The System

The System


Its beauty lies in its simplicity.
From the March 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

The other day, my daughter told me Venezuela was producing some of the best young classical musicians in the world. “Venezuela?” I said. “Are you sure you don’t mean another nation—perhaps somewhere in Europe?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “I’m pretty sure it’s Venezuela.” She and her violin teacher had recently viewed a 12-minute video about a music program so extraordinary that some maestros are hailing it as “the future of classical music.”

In fact, it is in Venezuela. It’s called El Sistema in Spanish, meaning “The System.” It started 35 years ago with 11 students and an amateur musician who believed classical music was an effective antidote to the societal ills of family breakdown, crime and poverty. “I had a feeling this was the beginning of something very big,” remembers José Antonio Abreu, El Sistema’s creator.

Today, some 300,000 Venezuelan children—most of them coming from impoverished neighborhoods—are enrolled in one of The System’s several hundred orchestras, ensembles and choirs. Enrollment is expected to exceed more than a million within the next two years.

Outside Venezuela, numerous international organizations in more than 25 countries have developed music programs based on Abreu’s model. In Harmony, for example, is the British version of El Sistema. Cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber spearheads the fledgling program in England. After just one year of implementation in poor British communities, educators have noticed remarkable changes. “Teachers are reporting hugely increased levels of concentration, discipline, motivation and attendance,” Lloyd-Webber wrote for the Telegraph (Dec. 22, 2009). In Venezuela, where the program has a much longer track record, there have been noticeable declines in crime and drug use wherever The System is in place.

What is the secret to El Sistema’s success?

One thing that stands out is how much discipline and hard work it adds to the child’s education. “Every day after school throughout Venezuela, you can see kids practicing,” reporter Bob Simon said in the 60 Minutes piece my daughter shared with me. “Fifteen thousand trained musicians work with them. But The System also uses gifted kids to teach other kids. On top of eight hours of schoolwork, it makes for a long day.”

It amounts to about 11 hours of schoolwork and music training every day, six days a week. It’s a grueling pace for any youngster to maintain, but consider the alternative: hopelessness, disorder, delinquency and violence in the slum.

Parental involvement also plays a significant role. Teachers make house calls to inform parents about what the program expects of its students. The government provides a small stipend for families of El Sistema students, which helps encourage families to stick with it. But more than anything, it is the results that encourage parental support. When families saw how The System helped keep their children off the streets, Abreu says, “they became our most important allies.”

Children need discipline and structure in their education. They need support from involved parents at home. And, Abreu believes, they need music. Not the noise that masquerades as music in popular culture. Real music—music that feeds the mind, uplifts the human spirit, builds confidence and inspires achievement.

Popular music won’t work, one El Sistema teacher told 60 Minutes. Children can get that anywhere, even at home in the slum. But “when they sit in one of these chairs in the orchestra, they think they’re in another country, in another planet, and they start changing” (emphasis mine throughout).

“My struggle is for a society in which art is something more than just an aesthetic dimension of life,” Abreu explained to the Globe and Mail last year. “It is a primary instrument for the development of the individual and of the people.”

Using beautiful music as an instrument to educate and train young people for a brighter tomorrow. It’s a model that is as beautiful as it is simple.

We use it at Herbert W. Armstrong College and Imperial Academy. Our “José Antonio Abreu” was Herbert W. Armstrong, an amateur musician with a maestro-like genius for using God-inspired music to disseminate God’s truth while educating the young. “Music is another study we want to teach at Ambassador,” Mr. Armstrong wrote several months before he opened the college in 1947—“for music has an important place in evangelistic work.”

It was a system rooted in the foundation of God’s Word. Wholesome and uplifting music has always played an instrumental role in the work of God’s ministry and the education of our young. Colossians 3:16 tells us to teach using psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. 1 Chronicles 25:1 even describes the role musical instruments have in prophesying! And did you know that in ancient Israel, there were a number of priests whose sole responsibility was to make musicto honor and praise God? (See 1 Chronicles 9:33.)

