Australian John Smith ponders on images of a better world and the lifestyle of top politicians.

John Smith
John Smith

Some images affect us for a lifetime. For those my age, the Time-Life publication of a nude Vietnamese peasant girl running, while burning with military-inflicted napalm, became a lifetime changing vision. But not all riveting images are negative. A photo of General Douglas MacArthur towering above the welcoming diminutive Filipinos as he fulfilled his promise, "I will return", was an unforgettable visual for my parents' generation.

One Time magazine photo that deeply moved me - then and now -was that of Jimmy and Roslyn Carter on a roof with their baseball caps, building a home for a poor family under the auspice of Habitat For Humanity. I had the privilege, as a speaker at Habitat's 15th anniversary commemoration convention in Columbus, Ohio, of hearing former President Carter share his vision. The image of servant-hood and compassion in the photograph matched his ongoing declaration of commitment. An ordinary - yet extraordinary - scene! We are more accustomed to retired presidents and prime ministers living self-congratulatory and often self-indulgent lifestyles - the inevitable big book, the erection of the ostentatious presidential monument featuring their life and times, the purchase of expensive property and the highly exorbitant fees for public speeches.

With Carter, the tradition has been reversed. Strong rumour has it the Secret Service doesn't like travelling with Jimmy. After all, a tour with Ronnie is first class hotels and the best of company. But with Jimmy, it's likely to be an African hut in a peace mission in the Third World. The Carter Centre, unlike the other presidential monuments, is a resource provision dedicated to world reconciliation and peace.

In most of the world religions, there is a tradition of humility and service, but in none is it more apparent than in true Christianity. Jesus told his followers, "The one who leads should be as the one who serves," and "The Son of Man comes not to be served, but to serve." So much has changed. It is now even deemed smart to make snide remarks about the ancient Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are the go-getters for they shall inherit the earth!"

Largely because of the anti-abortion/free-choice polarisation, conservatives have come to despise Hilary Clinton. However, I was encouraged to read an American headline recently which said, "Clinton helps homeless kids in Mongolia". Accompanying the article was another of those Time-Life-style pictures - the First Lady face to face in intensive compassionate conversation with the dispossessed. She could have spent her time wining and dining with the powerful and absorbing the cultural tapestry of a gold star tourist trip. It does not justify everything that is Hilary Clinton. But it is a fleeting image of something so rarely expressed in leadership - or lamentably even in the general populace.

Genuine service is the basis of authority. Love vastly outweighs cleverness, and giving is still the deepest well of satisfaction. To lose that perspective is to forget all the best of civilisation and true humanity. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.