Retribution, Redemption and the Latonia Looters

I always look for coincidence, a moment in time, an experience or maybe, a learning curve.  Being a historian, I have noticed how often I can have one of these “moments” without ever having the actual “pain” of the experience.  Well, actually, I know better and learned that again this week.

I came to the office and discovered the destruction of the Latonia looters.  Now four churches in our neighborhood, we were the latest in a spree of trashing and stealing overnight on Monday night.  When I walked through the office and building, looking at the invasion into our privacy, my mind raced back to a place on Frankfort Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky. 

I was a seminary student and new father.  Nicholas, our first-born, was less than a year old and we pulled up in front of our apartment and I immediately noticed the curtain in my office was pushed back as though someone had pushed it aside.  I told Neva to stay in the car until I checked the apartment.  Our worst fears were realized as we counted the items missing … video camera (you know the big ones you had to sit on your shoulder), IBM typewriter, and then the worst of the worst … they had taken our videotapes of bringing Nicholas home from the hospital. 

Funny how one moment in time can transport a person to another and with it the same pain of violation.  Now, let me be clear, the looters took nothing of value at the church that was even close to those VHS-sized videotapes, but the same sense of violation and the same sense of retribution hung in the air. 

Retribution you say, but you are a pastor.  Yes, retribution my friends, because long before I was a pastor, I was a kid on the playground at 10th district elementary school and I learned from the hard-knocks of childhood politics that eventually Joe Palma, the schoolyard bully, would get around to me.  Finally, he did. 

I had been taking karate lessons all of 3 months and fortunately for me, my brother was with me and the two of us together were able to deflect the playground pushing.  I left that day claiming retribution from the top of my head to tips of my toes!

Retribution is defined as punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved, usually in response to a felt wrong.  Little did I know I would spend the next several decades of my life in the art and practice of karate and along the way realized my goal for retribution had melted into a discipline for redemption.  Instead of learning to defend myself, I learned to let God shape and mold me through my physical training, which quickly paralleled my spiritual training.  Instead of looking for ways to get even, I found ways to get well … and whole, and forgiving and finally able to take “most” moments of retribution and turn them into moments of redemption.

As I walked around the church I reflected on “from whence I had come.”  While I admit, I lingered in the Old Testament for a while (“an eye for an eye”), I quickly made my way into the grace and goodness and “turn the other cheek” redemption of the New Testament.   Just as the stealers of our newborn’s videos could not lock me into the room of retribution, neither can the looters of our church’s sanctity, keep me from the room of God’s full and freeing redemption.  Thanks be to God!