God is the author of beautiful music. He’s always intended for it to be used as an instrument to bring human beings into His Family!

That’s why Abreu’s story is so inspiring. True, it’s not God’s system. But it does reveal how much one visionary can improve the quality of life for many people by using a simple, family-oriented system of education that revolves around fine music.

Think of the wonderful abundance, the beautiful peace and prosperity that will soon spread over all the Earth once God’s government is established in Jerusalem and His system of reeducating the world is finally in place. Will music play an instrumental role? You know it will!

As prophesied in hundreds of Bible passages, the dawn of that beautiful new civilization—fittingly signaled by a thunderous blast from a musical instrument—is almost here.

“Thou Must Worship on Sunday”

Dec. 1, 2009, was a historic day in Germany in more ways than one.
From the February 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

The same day the Lisbon Treaty went into effect, December 1, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that the nation’s capital must, like the rest of the country, abide by the law instituting Sunday as a day “of rest from work and of spiritual improvement.”

Soon after World War II, Berlin had enacted its own legislation allowing 10 shopping Sundays per year. That local ruling is now quashed. Effective from Jan. 1, 2010, Berlin must fall in line with the law institutionalizing Sunday as a day of rest and religious contemplation as contained in Germany’s Basic Law.

The actual law establishing Sunday as Germany’s weekly day of worship is enshrined in an appendix to the Basic Law under the heading, “Extracts From the German Constitution of Aug. 11, 1919”—that is, the Weimar Constitution. There we find, under the subhead “Religion and Religious Societies,” Article 139, which reads: “Sunday and holidays recognized by the state shall remain protected by law as days of rest from work and of spiritual improvement.”

Under that same section, Article 137 (1) states, “There shall be no state church.” But in reality, the effect of the Sunday law is to institutionalize Roman Catholicism and its daughter churches as Germany’s state religion.

Those aware of the history of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation will see this move by Germany’s highest court as one step toward enforcing Rome’s religion as the state religion, not only on Germany, but also on the whole European empire.

With this ruling of Germany’s Constitutional Court, the prophecies of Revelation 13 leap into current-day perspective. The entrenchment of Roman Catholicism in European politics, and particularly the enforcement of Sunday worship, are forecast there; students of prophecy have been anticipating this development for decades. As of Dec. 1, 2009, it is upon us.

For a clearer understanding of just where this is all leading, request a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s electrifying booklet on the subject, Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast?

Why God Didn’t Stop the Haiti Quake

Why God Didn’t Stop the Haiti Quake

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From the March 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

The grisly sights echoed of the Holocaust. Dump trucks unloading bodies into mass graves. Pits filled with piles of corpses. Limbs jutting out of sand heaped upon bare earth. Smoldering carcasses littering burning garbage dumps.

Within two weeks of the January 12 earthquake that flattened 20,000 businesses and nearly a quarter-million homes, Haiti’s official count surpassed 150,000 victims buried. Those still entombed in the rubble may have been double that.

Haiti’s cathedral crumpled, killing the archbishop. Seminaries and convents collapsed, killing the believers inside.

“There is no God,” wrote one observer of the horror. Mass-scale suffering always seems to arouse the temptation to put God on trial.

Why didn’t God stop the quake? Does He care? Did He cause the quake? There are almost as many opinions on God’s role as there are religions.

The truth is, most people do not accept the God who reveals Himself in the Holy Bible. They worship a god of their own creation. God’s Word does explain—in explicit detail—why cataclysmic disasters happen, from the first book of the Bible to the last.

Many ministers are quick to say it couldn’t be God’s will to cause something as destructive as the Haitian earthquake. Their God would never do that, they say.

God is all-powerful. God does control the forces of the Earth. God does allow disasters and suffering. And He does these things for a reason. We need to understand what our Creator is doing.

Go Back to the Beginning

First, understand a crucial truth. This is not God’s world.

