Leaders and non-leaders

[For Easter this year, here, and to a limited extent, at All along the Watchtower (more about that later in the week) at well, we are looking back a couple of years, and bringing forward some of our favorite posts from the Easter season. I think it well to begin with one of my favorites from my Editor and dearest friend, Jessica. We both believe that Jesus epitomizes servant leadership, and today we tell you why. My thoughts will follow later today. Here’s Jess. Neo]

Thatcher for againstOne theme of this blog is the importance of leadership. Those of us who read today’s Gospel for Palm Sunday (though where I live it is more like Arctic Sunday, and we are dreaming of a white Easter) will have seen a perfect example of its absence – and the results.

Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea.  It wasn’t one of those top notch jobs, and like most Romans in such posts, Pilate had two priorities: keep things quiet and make money for himself.  The Romans were pragmatists. Gods? Heck, they had hundreds of them. So it was irritating that those Jews insisted there was only one of them. What was worse is they wouldn’t bend the knee to the gods of Rome. Live and let live was Pilate’s motto. He went to Judea in about AD 26, and had been there a few years when the Jews brought Jesus to him. He couldn’t see much wrong in the fellow, and he tried to find a way of avoiding blatant injustice. He was quite willing to have the fellow flogged, but crucifying him – that was another matter.

But there, blast it, went those Jews again. They wanted the fellow crucified. Pilate didn’t want any trouble, and you can almost hear him: “Come on guys, give us a bit of wriggle room here, the guy’s basically harmless, c’mon, cut me a bit of slack.” But they wouldn’t.  On the one side the pragmatic politician looking for a way through; on the other men who knew what they wanted and would stick at nothing to get it. If you didn’t know, you’d be able to tell who was going to get their way, and you’d not put money on the first guy.

Enter Mrs Pilate, telling him that she’s had a dream and that he should let the man be. That was all he needed, the little lady putting her oar in. Didn’t she realise he had enough trouble with those stiff-necked Jews?  Clearly not. Well, only one thing to do, wash his hands of it and let it be. And it all went off well in the end. There weren’t any riots, and although there were the strangest stories that the man had not died, it caused Pilate no problems for a bit. Politics is the art of the possible. You can see him afterward with Mrs P: “c’mon, what do you want? I did my best. Now what’s for supper, not more larks’ tongues?”

Small men, large events. Churchill said that in his father’s day there had been great men and small events, but during the Great War it had been the other way round. But really, we only see the real size of men when they are faced with great events. Cranmer just quoted some recently released papers from 1982 and the Falklands Crisis. Nearly every member of Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet was for a quiet life and giving in. We remember none of them. She was for doing what was right. We remember her.

There’s a lesson in Pilate for us all – small men never get to grips with great events – and without vision the people perish.

[First published on 24 March 2013]

Optimism in America? 2

[I’m just going tp pit this post up and let the air clear again. I was working on other things and didn’t get today’s done. But Jessica reminds us of some eternal verities here. America was built on optimism, and we’d be remiss if we see only the gloom these days. So enjoy. Neo]
America optimism

One thing which has always struck me about America, and it is one of the reasons that FDR and President Reagan stand so pre-eminent, is that it is built on optimism. When you think of the situation of the Founding Fathers, goodness, what a leap of faith! They literally laid their lives on the line in a fight for independence against the great British Empire with its huge military might; but they triumphed. Their Republic consisted of twelve States on the eastern edge of a great, and largely unexplored Continent, with French and Spanish territory to the south and south-west; Louisiana essentially barred the route westward; Spanish Mexico barred the route to the south. Yet, within fifty years of the founding of the Republic, these barriers had vanished.

West of the Missouri, however, despite Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition, was more or less terra incognita, and even within the United States, tension was growing between the slave-holding States and the Free, so much so that by the 1860s, the Republic was tearing itself apart in one of the bloodiest of civil wars. Until the end of World War II there was hardly a decade when Bruce Springsteen’s lines about having ‘no work, because of the economy’ were not true; forty-odd years of exceptional prosperity in a material sense may have inculcated the belief that somehow the Republic’s people would always live on easy street – but that, whilst being part of the American hope, was never necessarily something most people actually achieved; you only have to look at the history of the Irish and Italian immigrants to see how it was for many first generation ‘Americans'; and of the suffering of the slaves, well, that is indeed a scar on the conscience.

