t was a baking, broiling, steaming, frying hot day in Glasgow, Kentucky, but nothing could dampen the spirits of Scots, Scottish-Americans, wannabe Scots, and unabashed lovers of all things Scottish. The Highland Games must go on!
There we were, dressed in wool kilts, some even in knitted knee socks and jackets with fancy silver buttons. We squinted in the sun as we visited tents where costumed vendors and crafters sold Celtic music, books, handmade ornaments and weapons, and food. We handled silver and pewter clan crest badges that depict the crest of a given chief, surrounded by his motto on a strap and buckle. They’re supposed to be worn only by his clan members, but these days, who knows?
We even watched some jousting. The horses were the only ones on the grounds that were guaranteed the deepest shade for their camping area, so they seemed willing to gallop around at scheduled hours carrying shouting men with swords.
We hung out on the shadier sides of large pavilions featuring high-energy drummers or kilted girls competing in Highland dances. But mostly we sat fanning ourselves in the sweltering shade of 30 or so clan tents encircling the playing field. We sipped lemonade and shared sympathetic comments about the huge, sweating men tossing telephone poles around or heaving massive stones as far as they could. Whether they won or lost, we applauded their efforts, not to mention those of the bands of perspiring pipers in full-dress array.
But there was one man for whom I felt particular pity.
His Grace the Duke of Atholl, hereditary chief of Clan Murray, was chief of the Games this year. He, and quite a few other Scots, had traveled a very long way and no doubt learned that in more ways than one, it’s a long way from Glasgow, Scotland, to Glasgow, Kentucky (I wonder if it ever hits 95°F in Scotland). Her Grace the Duchess was along as well, and even marched in the parade of clans who filed past for her husband’s review on Sunday morning. But they weren’t the ones I felt sorry for.
Atholl wasn’t the only lord on the grounds that day, but as chief of the Games, he was the most important. And no one ever lost sight of him. Why? Because he had a standard-bearer. That’s right; everywhere His Grace went, a man in full Scottish regalia followed, bearing a large flag emblazoned with the duke’s colors. When the duke visited in a clan tent, his standard-bearer, because of the height of his flag, had to stand outside in the sun. He was the one who had all my sympathy!
My daughter, who is a former Pathfinder and often a flag-bearer for our clan in the parade, knows something about the discomfort of standing at attention with your hands backward on a pole held against your belly. She had a momentary conversation with the standard-bearer that went something like this:
She (eyeing his perspiring face): “Boy, I’ll bet you’re hot!”
He (with a brave grin): “Yes.”
She: “I feel really sorry for you!”
He (laughing a little): “Thank you. The worst of it is, this is a volunteer position!”
She: “So you don’t even get paid to stand there and boil?
Is it worth it?”
He: “Oh, yes.”
It was worth it. A position of some importance, in fact. Not so much today as in recognition of those days when everything, including life and death, might depend on each person’s knowing at all times where the lord was.
Modern people have appropriated the “standards” for other uses that make only partial sense. A company speaks of the high standards of its products, meaning high quality. Is it still even dimly remembered that the original use of the word meant that whenever you saw a certain product made with particular attention to detail and craftsmanship, you knew that particular artisan had made it? And if you wanted to be sure, you simply looked on the piece for the maker’s mark, the coat of arms, you might say, of its crafter. His or her standard.
Christians talk a lot about “upholding the standards of the church.” What exactly do we mean? In my experience, the phrase is almost always followed by a discussion (more or less heated, depending on circumstances and who’s speaking to whom) of externals. Dress codes, hair length or style, jewelry. On better days it may mean a discussion of codes of behavior. Morality, parenting, or the generation gap. It may even refer to music or worship styles. Are those really standards? Perhaps, in modern terms at least.
However, there is only one thing identified throughout the entire Bible as the standard, the flag, the banner, that indicates where the Lord is.
“He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love” (S. of Sol. 2:4).*
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
“If we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12—and any of 1 John!).
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend [hang] the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
You can even wear it on your chest, like a clan crest badge: “Put on the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thess. 5:8). “Beyond all these things put on love” (Col. 3:14).
Questions for Reflection
1. What does the word "standards" mean to you?
2. In what ways do you think it is important to uphold high standards?
3. What are some ways of holding high the banner of love in your family, your church, your neighborhood, your workplace?
4. What are the practical implications of being a standard-bearer for Jesus?
So all those externals we worry about may be important, but only under the standard of love. Which external thing you could choose to do, wear, or say will best show love to this particular person at this particular moment? Better yet, which will best display your love for God? Best of all, which will best display His tender love for you and for your friends?
Somewhere in history, within the domain of a lord we’ll call John: Press of bodies, jostle and whinny of horses, smell of smoke and blood, screams of those who are dying, and shouts of those who are killing. The messenger wipes his streaming eyes and peers through the confusion. He must get his message to Lord John, but where is he? He whirls in the confusion, stumbles over a fallen shield, and sprints desperately past two men locked in combat.
One hand clutches at his chest, where he has hidden the message safely under his tunic. A whole battalion of soldiers have recognized that Lord John’s cause is just and would like to join him. But in this melee they can’t tell which side is which. They are waiting in the woods for their scout’s return.
The messenger just misses being trampled by a war horse. There! He scrubs smoke from his eyes again and squints. The standard is tattered but unmistakable, and even as he begins to trot toward it, a breeze spreads blue and golden folds, showing Lord John’s coat of arms.
The new battalion turns the tide of the battle, and the war is almost over. All because the standard-bearer held to his post without faltering.
And it was worth it.
Where do you and I stand? Are we clinging to a certain style of battle tactics, and calling them standards? Do we charge against today’s armored battalions bearing a medieval shield and spear? Or are we holding love high, waving it in the winds of change and turmoil that surround us?
Where is the Lord? Do you know? Did you talk to Him today?
Love is a flag flying high in the castle of my heart,
in the castle of my heart, in the castle of my heart.
Love is a flag flying high in the castle of my heart,
to show the King is in residence there.
So let it fly in the sky, let the whole world know,
let the whole world know, let the whole world know.
Let it fly in the sky, let the whole world know
that the King is in residence there!
*All Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977.
Debbonnaire Kovacs lives with her husband on a farm in central Ohio. Visit her castle and learn more of her writing and speaking at www.debbonnaire.com.