Let’s look at the Bible to see what God claims. Scripture says that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). That love is God’s giving way of life, manifested, for example, in God giving His only begotten Son to the world (John 3:16). That love is defined by and expressed in God’s commandments: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments …” (1 John 5:3).

Do you see love in the world around you?

Long before man was created, God made angels. The most prominent, powerful archangel, Lucifer, decided to reject his Creator’s authority and become His enemy, Satan.

Then God created man. He made Adam and Eve in His own likeness and gave them the opportunity to care for and rule the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-31). He gave them intellectual and creative powers, and the ability to grow into His own image, or character. Earth was their training ground where they could learn to fulfill their potential as eternal children of God.

Adam and Eve had the opportunity to choose to obey God, to live under His protection, to develop a relationship with Him, to think like Him, and to give like Him. Instead, they decided to trust themselves, just as Lucifer had, and succumbed to Satan’s deceptions. God removed His guidance—which humans had rejected—and removed His protection. He pronounced upon them certain curses. He banished them from the Garden of Eden and cut off their access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:16-24).

Think about this fateful moment in human history in relation to the Haiti quake. Adam and Eve rejected God as their authority. So have their children. They lost His guidance. So have their children. They lost His protection. So have their children—and so have we today!

God punishing Adam and Eve was not a short-tempered, retaliatory outburst. God was preserving man’s potential. Had they rejected Him and then eaten from the tree of life and become eternal spirit beings, they would have produced eternal division and misery. In expelling them from the garden, God was sparing them that fate. He took occasion to teach Adam and Eve, and all who would follow, an enormous lesson.

In his final book, Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong explained what God, in essence, told Adam: “Go, therefore, Adam, and all your progeny that shall form the world, produce your own fund of knowledge. Decide for yourself what is good and what is evil. Produce your own educational systems and means of disseminating knowledge, as your god Satan shall mislead you. Form your own concepts of what is god, your own religions, your own governments, your own lifestyles and forms of society and civilization. In all this Satan will deceive your world with his attitude of self-centeredness—with vanity, lust and greed, jealousy and envy, competition and strife and violence and wars, rebellion against me and my law of love.

“After the world of your descendants has written the lesson in 6,000 years of human suffering, anguish, frustration, defeat and death—after the world that shall spring from you shall have been brought to confess the utter hopelessness of the way of life you have chosen—I will supernaturally intervene” (emphasis ours).

Every aspect of our society has been affected because Adam and Eve defied their Creator. This fatal choice at the beginning of human history made necessary the writing of that lesson in human suffering—the 6,000-year period of which mankind is now nearing the end.

All of Adam and Eve’s descendants today remain under the malicious influence of the devil (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4). This is not God’s world, it is Satan’s! These verses prove that truth, though most people remain blinded to it. Swayed by Satan, each of us is “naturally” hostile toward our Creator (Romans 8:7-8). We are carnal. We naturally hate God’s law and reject it—just like Adam and Eve.

In order to restore the exalted human potential our first parents turned their backs on, God’s ultimate goal is to convert the heart of every person in the world—to help us recognize the error in going the wrong way, and to create in us a deep love for His loving, giving way of life. “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s overarching plan includes everyone willing to come to repentance. This is a tremendous ambition, since each carnal human heart is a mountain-size obstacle. But here is another unrecognized truth: God is not calling everyone on a mass scale today.

A Call to Repentance

In fact, God is only calling a very few to repentance today. The first step toward real and everlasting happiness is genuine, deep, complete repentance. To recognize our own helplessness, unhappiness and inadequacy apart from God is the most fundamental lesson any of us could learn.

Whenever God begins working with someone, He begins by humbling that individual. As it says in Proverbs 15:33, “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.” God wants to give each of us phenomenal honor—but the humility, rooted in a deep respect for the Creator, must come first.

The curses God imposed upon Adam and his seed teach this lesson. The suffering that saturates this present world, cut off from God, teaches this lesson.

