It was a a beautiful Saturday in Pennsylvania. The heat had diminished and the humidity was mercifully lower than it had been all week. It was time for a walk in one of my favorite places in Philadelphia – Forbidden Drive. This whimsically named path is a great walking trail right next to the Wissahickon Creek that meanders for over five miles from Chestnut Hill all the way down to the Schuylkill River. On this particular day, I had the joy of strolling with my wife and parents to see what might be around the bend as we walked and talked together. Sure enough, I was not disappointed.
Just as we arrived, parked the car and began to walk over the bridge to the start of the path, we noticed something special. Right at that particular part of the creek, a local congregation had decided to hold a baptismal service. My mother, always one to show her appreciation for public displays of Christian activity, stopped at the top of the bridge to watch what was going on, chatted with someone taking pictures and got a thumbs up from the pastor in the water for quoting scripture loud enough that he could hear. Only in my family.
As we began our walk, I noticed something had changed on the path itself. At various points along the way, I saw the remains of huge trees that fallen earlier in the year. My wife reminded me that we had had a particularly bad ice storm this past winter that fell on top of wet snow and brought down trees all over the city. What remained now were the sawed off trunks on one side of the path and debris on the other side. The path was clear and passable, but these trees had done some damage. Many parts of the fence that lined the creek had been broken badly and were not yet repaired. I wondered how long it would take to get these fixed and how much money it would cost.
It struck me that these trees were a metaphor for the human damage that I had been reading about all week and even experiencing in some personal conversations with friends. A group of hackers had recently publicized the names of people who had interacted with an adultery facilitation website called Ashley Madison and trees were falling everywhere. One Christian researcher predicted that over 400 pastors were going to resign this past Sunday as a result and several key Christian leaders were making on line confessions during the week. You could almost hear the limbs breaking as the lives of those affected were being uprooted all over the country. It was a catastrophe waiting to happen and all it took was an ice storm created by a determined group of programmers.
When these things happen, it seems that so much focus is given to the high profile people that are caught up in the sin and scandal. We often forget those that are broken and damaged when the tree falls on them. So many marriages destroyed in one week. So many kids who found out that their mom or dad were not faithful. So many churches reeling from decisions made in secret that were now out in the open. Those responsible to deal with these situations are often quick to exert church discipline required by these types of infidelities, but can be far too lax in providing support and care for the broken people that are lying all over the ground.
It seems like Jesus was pretty concerned about these same types of situations when he was here on earth. Of particular concern to him were widows and orphans and those affected by the direct effects of family disintegration. It is quite telling that after challenging the religious leaders of the day to cast the first stone at the woman caught in adultery, he tells her to go and sin no more. He is concerned about both hypocrisy and the fallout of sin. I think he was probably concerned about that woman’s family too. I wondered how many other Christian leaders and regular congregants would be in deep trouble if their internet habits were put on display for all the world to see.
As we were finishing our walk together I was reminded how blessed I am to have two parents that have demonstrated fidelity to one another for my entire life. I am sure that their marriage has had stresses, but they never gave up on one another. My heart is heavy this week for the families of those who have not been so fortunate. May we who have watched this storm take place be reminded of our own frailties, our own tendencies to make similar unwise choices and the fallout that could occur in our own lives. While we mourn these events, I pray that we will show special love and care for the victims of this sin and deceit and not allow them to be the forgotten debris on the side of the path.