Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reaping The Whirlwind

I was raised to believe that we reap what we sow. This does not mean that our history is our destiny in the sense that we can never rise above or move past things we have done in the past; it was simply an observation about how life unfolds. The Old Testament prophet Hosea raised the stakes even higher: “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). In context, it seems to say that those who sow foolishness will reap disaster. What comes back to haunt us may be unfair in that the penalty will be disproportionate to the wrongdoing, but, once again, that’s how life unfolds. 

One of the things that strikes me in the Kavanaugh hearings is how we are seeing the principle unfold before our eyes. 

 This is not a post about whether Ford or Kavanaugh is right. Barring some really specific evidence, all we are going to have are gut feelings about who is being honest. She seems to have clearly been traumatized; he seems sincerely indignant. I would love to see something definitive emerge so hard facts can confirm or deny their accounts. 

This is not a post about the ridiculous political games being played on both sides, games that could have been played behind closed doors, games that are dragging both people through a gauntlet of jeering partisans, cruel mockers and blatant hypocrites. 

 And thus the game is played.  

This is not even about who Kavanaugh is today (and now I am moving specifically to Kavanaugh because he is the one whose life is being put under the microscope). God knows I’m a firm believer that people can and do change, that fools can become wise, that people of vice can become people of virtue. This post is not meant to comment on the moral depth of Mr. Kavanaugh today.  

This is about the wind that was sown foolishly in his youth, and the whirlwind that is being reaped as an adult. 

* * * * *

It is becoming clear that, in spite of being a regular church attender and model volunteer when he was young, Kavanaugh was immersed in a lifestyle of heavy drinking, parties and sexual conquest (or at least the bragging claims of the latter), and surrounded himself with others like him.

This is the wind. 

 Now, observations about the formative moral and social ecosystem in which he was raised and stories about the lives of his bacchanalian peers (such as Mark Judge) do not necessarily mean that all of this should be applied to Kavanaugh or that Ford is telling the truth about that particular incident. 

But there is also a growing record of his complicity and involvement in the culture that spawned these things. They make the claims by Ford against Kavanaugh plausible if for no other reason than this was the social circle in which he moved and thrived.

He was not a counter-cultural student in these circumstances. He was the culture. He loved the culture. And if something was common in a culture he embraced, it’s a reasonable assumption that it would have been very hard indeed for him to avoid being tainted by it.

Add to that what seem to be obvious lies smoothing over or denying a lot of things in his life that would not reflect well on him. It makes one wonder what he is so methodically hiding. Maybe it’s nothing – but if it’s nothing, why hide it? Kavanaugh himself argued in a previous case that false exculpatory statements designed to make a defendant look good were strong evidence of guilt, even if they were over minor things. By his own standard, his false exculpatory statements are strong evidence of guilt about something (which may explain what 1,200 law professors are calling his "lack of judicial restraint").

His unsavory track record in high school and college has brought him to a place where, under oath in a Senate hearing, he feels the need to offer false exculpatory statements, an action which may well cost him the nomination. In addition, his character and reputation have been bared to the world in a way that I can't help but think is humiliating (and I can't imagine what his family is going through).

Brett Kavanaugh may well be a good man today. I don’t know him. He has plenty of people who speak admirably of him from all eras of his life. But who he was on his better days and who he is as an adult do not erase the legacy of the foolishness he sowed as a young man.  

This is the whirlwind. 

                                                                        * * * * *

To be clear, I believe our history is not our destiny, and that God works in us to make us new and better people than we ever imagined. I believe repentance and forgiveness are important and beautiful. My life is testimony to all these things.

I’m just observing a principle of life: we will harvest more than what we planted, for better or worse. In this case, he willingly planted himself in a specific kind of culture, one in which sexual purity and sobriety were not only devalued but actively rejected. He bragged about his apparent engagement in said culture. Even if he did not do what Ford is claiming - and Ford's testimony is not without its problems -  we are seeing the whirlwind of a reckoning  that follows the foolishness in which he immersed himself. 

I don’t know who did or did not do what to whom. God knows, the FBI is curious, and as of today just over 100 people in Washington DC know more than the rest of us thanks to the FBI's hasty report. 

But this I know: While our history is not our destiny, our foolishness casts a shadow in which all who have felt the impact of our lives dwell. We may reject that foolishness – and I have no reason to believe Kavanaugh has not, indeed, rejected that lifestyle -  but those who also lived in the foolish moral ecosystem which nurtured a young Mr. Kavanaugh still have a voice, and the whirlwind is carrying them into the light. 

Perhaps the light will show that Kavanagh is falsely accused in this situation. If he was, he deserves more apologies than can be given. If Ford was correct, she deserves the same. However, even if he is proven to be innocent, that exoneration does not address what has now come into the light. Until he can honestly and candidly own the foolishness of his youth, I don’t think the whirlwind will subside. In fact, there is only one way I can think of that robs the whirlwind of its power: honesty. George Bush and Obama both publicly acknowledged their partying days; they talked openly about it and it never gained much traction. 

I would have loved to have heard something like this sincerely stated in Mr. Kavanaugh's testimony last week. Had he done so - and barring any evidence that proves his guilt - I think we would be having an entirely different conversation.

“When I was young, I was foolish on many levels. I drank to excess, and I treated women in a way that at the time seemed okay because it was just what we boys did, but in hindsight I realize it demeaned and hurt many of the women around me. I have no recollection of the situation Ms. Ford described, but I went along with a culture that not only allowed but also turned a blind eye these kinds of situation. For that I am deeply ashamed. I can’t go back and change who I was and what I did, but I can continue to commit myself to being a better man, one whose life is characterized by self-restraint, honor, and integrity.

As for Ms. Ford, I apologize for not being the kind of man who stood up to that culture, one in which you experienced great trauma. As a praying man, I am praying that you find healing, and that you can forgive me and the others who perpetuated the kind of environment. Had I the wisdom then I have now, I would have been a better man. I am thankful I have that wisdom now, and I am committed to seeking to right those wrongs with the power that has been given to me.”

It takes a brave person to walk into a whirlwind. But when they do, more often than night, it loses its power. Love covers a multitude of sins, but honesty defuses a multitude of scandals.