Wednesday, November 05, 2008

No longer just Guy Fawkes' day

The news of an Obama victory in the US Presidential elections dominates everything, and quite naturally causes me to reflect on what I've witnessed in my lifetime - from the days of Martin Luther King and JFK, the liberation of Mandela in South Africa, and now a black president whose campaign has unified people across that great country. Rachel and Jasmine arrived in California from Canada this afternoon, excited to reach her new home in L.A. safe and sound. And on such an auspicious day. I confess that having her in the USA has been something of a fatherly worry for me, having found myself so much at odds with American culture and values for so long. Nothing much has yet changed, except that a majority of people have chosen to invest their aspirations and energies in the possibilities of change for the better. I hope this will give me less cause to feel anxious about the place where my granddaughter is going to spend her much of her childhood.

For me the marvellous thing about Obama is that he's more than a leader who can, with his mixed race and modest social origins, bridge the cultural divide. His poetic gift of speech is able to tell America's many stories in fresh ways that both unite and inspire for the common good.

I read Alistair Mackintosh's book 'Soil and Soul' while on holidays. He's a Scottish community activist, battling for decades on environmental and land rights issues with considerable influence and success, a voice for grass roots movements, and community rooted spirituality. Take a look at his website. He's an ex wee Free Quaker, from the Hebrides who thinks with stories. He's another possessing a great gift with words. His writing shows that poetry has the ability to put inspiration back into politics, because it feeds the heart and captures the essence of what the mind needs to take on board of any argument that delivers the goods. It's not just preachers who need to be poetic. The challenge to us preachers is to keep poetry and praxis together, or we are leading people up in the air and back to nowhere.

This day in UK has long been one to remember the treason of Guy Fawkes, and his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Parliament was not the democracy in those days that it is now, but like many ancient institutions it was evolving. Who knows what such violence would have led to, had it succeeded? Half a century later there was another attempt at revolution with the abolition of the Monarchy and a Civil War which didn't change things radically enough to prevent the eventual restoration of the Monarchy. But at least collective lessons had been learned, so that Britain could then resist the attraction of a revolution, French style, and end up rejected by its own colonies as they for revolution, American style, plodding its own course through the centuries since to achieve comparable democracy by a different route.

President or Monarch? Election or inheritance? Head of State, steering the nation politically? Or representing continuity and values to which every political leader must aspire, else count themselves out of the action? Either way has its benefits and problems. In every case it depends upon the life and soul of the representative person, and how they stand up to the challenges of office.

In the case of a Presidential figure, the results are there for all to evaluate and that very fact is a pressure on the office holder's use of power. The wise Monarch sees leaders and policies come and go, but is there as an influential reminder of who we are as a nation and what we stand for. Ideals are embodied, not in political promises, however inspiring, but in a person representing tradition and culture rooted in its past, but open to the future by persuasion, without needing to resort to violence. Would Britain be quite as free and open as it is, if it had become a revolutionary republic? I doubt it.

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