a sort of museum depicting Jerusalem’s history (as well as giving a commanding view of the city up close).
After this we actually got to walk on the city walls, and headed over to a church built on the spot where many believe is the spot of the Upper Room. Of course, Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that the room, even if legit, looks nothing like a first century Jewish room (more like a medieval vault). Personally, it did nothing for me.
We then had a bite to eat (Jacob’s Pizza) before heading to explore a few more of the ancient ruins. We then headed to the Jewish Market, then the Arab Market, which are both underground in a very ancient part of the city. We walked this whole time on lanes (that used to be streets) now a good 15 feet below the present street level (in ancient cities, the past is always underground).
On Tuesday Rachel and I made a trip to the Temple mount, which now houses the Dome of the Rock. I had seen it in the distance of course, but I desired to stand on the place where we know David, Solomon, Jesus and the apostles stood. We had to pass through a metal detector to get up on the mount, and we were not allowed by the Muslims to go into the Dome of the Rock. About that building: It looks more impressive from afar than up close. The tiles were beautiful, but the gold on the dome seems dusty and dull up close. Again, crowds or people surround you, and there is nowhere to pray. I tried to get a sense of what it was like to stand like Jesus and see the temple in its glory, but found the images in my mind fleeting. I was glad I went, but it certainly did not affect me deeply. Perhaps, after all the years of reading and studying about the temple, to see now only its empty seat was bound to be anti-climatic.
We then headed to the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath of Gath. You can still see signs for Gath (about 20 miles away). The site itself is very well attested to be authentic, for the Bible (I Samuel 17:1-3) gives a rather specific location, and there is only one brook in the area. This brook is actually a Wadi, that is, a seasonal stream. Sometimes it has water, and sometimes not. At the end of a very dry summer like now, of course it does not. We could see the two hills the armies would be encamped upon (less than a mile or so away from each other) and we went down into the dry brook to pick out stones. Of course, the stones of battle in those days were not little ones depicted in the flannel graph stories of my youth; they were close to the size of baseballs.
After a late lunch we headed to the Israel Museum. This is one of the premier museums in the world, and contains four branches. We started by viewing a huge model of the Jerusalem of the first century, done with exacting details. This was a huge help to me in understanding more clearly much of the Bible stories relating to that city.
You can see how much the temple dominated the city, especially looking from the east. Here is a view from the west.
Finally, we made our way to the Archeology section, and I was both in heaven and in torment. Heaven because I was now seeing in real life things I had only seen small photos of in all my Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Torment, for we only had about 20 minutes before closing. Jacob (our guide) kept rushing us along, pulling me from things I dearly wanted to study. Finally we decided I would skip the Holocaust Museum tomorrow afternoon (where the family would be going) and go back to study the archeology.
We headed back to our rented apartment, and then headed out to the Waffle Bar for dinner (one word: amazing).
I had decidedly mixed feelings about my first two days in the Holy City. Frankly, it didn’t seem that holy. The crowds, the modern buildings, the bustle of cars and diesel trucks, the street merchants selling Jesus junk (oh, sorry…religious merchandise) all felt…very unlike all the pictures in my mind when I read the Bible stories. Of course, I knew it would be this way. But still, I guess I had hoped that holy sites might retain their own sense of holiness, even in the modern city with its crowds and noise. These holy sites (with the exception of Gethsemane somewhat) did not, at least to this man.
But then, Jesus never spoke much (at all, really) about building shrines and visiting holy ground. His focus was on a change of heart, not seeing if his followers could build the biggest monuments. Holy Ground for Christians is every ground, for it all belongs to Him. Yes, He surely used certain spots (like the temple mount) in time past for special purposes; but now those purposes have been fulfilled. Jesus shall reign over ALL the earth. He starts with the human heart.
We spent the last few days in the region once described as Galilee. This is an area around the sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of his ministry.
The sea of Galilee is not a sea, of course. It is an inland, fresh-water lake, which is why it is also known as Lake of Gennesaret, Lake Kinneret, Lake Tiberias, the sea of Tiberias, or the Lake of Too Many Names. In any case, it is still beautiful, and, unlike the towns and cities or Israel, unchanged from Bible times. We were fortunate enough to go out on a boat for a short tour.
Afterwards, we stopped at a new archaeology site as Magdalene (think, Mary of) where a first century Jewish synagogue is being uncovered. Jesus most probably visited here and taught here (it is only a few miles from the other cities he visited).
Next it was to Capernaum, where an amazing find awaited us. Peter the Apostle lived in this sea-side city as a fisherman, and the remains of his house have been found. The tradition linking it to Peter goes back very far, and the authenticity of the site is almost certain. Over the centuries, at least three churches have been built on the site, and the last builder (in the 20th century) had the good sense to elevate the new church so that the site underneath could be excavated. Thus, one can look not only on the whole neighborhood, but also see the very house of Peter, wear Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, and from which he no doubt taught while living in the area. It was amazing and humbling to picture Jesus there, in that spot, only 15 feet away, teaching and fellowshipping with his followers.
