Loyalty Days

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.

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Prescription for Life

In Sunday School today we talked about I Thessalonians 5:16-18, and the Pastor suggested that these three verses could be considered a “Prescription for Life”. I’m inclined to agree.

They are short verses, and seem to be literally impossible, so I think that we tend to pass over them rather quickly.

Be joyful always;

pray Continually;

give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

As a programmer, I am uncomfortable with words like “always” and “continually” and “all”. Looking at the first verse, though, it doesn’t seem out of reach. What is joy, after all? We think of joy as being synonymous with happiness, but it isn’t, really. You can have a joyful expectation and anticipation of God’s power and triumph, even in the midst of unpleasant conditions, as witness Paul and Silas’ conduct in the jail in Phillipi. Hard to imagine being ‘happy’ while sitting in the stocks after a severe flogging. Inspired by the Holy Spirit to display a joyful spirit, these two prisoners were able to sing and praise God in spite of their condition.

So to be joyful always — this means that I should have ever-present in my mind the hopeful anticipatory expectation of possessing the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ. That joy ought to be the backdrop against which my life is played out. It seems to rule out fear and despair.

Pray continually. This one really challenges me, because I am far from having a regular prayer time (apart from daily prayer with the kids), and my sentence prayers are fairly sporadic. I subscribe to the Brother Lawrence Practicing the Presence of God school of thought, in that I think the only way to do this is to live your life as a conversation with God, to include him more and more in your daily tasks. I think that a major part of my struggle over these last 16 months of unemployment and self-employment comes from a lack of a steady conversation with God.

Give thanks in all circumstances. This is a hard one, especially when we have our hearts set on some thing, rather than on God. Frankly, I expected that God would answer both of my prayers regarding my consulting business, and that He would give me both the number of customers and the amount of income I requested for the month of February. Unless someone shows up with a bag o’ cash in the next hour or so, the answer seems to have been yes, with regard to customers, but no, with regard to the amount of money I requested.

Let me step out in faith, then.

Thank you, God, for NOT giving me the money I asked for as earned income during the month of February. I accept that this was not your will and I submit to that will. I can see that several good things can come out of this ‘no’ answer, and I am committed to seeking God’s glory in this situation.

I have so much for which to be thankful. God has repeatedly met our needs, and most of our wants, since I was laid off in November of 2002. Perhaps I will devote a blog entry to listing just a few of the reasons I have to be thankful.

In case you missed the last part of verse 18, this is not merely Paul’s personal suggestion for us: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We often complain that we don’t know God’s will for our lives, usually when faced with a difficult decision or opportunity.

In many ways, these verses are the New Covenant version of Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Not a bad prescription for life.

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The musings and ravings of a bloggart family