Last month, I finally experienced what I know countless others have been through: the vandalism and theft of personal property.
It happened at our family summer home in central New Hampshire where, prior to this incident, we have enjoyed a break-in free existence for more than 50 years.
My parents’ home was one of three that was hit on their relatively secluded mountain road. The vandals, as it turns out, were after any kind of metal they could walk away with, planning to turn it into cash at scrap metal yards. So, from the basement they carted away much of the copper piping and most of our hand tools.
From the kitchen, they took with them all of the pots, pans, and baking sheets. Finally, from the living room, they added to their stash all of the fireplace equipment, including the griddle tops from both of the cast iron wood stoves.
How did I feel? My initial reaction was that somehow, it wasn’t real. But the broken glass and the rest of the mess quickly dispelled that hope.
Then, it became much too real. Forced to deal with the state police and various representatives of our insurance company (all of whom were very patient and helpful, I should add) — and forced to pursue repairs and search for replacement parts — the whole thing consumed more time and energy than I would have liked.
For the first few weeks, it even felt creepy walking back into that house and handling some of the things they had strewn about. I also couldn’t help but wonder: Why not open the basement window to get the pipes out instead of smashing through it? Somehow, that little detail made me really angry!
In the midst of it all, I thought of words that James, the brother of Jesus, penned in an early New Testament letter which our church has been studying this summer: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).
Certainly, these intruders had been fueled by a kind of envy and selfish ambition as they took and destroyed something that wasn’t theirs.
Great disorder was the result, and the presence of evil was apparent. So when our plumber remarked that, if he could ever recover one of those cast iron griddle tops he would use it to bash in the heads of the perpetrators, I told him that I would be right behind him!
As time has gone on, I’ve been able to adopt a gentler approach. The words and experience of Jesus have reminded me that there is a different way, for those who would call themselves his followers, to respond.
Instead of bashing in the heads of our enemies, or even just condemning them, Jesus invites us to pray for them and love them.
It sounds ridiculous, at first blush, I know. But if Jesus knows how our souls can be truly at home, if he allowed himself to be bashed in while not bashing back but offering forgiveness to his bashers, if he invites us to join him in subverting evil with good, if he truly is the person through whom all things hold together and in whom the wisdom of God resides, then he’s worth a listen. Even more, it’s worth trying to put his wisdom into practice.
I must say that, as I have prayed for these nameless, faceless figures in recent weeks, my heart has been miraculously moved from a place of bashin’ to a place of compassion.
I have developed compassion for those whose lives are so hard, so difficult, and probably (according to the police) so addicted to drugs, that they have a need to swipe someone else’s plumbing and pumpkin muffin baking pans in order to survive. I have developed compassion for an underfunded, understaffed police force that is being spread very thin trying to track down such perpetrators. I have developed compassion for my insurance agent, and others like her, who has had to respond to many frustrated customers like me due to what they’re calling in the state, an “epidemic” of this kind of theft and vandalism.
In my compassion, I find myself responding differently, more kindly and graciously, to each of these people groups, as the process has gone on.
Does it mean that justice is unimportant? No, it still needs to be pursued and done. Jesus came to bring, among other things, justice to this earth.
But if it can be done in his way, with love and compassion, then maybe healing, and not bashing, can be the ultimate result. It makes one wonder where else, as we live life on this earth, the wisdom of Jesus might be worth listening to, and putting into practice.
The Rev. Dr. Timothy Ziegenhals is pastor of The First Congregational Church of Essex.