This week Sean looked at how we can get stuck in old patterns that hinder us from living gratefully. The analogy that was used is that of discharging the "loyal soldier." This concept comes from post World War II Japan. After the war Japanese communities understood that many of their returning soldiers were not fit or prepared to reenter society. Their only identity during their formative years had been to be a “loyal soldier” to their country. They needed a broader identity to once again rejoin their communities as productive citizens. So they created a communal ritual whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised effusively for his service to the people. After this was done at great length, an elder would stand and announce with authority something to this effect: “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us well up to now. The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.”
In the stories of the Prodigal son and the Tax collector (Luke 15:25-32 and Luke 18:9-14) Jesus is inviting us to do the same- to discharge the "loyal soldier" as it relates to our relationship with God. The "Loyal soldier," "older brother" and the "pharisee" all know how to keep the rules, follow the protocol, declare winners and losers,toe the line, and be obedient. In and of themselves these are good characteristics and are even necessary in early child/adult formation. However, theses traits become shackles, hobbling true intimacy and relationship if we never grow beyond them.
The "loyal soldier" who continues to function only as a solider after the war is over will have little intimacy or true joy. So too, the "older brother" and "pharisee" who refuse the Father's invitation to experience grace and unmerited favor never find true intimacy or joy in their relationship with God. Instead, they favor their own merit (obedience), good works and rule keeping as a means of relationship. The sad thing is neither the older brother, nor the pharisee -in their unwillingness to let go of their old mode of operating- experience God and the full and free life that God is inviting them into. Rather, they experience God as a task master who motivates by shame and guilt and as one who "plays favorites." And the experience life as a series of tests, trials and tribulations to endure. Nothing can be further from the truth.
It is in "discharging the loyal solider, older brother or Pharisee" that each of us can truly enter into intimacy with God. We don't discard our old ways and traits. Rather we "discharge" them, and let them go. We are grateful for the framework theses traits provided but no longer cling to them as our means of relationship, identity or life. We, with God's help, enter the party that is grace, unmerited favor, and unconditional love toward self, others and creation. When we live and love from this place of grace we can't help but live a grateful life.
By Babs May-Clark