Early this year I was cleaned out.
Wallet, phone and keys, all gone in a flash. I’m not crying victim. I dropped my guard, turned my back and took my eye off the ball for no more than a few seconds. It wasn’t quite grab and go, but almost. I accept full responsibility.
There was a comical side to it. I had been swimming at a pool, had no more than a towel wrapped around me when, five metres away, I saw a young man streak from my bag to the door of the dressing shed. He was fully clothed. I was not. But I streaked after him anyway, with only the towel defying the turn of phrase. I took off with a blistering turn of speed, like a centenarian on crutches, out of the swimming centre and up the street.
But a fully dressed youth in a pair of runners is always going to outrun a sixty five year old man with an artificial knee and wrapped in just a towel. My new knee was more than up to the task. It was on the pace and could have run him down. The rest of the body was the problem.
I gave up the chase 50 metres up the road, yelling some things that I choose not to remember, or at least won’t repeat here. The pool staff were terrific as I began to come to grips with my loss and work out how to cancel my life out and then to get it back, number by number, card by card and key by key.
There was a serious side to it. Well-meaning friends began to tell me horror-stories about Identity Theft. Many people who have been the victims of wallet or hand-bag theft have had lines of credit opened up in their name. Massive debt had been fraudulently accrued.
My assailants had my driver’s license with my address on it. They had my car keys and my house keys. They knew where I lived. They had enough points to steal my identity. Police were called, banks were alerted, details were taken, cards were cancelled and locks were changed.
I played out possible repercussions, worst case scenarios and vigilante responses. If police were too busy to properly follow through such a petty crime, I would take matters into my own hands.
I let them use my Opal Card for a while. I then went online and checked its usage pattern and pinpointed their possible domicile from train and bus movements. I was tempted to stake the joint out.
I went 15 rounds with the devil, night after sleepless night, planning my revenge. I was becoming quite the amateur sleuth in my broken dreams.
I couldn’t think of anything worse than identity theft. Until I thought through the implications of another kind of theft.
Around the same time as my Identity Theft fears, a friend told me about some slanderous gossip that had been put into circulation about him. Even true gossip has a treacherous side to it. But the spreading of untrue slander and character assassination has a hideous edge.
How I felt for this friend.
I’ve lost count of the times I have been told things about someone else that I had no right to hear, nor want to hear, and discovered later that it was false. How I thank God, that by his grace, I kept my mouth shut.
There’s no other name for this sort of verbal thuggery but Integrity Theft.
Another friend shared with me quite recently how he had been the subject of misinformation and gossip. He expressed the thought that Christian specialised in certain kinds of sins – especially tongues wagging like the tails of untrained puppies.
Probably no worse than the rest of society, I thought, but shouldn’t ‘the Christian family’ be doing a lot better?
How I felt for this friend too.
How does a person have their integrity restored when it is stolen by gossip, lies and Chinese Whispers? How do we deal with integrity theft if we are the victim of another’s lie? How do we handle ourselves in a culture, even a Christian sub-culture that loves a gob-full of gossip?
Look to the Lord Jesus.
The greatest integrity theft in history has been perpetrated against the world’s true King.
He came to his own people and his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).
The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:46)?”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).
His integrity was stolen by those who wanted to destroy him. How did he respond? He looked to God who judges justly.
Look to Jesus, and his example, as he looked to his Father to vindicate him.
All other integrity theft is microscopic by comparison.
Look to yourself.
Make sure you’re part of the solution and not the problem. All of us live with some degree of character ‘dis-integration’. None of us has an unblemished record, in Christlike behaviour generally, and in gagging gossip in particular.
Walk away from idle chatter. Gently confront those who want to tell you things about other people ‘in confidence and for your prayers’.
When you’ve been told something that you couldn’t stop before it was ‘out there’, make sure you zip it, button it, lock it, and throw the key away (with acknowledgement and apologies to the line from the movie ‘Uncle Buck’).
Look to the future.
What would happen if you were told and believed a lie and you passed it along the gossip chain, only to discover sometime in the future that it was untrue and your gossip had contributed to someone’s integrity being stolen? How would you feel? How would you feel if it was done to you?
None of us are without guilt in this whole area. Something quite sinister deep inside us savours a little scandal every so often.
I felt violated when I was cleaned out that sunny Sunday afternoon. And the after-thought of the possibility of identity theft still leaves a small percolation of acid in the pit of my stomach.
How much more violent is it when someone’s integrity is cleaned out by the dirty game of gossip?