Quartz Hill School of Theology

Window Pains

Don Patterson

       I was planning to take an infrequent day off. It was early and my wife Karen and I were rushing to take our two sons to their separate schools. As I was warming up my old car, Karen appeared, making hand gestures.
       "What!?" I yelled over the engine's roar.
       "Willard's on the phone," she shouted back. "It sounds important."
       Great, I thought, bracing myself for a litany of personal woes. How right I was. Willard, one of the retirees in my congregation, was his usual slow-talking self.
       "Pastor," he drawled, "we've had quite a bit of damage done to the church building. It looks like somebody had a field day throwing rocks through our windows."
       So much for my day off. Talk about personal; it hit me hard in my guts. I felt as if this were a judgment of my entire ministry. I felt insulted, I felt angry. As I drove my older son to school, anger grew within me. I saw everything and everyone on the road as an extension of the problems at the building. Traffic lights seemed timed to intentionally delay me, and old men dawdled in ancient pickup trucks, clogging the streets. Creeping across town in slow motion, I mentally added up the possible breakage. There were thirty-four expensive panes of specialty glass, and this a small building. As I rehearsed the probable damage I could expect, I wondered how much money we had left here at the tag end of the month. My depression deepened. I thought enough gloomy thoughts to send Norman Vincent Peale AND Robert Schuller into the pits of despair.
       By the time I arrived at the church plant, I had whipped my wrath into a fine lather. Then I saw the damage -- ouch! Seven windows -- starred, holed, and just plain shattered! As my shoes crunched through broken glass, I honestly think I would have preferred to handle a family tragedy or a death. At least those are problems within my area of experience and competence.
       The windows down one side of the building had been enthusiastically, though haphazardly, attacked by a storm of throwing-sized rocks. Stones and shards of glass littered the auditorium. The panes had become mismatched as to color and texture over the years to the point that they had become quite an eyesore. Amidst the shattered wreckage a lone, rose-colored panel stood unscathed among his less blessed brethren. A workday to replace these same windows would have been cause for rejoicing. Now, however, I was depressed at the thought that anyone would do this to a church building. To be honest, my righteous indignation was not unmixed with fleshly self-pity.
       We had called the sheriff's office and the window glaziers. So, what was keeping them!? I wanted to clean up the mess. My building had been desecrated. It reminded me of the time my younger son had broken his collarbone, and I fumed over the length of time it took to relieve his pain. Finally, a sheriff's car appeared, followed presently by the glass truck. While the deputy looked around and made his report, he informed me that the vandalism of a synagogue or a church was a felony. At that moment -- God, help me -- I secretly hoped that it carried the death penalty.
       Anger was a reaction I could have anticipated. It did not really surprise me. What I did not expect was the feeling of vulnerability that I experienced. I felt defenseless. After the windows were reglazed, the floor swept, and the glass shards were vacuumed from the pew cushions, I saw my fresh matching golden windows (except the rose-colored holdout) not as an improvement but rather as liabilities. There they were -- targets; monuments to vandalism. Here I glaze mine Ebenezer. They could conceivably be shattered again -- all too easily. I found myself reluctant to leave the premises.
       Less than a week later, the same windows were attacked again. The same seven were broken, with the exception of course, of the rose-colored one. It continued to glare defiantly amidst its shattered neighbors. Perhaps grim determination best describes my reaction this time. I resolved to catch these vandals (obviously lineal descendants of the original barbarian tribe). I went to work collecting evidence. Willard took photographs of the crime scene. I measured sneaker prints in the dust. My older son identified the brand of sneaker by the tread pattern for me. I staked out the building at odd hours. I was just biding my time until they fell unsuspectingly into my trap.
       "Wise as serpents, eh?" I said to myself. "I'll show 'em."
       And then one afternoon during the last week of school, it happened. As I drove into the church parking lot I saw three boys walking across the rear of our property. They were obviously on their way home from the neighboring junior high school. As I parked the car I heard the dreaded sound of breaking glass and the internal alarm in the building began its earsplitting razz. I ran to the back of the building in time to see the boys sauntering out the other side of the lot. They studiously ignored my call of "Hey guys, I want to talk to you!"
       So what could I do? I yelled in a taunting manner, "What's the matter, scared of an old man!" (Well, thirty-six IS ancient by junior high standards).
       As I approached, I said in as friendly a voice as I could summon, "We really can't afford to have any more windows broken here. It's cost this church seven hundred dollars in the last three weeks." They responded by informing me of the fact that they had never been, were not now, and never would be involved in such a reprehensible act. At least that's the best translation I could make of it.
       There they stood: unkempt hair, dangling earrings, black Heavy Metal T-shirts, ragged jeans and expensive footwear. (I cleverly noticed that one of the footprints in the dirt matched the ones we had photographed earlier). I thought briefly of how I would like to punish these guys. What I actually said was, "I don't know or care if it was you guys or someone you know. I'm not the police. I just want to say, if it's you or someone you know, please don't do it again. If I've done anything to tick you off, I'm sorry. I'd like to apologize."
       This time the response was easier to decipher. A sullen, "We didn't do nuthin'."
       I trudged back to the building to reset the alarm. Sherlock Holms solves another case. Sure, one of their shoes appeared to match, but without the services of the FBI forensic crime lab it probably wouldn't be considered solid evidence. I didn't really want to put three more kids into the juvenile system anyway, in spite of my hard-nosed philosophy of criminal justice.
       As I was sweeping up the mess that one small rock had made, I heard footsteps. Two of the three boys had returned.
       "We're sorry," they mumbled. "We won't ever do it again."
       "Thank you," I said. "I appreciate your honesty." They turned and quickly left me alone with my dustpan, and my God.
       How do I explain what had just taken place? I didn't take the opportunity to share the gospel with them. I failed to get their names for my prospect file, perhaps understandably enough. One thing I do know, grace occurred. It happened to them. It happened to me. Forgiveness of a debt that could not be paid had once more been placed on Jesus' account.
       It has been a year, and I haven't seen the boys since. I guess they went on to high school. It used to bother me that I didn't have the presence of mind to hand them a tract or ask them Dr. Kennedy's diagnostic questions. However, I've come to the conclusion that God doesn't waste opportunities. Perhaps He was able to begin moving in their lives through a simple lesson of honesty seasoned with grace.

Contact Details

Telephone: (661) 722-0891
Email: info@theology.edu
Website: www.theology.edu

Quartz Hill School of Theology
43543 51st Street West
Quartz Hill, CA 93536

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