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Thursday, January 22, 2015

JoePa's 409

Last week, the news broke that the NCAA would lift most of the sanctions on Penn State, brought about by the Sandusky issue.
I have long been a Joe Paterno fan. I quoted him a few times in my first book, ("Harry Kalas Saved My Life") and remain an unabashed PSU fan because of his legacy.
My heart ached when the story broke. I defended Joe to the hilt, often receiving terrible ridicule because of my vocal support -for what it was worth- of Coach Paterno. Then the Freeh report was released and I took the bait like so many folks did. Through doctored emails, misquotes, and disinformation, I was swayed to the "Joe did wrong" side. I didn't think he'd done much wrong, mind you, but I thought he had done something. Most of what I saw as Joe's wrongdoing was based on one little comment. In the report, it was mentioned that Joe did, in fact, follow up and ask about the Sandusky matter soon after the initial incident in 1999. (As it turns out, this was misrepresented) Contrasting that to his testimony 12 years later, before the Grand Jury, where he said he did not ask about it again, caused me to believe Joe lied. Two words I could never imagine connecting in one sentence.
It broke my heart to admit to what I believed to be fact at the time. I even understood the vacating of the wins. A friend made the case that covering up the crimes gave Joe a recruiting advantage. To be honest, after months of ferociously defending JoePa to folks on social media and call-in sports shows in Nashville, where I was living at the time, I was just tired of it and heartbroken that my hero had done wrong.
I didn't want to believe he had done wrong, and I admitted it through clenched teeth. But honestly, somewhere in the depths of my heart, I was hoping that facts would emerge one day that exonerated Joe. Because I always believed him to be a good and decent man. I don't bestow the term "Hero" on many people and Joe had been a Hero of mine for most of my life.
During the three years since his death and the subsequent release of the Freeh report, his family defended Joe's honor, quietly, carefully and with great dignity. They did not whine. They did not make light of the victim's plight in the least. They kept alive Joe's great legacy of charitable works on PSU's campus and they gently fought back against what turns out to be a vile, despicable, purposeful misrepresentation of facts, and even a manufacture of false evidence out of whole cloth.
They didn't rant and rage, even thought, in hindsight, they could have. They had the faith and the foresight to simply stand on Joe's character and legacy and believe that right would triumph in the end.
It did.
Joe's restoration was evidence of the over reach and malicious hypocrisy of the NCAA, the horrible scapegoating by the BOT of Penn State, and the seeming glee within the media to indict Joe, simply because all of his life he has been a good man. This may sound outrageous but I watched as very quickly the story moved from the monstrous evil of Jerry Sandusky, to the portrayal of Joe Paterno as the real culprit. It was a travesty. The handringing of those who have waited half a lifetime just to sink their teeth into the flesh of a man they disliked solely because he was a good man.
It's not a stretch. Look at our society these days. Good is seen as evil and evil is celebrated. Character is seen as a weakness, and the man who claws his way to the top by treachery and deceit is held up as a model while a man of integrity and faith and goodness is smiled at as a naive fool. People wanted the accusations against Joe Paterno to be true, simply because they didn't want a good man around to remind them of how high the bar was.
As Joe's family slowly, methodically, carefully fought back, I felt a sense of relief. I saw that goodness still had some value. I saw that the depth of the man's integrity stood up to the battering of those with an agenda at odds with that goodness and, though dented and scraped, the goodness prevailed.
I don't think "Now Joe can rest in peace." I think that because of the life he led, he was in peace from the moment he breathed his last. The truth we can have some peace. Being good, and doing good still matters. And if you do good and be good long enough, false accusations won't stick.
I am so happy that Joe's wins were restored. Not because of the wins themselves...they are football games, and we are talking about much more. But I'm glad because I am raising a 16 year old daughter in a world devoid of real, good, decent people. A world sadly lacking in heroes. One of mine was given his dignity back and I, for one, am happy about it.
God's speed Coach. Thank you for the example you left us. Thank you for being good.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Thoughts on Andrae Crouch