Later we visited Caesarea Phillipi, where a pagan temple was built as the spring which marks the beginning of the Jordan river. Here is a picture of Pan’s cave.
The next day (Monday) we headed to Jerusalem. On the way, we stopped at some spring-fed swimming holes that are now part of a national park. The scenery was amazing, and, since it was still early, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
We then visited Qumran, where a Jewish sect called the Essenes established a commune in the years of 200 B.C to 68 A.D. (when the Romans wiped them out). They are most famous for preserving the dead sea scrolls, which they hid from the Romans. They hid them so well that it was not until 1947 that the first one was found. The Dead Sea scrolls are one of the greatest archeological discoveries of all time, transforming so much of what we know of the first century religious scene.
After this we made a late afternoon trip to Jerusalem, our home for the next four days.
I time-travelled today. Actually, I time travel all the time, but usually at a rate of one second a second. Today was different.
First, we travelled back in time 2000 years to a place called Nazareth Village. This is actually a historical and archaeological re-enactment of a first century Jewish Village. The owners have taken great pains to ensure its accuracy, consulting with many scholars and archeologists.
I loved this. Nazareth itself is a modern city of 70,000 people and has absolutely no resemblance to a anything you might picture as Jesus’ village. We did go to the ancient well (now called Mary’s well) that would have served as the focal point of the village back in the day, but it is only a concrete monument with some arabic graffiti.
So I was really glad we had a chance to go to Nazareth Village. The guide led us first to a man plowing a field as was done in the first century.
We also got to see a sheep pen and talk with a shepherd.
They also had a small group of houses reconstructed according the the times, a family tomb, a watchtower and a working olive oil press.
A first century synagogue has also been re-constructed.
As the group went ahead, I stayed back for a while, trying to imagine what Jesus saw when he woke up each morning, and wondering anew that the Lord of all creation took on flesh and blood and dwelled here among us.
For lunch we stopped at an small shop that Jacob (our guide) told us served the best falafel in Israel. Not being an experienced falafel eater, I will have to take his word on that; but it was excellent. The baklava we bought at the arab bakery across the street was outstanding.
After lunch we headed to a very ancient city called Megiddo. It has 26 layers of civilizations, dated back almost 9,000 years. It reached its zenith of power under Solomon, who made it a fortified treasure city, and installed upgraded walls and massive, three-chambered gates. In the book of Revelation (16:16) this is described as the place where the final battle takes place (the Greek spelling is Armageddon).
It was shortly after Solomon that a large tunnel was dug from inside the city walls to a spring outside the walls. We walked down into the place where thousands of years ago the tunnelers, with only dead reckoning, dug from both ends and connected in the middle.
Megiddo is an active archeological dig, and will reveal much more. Here are some more pics.
Today was our first full day in Israel. We actually arrived yesterday afternoon, but it was almost 5:00 by the time we made it to the hotel in Tel Aviv, so all we had time for was a sunset dip in the Mediterranean and some dinner.
First impressions: Israel is modern, pretty, and expensive. The restarurants are about twice the cost of similar fare back in Indaina. I had to get two hotel rooms, since I could find no places that would allow more than four to a room. But everyone speaks some English, and most speak it very well.
This morning we met our guide, Jacob Firsel. Jacob was born in the U. S, and moved to Israel when he married. He has been a guide for over 20 years now, and seems to know most everything. We loved tooling around in his black Mercedes mini-van.
Her first took us to Joppa, where Jonah’s troubles started. This was also the city where Peter would receive his vision to welcome Gentiles into the church. Here is Rachel at an interesting fountain in Joppa.
We then headed to Caesarea, where Herod the Great built an artificial harbor a few years before Christ was born. He also built an amphitheater a palace right on the water, and a hippodrome. A hippodrome was used for chariot races, as well as gladiator contests. Here are some pics:
This is the ruins of the hippodrome:
And here is some odd young man practicing his chariot pose.
Here are the ruins of Herod’s palace:
And here are two beautiful girls near an aqueduct the Romans built to carry water to Caesarea from some mountain springs ten miles away:
After this we had a quick bite to eat, then headed towards Mount Carmel, where Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal. There is a small monastery there now, of the Carmelite order, and peace and tranquility seem to exude from the place.
From the top, you can view most of the northern part of Israel. We then made our way to a bed and breakfast near Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. After a nice dinner, we made our way back to our cottage (where I am now composing this).
Looking back on the day brought both thankfulness and perspective. Thankfulness that we can be here at all; perspective when I see the ruins of Herod the Great.
Herod, you will recall, was the despot who ordered the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. Though almost comically paranoid, and ruthlessly violent, he also left a bigger mark on Israel than any other man. At least physically speaking. That qualifier is important.
