Napoleon’s Pride: V2 B1 C7

“The perfect smile belongs to God alone.” Proverbs 16:18 applies. Apparently Napoleon was in a good mood. Hugo paints him as extremely confident, as he directed ten thousands of men to their deaths. “Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.” And there was the trench as Hugo points out. But other sources I read speak more about Marshall Ney’s impatience and foolish decisions. Still, it meant the end of the empire that threatened all of Europe.

Vain rulers beware. And although the humble suffer as well in this world, we do not know when tough circumstances might appear, but those of us who believe that God is who he says he is in the Bible, and that this apparent physical world is but a part of a much bigger reality, can also trust that our suffering is limited by his full knowledge and definitive lovingkindness. The vain ruler cannot be reassured by a God whom he is opposing by a prideful aim.


Wellington’s leadership: V2 B1 C6


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Go for it! We can do this! I want to do this! To achieve a goal, the team members must have a common attitude. So much depends on the resolve of individual men/women in the battle. Here is an example with Wellingtons troops, many of them them novices, but apparently found that extra strength within themselves – they wanted it worse than the professional soldiers of Napoleon that they faced. And such a resolve was modeled for them by their leader.

In the chapter, Hugo describes Wellington’s unrelenting attitude, and he relates 3 statements made by Wellington to motivate his men. Basically, they are: (1) If I am killed, follow my example, (2) Hold that spot that you are on to the last man, and (3) We must not be beat because they will say bad things about us at home.

So let me generalize these three even further to apply them to myself as a leader at work.

  1. Be an example of enthusiasm, commitment, and hard work.
  2. Make sure everyone knows how their job is important and that the rest of the group depends on them.
  3. Extrapolate to the legacy – we can be the heroes – maybe unsung – but heroes nonetheless.
We can take that mountain,
Though we die on this ground.
While the storms assail us,
We can choose right now.



Decisive, specific, and abandon: V2 B1 C5


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Hugo theorizes about the “art” of warfare and the executive strengths of men such as Napoleon, Blucher, and Wellington. He emphasizes the importance of gathering the data: exact positions of clumps of trees, rocks and boards. Then there is a chaotic aspect to each engagement, where the organization breaks down into eddies of hand-to-hand or regimental skirmishes, on various scales of strategy and conflict.

The general is responsible for specific preparation, to the last detail, and communicating the plan clearly to the troops, but during the engagement that plan will be modified in the field as each man decides to move on the spur of a moment. The general must expect this eventuality, and allow the events to unfold in chaos to some degree without interference at some level, all the while inspiring the troops and calling out orders clear and hard at just the right scale.

Each frame of life has its differences and each culture its language, and the leader must assess which details are important, how to prepare his troops, and when to use his/her authority. Still, one thing remains constant: that the leader must be trusted.

My Grandma and Napoleon’s Shadow: V2 B1 C4


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Few men will leave their name so indelible as this conquering ruler. And yes, their is a batting about of impressions that disperse, resonate, and distort the initial life through the halls of history and human cultural impressions. Perhaps Hugo is right that the light of history illumines the actions of a man. But really, what is left of the man in a memory? Without being known in personal relationship, the substance passes quickly, and the name comes an empty symbol which takes on the properties and opinions of the user.

I thought of my Grams this morning who died June 13, 2015; Compared with the Battle of Waterloo June 18, 1815.

When I thought of Grams, Inez Simon. I thought of her reassuring and encouraging voice that led me in childhood and through becoming a man: even in crisis she was a steadfast harbor. She played with me and made things exciting with cards, and nuts, and Dr. Pepper, a big back yard, an interesting attic, and the summer joys of childhood.

I thought of her life of service – brushing of the dust from her sheet as she arose from that 1930s farm bed, but “not knowing she had it bad.” Then marrying a man who would father her 4 children, go off to war, and lose his mind and eventually his family, and Grams would have to work two jobs, and so my mother learned to cook and care for others. Grams would say: “You do what you have to do. It’s no use complaining,” when things got hard. She wasn’t surprised when hard times came, but felt strong compassion for others in their pain. Then in her last 3 years when she came to stay in our town, I remember walks with Kizzie, stopping by Grams’ apartment where she would bring a bowl of water for the dog, and we would sit and talk about family and friends – that reassuring voice and weathered attitude still strong at 90 years.

The existence of Grams is not dispersed or distorted. Her life may have been an inch wide in the sea of the billions of people that live and that have ever lived, but it was a mile deep, and lasts in its high fidelity, as a meaningful memory engraved on my soul. And my life’s core has been permanently shaped by her presence and legacy, unlike the impersonal surface waves of political history. Like my Savior, she did not need riches, fame, or platform to transform the lives of the people she touched, and the people that the touched would touch: only love.

Artless judge: V2 B1 C3


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“…and when destiny is called in , this mysterious accused, we judge like the people, that artless judge.”

Hugo attributed the result of Waterloo to “a chain of accidents” then yet qualifies his statement by acknowledging his position of ignorance subject to the winds of perception. My reading of these final words of this chapter is that common judgments are made rashly and with a heard mentality; more generally that life goes on by expediency and without art.

