Loyalty, Love and the Collective Self.

There is something special about a one club man (or woman). A couple of years ago I witnessed a player play his 500th game for a local rugby club. The blood, sweat and beers that bloke gave to the club over the decades is astounding to say the least. He definitely took loyalty to the next level.

It is amazing the dedication, devotion, patience, self sacrifice and service required to achieve a feat like 500 games. Was the bloke any good at rugby? Wouldn’t have a clue. But he was well respected, popular and could do anything he pleased around the club. It was quite amazing to witness the power he wielded and it wasn’t just because he was a member of the front rowers union. A loyal one-club man is a thing of beauty you don’t see all that often.

On the contrary a player who plays for one club, only to move across to an arch rival, commits the unforgivable sin. A betrayal of everything that is good about team culture. It doesn’t matter how good a player they are, or how much they contribute at the new club, they will always be a traitor and a turn coat.

All too often we see loyalty as the highest of virtues, and it covers a multitude of sins, that’s just ‘big red’ don’t worry about him… he’s done the time, now he can do what he likes.

Loyalty is about unrelenting devotion, which is great if the object of your devotion is a good thing. I wonder though about the true value of loyalty. It is necessary in some contexts, for instance a healthy marriage or employment situation. But in others such as electricity provider, it can be incredibly unhelpful, costing you significantly more than necessary for no obvious benefit.

In our modern western context, the dominant framework is one of the ‘Individual’. Everyone is to pursue their own dreams, and can achieve anything they set their minds to. Team sports like rugby are often so popular because they teach the individual to think about others outside of ‘self’.

But I reckon team sports are more effective at producing a ‘collective self’ rather than a true other person centred community. Team sports tend to encourage the individual to find their place, assume their role, and ‘do their bit’ to help the team. An individual expression to help the team itself. The individual benefits, the team does too, but what about the rest of the competition and district?

I know a few individuals who are very handy rugby players, who were established in their first grade sides. All in the starting line up at competitive clubs, well placed to take championships. Highly visible for representative selectors. But rather than staying with a sure thing, chose to move to ‘developing’ clubs and help build up something that is struggling. What motivates such an individual to take such an action? Is it madness, or a messiah complex, or something else?

I suspect in fact it is love. Love for the game – even at the expense of self. Love is such a fluid term these days, so probably requires definition. In my view, love is self sacrifice, love is focused on the “other”, love is bearing a cost on behalf of someone else for their benefit and not your own. For my mind love is a verb, not a noun. Love is NOT getting your own way at the expense of others, nor is it pursuing your own agenda.

It takes something special to lay down your own agenda for the sake of something greater. These mates of mine, may not gain life membership at any of the clubs they play for, but will do infinitely more for the game than ‘old mate 500’.

Loyalty puts up a fences and seeks to protect everything inside the fence. Often (but not always) at the expense of everything outside the boundaries of the object of your loyalty.

Love has no fence. Love seeks the good of others. Often love looks like a bad idea. Many won’t understand why such a choice is made and even ridicule you. But love is infinitely more useful than loyalty.

If you are in a loyalty culture, love seams foolish, it sometimes even makes you angry.

2000 years ago there were a group of men called the Pharisees, they were the ultimate one club men. Loyal to the brand, fiercely protective of their image and desired to be seen to be the best and brightest. This loyalty culture resulted in exclusion of anyone who differed from them, unhelpful legalism and even the persecution of the early (Christian) church. They were so entrenched in loyalty culture that they could not take criticism or correction of any type. Jesus rocked up, (the ultimate love culture man) and challenged their whole system from top to bottom. Rather than listening and implementing, they plotted to kill Jesus.

Both the Pharisees and Jesus shared a common goal, a desire to listen to and obey God. But culturally they couldn’t be further apart. The Pharisees sought to obey through law keeping (a foolish goal – see Romans 3:19-26) whereas Jesus sought to obey through love and self sacrifice.

What that looked like in practice for the Pharisees was an upright, self righteous, law abiding citizen, that was self protecting and helpful to those within their subculture.

Whereas in Jesus, we see an upright, self sacrificial, righteous man who lay down his life for the sake of others. His motivation was not self seeking.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:5–11

Jesus did not seek to use his position for his own advantage, but rather sought to serve others.

This kind of Love is eternally more useful than Loyalty.


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