Talks and Reflections by Brian Boobbyer

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The Loneliness of Leadership

Brian’s mother’s family, the Shaws, early 1914.
His mother is standing at the back.

When I look at war memorials, I often count their names. The sheer numbers are staggering. Even in the smallest village there is a list. Two world wars point to one big reason why the world was so short of leadership in the twentieth century.

In the chapel of my old school, Uppingham, are the names of the dead from the two world wars. They number 697.

Some memorials have the names of my mother's three elder brothers who were killed in France in 1914, 1915 and 1916.

I also think of my father who survived the Battle of the Somme, 1916, and Passchendale, 1917, and said he could never recover his faith afterwards - although I'm sure that his sheer kindness and encouragement came from a deep inner source.

But what are the ingredients of this leadership that the world is short of?

Not long before His end, the disciples of Christ had a dispute as to which of them should be the greatest. Christ set a child in their midst and pointed out that to be great was to be childlike - simple, teachable, with a sense of wonder.

Then, soon after, at the Last Supper, Christ washed their feet and so underlined for all time that His gospel was one of love and humility and not power.

Think of the powerlessness of the life of Christ. He who could have had the highest place, chose the lowest, and no one has been able to take it away from Him.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom of the Orthodox Church took Christ's words, 'Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven,' and added, 'not your talent, not your intelligence, not your gifts, but God's light shining through you'.

I used to think that personal success would give me a platform. But such a platform only raises me up. C S Lewis in The Screwtape Letters wrote: 'Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels he is finding a place in it, while really the world is finding a place in him.'

No one through history can have been more lonely than Christ was on that last fateful night. His enemies were conspiring with such hate that they were able to stay up all night. His disciples were sleeping. They seemed to understand so little. Later, when He was arrested, they all forsook Him and fled.

Yet Christ was ready to die and to entrust His work to these people. Such courage and faith is beyond human comprehension.

Indian author, Russi Lala, in his book In Search of Leadership, quotes an article by an Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, written after the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt in 1981: 'Sadat told me of his search for loneliness. It was this loneliness which freed him in many ways from daily routine and permitted him to remain alone to meditate. This inclination he had to be alone - to think without being interrupted, to be in command of his time, to prefer a tree to a desk, a flower to a file - made him into a model leader, with more time for contemplation and less time for fussing.'

Isaiah writes (chapter 32): 'If the rulers live righteously and rule justly they will be like running streams in a dry country, like shadows of a great rock in a weary land. People will listen and the hasty will learn, and the decadent world will no longer be called noble.'

And (chapter 49): 'He made my tongue His sharp sword and concealed me in the cover of His hand. He made me a polished arrow and hid me out of sight in His quiver. I said, "I have laboured in vain." The Lord said, "It is too slight a task to restore the tribes of Jacob. I will make you a light to the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth."'

'An arrow hidden in the quiver of God. A light to the nations.' Unselfish, unlimited. When Isaiah complains of his inadequacy, the Lord gives him a task that is bigger still.

Farsightedness. Henry Drummond wrote: 'It is given to some to work for immediate results, and from year to year they can reckon up a balance of success. But the men who get no stimulus from any visible reward, whose lives pass while the objects for which they toil are too far away to comfort them; the men who hold aloof from dazzling schemes and earn the misunderstanding of the crowd because they foresee remoter issues, who even oppose a seeming good because a deeper evil lurks beyond; these are the statesmen of the kingdom of God.'

They may be lone voices, prophets, eagles.

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