But, despite of these things, America got on with it. Shady politicians? Crooked businessmen and bankers with their hold over the politicians? Politicians who were in it for themselves? Pork-barrelling? Faction fighting? Bitter insults hurled by political opponents at each other?  These are not new, these are American history; and you know what? America is bigger than them all. Sure, there are worrying developments – that FDR and his attempts to use SCOTUS to put in place that socialistic ‘New Deal’, with that Communist Wallace and Harry Hopkins, that really worries me! What’s that, that happened in the 1930s? Oh well, I mean Obama and Pelosi – except they don’t have an ounce of the talent and drive of FDR and his ‘Brains Trust’. The Great Republic remains standing. Does that mean that the fears of FDR’s opponents were wrong? Or does it mean that their vigilance stopped the worst happening? Or does it mean that the realities of America proved too great even for FDR’s ambitions? I confess I don’t know.

But what I do know is that at his first election Obama spotted something important – he knew that the American people are optimists, ‘can do’ people; after all, how many of their ancestors would have been there had they not been so?  So when he ran on a rhetoric of ‘hope’ he struck an authentic chord in the American people. It was one his opponents did not catch and still show insufficient sign of catching. It is all very well to call Obama out for being pretty useless, and to prophesy that the skies will darken and the waters rise and doom will fall upon the land; but is it a political programme to put before a People founded on the optimistic dreams of a bunch of guys who, if they’d calculated, would have paid the tax on tea and gotten on with feathering their nests?

I am an outsider who loves America. But I can’t help thinking that unless President Obama’s opponents get away from negativity (after all, if people feel, as they do, negative about him, they don’t need to be told to feel it) and offer a vision of the America its people recognise as optimistic, then for all her many faults, it will be Hillary in ’16. At which point, even my capacity to be Sunny will vanish :)

Back Into the Wasteland

 

keep-calm-_-hes-back

A note from Neo

Well, I’m back again, not that I really left, I’ve been  posting some on the Watchtower because that has been more appropriate to my thoughts lately. I have been thinking of you though, there aren’t so many of us here, but we tend to be, I suspect a good bit alike, and if you’re like me, you feel very much like a sojourner in a strange land.

Today is, of course Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when we traditionally give up things by which we commemorate Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness , as we prepare ourselves for Easter.

Well, I’ve decided to give up feeling sorry for myself this year, as many of you know Jessica, my editor here, is also my best (and best-loved) friend. When she was stricken with cancer last September, my life pretty much stopped. She survived thanks to what can only be described as a miracle from God himself. She is now recovering in a convent in England, and while I have limited contact with her, for which I give huge thanks to the abbess, I miss her daily presence immensely. But in many ways that’s not important, but what is, to me at least, is that you, my readers, still read her posts, very nearly everyday. And so do I, her writing here and at the Watchtower comforts my soul. And so for your (and my) enjoyment and remembrance, I decided to repost one of her best. NEO

Into the Wasteland

The Hollow Men 5We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

The opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem speak with eloquence to any age and people who feel disconnected from what they feel is a calamitous and collapsing socio-political world.

Eliot was writing in the aftermath of the most catastrophic war in the history of the Western world. It was the war when hope died. How could one believe in progress after the Somme and the horrors of the Western Front? And what had all of that slaughter been for? A settlement at Versailles which few believed would really bring peace to the world.  Men like Wilson and Hoover, or MacDonald and Baldwin, seemed small men facing giant problems, and sure enough, within fifteen years the world had once more descended into the abyss.

Does the fault lie in our leaders? They do, indeed, seem to be hollow men, with heads stuffed with straw. The words of Yeats’ Second Coming seem apposite to our times:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Writing in 1919, Yeats wondered:   

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand

But it was not so. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells Gandalf that he wishes he did not live in the time he did, when such dreadful things were happening. Gandalf’s reply is for all of us:
So do I,’  said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

It is not for us to decide such things. All each of us can do in the end is to decide how we live our lives and by what star we steer. Those of us with a Christian faith, like Tolkien himself, know we are strangers in this world, and we know by whose star we steer. We can rage all we like against the way the world seems to be going, so did our forefathers, and so will our descendants. Eliot ends with a dying fall:

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

But Yeats, in best prophetic mode wondered:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For me, Eliot’s words in Ash Wednesday ring truest:

Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us


That’s pretty much what the world feels like, increasingly to me, at least, it seems that we may have to simply burn it down and try to rebuild in the ruins.But I continue to hope not, so we will see.