Herod was perhaps something of an architectural genius (at least for a monarch). Constructing an entire city from scratch (Caesarea) including an artificial harbor (!) was no mean feet; nor was building the great temple in Jerusalem (among many other projects). He was powerful and wealthy (only Caesar was richer in his time) and lived as a King his entire adult life (appointed by Rome at age 17). He was, by all appearances, the most successful man in all Israel for centuries before or after his life.
But his successes have all now blown away like the middle eastern sand in the sky. His great temple was destroyed and razed to the ground by the very Romans he allied himself with. His great harbor is under the water. A few broken columns and some scattered ruins are all that is left of his palace. War, earthquakes and time have destroyed all that he built with his life. Visit the ruins of Caeserea and feel the anew the truth of Shelly’s poem, Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
I can’t help to compare that to another man who walked the land of Israel in the first century. He died penniless and despised, crucified like a common criminal. Surely, from outward appearances, this man was counted a great failure.
But the despised criminal alone now has a kingdom. Over two billion people call him, “Lord”. And the scriptures tell us that one day that King will return to take his rightful reign, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Compare the poem above with this one from Philippians 2:
He, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
One king sought to build his kingdom by treachery, violence and great projects. All that is left of his kingdom is ruins on the sand. The other King sought to build his Kingdom by sacrificial love. His Kingdom will know no end. Standing in the ruins of a the first king reminds me of the haunting words of that second kind: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Thursday, October 17
It is 5:50 Indiana time, and we are flying over the southern coast of Italy. The sun is out in full here, of course, and the coast looks lovely. Amy and I watch as both the toe and the heel of the boot unfold before us.
The distant isles, the prophets promised, would join Israel as the inheritance of the Messiah. Surely this includes Italy and Indiana. And perhaps only at 30,000 feet do you begin to catch vision for the scope of the kingdom. Yahweh is not some tribal deity, not some local god. He is the creator of all, and all creation is both his handiwork and his realm.
So as I go to the land the Messiah walked, I am also reminded that the Messiah owns all the land, and all the ocean. The paradox of the incarnation is that the creator and designer of the coast of Italy and the plains of America is actually the one who walked amongst the dusty hills of Israel.
The mystery of the incarnation is rather overwhelming at 30,000 feet.
There is something else rather mysterious at 30,000 feet. It is why I have such a small view of God. In particular, why should I ever worry or fret, when I see the kind of God who calls me his child. A few minutes ago, I leaned over to Sarah as we gazed down on the Aegean, dotted with mountainous isles as far as the eye can see. I whispered to her, ” your Dad made this!” I wasn’t referring to myself, obviously.
But I need that reminder at least as much as she. Looking down on creation, it is not hard to find new depths in the ancient promise, “if God is for us, who (or what) can be against us?”
Jesus, I believe. Help, thou, my unbelief.
From a high mountain trail, through a break in the trees, I looked to see waterfall on the far side of the canyon. I stared at it for a while, and made plans to find out where it was, and how to get there.
But the waterfall was not listed on any of my maps, and no signs led to it. All I could do was figure out it was somewhere just north of Kirkwood Lake.
So on a sunny Saturday, I drove to the lake, and happened to meet a retired hippy couple (he looked like Jerry Garcia) about to launch a canoe. I asked if they knew how to get back to the waterfall, and they told me of a trail that started not too far away. I would never have found it on my own, for it was not marked, and indeed, not really a trail; just a way through the brush and boulders.
But soon I found myself at the nameless waterfall, alone in one of the most beautiful spots I had seen.
The upper falls dropped 15 feet or so into a lovely pool.
Below this, the surging water had cut wonderful formations in the stone.
My favorite part was a stone staircase the water coursed down. I sat on a rock in the middle and just soaked in the beauty.
In all, I spent three hours at the falls. I prayed, worshipped, and simply wondered at the beauty and serenity of the place. I wondered more that the God who made this actually cared about me.
During those hours, no other soul came anywhere close to the stream. From the looks of it, few even knew of it. Perhaps in a place like the Tahoe region, other, showier places attract all the attention. But for me, this was the most beautiful. I had seen large waterfalls in Yellowstone and other places, some plunging hundreds of feet down. But this place had a nameless grace, an ineffable beauty that surpassed them all, at least to me.
I was reminded of another source of grace and beauty that God had brought into my life, and this for not three hours, but for almost thirty years. Her name is Amy, and through those years I have grown more intoxicated with her loveliness.
I suppose that she will never grace a magazine cover or be part of some calendar of models, any more than the waterfalls I found that day will make the National Geographic. But to me she is the most beautiful and graceful woman in the world. She has a loveliness that goes beyond my ability to put into words: an nameless grace, an ineffable beauty. She has grown into a person not only pretty to look at, but one lovely in her love towards others. I rejoice that God gives me eyes to see it more and more.
