the leaders we deserve
(cyprian; I neglected to post this last week [Wed. 4th Week in Ordinary Time], but it seems more apropos than ever, perhaps in tandem with Berry’s thoughts on ‘inscendence’ from the Ash Wednesday homily.)
As we hear this next installment of the saga of David, that flawed king (2 Sam 24:2, 9-17), and put that next to Jesus being rejected by his own hometown (Mk 6:1-6); and also just coming on the heels of this Abbots and Priors workshop, and with the election cycle in our country hitting full steam on top of that, it all got me thinking about leadership. I was reminded of that famous phrase of the 19th century French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville: “In democracy we get the leaders we deserve!”
I’ve been reading a book by Gerald Vann recently called The Heart of Man (which, incidentally is from 1954), and one passage struck me as particularly salient to the discussion, so I am getting most of my thoughts on this from him. He points out that social structures tend to lag behind the movement of life, or the evolution of consciousness, if you will. And the reason structures or institutions lag behind is because often the power to make change rests with those who have grown accustomed to an established order and may be too close to that old way to see that that old way can no longer meet the demands of new life, of a new era, of a new generation. Of course some people resist change because they have some kind of vested interest in the old way, and any kind of change would diminish their power or influence. Others might resist the new––a new voice, a challenge to the status quo––because they are conservative in the best sense of the word, because they feel the need of “safeguarding order and security,” or preserving a tradition. Unfortunately if that gets carried too far, if it becomes an imposition of uniformity and standardization, that can wind up destroying life, squelching creativity and spontaneity, and killing any kind of initiative.
In that context then, that’s why Vann says that we “find historically that the innovators, however beneficial and even urgently necessary their reforms, are usually treated with suspicion and faced with endless obstacles.” Of course I am asking you to see Jesus in this light: ‘prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ “There is always, at any given moment of a society’s life, a tension between those who realize the new needs and those who from ignorance or malice oppose them.” If it’s from ignorance, we could have compassion, pity and mercy and say, with Jesus on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do’! But we have to also admit that we in our little ways stand in the way of the new life that Jesus offers in the Spirit, the new creation, out of apathy or fatigue. And, beyond that, as we see unfortunately so often in our age, there are also those “who merely seek to destroy, or set up a new way which is evil or mistaken.” Hence the horrible phenomenon of ISIS or Boko Haram or any of the totalitarian regimes around the world, for instance.
This paragraph I want to quote almost verbatim: “But always the emergence of the new forms depends on the [individuals] who make up society.” It’s not just the leaders! “There will be outstanding personalities, no doubt, who will lead the new age, but everybody is involved”––please note this applies equally at a micro level of families and communities and villages as well as at a macro level of states, countries, societies; “it is not only, or even primarily, the politicians who make political life [for instance]: it is the artists and writers, the makers of music, it is people of vision, who make the ‘new spirit’; and the struggle between the old order and the new will be decided … by the infinitely complex interplay of the lives and personalities of ordinary men and women. We must be real men and women if we want to make a real contribution to the building of society” (and again here I want to add the micro level, too); “we must be real men and women if we want to make a real contribution to the building of community.” We have to be real human beings! That is our challenge, the challenge issued to us living stones that make up this temple of the Body. “And if we are, in fact, real men and women,” he says, “we shall in fact, fight on the side of life against decay and death,” even though at times we may be unconscious of fighting at all.
In this sense too, we get the leaders we deserve at a macro level and a micro level. We can raise up leaders from out of our darkest fears, or from out of our wildest dreams, out of our pure hearts and hope-filled souls or out of our unregenerate, unconverted minds. So we pray for our civil and religious leaders in this day age, that they may “read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith.” And we pray for ourselves too, that we may be re-born daily at the Table of the Word and Sacrament, to know the Truth that will set us free.