In many ways Kipling asked the question I think our political leadership should have to answer

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

But as Jess said above, we don’t get to pick the era in which we live, we are simply called to do the best we can. And so we shall, God willing.  NEO

 

Westward look, the land is bright?

This is a post of Jessica’s first published on 31 December 2013. It was sort of a retrospective of what has gone wrong in our countries. She also makes the point, with which I strongly agree, that we need to be choosing by the person, not by the party label. In this election, most of the people I would vote for are Republicans but, I look for the character, not the label. Neo


 

4021828787As we come to the end of 2013, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic could be forgiven for not wishing each other a happy New Year. On my blog, my co-author, Chalcedon has penned a philippic [I am sorry, very sorry in fact, but it is no longer available because that blog is now private.] about the shortcomings of conservative politicians which amounts to saying they aren’t worth voting for.

I’m not a politician or an analyst, but I am instinctively conservative on social norms, at least by modern standards. My instincts are those of a Christian: I loathe abortion; I am not a fan of contraception (although see where it can be useful); I dislike the ways in which easy divorce is leading to generations of children without fathers; and I am in favour of the traditional family and see it as the bed rock of social unity. So I tend to vote for any politician who also seems to favour these things. Were I fortunate enough to be an American, I should have noted Republican last time; and I would have done so without great enthusiasm, as I know many of you did. I would have been downcast at President Obama’s victory, as I would have been at the disorganised nature of the Republican opposition to him.

Over here we have a Coalition Government in which the Conservatives have a large majority of seats, but which is hell-bent on pushing through an act to legalise gay marriage. It is content to allow Courts to rule that Christians have no protection against being made to work on a Sunday, or to abstain from having to perform civil partnerships in Registry Offices.  I am sure it differs in some significant way from the other parties, but perhaps it needs to enlighten me as to how.

But perhaps we need to remember that, at least for the Christians amongst us, politics are not the most important thing. Jesus and the Apostles were not, whatever some of our church leaders think, involved in social activism and political reform. For us, nothing is more important that witnessing to the Gospel message of love and repentance. Jesus knew what our politicians of all types don’t  – that the only change that actually effects the world’s problems is a change of heart.  Real change, unlike President Obama’s mantra, only comes from a supernatural rebirth of the corrupted human heart. From that personal transformation comes other tranformations – of the family, the community and the nation. America’s Founding Fathers understood that – ‘One Nation – under God’.

So, call me Pollyanna, and I’ll put my blue dress on and put my hair in plaits, but I cannot get myself worked up about conservatism and its plight. The politicos will continue to play their games, and what we really need are more like dear Rebecca Hamilton. If I lived in her District, I’d be voting Democrat, because of her, not because of anything that party does. And perhaps that is where the real fight back begins? Not with labels, but with people. Get the right people willing to do what Rebecca does, and we can say, as Churchill (http://youtu.be/mdImjJzAAIs) did:

 

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

 

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
ln front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.


 

But you know, this week we again get to choose who represents us in Washington. I like you, am often disappointed with the quality of the candidates. While I’ve written little about it this year, I have been paying attention, and I will vote for those I think best. I ask you to as well.

This ad, I think lays it out almost perfectly.

And so the main thing to remember is this:

If we don’t demand the best, we will get the rest.

Neo

Where is comfort?

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There’s no doubt, my friends, that we live in unsettling times. The ending of the Cold War was hailed by some as the ‘end of history'; we wish! We can wish we did not live in such times as we now see, but as Gandalf says in ‘Lord of the Rings’, so do all who live in them; but it is not given to us to order the days of our lives. An historical perspective soon makes us grateful: that we are not in Rome when Alaric’s armies sacked it; or in Roman Britain facing the Angles and the Saxons as they marauded; neither are we in Constantinople in 1453 when it fell to the Ottomans. But we might understand more, now, how people felt as the world with they were familiar began to seem under threat.

