Thinking Out Loud

12.19.11 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[7]

Amidst the see-saw of who’s up and who’s down in the latest political poll, the early death throes of the Occupy movement and the nerdy debate between the Kindle Fire and Nook Color, something else happened over the weekend.  Two world leaders, both quite different in background and ideology, died.  One was a reluctant political icon, a playwright thrust into the center of his country’s political and social upheaval, who led his nation toward freedom.  The other was the son of his nation’s founder, a diminutive, belligerent Stalinist with bouffant hair and comically oversized glasses.  One spent four and a half years in prison in the fight against oppression in his country, leading what was called ‘the Velvet Revolution’ which resulted in the fall of Communism in 1989.  The other spent seventeen years upholding Communism and sent countless thousands to prison, presiding over a closed, impoverished society while at the same time building its military to over a million soldiers and becoming the world’s eighth nuclear power.  One became President of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic.  The other, referred to as the “dear leader”, presided over North Korea, considered one of the world’s most repressive governments, having no freedom of the press, religion, political opposition and horrific education and health care.  One’s name was Vaclav Havel.  The other’s was Kim Jong II.

We don’t know why history beckons some individuals to go down a certain path, embrace a particular ideology and give their lives in its pursuit.  But we know that it does.  Causes can be noble or ignoble.  Philosophies can be rooted in the best principles and aspirations or they can be reflective of the darkness and evil that resides deep in the heart of man.  The opportunity to pursue one or the other is a choice all men are given.  While some, like Vaclav Havel, are propelled into the center of the storm and accept the challenge of leadership, others like Kim Jong II gain power by political manipulation and propaganda and hold onto it by controlling not only the military but every aspect of their country’s existence.

So what is their legacy?  Will they have left the world a better place?  One person remembered Havel with these words:  “I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1981 and lived through the regime change and the division of the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  I emigrated to the U.S. in 1994, but if there’s one thing I remember about Havel, it’s that he was the one who made sure all of the above happened peacefully.  In a time of corruption and political turmoil, Havel stood out as the one political figure who was genuine, meant well and most importantly, had integrity.”

Things were quite different in North Korea when Kim’s death was announced.  One woman sobbed, “My leader, what will we do?  It’s too much!  Leader, please come back.  You cannot leave us.  We will always wait for you, leader.”  Uh…right.  Meanwhile, the U.S. diplomat who led the delegation in nuclear talks with North Korea, Christopher Hill, said, “I’d be very careful about issuing condolences on the death of someone who’s really been part and parcel of one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world.”

An award-winning playwright and contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, Havel once wrote, “Drama assumes an order.  If only so that it might have – by disrupting that order – a way of surprising.”  Havel unwittingly found himself, as a political dissident, disrupting the order, bringing hope within the grasp of his countrymen, and to everyone’s surprise, succeeding.  On the other hand, as another playwright once wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them.” (Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’)  With Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un declared the “great successor” and the Communist military leadership firmly in control, one can only assume that the evil will live on for another generation.   

So Christmas is a week away.  We sit comfortably in our homes, secure and prosperous by world standards.  Our focus is on decorating, baking and deciding where to seat Aunt Blabby at the dinner table.  In our preoccupied lives it’s easy to forget the visionaries like Vaclav Havel (or Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa or Martin Luther King, Jr.) who fought for the principles of freedom and equality all around the world.  In fact, we’re so far removed from our own country’s fight for freedom that we often take the gifts we enjoy every day – liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness – for granted.  May God remind us of the true cost of freedom and the people, just ordinary people, who fought for it so valiantly.  A simple electrician; a security guard; a playwright; an agricultural economist; a Baptist minister; it’s doubtful any of them thought for a moment that they would each play an integral role in the story of freedom.  But they did because they believed in something greater than what they could see with their eyes and they knew that its pursuit was worthy of every sacrifice they would be called upon to make.

Mark Twain, one of my favorite writers, once said, “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.”  The Kim Jong IIs of the world will always be with us.  But thankfully, so will the Vaclav Havels. 

Several years ago a journalist asked him how he would want to be remembered.  His answer showed characteristic humility.  “I would be glad if it was felt that I have done something generally useful.  I don’t care much about personal fame or popularity.  I would be satisfied with the feeling that I had a chance to help with something in general, something good.  That history gave me that chance.”

We may never be given the opportunity that the Gorbachevs or Mandelas or Havels had – a role of critical importance played out on a global stage.  But each of us is given opportunities to make a difference in this world.  Be aware.  Watch for them.  Don’t pass them by.  Lean into them and walk each step by faith even when the outcome is unclear.  Don’t think that someone else will do it.  Why?  Because we never know how God will use us…until we let him.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 12.21.11 Bill Kamberg commented

Profound, Cecil.

on 12.22.11 Jaime commented

Thank you for this. I struggled through my high school years because I didn't know if God could use me and a lot of things held me back. I finally realized God could use me just as I am and that He would give me what I needed to do what He called me to do. I'm 23 now and work with disadvantaged children and it's better than I ever thought it could be.

Please keep writing your blog. It always makes me think or laugh or both. Merry Christmas to you and everyone at Family Life.

on 12.22.11 Steve commented

I hope this speaks to a lot of people because the contrast you draw between the two men shows what a great difference there is between a life that is committed to righteousness and one that is dedicated to anarchy.

I pray that our country will never get to the point where we take everything God has blessed us with for granted.

Another blog worth sharing...
thank you and Merry Christmas, brother.

on 12.23.11 Holly commented

I think about the Korean people who live through this. What would it be like it you grew up in Communism and you knew your children would too and probably their children too. I hope people remember those things when they're having Christmas. We are very blessed.

on 12.23.11 Kristi commented

We studied Havel in college and I always believed he was the kind of person we need here in America. The politics here are different from his country but he had a vision and integrity that American politicians don't seem to. Just look at the race for President. All they care to do is tear their opponents down and get elected. No wonder so many Americans are fed up.

on 12.27.11 Dan Newcomb commented

Good blog. So true. We take too much for granted. And we squander the opportunities God brings our way because we're not listening for His voice. Happy New Year to you all at FLN.

on 12.30.11 Rob commented

Just read this...good things to remember for the New Year. Thanks for your ministry and everyone at Family Life.