In a month or so we will be celebrating “Loyalty Days” here in Brinnon — a local festival involving a parade (quite a sight in this rural village) and a short presentation, a few speeches by local politicians, and a patriotic theme.
I was reading a book today by Tom Clancy, in which a side character (who is soon after killed-off) describes the protagonist, a businessman: “[He] is a great man, and I would lay down my life to protect him.” Frankly, the book wasn’t very good, but it made me think about the people for whom I would lay down my life: a fairly short list.
We live in a cynical world that teaches loyalty to self as the supreme virtue. This is not a new idea. Polonius admonishes Laertes in Hamlet:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
I don’t think I buy it.
Most people subscribe to the idea (if not the practice) of loyalty to family and close friends, while others are able to drum up loyalty to a larger organization, people group, or even nation.
For some reason, loyalty is one of those words that sends a zing up my spine … it has weight and substance in the matters of my heart. Ask me what I hope for most of all in a friend? Loyalty. What hurts me most in a relationship? Faithlessness or betrayal.
Some people mock this virtue. “Dogs are loyal”, they say, with a smirk. It is a pseudo-virtue often attributed (at least in fiction) to a person too dumb to think for themselves. Even villains in action movies have ‘loyal’ henchmen, who frequently die because of misplaced loyalty to their leader.
So what is loyalty? It involves trust, and dedication, and a fixed positive faith. A loyal spouse will not permit her husband to be slandered, a loyal friend will not believe ill of his comrade without strong evidence. Perhaps loyalty is a kind of love … a love that says, “You and I, we have a bond that is exclusive and separate from these others.” But the best kind of loyalty goes beyond that — it is an active, informed, intelligent desire to protect and seek the best for that person, perhaps even at the cost of the relationship.
Loyalty is rare, in my experience, and is therefore very precious, according to the laws of supply and demand. Sometimes the only person who can intervene in a crisis is someone with unquestioned loyalty — in such cases they can be the only ones who have the ‘ticket’ or credibility to confront, rebuke or advise.
How do I go about surrounding myself with loyal people? Here are a few ideas, off the top of my head:
1) Become very rich, famous, or influential.
Hmmm. How will I know if my friends are loyal to me or to my money, prestige, power, or connections? I would imagine that question keeps more than a few rich, famous and influential people awake, nights.
2) Pursue a grand and noble cause.
Nope. While I might rub shoulders with the best of people, there seems no guarantee that such idealists will become personally loyal to me. Indeed, if we disagree on how to implement our grand and noble cause, I might find myself trampled, discarded or destroyed.
3) Be loyal to others.
This, at least, is potentially achievable; my example may serve as a model for others, who might spend some of their loyalty on me. No guarantees here either, but there is at least a glimmer of hope.
So how do I show loyalty?
1) No gossiping. A loyal friend never gossips.
2) Be faithful. A loyal friend keeps his promises.
3) Tell the truth. Loyalty doesn’t allow for deception.
4) Seek the best. A true brother looks out for the interests of his friend; he protects, guards, preserves, even challenges.
5) Forgive. Loyalty overlooks offense and forgives insult.
Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33
I’ve never really understood these verses — I’m unsure if Jesus is speaking of salvation or some kind of a reward; but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be disowned before the Father, either way. I guess one conclusion I can reach is that loyalty, like love itself, must be grounded and connected to Jesus the Christ, and can only be properly and truly achieved to the extent that it is practiced toward Him.
Indeed, if I am ultimately loyal to my Lord and my King, I will express that loyalty in love and kindness to the people He loves, which is, according to John 3:16, all people.
A tall order.