It isn’t simply the, as yet for us, distant threat of ISIS (though we should not think it that far when we have in our midst those who might seek to harm us), it is the dislocation of the times. It is, in some ways, more comforting to think of President Obama as some kind of Manchurian Candidate than as what he is – a well-meaning man up against the hard fact that what he believes in and the real world don’t mix. Our sense that it is a ‘plague on all their houses’ when it comes to politics, derives from a feeling that none of them have answers to the problems which face us. There is, Adam Smith once wrote, ‘a lot of ruin in a nation’ – perhaps we shall see just how much it takes?

But the eternal verities stand where they always did. If you have too much regulation and too many taxes, things don’t work – and soon people don’t either. Welfare is a Christian duty, but when there are more taking out than putting in, it won’t work. When people depend on people, it generates good morale; when they depend on Government, it generates dependency. Power still tends to corrupt, and absolute power to do so absolutely. If something seems too good to be true, it isn’t. Power without responsibility is the prerogative of the harlot down the ages, and Government is best when it sticks to doing as little as possible. JFK was right – ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for it.

When politics becomes a ‘profession’ it attracts too many of the wrong sort; term limits should be there for all elected office. Ten years is enough, not least in the pressure of modern politics. All leaders go sort of mad after too long; it’s a service to them to save them from themselves. We need to be more involved too. In the end, if we care about freedom, it will thrive; if not we can have bread and circuses, till the wheat runs out and we find ourselves in the Coliseum. Naught for our comfort then? Aye, naught but this – that we are the children of the Living God and through Jesus, we are saved. If that is so, what have we to fear save fear itself?

“We’re Americans, we act”

Iraqi Christian

In his Presidential Address President Obama said that America would do whatever needed to protect its own people, and ‘we cannot just look away .. we are Americans and we lead’, he said. This is not the time for point scoring about Benghazi or anything else. ‘There’s a country called America which cares for them too’, the President said in relation to the Yezidis; thank God for the USA, is all I can say.

There is no other country in the world which could do what needs to be done here. The President is, of course, correct, and America can’t bring a military solution to the situation in northern Iraq, but what she can do is what no one else in the world can – which is to bring relief to those who suffer, and to check, decisively, the forces of evil who would destroy them on the way to creating a universal Islamic caliphate. ISIS now control more than 17 Iraqi cities. and they control oil reserves and production worth billions of dollars; if left, they will grow. Yes, of course, you can say why did we let this happen, and what on earth are the Iraqi politicians doing? They are doing what they do best, arguing over who should have power and spoils – they will be doing it on the last ‘copter out of Baghdad is no one stops ISIS. The latter has benefitted from the way the al-Maliki government has alienated the Sunnis, and clearly, unless he either changes his ways or is removed, then the uneasy coalition that is ISIS will be buoyed up by the elixir of success and the money – and women – it brings in its.

This being so, even the most war-weary American must realise that these people hate us, and they will do whatever they can to destroy our way of life. They sought to intimidate us on 9/11 with the warning that unless we stayed out of their world, they would inflict harm on us. We can choose, a decade on, to obey that warning, or we can, as the President proposes, play a wiser game this time.

There are, on the ground in the Kurdish territories, those who, if properly armed, will fight ISIS and have shown they have the will to resist or die in the attempt. ISIS may well have been betting on America being so tired of Iraq that it would do nothing – but as the President said: ‘that is not who we are’. The President is not, whatever political polemic believes, a fool, not are those advising him. In June he sent in 800 military advisers to Iraq to try to create a ‘platform’ for action if the worst should happen; it has happened, and sooner than anyone could have predicted. Iraq stands on the brink of descending into a civil war and an ISIS triumph.

The blogger, Cranmer, has declared, in echoes of Churchill, that:

Right across the Arab-Muslim world, from the coastal plains of the Maghreb to the Himalayan peaks of Pakistan, a Quranic Curtain is descending.

We cannot, in our interests and in the interests of all civilization, allow that curtain to descend. A moment has come when the civilized world has to say ‘I am an American’ and this is not what we allow to happen. In the name of all that is good about mankind, these savages must be picked up and planted on the trash-heap of history.

[I would like to thank my blogging companion, Chalcedon 451 for his help here]

 

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