As far as I know, the falls above Kirkwood Lake are yet un-named. So in Amy’s honor I would like to christen it with the following title: Hidden Beauty Falls.
My last post I talked about, as the old song puts it, “the things you do for love”. In this one, I speak instead of what love does for you.
I did not want to hike Half-dome. That I knew. I saw the pictures of people climbing the steel cables to the top and knew that was not for me.
For those unfamiliar with name of Half-dome, you will perhaps recognize the picture of it. It competes with El Capitan as the most famous mountain formation in Yosemite, and indeed in all of California.
It is possible to hike to the top of Half-dome. The Parks Service has installed cables on one side of the dome (more on these later). But it is not easy and not for those with fear of heights.
About that last point. Somewhere along the road to being a middle aged pastor, I lost the fearlessness of youth. I remember some rather stupid stunts in high school, and cliff climbing in the black hills when I was in college, but that was a long time ago. I was young and single and irresponsible. The term “cost-benefit analysis” had not yet entered my calculations. Lately I find that things that did not bother me at twenty years of age now give me the willies. Extreme heights are one of those things.
So climbing up some steel cable to the top of Half-dome was not just outside my comfort zone. It was not even in the same area code.
But my son and I had made a trip to Yosemite to do some hiking, and God opened the door for us to climb Half-dome. The very nice woman ranger at the wilderness office told us this was the most popular hike in the state by far, and that normally it would take a six month wait to get a permit to climb it. But we unknowingly hit the window of opportunity exactly right: the summer crowds were gone now, and the cables would be taken down in two more days (because of weather). She seemed surprised to find that she could hand us two tickets to Half-dome jolly on the spot.
Joe and I were both pumped about the idea; in our enthusiasm we signed up. We spent that night in a hotel (it was already late in the day) then got up the next day at 5:30 to eat breakfast and drive back to the park.
As soon as we started hiking we felt our legs and lungs start to burn. The trail climbs almost five thousand feet, which is like climbing the Sears Tower three times over (and back down again). But we saw why it was so popular: not only the challenge, but the beauty. The trail passes two of the most magnificent waterfalls I have ever seen. The first is the Vernal falls, seen here:
After the two falls, and an elevation gain of about 2200 feet, we arrived at the backpackers campsite in Little Yosemite Valley. This campsite is for those backpacking in the high country, and is very primitive (no running water, tables, etc…). There were two communal fire rings that we looked forward to (since the night was expected to be near freezing). We left out packs there, and just took a smaller pack with a lot of water and some food. Joe happily agreed to perform Sherpa duties, so I could make the rest of the climb without extra weight.
After a long, steep climb, you come to the shoulder of Half-dome, which is a steep rock field, into which stairs have been chiseled. This part was perfectly safe, but physically exhausting, especially at this altitude. I felt done in by the time we reached the upper dome itself, and then I saw the cables.
Two steel cables at waist height curve up to the summit. The same cables are used to ascend and descend, so sometimes you can only use one. Part of me really did not want to do this. But I knew this was going to be one of my last times with Joe before he went in the navy in January, and I really wanted to share this experience with him. So I prayed (again) and grabbed a cable.
I refused to look at anything beyond my feet on the rock. We slowly made our climb. In a few spots it was exceptionally steep, and my boots lost grip; it was pretty hairy. But after about a half-hour we made it to the top. I had so much adrenaline in my body I could have jumped with joy. I settled for a high five with Joe.
The beauty was indescribable. From Half-dome, you look down upon Yosemite Valley and are able to trace out the streams, waterfalls, and rock formations that make that valley a wonder of the world. We had seen the valley from beneath, but its vistas were blocked by trees and cliffs. To see it from above was so different, so much more wondrous.
I thanked God for giving me the health to get up here, and for sending Joe to push me (way) out of my comfort zone. I was glad beyond words to share this time with him.
On the very edge of Half-dome, there is an outcropping called “the visor” that forms the point of the dome. Here is Joe and I on that.
And here is a studly man thinking profound thoughts on the visor.
After almost an hour of admiring the views and taking pics, we descended down. This was actually easier than going up, especially since at this time in the day there were few people ascending (thus you could use both cables).
We got back to camp and fired up Joe’s micro burner, and we had some warm food. Darkness came soon after, and the warmth of the communal fire was very welcome. It was very cool to sit around this fire and talk with complete strangers: a doctor from San Francisco and her daughter, a university administrator from Manhattan, and couple of Canadians, and a young married couple from L.A. It was pitch black by 7:15, so we were a little surprised to see a young couple walk into our fire circle from the direction of the trail. They explained that they had stayed too long, and now had to get back to the main valley where there car was. But they had only meant this as a day-hike, and thus had no lights and no warm clothes. They thought about trying to make it down on borrowed flashlights, but soon gave that idea up when it became apparent they might get lost. It turns out that he had proposed on the top of Half-dome (she said yes), and thus had other things on his mind than hiking logistics.