This week I attended a stimulating workshop about artistic leadership (I am no longer surprised by the seeming coincidences of my readings, and I am not so artless as to stubbornly insist that they are due to a random chance.) The workshop encouraged me to move out existentially into the mystery of the future. To take a chance and  not care about the perceptions of others, but to move out boldly into the darkness creating as I go. The same call that I have heard for years (Silence of Adam by Larry Crabb, Paradise Lost, John Milton) since considering my role as a creator, launching out into the unknowing. Creation is the act of worship as I live out my existence as a man created in the image of God, corrupted by the sin disease, and restored as a new creature by the rescue of God Himself, another more relevant creation which I can emulate.

Redemption is an act of creation within the chaos of destruction and devaluation. I am now redeemed and renewed, commissioned and empowered with untold resources to move out and choose worship, which is my creative loving and leading. There is the artless behavior of the people marching toward their deaths and squandering the moments in following the impulses of their neighbors; there is the savoring of moments and smelling of the roses which is self-aware and delights in moments but still is powerless to change anything; then there is the worship of God – something intimate and purposeful which delights to glorify Him as a creature creating, enjoy His approval and fellowship in eternal life. Shout joyfully to God all the earth! (Psalm 66:1).

Hougomont – V2 B1 C1

Waterloo is in modern day Belgium near Brussels. The statue of the Lion sits as a memorial to the battle and was started in 1820 about 5 years after the battle by the King of the Netherlands along with its manmade conical hill. As he says, Hugo visited here in 1861 and hung around to finish his love. It has always struck me as an interesting thing that Hugo spins off on such a detailed description of historical aspects of France, especially this Battle of Waterloo and the sewer system of Paris. It’s similar to Melville’s exhaustive, almost scientific, description of whales. They are fascinated with the detail. And the knowledge of the detail provides the backdrop from which their story springs.

Perhaps the creativity springs from curiosity? For certain, the colorful detail is reflective of many hours of study and observation through which they gathered information. Let me run with that one for a minute…If creativity springs from curiosity, then…

  1. The best manager has a background of detailed knowledge relevant to the people he/she is managing.
  2. The best teacher has applied his/her knowledge in the field.
  3. The best practice leading to creative expression is to follow your interests deep in study and get lost in another world.
  4. And of course, the best speaker is the one who has really listened.

Still haven’t figured out if Hugo’s claim on the family of Hougomont is legit. But even if its not, I like the connection!

Restlessness be gone!

To defeat restlessness and shallow selfish thinking, and to live life deeply in thoughtfulness, love, and prayer: waiting for revelation!. I wrote a poem.

Around me all is joy, but I still sense

The foul distractive pull of restlessness.

No call for anxious limbs to make me go,

Yet they stir the deep still water of my soul

by spilling precious seconds in the pool

Ruining ripples block the beauty of bottom truth

For which I long and live without as without food

So now I say I’ll sit and stay right here

Until the vile urge is deathly spent

And gaze within the pool though still unclear

My gaze is good; my thoughts to heaven sent.

Resolved at Last: V1 B8 C5

And so it is complete. The direction of JVJ’s life is settled. He now is resolved upon his chosen purpose. And, he has revealed by his actions that his confession was a mere rescue of the helpless Champmathieu, rather than a surrender. Although in the aftermath of the Arras trial, he was passive and resigned to a life in prison, the death of Fanzine was the turning point for him, when he committed to her to be the guardian and father of her precious Cosette. Now he will use his own force to escape Javert and the law, driven by moral resolve on behalf of Cossette. The conflict is really over here for JVJ. The novel becomes settled as to his internal struggles and his ascent to superhero status has resumed. His life of service is settled, and he now commits himself to that one goal.

I am strongly attracted to such a reality for its dream value. To sit in the presence of God, unhurried and committed, without the chosen busy-ness and cares of the worldly surface-life. To really love is to not be distracted. To love God, or to love another human. And “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing” compared to a dream, and I imagine that Jean also endured loneliness and boredom as he played the parent. Teach me to sit and dream and love.

Two Good Ways Cross: V1 B8 C4

JVJ is called to two righteous paths: (1) self-surrender and humiliation, and (2) complete service in rescuing the helpless. These two paths seem to conflict since he can only have one future – either to serve the rest of his life in prison with self-surrender or to work to defend and provide for Cosette as a father. In this chapter, the conflict climaxes at Fantine’s death bed. Are there really two good roads? Is it all about perspective? And how can one discern the voice that will instruct to the best path? It seems JVJ was tempted to violate a rule of peace in order to pursue the second path, comforting Fantine and committing to guard Cossette. So he appears bound by his reluctance to act from violence to choose the first option and return to prison rather than escape and rescue Cossette, even though he threatens violence out of his protective instinct.

So the broader lesson, should there be two or more viable paths for good, is perhaps to not take liberties with “minor” moral rules in order to switch the track. For example, to engage in an act of greed in order to position myself where I might give generously. The pattern rings familiar, to run quickly across the forbidden field, briefly tresspassing, to retrieve my baseball: To justify my speeding or carelessness because I am in such a hurry to do good works today: To sacrifice the feelings of another so that I can “clear things up” by expressing the “truth” of how things actually are. So many applications which all boil down to the end justifying the means. I fix my eyes on one right path, which is the path that I desire, and justify a “brief” misstep in order to transport myself into the way.

JVJ chose to surrender in this chapter. So how will he end up on that different track? Will he have to do something that would be inconsistent with his new life?