Can We Show Hospitality to Vandals

by Christine Sine

We have just had such a wonderful weekend at the Celtic retreat and people have been so enthusiastic about the liturgies that I hate to break the flow, but I must.

The downside of the weekend was that we have problems with vandals. This has always been a problem but recently their vandalism has become more destructive. Most heartbreaking of all is that they have shot at our new building, hitting the new windows and shattering the glass sliding panels. I was so upset that I could not even photograph the results. And I confess that my thoughts towards them were not loving and kind.

Then I read the words of our opening liturgy:

God you show us that hospitality opens doorways into your eternal world.

Whether the sun is at its height, or the moon and stars pierce the darkness,

May this place be always open. 

May it never be closed to anyone, lest we should close it to Christ himself.

And God transfixed me. And I was not the only one impacted by the words. How do we show hospitality to those who have vandalized our property became quite a discussion point. We talked about everything from putting up signs inviting them to lunch at our next event, to trying to have someone meet and befriend them or even putting up a shooting target with a sign saying “Please shoot this not our building”. We even talked about how to “redeem” the broken glass by creating a mural or other art form with the shards. Perhaps we could even incorporate some of the spent shotgun shells.


Found behind the altar – our new Celtic cross

Just before we left the Mustard Seed Village site on Sunday morning, Andy Wade and I stood in our chapel area, talking about the acts of vandalism which began with the destruction of our Celtic cross – just a tree branch nailed to another tree with vines woven for the circle, but symbolic of who we are and what we want this land to represent. As we talked I walked behind the altar, and there in the grass was a rusty old piece of junk that looked just like a Celtic cross. I felt God was saying:

Garbage into gold, I can restore, redeem and make new all that is created.

It was a very heartening note on which to end the retreat though its implications continue to resound in my head, reminding me of the principles of restorative justice rather than punitive justice. In looking for resources on restorative justice I came across this fascinating pdf downloadable book The Little Book Of Restorative Justice  which has just jumped to the top of my reading list.

So my question for the day: How do we in all challenging situations work for restoration and transformation rather than punishment and incarceration?

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Kristyn Komarnicki August 14, 2014 - 7:07 am

This is beautiful. Thank you. Garbage into gold, indeed. Beauty in the ashes. This is God’s specialty, God’s niche market, making wholeness out of brokenness. Amen.

Christine Sine August 14, 2014 - 7:16 am

Thanks Kristyn – still does not make it easy though. Appreciate your prayers for wisdom as we work out how to approach this

Kristyn Komarnicki August 14, 2014 - 7:29 am

Absolutely! I will pray. I am so sorry for the violation you are experiencing. I was so moved by the ‘junk’ cross you found in the woods that I didn’t address the pain you’re in the midst of.

I volunteer at a drop-in center for exploited women in Philadelphia. When it opened, some of the people in the (already very rough) neighborhood objected, so the folks who are running it have been reaching out in love and friendship to them. But at least they can SEE their neighbors. I suspect that you have no idea who is vandalizing the property. Perhaps you could leave them a message, spelled out in stones on the ground, or leave them gifts at the site of their destruction. I have seen those ‘burning coals’ of kindness melt the coldest hearts…

You are in in my prayers!

Christine Sine August 14, 2014 - 8:18 am

Thanks Kristyn for these suggestions. We have thought of inviting them to our next potluck as I mentioned and some of the neighbours think they know who the vandals are so hopefully we can connect in a reconciling spirit and as you said “melt their hearts”

Jamie Arpin-Ricci August 14, 2014 - 7:16 am

One day, while St. Francis was away, a group of bandits confronted and threatened the other friars, demanding that they give them something to eat. Brother Angelo boldly stepped forward and rebuked them: “You wicked men! It’s not enough that you would shamelessly rob others of the fruits of their hard labor, but now you have the audacity to demand food from us friars—food designated to support the servants of God! You should be ashamed!”

Angry and insulted, but ultimately fearing God’s judgment, the bandits left empty-handed.
Later that day, when Francis returned, he was carrying a sack of bread and a jug of wine that had been given to him to share among the brothers. When Angelo proudly told Francis of his brave rebuke, he was shocked to find that it made Francis very upset. “How could you have acted so cruelly to our brothers?” Francis demanded. “You know that sinners are more likely to re- turn to the Father though meekness than a harsh scolding. Have I not made it clear? ‘Let whoever may approach us, whether friend or foe, thief or robber, be received kindly.’”

Taking the sack of bread and jug of wine, the only food available to the brothers that day, Francis gave them to Angelo and commanded him to find the robbers. He was to offer them the bread and wine, begging on bended knees for their forgiveness for his cruel rejection. Once he had done that, he should then admonish those men to refrain from thievery and violence, to fear God and to love their neighbors. Francis commanded Angelo to tell the robbers that if they would cease their wickedness, he would take care of all their needs in the future. While Brother Angelo went in search of the bandits, Francis prayed and begged the Lord to soften the hearts of the bandits and turn them toward repentance.

Upon finding the robbers, Angelo did all that Francis had commanded—he fed them, repented of his cruelty, encouraged them to change their ways and promised that if they did, Francis would care for all their needs. As they ate their food in front of the humbled and hungry friar, the men were convicted of their selfish and violent ways. They returned to Francis with Angelo, ready to start a new life of obedience to God to the astonishment of all the brothers.

Christine Sine August 14, 2014 - 7:23 am

Amen – thanks for sharing this beautiful story. How we respond when we are badly treated says a lot about our ability to love.

charlie1955 August 23, 2014 - 12:11 pm

Recent events in Ferguson MO have lead me to ponder the myth of “redemptive violence” and how our culture glorifies that myth. Your story, and the story of St. Francis, are powerful testimonies that Our Lord offers another way.
I offer my prayers for you, but especially I offer my prayers for the vandals, that they may come to know in their hearts, the Prince of Peace.

Christine Sine August 25, 2014 - 8:26 am

Thanks Charlie. I think you are right. When we respond to violence with more violence it only perpetrates an unjust system.

wmccaig September 8, 2014 - 6:18 pm

Love this story. Especially the images. What an amazing gift to have found that last cross. A forever symbol of God’s call to restorative practices. I would love to know which of the opening ideas were implemented. They are all beautiful ideas.

Christine Sine September 8, 2014 - 6:31 pm

Thanks Wendy. It really was amazing and very special to have that cross. We are still talking about possibilities. I will certainly let everyone know when we come to some concrete decisions.

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