Andrae Crouch Died Yesterday…
     Lost amidst the insanity of the world in which we live, was the homegoing of this dear Saint. Andrae Crouch’s music was intertwined in my young life as a believer. I became a Christian at age 9. I had already developed a deep love for music of all kinds and music had to be very good in order for me to listen to it. In the early years of my Faith, since I was just a kid, I listened to whatever they listened to at my church, or whatever my mother or grandmother listened to. Mainly, The Bill Gaither Trio and an ensemble group from the church I attended that had a lot of talent but never sang beyond the four walls of our sanctuary.
     When I hit my teenage years I rediscovered –as most teenagers do- music as my own language. Of course, we were what was known as “Fundamental Baptist” which means (among many other things) that you can’t do anything the way “The World” did it. We didn’t go to movies, we didn’t dance, the only acceptable alcohol was rubbing alcohol, and our music had better not sound like their music.
     Movies were hard enough to give up. Disney was “Real Disney” then and they weren’t making softcore kiddie porn like they are now. I had fallen in love with talk radio at an early age so I didn’t care about not listening to Top 40. But my records…man I had to have my records. We had vinyl then. Vinyl or 8 tracks. Cassettes came around in the mid to late 70’s and we had those too, but mostly the medium of choice was vinyl. I only owned Christian music, due to the strict adherence to the strict rules of my church. But it was a great time to be a young person who loved music and wanted to hear it sung about Jesus.
     We had The Imperials, Larry Norman, Dallas Holm, and a few lesser lights. I loved those performers. I saw the Imperials a handful of times when they came to town. But for me, in my teenage years, there were two artists who didn’t just write and perform…they sang mini sermons that changed your entire outlook in 3 minutes.
Keith Green and Andrae Crouch.
     We lost Keith Green in 1982 in a plane crash. We lost Andrae Crouch yesterday.
Andrae was brilliant. He wrote with passion for souls. He wrote with the altar in mind. He wrote to the lost. He wrote 3 minute sermons that literally could encapsulate the entire gospel up to and including an invitation to accept it, and then he set them to the most beautiful music on earth. Andrae had the ear of his generation and mine, and he did everything he could to make sure we listened when he sang about Jesus. He said it simply, but beautifully. Listen to the passion and irresistible music of this classic:  Jesus is the Answer
     This was as plain and plaintive a presentation of your need for Jesus and His unquestioned ability to satisfy that need as anyone has ever written, ever. You can’t miss Who or what he is talking about here. My despise for modern CCM is well known on this blog and listening to this song again as I write, it’s no wonder. We have some talented folks out there today who simply refuse to be this direct, this blunt, this passionate about the GOSPEL and not about creating an atmosphere. People went to an Andrae Crouch concert and they heard the Gospel, and they got SAVED. They didn’t have a “relationship” or an “encounter.” They met Jesus face to face, head the longing of their hearts, set to music, and met their SAVIOR.
     These days you are hard pressed to hear Jesus’ name even mentioned in a concert from one of these “praise and worship” bands.
     He wrote to the Church and called her to repentance. Like this one Take Me Back .
As believers we have all been here. Yet these days a song written about repenting and returning would be rejected.
     Andrae bridged cultural divides at a time when they loomed large. In the pasty white world of Fundamental Baptist culture, he was a black man who gave them absolutely nothing to point their finger at and say “Ah- HA!” I worked at a “Gino’s” restaurant in High School and one of my co –workers was a black girl, the same age as me, named Anita Shazier. She was a huge Andrae fan and had a wonderful voice. After closing at night, she would get on the microphone at the cashiers counter and sing his songs over the intercom. She found out I was a Christian and a big fan of Crouch and we became good friends.
      I would lie awake long into the night many, many times in my teen years, listening to his records over and over, and letting his words become part of my personal theology, and the guardrails on the road I was walking. Andrae Crouch fueled my passion for the lost with songs like this one: Tell Them
My heart’s desire was ministry back then, and listening to Andrae Crouch singing songs like this…you simply could not wander from that goal. Andrae impacted me. He impacted me the way a comet impacts a planet when they collide. He smashed into my soul and left a huge mark.
     Several years ago, when his dad died, he laid down his public music ministry and took over the pastorate along with his sister Sandra. He hadn’t offered much new music in a long while but by then, his songs had become such beloved staples that they found their way into the hymnals of even that stoic Fundamental Baptist Church I grew up in. So we never really lost Andrae.
     I hope his death rekindles interest in his work. I hope the current generation of “Christian artists” listen to him and realize how very wrong they have it. We don’t need to make the message more “relevant.” The message is always relevant. Sing the truth! Sing about JESUS the SAVIOR, not Jesus your surfing buddy. Call saints back to repentance. Write your songs as if the message you are about to sing is the only thing standing between the listener and hell. You aren’t in this to be popular. This is ministry. Most times that isn’t popular. But if you’re talented, and you do it God’s way…you’ll be famous where it matters most.

     God’s speed Andrae. There is great comfort in knowing that we will meet again…Soon and Very Soon. It won’t be Long. It Won't Be Long