When God was working with the carnal nation of ancient Israel, here is how He did it: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19; you may find it helpful to read verses 15-20). This goes beyond just the natural consequences for obeying or disobeying God’s laws. God said He would bless for obedience and curse for disobedience. When the Israelites obeyed, He prospered them; when they rebelled, He would send a plague, or turn the weather against them, or remove His protection and allow them to go into captivity. Essentially God was teaching them a proper fear of man’s Creator.

God has as much control over natural phenomena today as He did in ancient Israel and when He created the Earth.

In God’s omnipotence, He could have stopped the Haiti earthquake. Jesus Christ stilled a storm with just a few words (Mark 4:39). Whether that tremor was caused by a random tectonic shift or the devil himself, God could have prevented it. But He didn’t. And He had a reason.

When something like the catastrophic Haiti earthquake occurs, we should all learn to fear God! God wants each and every carnal individual in the whole world to learn to fear Him.

The God of Judgment

Those who dismiss the possibility that God actually uses disastrous phenomena as a tool—do they know the God of the Bible? The God who blesses for obedience—and punishes for disobedience?Can we recognize the love in God’s correction?

Many who see devastation wonder whether God loves us. Shouldn’t we ask the more piercing question: Is it possible that we don’t love God?

Cross-examining God’s love over an earthquake is a flawed line of reasoning if we think that no matter how much evil we perpetrate, no matter how much selfishness we amass, no matter what we do, God is obliged to shower only blessings upon us.

“Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17).

Do we know this God?

In Noah’s day, God was so disgusted with the sins of humankind that He sent a catastrophic Flood. By the hand of God, every inhabitant of the Earth was wiped out except Noah and his family—eight people. The destruction exceeded the Haiti earthquake by several orders of magnitude.

In fact, Scripture repeatedly describes God’s judgment and punishments on the nations, including His own (e.g. the Flood in Genesis 6-8, Sodom and Gomorrah’s fate in Genesis 19, punishment on Egypt in Exodus 12:29-30 and on Israel in Amos 4:10). And more shaking and judgment is coming in the near future, spelled out in Revelation 16.

Should we be so shocked when we see such calamities today? If we are, we don’t know the God of the Bible.

God on Death

But hundreds of thousands of Haitians died in January. How could they learn to fear God? How could they learn who He is and how to live His way? It’s too late for them!

Or is it? You have to understand God’s perspective on human life. Otherwise it is impossible to understand how correction through calamity is actually an expression of love.

To God, human death is a temporary sleep (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). Our Creator is able to resurrect humans from the grave! That is what your Bible says.

One of the greatest, most hope-filled truths in Scripture is that of the resurrection of the dead. Hebrews 6:1-2 list the resurrection as being one of the foundational doctrines of your Bible. Scripture actually refers to three separate resurrections, each serving a unique purpose (this truth is explained in our free reprint article “The Three Resurrections”). In God’s immense wisdom and mercy, every individual who ever lived will be given one genuine chance to choose eternal life or eternal death. The vast majority of people in this Satan-gripped world—including the victims in Haiti—have not yet been given that choice, and have not yet been judged (Hebrews 9:27).

God has promised it! Those who died in the Haiti earthquake will be raised again! They will live again in a safe, peaceful world ruled not by Satan, but by God. They will have the opportunity to finally understand their Creator and turn their hearts to Him. That is a message of hope.

God’s perspective is very different from ours. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). He does not allow us to suffer and even die because He is cruel. He is using disasters to shake those of us still living—to call us to repentance.

“Ye Shall All Likewise Perish”

Jesus Christ spoke of this in Luke 13. He had been told of some wicked Galileans who were killed by Pilate in an especially gruesome manner. Did they deserve that fate? “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).

Christ followed up with another example. A tower had collapsed, tragically crushing 18 people. Those who happened to be near the tower bore no particular guilt beyond those who happened to be a safe distance away. But again Jesus followed up with the barbed statement: “[T]hink ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (verses 4-5).

No one can impute extraordinary wickedness on the Haitians who died in the January quake. Their deaths do not prove they were more sinful than those who survived. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Disasters that befall others should serve as a warning to us, Christ said. We will be subject to the same fate unless we repent of our sins!

