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I arrived for the service just before noon on Sunday. Though the four-hour ceremony is often punishing, I was eager to plunge again into the river of salvation. My offering was in my pocket. I was ready to join the small, familiar congregation to begin our ritual of pain and joy, pride and humility, suffering and redemption.

I opened the back of my van to take out the ceremonial regalia. I gaped dumbly at the place where it should have been. At first uncomprehending, I saw only the backseat detritus scattered by my 12-year-old boys. Empty fry boxes, single socks, disabled action figures, plastic pistols with red tipped barrels. I opened the side doors of the van knowing an item the size of a conga drum could not have fallen next to the seat. I looked anyway. It finally hit me. The bag was gone ─ the sticks with it. Some scum sucking bottom dweller stole my golf clubs.

I’ve lived in Key West, Florida for nearly 30 years. I’ve never been the victim of a crime. I don’t lock my car. My motley, dented six-year-old van lives in my driveway on a quiet street in the new part of town. I only recently moved to the neighborhood. The homes are well tended but not opulent. It’s a neighborhood where my thirty years here make me a relative newcomer. There are a lot of open doors.

Soon after moving in I noticed that someone had rifled my car’s butt-free ashtray for the small change it contained. When it happened a second time, I thought, “Great, a thief who thinks two dollars in nickels is worth stealing and works a regular route.” I made an irritated mental note to start locking up, but usually forgot. With the ashtray temporarily empty I got careless again. The route thief got my sticks.

Petty theft is always annoying, but the theft of certain items worsens the crime disproportionately to the value of the loot. Bicycle thieves, for instance, are surely among the world’s sleaziest life-forms. Tool thieves, willing to deprive an honest man of his livelihood, make the most loathsome worms look like choir boys. Among the lowest of the low are the odious scum who defile holy places, pilfering the gilded paraphernalia of sacred ceremony or making off with sums so tiny they are free for the asking to anyone in need. Right below those hopeless losers are golf club thieves.

Mark Twain called golf “A good walk, spoiled.” But golfers know it is more than that. Golf is a game of honor, with many rules but no referees. Players are expected to enforce the rules on themselves ─ to call their own penalties. It is the only game where a thorough knowledge of the rules could be considered poor sportsmanship. You can’t break a rule you don’t know.

A round of golf is a four-hour morality play, an exercise in self-control, optimism and humility. Homer’s Odyssey writ small, golf tests character as much as skill. The rituals and superstitions of the game are mysterious, complex, religious. Players routinely invoke the secret names of favorite deities or demons in short but fervent prayers, grappling with God and the Devil.

Tainted tools of a game of sacred honor, stolen golf clubs are black holes of bad juju. They suck in malevolent mojo like whales gulping down swirling battalions of krill. The world is out of whack while such implements are abroad.

It is inconceivable the thief would himself golf with the stolen cudgels. To do so would be to hold high a 3-iron under a towering karmic thundercloud. Destruction of his game in a hail of hacks, shanks, whiffs and chili dips would be inevitable. The frying of his person by fate-flung lightning bolts would be a constant risk.

Instead the scoundrel must sell the corrupted weaponry to an innocent who will unknowingly risk karmic disaster or shunning by decent society. Cosmic pins of treachery pierce cosmic dolls of honor with every swing of a purloined mashie. That the lowlife who is responsible dwells unpunished among us is a scabrous, hairy wen on the schnozzle of creation.

The stars will not return to their former benign orbits until either the stolen implements are restored to their rightful owner or, more certainly for cosmic balance but less likely in reality, the thief receives a richly deserved public flogging on the clubhouse steps.

To that end, knowing that you will be helping guide the universe back into whack, please call me if you come across a short set of Taylormade® irons and four Callaway® War Bird woods with fat old-guy grips in a black Wilson® stand bag. In fact, just getting my almost-new, two-ball putter back might offer all of us, and certainly me, a welcome shot at redemption.