The Exodus story (Exodus 32:1-14) is a cracker – it has everything! A group of people lost in the desert after leaving behind a comfortable existence in Egypt to follow Moses and God because of some old story about a promised land. They brought with them all their worldly goods – jewellery, household goods and gold.
They find themselves at Horeb, a small hill renamed a mountain for the sake of a good yarn, and Moses goes missing, ostensibly up Mount Horeb to meet with God. But no-one knows where he is!
Now Moses was the key man, he was the visionary, the leader, the one with the big ideas. His brother Aarron, however, is a different kettle of fish. There is not the same steel or zeal in Aarron.
Left alone with the pilgrims, he gradually succumbs to the pressure of the popular push and allows the people to create their own gods out of the precious metals they brought with them. When Moses returns there is, literally all hell to play. I suspect they didn’t think he was coming back and had finally got their way. But that was not to be.
Where had Moses been? – arguing with God on their behalf. (Now I would love to have been a fly on the wall listening to THAT conversation!) God was angry and wanted to smite the lot of them but Moses stood in the breach – stood between God and the people – and argued their case.
Imagine how he felt when he returned!
This story poses some interesting challenges for us in relation to the role of the leader, be that leader a parent, a partner, a teacher or a world leader – what is our role? What are we to do?
For Moses that was simple but not easy – he was to be who he was – a leader – he was to look after the interests of those who couldn’t do so themselves; he was to speak on their behalf if and when necessary, even when the one he was challenging was God. He placed himself in their place and stood on their behalf. He didn’t avoid the hard questions for expedience sake, and he never changed his vision of who he was. He didn’t bow to populism but stuck the course for the common good. He was no interactive leader, letting other set the agenda; he knew what the major game was and stuck to it despite the fact those he lead grumbled, complained and plotted against him.
We seek these qualities in our community leaders but they are the qualities asked of us as parents when we hear one, or all of the following: “you’re the worst mother/father ‘, ‘all the other parents/teachers let their children/students do….’, ‘everybody else has one…..’, “all the other kids do…’ –“I hate you”.
We live in a sibling society where parents want to be friends to their children and not parents. You are first and foremost a parent, not a friend – they will have enough of those and they are the ones who get them into trouble – they need consistent boundary setters who do not shirk the task.
Noticed on a morning show last week that children as young as 5 are suffering withdrawals when deprived of mobile phones – the panel discussed it but nobody asked the hard question – what are small children doing with such items – they are adult toys not children’s toys. Trivial perhaps, but symptomatic of how we as a society have moved from Moses to Aaron in terms of leadership.
See, Aaron didn’t want to be not liked, he didn’t want people grumbling – he had his eyes on the Morgan Gallop popularity poll and went with what would make him popular. He caved into the shopping aisle whinging, the constant pestering, the lobby group push – the moaning and groaning won him over. He became their friend, not their leader. He succumbed to populism – to what the masses wanted.
As parents, teachers and leaders of any kind that is always an option – the easy option – be relevant, get them on side, be their friend – I don’t want conflict, so just say yes. For Aaron there was no arguing, debating, holding a line, setting the boundaries, being in charge – he just gave in and let them do what they wanted to do. Not always a good idea.
• Leadership as the big picture – this is about something bigger than instant gratification and momentary fame and popularity – it is about setting the course in the life of a people and holding to that course for their long term good. The challenge for us as parents, and it is not all together an easy thing to do, is to hold the line, to not fix every thing for them, to not succumb to the urge to distract them when life gets tough or boring etc.
• Leadership as the common good – leadership is never about me – parenting is not, ultimately about me, teaching is not ultimately about me – it is about helping to forge individuals and a society that works for all – it is about making a difference in the lives of those you lead so they can, in turn, make a difference in the lives of those they contact. It is about being unpopular now for a better outcome later, it is about delayed gratification (some of us are still waiting!), it is about looking to the horizon and not just to this instant – it is about what’s best for all.
• Leadership as standing in the breach –it’s what we do as parents and teachers. We make decisions, provide information and give direction on behalf of others, as if we were those others. We advocate and act on others behalf when they are unable to do so for themselves because they lack the experience, learning or wisdom to do so themselves.
• Leadership as being true to who you are. Moses was called to lead and remained to true to that calling. He was who he was. Leadership is being you – and those we lead need to hear a consistent feminine and a masculine voice (males and females lead differently and our children need both). As a parent and as a teacher we are called to be leaders true to who we are and should not try and lead like someone else. Moses didn’t, Jesus didn’t, Paul didn’t and neither did any of the great leaders of history such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Bishop Tutu.
What is to be our model of leadership? Are we Moses or are we Aaron? Jesus stood in the tradition of Moses who stood in the breach for the common good and used his relationship with God for our benefit, even when we, as a human race, had rebelled and gone astray.
We are called to imitate Christ in all our relationships – the challenge is ours to meet – and in God’s grace and never failing mercy, as Psalm 23 reminds us, we can.