Before I graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, I enlisted in the Navy on a delayed entry program. I had grown up in Annapolis and the idea of doing anything but joining the Navy had (I think) never occurred to me. So my parents moved from Ann Arbor to Moscow, Idaho, and I helped them move, and went into the Navy a few months later in the fall of 1971.
I went to boot camp in San Diego, where I had been born 18 years earlier at Balboa Naval Hospital. After boot camp, I was accepted into quartermaster school, which was also in San Diego. Now in the Army a quartermaster is (I think) a distributor of supplies. But in the Navy, for some mysterious linguistic reason, a quartermaster is adept in the navigational arts.
So there I was in San Diego, learning how to tell where a ship was. Unlike boot camp, it was possible to go on liberty and do things in your free time. So one day I headed off to downtown San Diego to do things. Among the things I did (having discretionary income now and all) was buy a buckskin coat. I remember that the coat cost around forty dollars, and would ask the reader to remember that this was probably early in 1972. This accounts for two things — the fact that I would buy a buckskin coat, along with the fact that it only cost forty dollars.
While walking back to the bus stop to head back to the base, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a small group of thugs (it was a fairly grimy part of town). By this point in the proceedings of the day, I only had around ten bucks left, but they wanted it, whatever amount it was. The money not being theirs caused me to refuse, and so one of them punched me in the face. My glasses flew off, to the right, as I recall.
The point of this story, incidentally, for those who want to get to the moral right away, is that you should never try to work out your theology in the middle of a crisis.
Well, I was kid from a solid Christian home. I knew lots of things from the Bible. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church where Sunday Schools were frequently occupied with “sword drills.” Kids would line up in two lines, the teacher would say something like, “Habbakuk 1:6. Go!” The first kid to find it would step forward, and your team got a point. Anyhow, I knew my way around the Bible. And I knew that Jesus had said that you were supposed to turn the other cheek when someone punched you in the face. And so I did, but contributed the added feature of telling these muggers that Jesus loved them.
Having turned the other cheek, I soon came to the limits of my exegesis, because I immediately got punched again. Well, if one is good, two must be better, so I did the same thing again. I told them Jesus loved them, and turned the other cheek again. And so I got hit again.
This just happened a few times overall, but then something really odd happened. This was either a function of God’s sense of humor, or the fact that one of the muggers had done his own time in Sunday School, or both. Anyhow, one of these johnnies interrupted the festivities by asking for my buckskin coat. Now I knew (and I think the mugger may have known that I knew) that the verse right next to the one about turning the other cheek said that if somebody asks for your coat, you should give them your shirt also.
Little problem. I was willing to get punched, but I was not willing to give away a buckskin coat upon which I had just expended forty clams. And so I said no. But as soon as I said no, I knew that I was being a raging hypocrite of the highest order, for here I was applying verse 39, and absolutely refusing to do anything about verse 40, and it could be clearly seen that the hermeneutic employed could not account for the disparity.
So up to this point I had been getting punched with a clean conscience, but all of a sudden I was (in mere seconds) turned into Mr. Inconsistency. And so (of course) I felt guilty about it.
Because of this guilt, I felt impelled to fork over the ten dollars I had initially refused. But as soon as I gave it to them, off they ran to get more wine, or dope, or something. And as they headed off, I knew instantly that that had been the wrong thing to do.
So I headed back to the bus stop, my hermeneutic in shambles, my jaw hurting, and with some thinking to do.