“God told [the Jews] they must repent or the whole jewish nation would die in the same violent way!” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in our June 1995 edition. “That is precisely what happened to the Jewish nation in a.d. 70! Only God’s loyal remnant escaped to Pella. They are the only ones who heeded Christ’s warning!”

But, Mr. Flurry explained, “We must not forget that what happened to the Jewish nation is only a type of what is to happen to Israel—mainly the American and British peoples in this end time” (request The United States and Britain in Prophecy).

We must accept this sobering reality. As gruesome as the carnage in Haiti was, the punishment prophesied to befall the end-time nations of Israel is far, far worse. The corpses in Haiti are finding their way into mass graves and being burned in dumps. Death tolls in our First World nations are about to climb to the point of overwhelming even such crude disposal methods! “They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth … and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth” (Jeremiah 16:4).

“Jewish historian Josephus recorded that there were many catastrophes which were rapidly intensifying before the Jewish nation was destroyed in a.d. 70. Disasters were very common,” Mr. Flurry continued. “Today, we see the same scenario in end-time Israel. Horrifying events are becoming common for us today. It is all leading to the total destruction of our nations unless we repent! These disasters are the strongest kind of warning from God. … Why all these disasters? They are a warning from God to repent! The disasters will keep coming until we repent. That is our only hope.”

The Beginning of Sorrows

Yes—the disasters will keep coming. We can count on that. Notice what Christ prophesied in the Olivet prophecy for today: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7-8). Today’s disasters are only the beginning of sorrows! God is going to bring them upon the whole world.

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (verses 21-22).

Why would God allowthatsuffering?Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

God wants us to repent so we can live!

God is determined to allow suffering to increase until mankind accepts that there is no hope in man! Until we admit that rejecting God only results in misery!

If God cut His losses now and accepted only those few on Earth who have so far repented and believed and obeyed their Creator, He would have a family of only a few thousand. But by allowing 6,000 years of human existence in Satan’s world to play out—to in fact cause events to climax in unprecedented catastrophe—God is creating conditions so that many hundreds of millions, even billions, of human beings made in the likeness of God will recognize the futility of the ways that seemed right to them but led only to death, and embrace the God-ordained way of love, of joy and peace—the way that leads to life.

God is a God of love. To comprehend the love of God, we must realize that what we have now is not real life—it is merely a short-lived chemical existence. God wants to give us real lifeeternal life! That is why He will allow so much destruction and suffering to come upon this world: so as many as possible will repent, and He can then reward them with eternal life.

Even in the face of these catastrophes—even as we see these types of natural disasters increase and see human suffering increase—we can be filled with a vibrant hope. Why?

Because knowing that we are in the last days tells us that Jesus Christ is about to return! When He does, this 6,000-year-long lesson in human suffering will be over, and everyone on Earth will have seen the futility of following after the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. People will be ready to do what’s right, to live the way of peace, joy and happiness that God offered Adam and Eve 6,000 years ago.

Satan the devil will be banished, and Jesus Christ will rule over the greatest time of prosperity that has ever been.

Finally, with God’s benevolent government in place, the hope of the resurrection will become reality, and everyone who has ever lived—including our loved ones and the victims of the Haiti quake—will be raised into a world where the right choice has been made, where, as the Prophet Isaiah said, the knowledge of the Eternal covers the Earth as the waters cover the sea.

To learn more, request our free booklet Repentance Toward God.

Give, and Your Heart Will Follow

Give, and Your Heart Will Follow


A law that can change your relationships
From the March 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

The other day my daughters each received a small toy. Within a short few hours, the youngest of them had lost hers. When she realized it, she began to cry. Her sister then said something to her that left me pleasantly shocked: “That’s okay—you can have mine.”

Such spontaneous generosity is not habitual in this child. But I watched as she handed over the toy, and she was genuinely happy to give it—even more than her sister was to receive it.