The campfire folk rallied around the lost lovers, and we all pitched in. I had brought two sleeping bags (remembering how cold I was a few nights ago), so I gave them one. I also gave them my coat and some food. Other people gave them a sleeping pad and some more clothes. Thankfully the young married couple from L.A. had a four person tent, and offered to share (Joe and I were under a tarp again). This seemed to take the worry from Lea’s eyes (she did not like the idea of sleeping in the open in bear country).
In the morning we broke camp, had a good talk with Jesse and Lea, and made our way down by the John Muir trail. Later that day, we drove around the park a little, and took in two vantage points. It was an incredible feeling to look at Half-dome from glacier point, see the valley floor, and know you climbed from that valley to the top of the dome.
I wonder how many of our grandest experiences of beauty and joy are just held hostage by our fears, waiting to be seized when someone pushes us well, well outside our little comfort zones.
Thank you God, and thank you Joe!
Some extra Pics:
They say many things about love. It is a many-splendored thing. It makes the world go round. It makes a 50 year old man sleep on the ground on a 30 degree night.
About that last one. Maybe they don’t say this, but they should. For nothing but love would have gotten me to forsake a warm and comfortable bed for a night of cold on a one-inch thick pad.
My son, Joe, you see, has come out to visit with me near Tahoe. He is a first-rate young man, and I couldn’t be prouder of him, or more glad to have him join me. But he had his heart set on backpacking. I am content with day-hiking. My idea of conquering the wilderness was to set my sight of some majestic peak, climb the thing, and then head for home and a warm meal and bed. He wanted to not only conquer the wilderness, but to place his foot on its chest and taunt it.
Thus we found ourselves on the trail to Mount Tallac, each with 150 pound packs on our back. I may have exaggerated that part a little. But Mount Tallac, you see, is close to ten thousand feet, and, annoyingly, the roads only go to about 6000 of those feet. More annoyingly, they have not yet installed an escalator to the top (stupid California). Thus, this nature walk has the feel of a seven hour stairmaster session.
We got a late start, and arrived at the trailhead at 1:00. We intended to climb the peak, and then go past it into the desolation wilderness and spend the night camped by some lake. Which we did. Here is Lake Gilmore, welcoming its sole visitors for the evening.
Because of the late start, we had to really hoof it, and still had only an hour or so of daylight to set up camp and eat. Joe, as I intimated, tends toward the extremes when it comes to showing mother nature who is boss, so this is our tent and camp for the night.
That’s right, young people, our tent was a tarp. This is because a tarp is lighter to carry than a tent, of course. The light-weight factor was also what led him to talk me into buying a sleeping bag that weighed a pound and half and that could fit in a shoe-box. He assured me it would (probably) be warm enough.
After setting up the tent, I mean tarp, he got out his ultra-light camp stove (about 6 ounces) and cooked some pasta. I had nuts and an energy bar, not being very hungry yet. It was going to be a long night.
The first problem was that it was fairly dark by 6:45. Unfortunately, my body is not used to going to sleep at 6:45. I tried to read a bit, but it was getting colder. Sitting in the dark, shivering, does not lend itself to literary enjoyment, at least to my odd tastes (Joe didn’t seem to mind it). I slipped into my sleeping bag a little after 8:00 and tried to sleep.
The second problem is that the temperature was now dropping into the 30’s. That’s just above zero for you foreigners. My 20 ounce sleeping bag was not doing the trick.
The third problem was that my sleeping bag was only separated from the cold dirt by a one inch pad. Now, I am not a man accustomed to luxury. I don’t ask for the cook to prepare my pheasant under glass while the man-servant draws my bath. But I am rather accustomed to a mattress thicker than my wallet and a little softer. I could not get comfortable.
So I laid there, in the cold, trying to find a position that did not hurt, while the north wind blew off the lake and into our tarp-home. I won’t say it was the most uncomfortable night of my life (being tortured by the North Koreans was certainly worse), but it was far from ideal for, you know, sleeping or something.
Joe, on the other hand, was quite warm and comfy and sleeping well. This I attribute to the fact that he had much better gear than I did, and that he is still a teenager and knows nothing of stiff joints and aching hips. I wanted to smother him.
The morning almost made up for it. We woke early and cooked some oatmeal. We forget to bring any sugar, so we decided to break up and energy bar and put the chunks in it. This didn’t quite do the trick, so we added a pack of instant coffee (Starbucks Pumpkin Spice). Thus we had the most unique oatmeal in the whole wilderness; it tasted of coffee, energy bar, and pumpkin. And a few pine needles. All in all, not bad.
