This weekend’s sermon was one that applies rather universally to all of us – loyalty. Each of us has friends, family, coworkers, or others that we have some degree of commitment to that requires us to excercise some amount of loyalty. And on the surface, it would appear to be an easy box to check off and simply say “Yeah, ok … I’m a loyal person. Now what?” But it’s not always that easy. Joel kicks off the sermon with this base of Scripture …
Proverbs 21:21 (New American Standard Bible)
One thing that immediately stuck out on this with me is that my NIV translates “loyalty” as “love.” I’m not as steeped in translation issues, so it remains a curiosity. There’s another translation of this same passage that describes it as “faithful love.” Moving on from any definitional discussion, though, “what’s so hard about loyalty?” is certainly a more worthwhile topic of discussion. Some folks have been married to the same person for decades and could probably write volumes of books on loyalty. Others have had friends since childhood. Someone might work for the same employer (or employ someone themselves) for many years.
One of the prouder moments in my own family history involves the time my dad took a job that required us to move from our home state of Texas to Mississippi. Two things still stand out from that move, even though I had yet to set foot in elementary school. One is that, on the way out of Houston, we stopped at the San Jacinto Monument and mom bought me and my younger sister two book on Texas history. They were more or less age-appropriate books, I think one was a coloring book, the other having lots of pictures. She didn’t weigh us kids down with the Sam Houston biography, “The Raven” by any means. But those books were given to us to ensure that we left Texas with a sense of where it was we came from and took with us a fair amount of pride in our home state. Those books survived a lot of years and a few different Basset Hounds (including one who apparently mistook one for a chew toy). So there was definitely an ounce or two of loyalty instilled in my own household from an early age.
The second reference point had to do with a frustration I experienced early on in describing where I was born. Technically, I was born in Jacinty City, TX. It’s one of those little towns that is practically surrounded by Houston on the east side. It’s right there with Galena Park, Pasadena, and a few others. In fact, immediately before we moved, we lived in Pasadena. The problem is that nobody ever knows where Jacinto City, TX is and my only reference to it was that it happened to be the place where the hospital I was born in was located there. If you tell anyone outside of the Houston area (and probably many within the Houston area), they’ll never know a thing about Jacinto City’s location. For all they know, I could have been born somewhere in the panhandle. My dad offered a simple solution: Just tell them you’re from Houston. From that point on, I was a Houstonian.
Another datapoint to add to this is that my parents would haul us kids off to Galveston, where our grandparents (dad’s side) lived. We always stopped in Center, TX along the way to see the other grandmother (mom’s side) and engage in the one part of the trip I enjoyed the most: free BBQ at grandma’s BBQ pit. The trips weren’t without reason. Mom & Dad went to many of the University of Houston football games. In our younger years, I’d wait up for them to get home and demand they turn over any and all souvenirs for my enjoyment. As we got older, we’d make it to the games as well. Mom always took a great amount of pride in the fact that they’d gone to most every home game (seems they always skipped out on the end-of-the-season game against Rice) in the 1975 season when the team went 2-8. The following year was one of those too-magical moments in sports, however. It was our team’s first season in the old Southwest Conference. We had an All-American defensive lineman in Wilson Whitley. But we had an untested Sophmore quarterback in Danny Davis. Nevertheless, the team went on to win the conference (albeit in a tie-breaker). We beat Earl Campbell’s Texas team 30-0 on their own field. Sure, Earl Campbell was out of that game (injury, I think), but not long ago, I visited the UT campus and my first thought upon seeing their magnificent on-campus stadium was “Wow, that’s where we beat these guys 30-0 back in 1976!” You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day. That was, by far, our best UH football team ever. But the fact that my parents were just as involved, just as supportive … just as loyal … to the team the year before was never lost on me. To this day, I’m a Houston fan regardless of sport. I even take a fair amount of pride when it’s that other Houston college (Rice) that does well. They’re Houstonians, too, after all.
That’s but one aspect of loyalty, of course. Clearly, there’s far more involved forms of loyalty. What happens when a family member is in some serious trouble of some kind? what happens when it’s your best friend? What about a coworker or a fellow church member? What happens when you see a beloved friend start making some bad choices that compound on top of each other? Those are clearly more difficult decisions than deciding on what level of seating to get for the home team.
Joel offered a great example I loved – coincidentally another sports analogy. This one from the Boston Celtics. It involved Kevin McHale telling about coach KC Jones. It seemed to McHale that Jones would never say anything to a player who had just done something spectacular, but when a player would make a mistake, Jones was always there to lift the player up and restore his confidence. The reason, as the story goes, was that Jones felt that when a player was doing well, they had everyone on their side – all the fans, all their teammates. But when a player made a mistake, that’s when they needed a true friend. True friends restore …
The real test of loyalty is often whether or not we’re willing to demonstrate the commitment to stick with our friends, our family, our coworkers, through those tough times. As Joel sums it up ….
There’s actually a lot more from this sermon to chew on. Joel offers up a fair amount of detail on being loyal to our families and even our country. Not just the easy calls to love one another and go wave a flag. Not everyone’s families are easy to get along with. Some have far more serious problems than simple rebelliousness. And patriotism is often tough to display in a hyperpartisan world of constant disagreement, if not vitriolic hatred. But each of those is a topic I hope to get some time to address specifically. For now, this is enough material to mull over on it’s own. Thinking back, can we identify a time and place where we’ve met the call of loyalty? … or a time when we’ve failed to answer that call? If anyone’s led a full and productive life, chances are, we’ve got both of those stories to tell in full, rich detail.