Why do we give gifts? Why give to our children, or spouse, or other family member or friends, or someone in need? Generally it is not to try to get something in return—to secure some right to the other person’s gratitude. We give simply for the pleasure of giving. It is, after all, more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Living the give way simply makes us happy.

But giving also does something else to us—something more specific. That’s because of a remarkable dynamic set in motion when we obey God’s law.

Jesus Christ instructed us to lay up treasures not on Earth, but in heaven. He explained the profound reason: “For where your treasure is,” He said, “there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).

This is an extraordinary truth. Our heart tends to follow our treasure. Wherever we give some physical thing—and not just our money, but even our time or energy—we tend also to commit simultaneously something more precious: a little piece of ourselves.

We see this rule in action with tithes and offerings. God doesn’t need our money; He could provide for His work any number of miraculous ways. But He instructs us to commit our treasure to that work. Not only does this instill in us a habit of generosity that develops our character and makes us more like Him, the great Giver (James 1:17)—but it also draws our hearts into His work. We take on a more committed mindset toward God’s plans and ambitions, His activities today, and how they are preparing for the future.

If you think about it, that act of giving actually helps us to love God more. That is what God desires most of all.

In ancient Israel, God sought to lay claim to the hearts of His people the same way. He commanded that the Israelites offer regular sacrifices. There were daily, weekly, monthly and annual offerings, and others for certain special occasions. Obviously God didn’t have any practical use for the animals and other food and drink offered to Him. His goal in having the Israelites give was to change their thinking—to turn their hearts toward Himself.

There is a clue to this truth even in the word sacrifice. In Hebrew, one word for sacrifice is korban. It is usually translated “offering” in the Old Testament, and appears extensively throughout the books of Leviticus and Numbers referring to the Israelites’ sacrifices.

As Daniel Lapin brings out in his book Buried Treasure, the root of korban (Strong’s 07133) is the Hebrew word karab (07126)meaning to approach, or bring near or close. Karab is variously translated “come near,” “draw near,” “be at hand” and “join.” What a lovely word, referring to a sacrifice for God! The similar word karob (07138) actually refers to a personal relationship or kinship.

When an Israelite brought an offering to God, it was intended to bring him closer to God. Surely God was pleased with the act, but that wasn’t the primary reason He commanded it. Presenting korban to God—the act of giving—was meant to make the giver feel closer to his Creator, more than the other way around. He was committing his treasure to God, and so his heart followed.

Note how this law plays out in your life. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If you invest your money, time and energy into your family, your heart will follow. If you give to and sacrifice for your marriage—even if you don’t “feel like it”—then you’ll find that physical act actually leading your heart into a deeper love. Your obedience to the way of give, even in a physical sense, will set in motion the wheels of love.

Anciently, when an Israelite made a sacrifice to God, it was to teach him the lesson to love God more. Likewise, when a husband gives to his wife or sacrifices for her, it helps him love her more.

By the same principle, if you are constantly making sacrifices for your employer, that doesn’t make him feel closer to you nearly as much as it makes you feel closer to him. Your heart follows your treasure. Over time you may then find yourself making greater and still greater sacrifices for your work. This may or may not be a good thing.

So consider this practical wisdom. If you want to make your love toward someone grow a little, give that person a gift. If you want to make your love grow a lot,sacrifice for him or her.

Maybe there’s someone you are thrust into regular contact with whom you have a hard time relating to. Perhaps one of your co-workers really gets under your skin. Try it out: Give him something; make a sacrifice for him. Not to turn his heart to you—but yours to him! Give, and see if it doesn’t draw you nearer to him. It may not solve the problem completely, but you can be sure it will improve your attitude.

If you had an argument with your spouse in the morning and you’re feeling resentful, do the counterintuitive thing. Pick up a bouquet of flowers on your way home from work. The next time you see her, rather than giving her the lecture you’ve been rehearsing all day, give her a gift she may actually appreciate. Whether or not she does, you’ll find that your sacrifice has done a lot to dissolve your own hostility. Now you are in a far better position to restore harmony to your marriage than you otherwise would have been.