We filled up our water bottles and treated the water, then made our way back up to Mount Tallac. The name means “great mountain” in some native American language or another, and probably has the best views of Lake Tahoe to be had.
We stayed on the summit a while, trying to get our money’s worth. It wasn’t difficult.
Eventually we decided to climb down. Since they still had not installed that escalator, that meant a descent of some 3,500 feet, which, while far easier on the lungs, is far more annoying to the knees. But three hours later we were at the vehicle, feeling more than a little tired and hungry, and, for my part anyway, sleepy.
We are resting a bit today. Tomorrow Joe and I go to Yosemite, a mere three hours away. He wants to backpack in the wilderness again. I just checked the forecast: low of 22 almost every night. I love my son, but, as the great Dirty Harry put it: A man’s got to know his limitations. I booked a hotel.
Here are some more pictures from the trip:
Emerald Bay from Mt. Tallac (by Joe)
I have now been on sabbatical for two weeks. Actually, it seems like longer.
On Tuesday, September 11 I flew to Gardnerville, Nevada. My sister Darlene lives here with her husband (Wendell) and young son (Brice).
Gardnerville is right outside Lake Tahoe, and the area is FILLED with beautiful and amazing places to hike. Darlene offered to let me stay in their camping trailer, which would give me all the solitude I desired. Here is my home for the first month. To the right of the camper you will see a wildfire raging about 10 miles from our place. Thankfully, it was gone in two days.
Here is a picture of the lake itself.
The next day I decided to hike to two more lakes, Round Lake and Dardenelles Lake, seen here. This lake was much shallower, and consequently a little warmer. I had the whole lake to myself, and spent time in swimming, prayer and worship.
On Friday I needed a rest from hiking (my legs felt like lead, and I seemed to have a touch of tendinitis) and so spent most of the day with Brice, my nephew.
Saturday my leg was still giving me a bit of a problem so I decided to go and explore the Lake a bit instead of a long hike. I got to Sand Harbor before 9:00, and the only people around were some divers getting ready. The water that time of morning is very still; the wind doesn’t pick up till closer till noon. The stillness allowed me to see just how amazingly clear Lake Tahoe is.
After a while I did some exploring along the lakeshore. It felt great to be on my own and just to enjoy the lake.
I found a path to a little-used beach called Chimney Beach because, for some reason, it has a random chimney on the beach. Makes sense.
On Sunday I planned on going to the local Methodist Church. One of my desires is to experience the way that churches in other faith traditions than my own worship. However, my sister was sick, so I thought it would help her if I took Brice to their church so she could get some rest. The church is a non-denominational evangelical church with an emphasis on teaching. Sounds familiar. And it was. The pastor talked for almost 50 minutes, but was very solid in the way he handled the Word, which I respect above all things in a preacher. Wendall and I then took Brice up to the lake so Darlene cold get more rest.
Monday the 19th my legs felt good again, so I eyed a more ambitious hike. Thunder mountain is a 9400 foot peak, and so one of the tallest in the area. Thankfully, the trailhead starts at over 7000 feet. It took almost an hour to drive to the trailhead. By then it was still before 9:00, and was still nippy. The trail first begins to climb through a heavily wooded forest. After almost an hour of climbing you come to a ridge dominated by two outcroppings of volcanic rock called, “The Two Sentinels”.
Tuesday I needed rest. I began writing. I had actually been debating if I would write during the sabbatical. I was on two minds about it. On the one hand, the goal of the sabbatical was rest, not work. I loved hiking and being in God’s creation. On the other hand, I could not hike 24/7, and I had started a book project that I had only half-way completed. I would never again have this much time to see if I could conclude it. After a good deal of praying I seemed at peace with writing as long as I did not view it as something I HAD to do, or a burden of work. God seemed to give me direction by giving me great joy in the writing. I knocked out about 15 pages, which is about all I can expect out of one day.
(For those interested, the book is a debate about faith and the existence of God. It is mostly in dialogue form. If I finish it I will probably self-publish it, so that at least my kids will understand why I believe, or, rather, will understand what I think a rational faith in God looks like).
Wednesday I decided to make a little more ambitious hike. Mount Rose is the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada range at 10,700 feet (only 200 feet lower than the highest). It sits between Lake Tahoe on the south and Reno on the north. The hike is a full ten miles and feels like twenty. This is because of the altitude. The air at the peak is one-third thinner than at sea level.
The hike starts out all nice and gentle, and even throws in a lovely waterfall about two miles in.
Friday Darlene and I took Brice up to the lake for a hike and spent the day there.
Saturday I took my longest hike yet: 15 miles, uphill both ways. Okay, it just felt that way. The hike starts by going past two lakes connected by a channel. The lakes are called lower echo and upper echo, and the latter is especially pretty.
