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Image credit: Rebecca Holt Stay, “What Commandments Were on the Tablets?” posted March 15, 2012 at http://guardianguideandstay.blogspot.com

God warned us about this.

God warned us that things would go terribly awry when humanity takes their eyes off of her/him and worship anyone or anything else. Remember the first commandment that God spoke? “I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me” (Exodus 20: 1-3, The Message). Each of the Ten Commandments are important. So, why did God choose to mention idolatry straight out of the gate?

Let’s just stick with the Bible for a while. If it wasn’t enough that God cautioned heavily against idolatry, the prophets joined in the chorus. Don’t y’all be going astray and worshiping other gods other than the Lord Almighty, they said to several generations of Israelites. Did they listen? Nope. The calamity that the prophets predicted came crashing down upon them. Drought. Famine. Silence from God. War. And eventually both Northern and Southern kingdoms fell and were taken into exile. Simply stated, when humanity picks anyone or anything other than God to worship things just…go…haywire. Sometimes folk end up living our worst nightmare.

Like much of the nation I have grieved both the Aurora, CO shootings and Penn State football scandal. My humble heart feels heavy for each of the victims who live, their families, the communities in which these tragedies occurred, and yes, even the perpetrators. How does one make sense of such senseless violence? It is quite impossible to do so, and yet I cannot, we all cannot help but wonder.

What in the world?! Why?!

As I’ve prayed, pondered and read gazillions of blog posts over the past few days, God showed to me a fatal link in the scenarios. One that is complexly simple and old as time.

Idolatry.

Photo credit: Alex Brandon, A/P

Of course much of the debate about the Colorado shootings has centered around gun control and the right to bear arms that the second amendment of the US Constitution guarantees. It seems that no matter the side people are on that they are finding common ground in wondering exactly why any citizen might need an AK-47 or other automatic assault weapons. That said, both sides are hopping up and down defending their positions. What has shocked me most (admittedly, I am not a member of the NRA) is how firmly those who are both Christian and pro-gun hold to their right to bear arms. This lot appears well versed in Revolutionary history and loves to educate the public about why we have this in the Bill of Rights at all. The sense of entitlement and anger towards the gun control crowd about taking away their rights are staggering.

I wonder…what text is their canon? The Bible or the US Constitution? I wonder…in what do they have more faith to protect them? God or guns? My impression is that the latter in each case is getting more mention. Is it any wonder that the US has eight times more gun-related deaths than its economic counterparts in other parts of the world? Or that the United States has the highest rate of youth homicides and suicides among the 26 wealthiest nations? Or that the US spends more money on its military than does the second through fifteenth largest military spending countries combined?

“I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me.”

My seminary Old Testament professor used to say that it’s easy to discern what a culture collectively worships the most. Just look at the size of the buildings.

Anyone noticed the size of our sports stadiums and arenas lately? It’s kinda hard to miss here in the Dallas, TX area, thanks to Cowboys Stadium, aka the Death Star. (It cost a mere $2 billion to build, by the way.)

Workers from Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant cover the statue of former football coach Joe Paterno near Beaver Stadium on Penn State’s campus in State College, Pa., on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Christopher Weddle)

If there was doubt about how much Americans love their sports, particularly college football, none should remain following the blow-up of the Penn State scandal. There is so much that disgusts me about this, and I speak as an avid college football fan. It’s not enough that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky effectively ruined the lives of young men by sexually abusing them, or even that the late legendary head coach Joe Paterno and other senior Penn State officials covered it up. (They were, as one article states, “afraid of opening Pandora’s Box”.) Of concern here is what they were really afraid of that no one will dare to say aloud. They were afraid of disgrace. They were afraid the football program would suffer. They were afraid of losing their prowess, their reputation, their television coverage, their recruiting ability, their chance at a national championship and eternal football glory. They were afraid of popping the bubble of Nittany Lion pride that seems to elevate each person who cheers “We are…Penn State”. And oh yeah, they were afraid of losing the millions upon millions that the football program brings to the university.

And now that JoePa’s statue has been removed from the grounds of Beaver Stadium and the NCAA has handed down tough sanctions against the university, Paterno’s family is claiming that all of this is “defaming” his legacy.

Really?

Does Paterno’s family really want to go toe-to-toe with Sandusky’s victims where icky feelings are concerned? Do they really want to compete to see who has suffered more injustice? These are the same victims, by the way, that Paterno chose not to see and not to speak up for.

Football is king in State College, PA. That truth has been made plainly clear, even if it remains unspoken.

I wonder…now that the Penn State aura has been shattered and JoePa has been evicted from his throne if fans will glorify the only One who deserves glory? I wonder…if fans will realize just how much hope, faith, and self-value they were seeking to gain from 18-22 year-olds piling on top of one another for control of an oblong ball made of leather?

“I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me.”

Please do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that somehow the US has brought the Colorado shooting tragedy upon itself with its love affair with guns. Neither am I saying that Penn State University and State College, PA are getting what they deserve for worshiping the god of college football. Surely, they are not the only ones.

What I am saying is what I believe God to have been trying to tell Israel all those many, many years ago and us today through the Spirit’s illumination. When we give our worship only to God and focus on doing the right thing by carrying out God’s will, the chaos that flows from preventable dolor will be subjugated under God’s mighty and compassionate hand.

Nevertheless, Lord have mercy on us all as we grieve.

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