Monday, December 19, 2011

A Tale of Two Leaders

One was a portly, pompadoured shrimp of a man whose ubiquitous, round-faced image adorned every public space and private home. Kim Jong-Il, devoted to his Hennesy cognac and pleasure girls, inflated himself into a god like his father before him. Omnipotent, he starved, beat, imprisoned and tortured his people into total submission.

Upon news of his death, they in turn have reacted as abused people often do, revealing by their ritualistic wailing that an entire folk can suffer from the Stockholm syndrome-reacting as slaves with craven acceptance and adoration of a relentlessly vicious master, mourning on cue.

The darkness that is North Korea is abstractly but truly revealed viewed from outer space. To the South of the Korean peninsula is a land bespangled with galaxies of star lights; to the North, the land is a black hole with one dim twinkle representing the capital city of Pyongyang. Other lights are extinguished or never lit.

But a down to earth, closer view of the hereditary regime has continually revealed what a view from outer space could never reveal; namely, the incredible suffering of the North Korean people under the tyrannical leadership of Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Jung Il. The establishment of a national cult characterized by mind control, enslavement and imprisonment reaches its nadir in the North Korean gulag. The cult’s leaders and devotees have continually threatened the entire populace of the country; and now, with the nearly certain development of nuclear weapons, destabilization of the entire far East, if not the globe.

The hellish country, complete with tortures straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s scenes of Hell is what a godless communist society-to use a much ridiculed but accurate phrase–looks like. The fact of the matter is that the leaders of North Korea have routinely stamped out Christianity as well as other faiths in order to establish the cult of Kim, viciously and systematically martyring or imprisoning anyone who worships a God other than the Dear Leader.

But that is what communist regimes do. They create a Hell on earth.

The second world leader who died this week was Vaclav Havel. Havel, his heavily lined face ravaged by smoking, health problems and long periods of imprisonment, was a Czech playwright, renegade Christian and first president of democratic Czechoslovakia.

He knew something of the hell that is communist oppression, living as he did for decades under a relentless Stalinist regime. His ambitions quashed during the 1968 Soviet invasion of his homeland, he was driven underground, becoming a symbol of resistance who suffered imprisonment, broken health, and the silencing of his voice.

Nonetheless, due to him, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa and others, Soviet communist domination collapsed in 1989. From thence forward, Havel devoted himself to the proclamation of the need for establishing a public morality eroded by communist tenets, starting with his opening speech as the new president of Czechoslovakia:

“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. . . . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension. . . . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway.”

Havel articulated the moral rot which is communism and presented the healing way of faith and morality so despised by communist leaders like that of Kim Jong-Il. He spoke to our own country, warning it about its desertion of God, saying, “The only genuine core of all our actions-if they are to be moral-is responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my firm, my success.”

Our ultimate responsibility, he concluded, is to the transcendent realm above us.

The contrast between the two leaders could not be greater or more instructive as we regard the state of our own nation and its need for moral clarity.

As always, the choice represented by the two leaders is not a matter of mere words, but a decision fostering either life or death.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fed Buys a Ticket on the Titanic

My latest post for American Thinker:

A Kentucky Funeral

Glenn Roland Voshell was buried on a hill on his Kentucky farm the day after Thanksgiving.

“We can still do that here in Kentucky,” his wife Gayle said.

And so my brother was laid to rest on the land he loved.

His Amish neighbors volunteered horses and wagons to carry him to his final destination. The horses chuffed and snorted as they plodded up the hill with their cargo of grandchildren, who momentarily had forgotten the reason for their ride up the hill. As all little ones do, they seized the moment, laughing with pure joy over an unexpected hayride.

We adults trudged in silence behind the wagon loaded with Glenn’s body as a kindly sun warmed our shoulders, a soft breeze blew across our faces and the vaulted blue sky looked down. The jingling of harness hardware and the soft thud of the horses’ hooves were the only sounds. A hawk wheeled overhead.

The wagon came to a halt at the top of a hillock surrounded with rolling hills turned blue-grey by the late morning mist. A gaping wound had been dug into the side of the hill to receive the body. A mound of earth was heaped beside the gap.

The Amish neighbors standing slightly back, respectfully apart from the family, who stood immediately in front of the pine casket. The brethren were all dressed somberly in black, the men with white shirts, the women with carefully pinned blouses and snow white bonnets. No one spoke.

“I want to be buried in a pine box,” Glenn had said.

His son Jaret honored his dad’s wishes, spending three full days constructing his father’s casket. The wood was fresh with an unvarnished hue of light gold, the lid carved with a mansard curve, the rails for the pall bearers made smooth. It was a thing of beauty. A small crystal vase filled with white carnations was set on the coffin lid. The slight scent from the flowers drifted out, dissipating over the green hills.

The preacher spoke briefly of the Christian faith that had animated Glenn’s life. He preached the hope of the resurrection, life everlasting. He spoke the gospel truth.

One by one, family members came forward and tossed a single flower on top of the lowered casket. The grandchildren clung to their parents and grandmother in uncomprehending grief, some not sure what was happening. One had wondered if her grandfather’s heart was still beating. “Were they sure his heart stopped?” she said, as she asked to put her hand on his chest at the viewing. Now she knew his heart had truly worn out.

The mourners followed the wagons back to the house, where church folk and the brethren had lovingly prepared a meal for us mourners.

“I am hungry,” my sister Nina said. “Isn’t it just true that life for the rest of us goes on? We get hungry and we have to eat.”

“I know,” I said.

We ate.

I sat across the table from the Amish neighbors and thanked them for helping, adding I thought the burial was the simplest, most beautiful and deeply profound I’d ever seen. “That’s all right,” they said. “We wanted to help.” They seemed a little embarrassed to be thanked with such flowery language. “Well,” I said, trying to match their simple kindness with equally simple words, “Thank you.”
“You are welcome,” they said.

We talked.

Nina, with her gift of connecting with people, found the Amish woman sitting next to her had been one of eighteen children and had had eight of her own. When asked, the woman confessed she had made all the pies for Thanksgiving, including the raisin cream pie we had wolfed down. And, yes, the pie crusts were all homemade. She smiled shyly, her kindly blue eyes lighting up. She offered to give Nina her recipe.

I reflected on how miraculous this gathering was. Here was community, family, neighbors and church folk all bonded by love and Christian faith.

Here, gathered at my brother’s funeral, was an America fast vanishing, often overlooked and sometimes openly despised. Here were works of the hands, works of the plow and works of faith. Simple things. Profound things. Things of the heart. Things my brother loved.

Here, too, I thought, was the heart of our country. If it were to stop beating forever, the land will perish.

God, I prayed. Don’t let the heart stop beating.