This is the beginning of the fourth chapter of an abandoned theological memoir I started some years ago. In fact, Chapter 4 was as far as I got. It's a bit longer than the other chapters so I'll likely break it up into 3 or 4 blog posts.
Chapter 4: If These are my Circumstances, How do I Live Faithfully?
When someone asks me, "What‛s your sign?" I should answer, "A question mark."
I‛ve always been full of questions. That‛s the other side of always wanting answers.
Upon his retirement, my childhood pastor told me I was one of only two students in his long career that nearly wore him out with questions. "I could never give a confirmation lesson and move on," he said. "You always had another question."
Well, what do you expect? Anyone familiar with Luther‛s Catechism knows that it‛s set up in a Q&A format. Every petition of the Lord‛s Prayer, for example, is followed with, "What does this mean?" Luther‛s answers were never quite enough for me.
As I said in the last chapter, I was very concerned with the right answer. How to act, what to believe, what was pleasing to the ones teaching me the answers. Eventually, I began to feel like I had a few answers stockpiled. I did my best to live accordingly. They were, for the most part, colored in black and white.
It wasn‛t until college that I found difficulty in a world of strict right and wrong. I became involved in the Lutheran Student Movement, a national organization of college students with a strong bent toward social justice issues. This was the early 1980s, so there were many plenary sessions on things like nuclear arms and ways to resist the cold war machinery of paranoia and power plays. This was probably my first real contact with more complex social concerns, with the notion that living a life in Christ went beyond not stealing or not killing. Apartheid was a new word for me and I was suddenly aware of South Africa as an actual country, not just a location on the continent. This was the first time I‛d come into contact with modern boycotts, a concept I‛d not encountered beyond history books. We were all over the Nestle boycott of the time (primarily for distributing substandard baby formula to third world countries) and other companies were brought up on charges of irresponsible capitalism, primarily businesses with ties to governments that violated human rights or that benefitted from the nuclear arms race.
For the most part, I latched onto these ideals. I definitely stopped buying Nestle products and a friend from Campus Ministry, more of a boycott zealot than I, helped keep me informed of other nefarious companies. Then, I got my first credit card, a gas card. I was telling my friend about this new acquisition and her immediate response was, "I don‛t know, Neil, I think they have investments in South Africa."
So I started to agonize over this credit card (not yet realizing how evil credit cards are in general). I mentioned it to our campus pastor. He said something like, "Well, good luck with finding a righteous gas company."
So what to do now? I couldn‛t give up my car and it had to have gas. Which gas company could I support? How many companies do I have to boycott?
(to be continued)