The main trail continues to Lake Aloha, which is an odd name for a lakeshore almost void of plant life, let alone anything close to tropical. The lake has dozens (perhaps a hundred or so) small rocky islands. The lake sprawls for miles; this is just a sliver of it.
Sunday I was completely beat. I went to the Methodist church nearby. Major snooresville. Sorry my Methodist friends. Maybe it was me. Afterwards I wrote for a few hours and then caught a movie.
Monday the 25th (today) I stayed in my camper and wrote most of the day. I got over 20 pages knocked out, so was very happy.
That is my time so far.
30 years ago I spent the first of five summers in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was hiking and wandering among the crooks and crags of that lovey place I learned to love nature. It was there I realized that it was by myself, in God’s creation, that I felt most serene, and closest to God. Spending these two weeks in the Sierra Nevada range has brought back these feelings to me. I have prayed much, worshipped much, and simply soaked in the beauty of His world. Though I miss my wife and kids greatly, I am so thankful for this time.
I will be doing nothing this fall.
For three full months, I will have no deadlines, to-do lists, phone calls or emails to answer. Nothing. I will be hiking, praying, reading, and spending time with my family. And I will still receive my salary.
How, you may ask, did I get so lucky? And, you may wonder, won’t I go insane with nothing to do?
The answer to the first question is that my church has graciously decided to bless me, as their pastor, with a sabbatical. They have done this without my asking for it. I have served here over ten years now, and they feel I would benefit from a break. This is proactive, rather than reactive, on their part. I do not feel burnt out, but they desire to keep me far away from burning out. As internetmonk recently posted, pastors are often depressed and stressed in our culture, and my church does not want me to become statistic.
The answer to the second question is, no, I don’t think I will go insane. It’s not like I will be locked up in a padded room. Rather, the first month I will be hiking and praying by myself in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and then will return to travel with my family, hike and pray some more, and then travel with my family again.
So, in one sense, I will not be doing nothing. But according to the world’s judgment, my hiking, praying, reading and such are not productive, because they are not designed to “produce” anything. I am intentionally being non-productive for a season, like ground the farmer lets lie fallow. And this nothing is the most important thing I can do right now.
Why? Well, let me tell you a story. You’ll find it in II Samuel chapter 7. The setting and timing of this story are important; verse 1 tells us that it was after David had, through many years of struggle, been made King by God’s plan, and had, by God’s power, defeated all the enemies of Israel. David is in his prime: still young (perhaps not 40 yet) but powerful, established, and wealthy. He has a secure home now in a new royal city called Jerusalem. The nation is his, and the borders are secure. And he begins to take stock of his living condition compared to the home of God’s ark, the tabernacle. The tabernacle, you recall, was the movable tent which was the place to worship God, and which contained the golden ark which represented God’s throne, and therefore His presence with His people. It was magnificent in its own way, but it was now centuries old, and probably faded and in some disrepair. And David sees a chance to do something for God: to build Him a permanent and lovely temple to replace the threadbare tabernacle.
What a lovely sentiment. What a glorious moment when we move from receiving things from
But that night, God revoked the building permit. He appeared in a dream to Nathan with a message for David. God assessed David’s proposal in a quite different light than what Nathan had. God said no.
Why on earth would God do that? In the midst of a world where so many people just want to get, get, get, how can God throw cold water on David’s plan to give and do?
Because in God’s mind, sometimes our plans to do something for God are seen, after a night of prayer, to be a huge distraction from what God is doing for us and in us. Sometimes our building plans for God interfere with His building plans for us.
So God instead, through Nathan, recites all his blessings to David, and then gives a further promise to David: I am going to build you a house: a dynasty, a House of David! Furthermore, it will be an eternal kingdom (fulfilled ultimately in the reign of Jesus, the son of David). His speech to David is dominated by what He, God, has done for David, and what He will do for David. God is the first-person subject of 23 verbs in this short message. And the point is clear: “David, this is not about what you can do for me, but what I am doing through you and for you”.
Eugene Peterson writes:
Do you know what I think? I think that David is just about to cross over a line from being full of God to being full of himself…Heady with all of his success, the king believes he is now going to do God a favor. The telltale clue is in his proposal to Nathan: See I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent. Implicit in that comparison is the judgment that David is now housed better than God, that he has achieved a standard of living better than that of God , that he believes that from his current position of strength, he now can do something significant for God. If David continues along these lines, he will soon be ruined as God’s king. If any of us develop a self-identity in which God and god’s actions are subordinated to us and our action, our kingwork is ruined.
Think about those lines: He was about to cross over from being full of God to being full of himself…what was about to happen was that he would be more concerned and focused on what he was doing for God than what God was doing for Him. He was about to forget that he was still a beggar, not a builder.