Commit your treasure, and your heart will follow. Don’t wait until you “feel love” before you give or sacrifice. Give and sacrifice—and love will grow

Germany’s Missing Person

Germany’s Missing Person

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Germany’s chancellor is missing in action.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been strangely absent at a vital time in German politics. This is giving the impression of a leadership vacuum as Germany’s coalition government seems to be coming apart at the seams.

A week ago, the Times Online ran a headline “Iron Lady Angela Merkel vanishes amid trouble home and abroad.” The current edition of the Economist contains an item titled “Waiting for Angela.” Both articles comment on Germany’s chancellor strangely missing from the action while her coalition government is caught in the grip of crisis. As the Economist notes, there is even a comedy playing at a Berlin cabaret theater which has audiences splitting their sides with mirth as actors parody German political party officials rushing about asking each other “where’s Angela?” (January 21).

The Times Online commented, “Angela Merkel, once billed as a kind of Iron Lady, has become the Invisible Chancellor. Even Germans who are usually quite happy to have a non-intrusive, modest head of government, are astonished. There is trouble brewing at home and abroad but the leader of Europe’s biggest economy is distinguished by her absence. … At home, she suddenly looks weak. And abroad, there is a sense that her attention is flagging” (January 25).

Though she briefly popped out of the woodwork last week to declare Germany’s support of sanctions against Iran, even this may work against the chancellor, raising the hackles of some of Germany’s most high-profile corporations that have for years profited from exporting both technology and manufactured goods to Iran. If Merkel follows through with this, it will further strain her relationship with her coalition partner, the business-oriented Federal Democratic Party (fdp).

In a keenly focused view of Germany’s present need for assertive leadership, the Times Online observed, “Ms. Merkel looks more fallible. The first 100 days of her new government have made almost no impact on her countrymen. What is needed now is a shift from passive to active leadership, the kind that governors need in order to demand sacrifice from the governed.”

It’s been a long time since Germany has had such a leader. But an increasingly unsettled feeling has been creeping across the country this winter as Germans pine for more assertive leadership amid the present crisis of government. The once greatest export nation in the world suddenly finds itself knocked into second position by China. Unemployment gradually bites deeper into the German economy in the wake of the global economic crisis. Chancellor Merkel’s reaction to strains on the economy is to push very hard for a German to head up the European Central Bank. But that is not helping her back home.

The Times rightly points to Afghanistan as being one of the major questions on which Chancellor Merkel’s leadership will either wax or wane. Right now it’s on the downside. Roger Boyes of the Times states that “Afghanistan will ultimately determine how history judges Chancellor Merkel. It is a deeply unpopular war. Ms. Merkel has yet to tell the Germans it is a necessary war. Nor has she tried to drum up popular support for the mission of the German troops there. … Ms. Merkel does not know even how to start to be a war leader; there hasn’t been one in modern Germany …” (ibid.).

And that’s the problem. Germans are becoming unsettled once again, and it’s in such situations that they crave strong leadership. Should Merkel not soon be able to pull a few rabbits out of the hat to keep her electorate happy, the outcry could be the kiss of death to her coalition and her leadership.

In the meantime, there is a certain German politician enjoying a high profile and great popularity with the German public who is prepared to state things as they are. He has even broken a postwar taboo in Germany by mentioning the German term krieg (war) in direct association with the Bundeswehr’s engagement in Afghanistan. He is a politician to whom we have devoted much space on this website and in the February edition of the Trumpet magazine. His name is Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

The contrast between Guttenberg and Merkel is marked. He is a devoted Roman Catholic, she a somewhat diffident Protestant. He hails from the Bavarian rightist Christian Socialist Union, she from the more centrist Christian Democrats. He is a titled aristocrat, she hails from the working classes of East Germany. He is known for his decisiveness, for taking a position and not backing down easily. She has employed a leadership style which, in the words of Times journalist Boyes, “waited for issues to cluster, tribal rows to reach critical proportions and only then would she intervene.” Added to this is what Boyes terms “a certain furtiveness” in her dealings. Such an approach does not give the impression of strength in times of crisis. Rather, it gives “the impression of weakness” as she has always appeared “slow to deliver an opinion or enter a debate.”

