In my last perusal of Hans Christian Anderson's tale of a deceived emperor I found the opposite to the above. I see a vain man confused by the voices around him and not able to speak the truth even though he sees it. The story gives a picture of a leader and his advisors, not involved in their community and definitely not having a heart for their community. This could be a statement on some of the situations in our world today, yet this story comes from a period of aristocratic control when there where seemingly God-given rights granted to specific humans with little or no accountability. This type of governance led to ignorance, greed, control, abuse and fear.
When the majority of the governing leaders of a community do not mirror the lives of the vast majority of the people that they represent then the people lose faith and the community implodes.
Passages from the Bible help me focus during Lent so that I cannot just seek wisdom but need to live it out as well. One section of that ancient script also significantly redefines a leader’s goal in terms of wisdom. In the book of Jeremiah it says that leaders who care for the poor and marginalized have an opportunity to know God. Not that kings know God and can then help the poor but rather when they help the poor and marginalized, and get immersed in the needs of their community, they can know God.
Leaders are in positions of governance and authority to help the innocent and the powerless. If they do this they come to know God and gain wisdom, as all wisdom comes from God.
The aim therefore is not to gain wealth but wisdom.
Leaders need wisdom as they are a key part of the system that holds in tension the struggle between people and organizations that want to arrange life only for their own desires, whether thats’ for greed, power, control, or anarchy. They manage this chaotic tension so that there can be integrated just community for all.
Leaders help form society and community structures so that they benefit all constituents of the group and enable the cry of the weak and innocent to be heard and listened to. For if their cry is not heard and taken into account it forms a layer of injustice that when it reaches its fullness will rip a society apart. On the other hand if a community cannot facilitate those who would grow its wealth and resources it dies of malnutrition and cannot sustain itself.
Community leaders help manage the chaotic situation and assist the community to grow in an integrated manner that benefits all.
Usually, people and organizations do not like chaotic places of societal tension. Society likes to live safely, relatively comfortable and secure from change factors that they cannot control. It is difficult to control chaos, but marginalized, ostracized, weak and innocent people will always seek change, as change is the only way that the injustices and abuse that they are facing can be remedied. Many civilizations have imploded because the leaders of that society became comfortable and tried to control the situation for their own ends. They became isolated and only think about their own good and ignore or abuse the innocent and weak. They amass wealth and power that separates them from their community. They develop an unrealistic reality separate from the vast majority of their community.
Ancient Rome declined due to leaders who sought only their own personal comfort and safety at the expense of the rest of the people and they were defeated long before any army came and sacked the city.
When that occurs the society destroys itself from within, a long time before they are beaten by any outside force.
In the Hans Christian Anderson story the words of the child highlight the truth. However, even truth can be elusive! What is truth and to whom does truth belong?
If today the child had cried “he is naked”, spin doctors, PR reps, lawyers, politicians, journalists, spiritual leaders, social pundits and the wise from various groups would have swooped in and laid out competing and conflicting scenarios depending on the interested parties involved or on the leaning of those communicating the tale.
So what is our truth - are we naked or are we clothed?
Thankfully, lent gives us space and allows us to seek the heart and wisdom of God and, for a time, get closer to that truth. One method I have found helpful in this multi-layered communication overloaded world, consists of using a patchwork of items.
- I look around and see whose voices I am listening to and ask what their aim is
- I listen to people I respect and who have illustrated that they have wisdom
- I add to this times of prayer and fasting
- I try and hear God in the words that speak to me through the teaching of Jesus Christ
- I mull over the work and story that the Spirit of God is weaving in the practical realities of my life.
- I try to engage in the marginalized places of my community and with the ostracized people that God has a heart for and allow them to speak to me
- Then I look to give time so that I can be marinated by these ingredients of wisdom and let them bubble up and work their way into my thought process and hopefully take root in the actions of my life.