I have served in the ministry for almost 20 years now, both as a youth pastor and senior pastor. I’ve never skimmed from the offering plate, gotten drunk or had an affair. But my constant temptation is to have a self-identity focused on my actions for God rather than his actions for me. After all, I am a pastor. Doing things for God is my job and identify. Even on my days off, I am still a pastor. People call me pastor as if it were my name, and my spouse is often introduced as “the Pastor’s wife”. This is not bad, but it doesn’t help me to remember that I am a beggar, not a builder.
I need a season where I build nothing, produce nothing, but simply remember, worship, and pray. I need a season of fallowness, a time where I do nothing but receive the refreshing rain of God’s goodness.
In short, I will be listening to the silence, and, by doing nothing, seek to do the one thing needed.
Post Script: I am not planning on updating this blog for the fall, except that I may report on my sabbatical occasionally.
Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?
I’ve heard this phrase all my adult life. And I’ve also heard a lot of pushback on it. Some people think it is too trite. More recently, I ran across this on facebook:
When I first saw this, I loved it. The longer I have lived the Christian life, the more I see how the simple idea of “loving others” is at the heart of true godliness. Besides Mike Lowry is funny.
But then I remembered Katie.
Katie was a girl in my church in Michigan. When I knew her, she was 18 and full of fun. I lost track of her over the years, but her sister contacted my wife and I this year with bad news: Katie has a rare form of throat cancer, and needed prayers and support.
As it turned out, Katie had moved to live near her mother, only about 80 miles from my home. So a couple weeks ago, Amy and I spent the day riding over and visiting Katie.
What I saw took my breath away. Instead of the healthy and vibrant young lady I knew, I saw a woman who, at 33, looked emancipated, frail, and very, very, sad. Bed-bound, she could move very little, and could only speak with effort and pain. Her two daughters hovered around the room, confused. Unless the miraculous happens, they will soon be without a mother.
And the same thought arose in my mind and heart that I had felt many times before, but perhaps never with this intensity:
I HATE CANCER!
I HATE CANCER!
I HATE CANCER!
I absolutely despise how it weakens, corrupts, and destroys a precious life. I abhor the pain it brings, the joy and health it smothers. I hate cancer because I love the people it destroys.
And when I remembered how I felt at Katie’s bedside, I understand a little deeper what it means to love the sinner and hate the sin. The phrase says more than that we should separate our feelings for the person from the things they do that we may not like. It means that loving the sinner is inseparable from hating the sin that is hurting them like an invasive cancer. The more I love the other person, the more I hate, abhor, despise the things that threaten their soul and desecrate their being.
Love the sinner, hate the sin is not a trite phrase; it is a simple and irrevocable rule of love.
This morning, Penn State officials removed the famous Joe Paterno statue from campus, a move that a year ago would have seemed as unlikely as Notre Dame bulldozing Touchdown Jesus. While I am glad they did, it still leaves me with sadness. More, it is a haunting reminder of a good man who lost sight of true goodness.
I have always admired Joe Paterno. First, because I love college football; second, because I love the Big Ten, even if they can’t count. Third, most importantly, because he seemed the antithesis of the dandified, slick and arrogant college football coach. He lived in a modest house in the midst of campus, and donated millions of dollars back to the school, especially to the school library. His players showed class on the field, and seriousness in the classroom.
But I hate the side of Paterno revealed in documents released last week. Papa Joe, it reported, minimized the allegations of child abuse made against a key assistant in the football program. More, he apparently dissuaded other school officials from seeking police action for fear of its effect on the football program and its reputation. Because of this, Jerry Sandusky had free reign to rob at least six more children of their innocence, and wreak pain and havoc in their lives.
Again, I like Joe, but please read that last sentence again.
How is it that a man who had so many wonderful qualities could fail so miserably? Well, I can’t read inside the soul of any man (especially the deceased). But I can read inside mine a little. If his heart is anything like mine, then I would bet a 900 pound bronze statue that what happened was idolatry.
Idolatry is not about worshipping little statues of divinity (though the fact that it can take that form should give pause to those violently opposed to the move by the Penn State officials). It is, rather, simply confusing the proximate good with the ultimate good. Or, in other words, it is to make the good the best.
Building a winning football program that follows the rules and graduates its players is a good thing. Showing class in victory and graciousness in defeat is a good thing. Doing all this while also serving and giving to the university as a whole is a very good thing. But none of these is worth the anguish and shame of one boy, weeping into his pillow. By failing to protect these boys, Paterno failed to do the most important thing: to love.
Let me add a personal note. As a pastor, this is a cautionary tale. I too, every day, do things that seem good. But if I do not love, those good things are little more than idolatry. I can understand the pull of working for something so much greater than myself; I can understand how a good man like Paterno could get so wrapped up in the glory of what he had built that he had tunnel vision, and could not see the pain of those he had not protected. I can see myself making the same kind of mistake, if I do not learn from the examples of people like him.
I have no desire to pile on Paterno; I just want to learn from the terrible, terrible failure of a good man.