“And nothing can we call our own but death And that small model of the barren earth Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground And tell sad stories of the death of kings”. Shakespeare, Richard II
There are wonderful pieces of literature that make us all stop and think. Shakespeare is the warehouse of wonderful quotes and fascinating ideas. This “about kings I found particularly poignant. There is another statement that comes from one of my favorite books, “The Last of the Mohicans”. Hawkeye the protagonist, or one of them, is having an argument with one of the other main characters, a British officer who is trying to get Hawkeye to do his bidding when it comes to protecting people on the frontier. When Hawkeye refuses to do what the officer says he should do, the officer in a condescending tone says,
“and you call yourself a loyal subject of the crown”. Hawkeye responds, “ I do not consider myself to be subject to much at all”. That amazing statement about the rugged individualism of those first settlers later reveals itself as an image of people who held themselves to a higher allegiance, and that
was to the law of love. Every character in the book eventually performs acts of absolute self-sacrifice for other people a part from the law or coercion.
It brings up a deep question of the desire of human beings to have someone over them whether it be a king, or a prince or some type of leader who will give them purpose and give them direction and someone to follow. At the same time we want to be independent, free, want to choose our own way which automatically sets up a strange situation. We want to be free, and yet we want to follow. We want to be our own people and have our own way, and yet we want to be part of something which is
bigger than the sum of all of our parts put together. It is the form of schizophrenia summed up by the people who told Jesus, “we are the children of Abraham and have never been subject (slaves) to anyone” which was not only denial of their history, but of who they actually were. from a theological and existential perspective.
Americans fought to get rid of a King and yet we have a fascination for royalty that is almost saccharine. We want our presidents to be like royalty but when they start acting that was we say they are imperial. If they are cavalier about power we say they are unfit for the office.
As the eulogies continue for a president who has died and who lead us through some interesting times including one of the most successful wars this country has ever fought, forgotten are the names that he was given during those times. He was called a war monger, a person who is willing to sacrifice you and the lives for the sake of oil. He was called a globalist. He was accused of flying in a clandestine spyplane
halfway around the world to bring about an October surprise to defeat his political enemies He was accused of war crimes. He was called all kinds of horrible names. He came out of that war with the highest approval ratings in popularity of any president in recent memory and yet was thrown out of office two years later. The people who called him those names, are now all praising him. It is indeed a strange world in which we live.
We can bring it closer to home. When the great flood hit Grand Forks back in the day our church’s World Relief and Human Care came to support pastors and congregations to help them so that they could help their neighbors in that time of trial. The person in charge of the relief effort said something that I will never forget. In a meeting with community leaders and pastors the head of our relief organization said
“most of you will not be here three years from now”. The explanation at the time was rather shocking. The people who were working so hard to make others whole would somehow be a trigger for memories that most people would not want to recall. A quick historical study will show that almost all the mayors, pastors, and many other community leaders who are so appreciated during the crisis would be voted out of office, or would leave their positions for reasons that many of them probably still do not understand. Their very presence during a time of crisis caused people reject them as leaders later. There are psychological reasons for that that can be explained but all they do is called attention to the strangeness of the human condition.
So there is the time to remember our leaders, to thank them for their stewardship, to appreciate their offerings but most of all to remember that they too were human. Would it not be marvelous if we could think of those things and remember while they are Governing and remember that the very reason we invested our trust in them in the first place should not be the reasons we denigrate them as they lead and certainly not a reason to invest them with some kind of magic after they are dead.
“Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:3-4).