Last Monday was Memorial Day, the day in which we remember those men and women who died in service of the United States. As Abraham Lincoln -- prior to the establishment of the holiday -- put it in his "Gettysburg Address", they are those who "gave the last full measure of devotion." They were (as most soldiers are still) faithful to their commitment to their cause. Their comrades-at-arms counted on them. Some died for the ultimate "winners"; others for those who didn't fare as well. Some died unawares; others knew where they were headed.
I've been thinking about faithfulness the last few days. It isclearly a religious concept; early in the book of Genesis, for example, the patriarch Abraham was told by God that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars, even though, at that time, he had no heir (Gen 15.5). The promise was so powerful that it did not even stop the patriarch--once he did have a son--from following another instruction from heaven: go, sacrifice your son. An angel stayed his hand, with the words, "now I know that you fear God" (22.12), but Abraham's faithfulness was clear. Abraham's faithfulness became a model for later Christians. Other religious traditions similarly place great value on steadfast commitment, despite the cost.
This morning, I attended the Commencement ceremony for the Iliff School of Theology.* Graduates pledged their commitment to their various callings. The commencement speaker and members of the faculty urged them to remain true. Yet the commencement speaker also hinted that (using the example of some Harvard graduates) there are some folks who might not live up to their commitments. The theme of faithfulness was apparent.
And then I think about our cultural movement away from "brand loyalty". Pretty much gone are the days when subsequent generations in a family would only buy Fords or Chevrolets (both looking down on the other). Similarly, pretty much gone are the days when many Protestant Christians will stand by the denomination of their birth; the same phenomenon is only slightly less true for members of other religious bodies. The theme seems to be: "My commitment to this or that is only as strong as my pocket book or the preacher's adroitness at leading worship. There are many other options out there that are just as good!"
I am not suggesting that there may not be very good reasons for shifting "brands". Certain manufacturers, for example, may engage in environmental questionable practices that might drive otherwise faithful consumers away. Questions of faith may no longer be adequately answered by the religion of one's youth. But I am always interested in the deeper questions of commitment. Memorial Day (and Veterans' Day) and commencements and ordinations usually demand that I search deep within and try to answer the question "For what would I give the last full measure of devotion."