The contrast is particularly marked between Merkel and her charismatic minister of defense when it comes to the issue currently dominating the headlines in Germany—the question of the nation’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

Minister of Defense Guttenberg has hardly been out of the headlines since being sworn into office in his current portfolio, completely overshadowing his chancellor and Vice Chancellor Guido Westerwelle in the process. He has been having a field day commanding media attention in Germany over the war in Afghanistan since the Kunduz bombing in September. Be it in Berlin or Washington, on the occasions that he is before the cameras or any audience of note—which is often—his presence is commanding. He certainly does not give an impression of waiting to see how the ball drops before engaging in action. Guttenberg is out front leading and powerfully influencing the debate in Germany on the nation’s foreign-policy question of the moment: Afghanistan.

Those cutting words of Roger Boyes—“Ms. Merkel has yet to tell the Germans it is a necessary war. Nor has she tried to drum up popular support for the mission of the German troops there. … Ms. Merkel does not know even how to start to be a war leader”—are at the nub of German politics and, in particular, Germany’s foreign policy at this particular juncture, 10 years after postwar Germany first sent a military force outside its own borders to participate in war.

Guttenberg has been singularly impressive in doing what no other postwar German defense minister has done. He has quickly demonstrated his willingness to tell the German people that their troops are involved in a necessary war and that he actively seeks popular support for Germany’s combat role in Afghanistan. He has shown, in contrast to his predecessors in the Ministry of Defense, that he knows how to lead the nation as its commander in chief in that war. Not only that, but, at the very time that his chancellor is “missing in action,” he is highly visible. In his most recent press statement, Guttenberg declared that there is no room for failure in Germany’s new approach to the war in Afghanistan, clearly indicating that there may be German casualties in the process (Bild, January 31).

Again, Guttenberg is proving himself quite prepared to work outside his portfolio, recently getting involved in both economic and foreign affairs matters at the recent Davos conference of global movers and shakers. He quite openly upset the German economics minister, Rainer Brüderle, by breakfasting publicly with the chiefs of German corporate giant basf and energy mammoth rwe. This might seem unusual till one realizes that these corporate moguls are heavily engaged in business within Iran. German corporations have a history of being involved in espionage in foreign countries. Any sanctions that Germany lays on Iran would not only potentially harm German business, they could limit the bnd (Germany’s intelligence agency) in keeping tabs on Iran and feeding information of value to the defense minister, especially in relation to Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

No wonder then that Guttenberg—despite the efforts of his political opponents and liberal elements in the press—remains Germany’s most popular politician. In the meantime, not only has Merkel’s hand been weakened by her absence from the political action, her coalition partner of choice, the fdp, has seen its popularity sink by over 30 percent since last September’s election, placing fdp chairman Vice Chancellor Westerwelle on the back foot.

As Germans worry about a leadership vacuum in the chancellery, continue to watch the rising star of Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He may yet fill that gap in the not-too-distant future.

Check our editor in chief’s leading article, “Is Germany’s Charlemagne About to Appear?” in our October 2009 edition for more on this subject.

Website traffic update

Our audience continues to grow! In 2009, we had 33 percent more traffic than we did the previous year. For the year, we had just over 8 million hits, compared to 6 million in 2008.

This year, 2010, we are off to a strong start. Today, January ended with just over 800,000 hits—our second-highest month ever. September 2009 was our highest month ever at 823,000 hits.

Last year, we had just three months when traffic topped out over 700,000 hits—and all of them were impacted significantly by advertising. This month, there haven’t been any significant ad campaigns. So 800,000 visits is a strong start for us.

Finally, our Alexa worldwide website ranking is currently at 77,288. Last year at this time, during a three-month ad campaign with Newsmax, the ranking was around 87,000.

All the numbers are moving in the right direction. We are looking forward to a big year in 2010!