The Art of the Impossible

“Her rulers judge for gifts; her priests give rulings for a fee; and her prophets divine for pay.”

Micah 3:7

            This has been a week of much drama and change in the United States. An important presidential election is over, and with it the spate of negative campaigning and character assassination is blessedly done. It’s time to reach across the aisle and heal the wounds. And it’s going to take a lot of time. At the same time, the landscape of much of the New Jersey and New York shoreline has shifted as people are only starting to come out from under a startling hurricane that left many homeless and in the dark. Both situations of uncertainty, different as they are, demand strong and honest leadership. Leadership matters most when stakes and outcomes are ambiguous, and we need a guiding figure of wisdom and clarity in situations of confusion.

            In continuing the third week of our view from the ancient prophets, we find Micha railing against poor leadership specifically leadership which is for purchase. The quote above does not single out any one paradigm of leadership. Kings, priests and prophets can all have a price when power is more important than integrity. In criticizing prophets, Micha is taking a jab at his own form of leadership, understanding that there is no one ideal platform for power. Any and all can become abused, particularly when money is involved.

            If you look carefully at the Bible, you notice that we have different models of leadership: king, judge, priest and prophet. Each of them comes under scrutiny because none of them can guarantee that power will be harnessed appropriately and transparently. Changing models of leadership helps us focus more on outcomes than on platforms.

            Micha does not leave us, however, with a depressing outlook on authority, suggesting only that every form of leadership is corruptible. Some of the most famous lines in the Bible come from Micha’s observation of a world where good leadership reigns:

·      “For instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” ( 4:2).”

·      “Nation shall not take up sword against nation. They shall never again know war” (4:3).

·      “Every person shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him” (4:4).

·      “What is good and what does the Lord require of you? Only to do justice, and to love goodness and to walk modestly with your God” (6:8).

When leadership is at its best, it seems that the impossible becomes possible. Nations put down swords. People live without disturbance. Vaclav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia, wrote a book called The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice. There he shares that he had become suspicious of himself as a person of power. He says that he and others “used to condemn the powerful for enjoying advantages that deepened the gulf between them and the rest.” But then he found himself in power:We are beginning, inadvertently but dangerously, to resemble in some ways our contemptible precursors.”

Havel was not only being modest. He was being honest. He realized that power always has dangers, even for those who thought themselves incorruptible. At least he was courageous enough to admit it and perhaps catch himself before falling.

Steven Covey writes in The Speed of Trust that, “Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust.” In the aftermath of consequential politics and heartbreaking natural disaster, let us hope and pray for responsible expressions of power ahead to clear the way for a better tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom