President Bush: Humility, Friendship & God
Like millions of people in the United States and around the world, I watched enthralled as the funeral service unfolded in the Washington National Cathedral for President H. W. Bush, our 41st president.
With five past presidents in attendance, along with countless other dignities, our country had the rich opportunity to witness one of the most inspiring funeral services ever seen on national television. The procession, the music, the words spoken and the eulogies heightened what it means to be an American, although, admittedly, it is possible that you may have to be in an older generation in order to truly appreciate what was happening.
Without a single political snippet or a negative comment, leaders from both major political parties in the United States joined together to provide nothing but praise for this elder Bush statesman who, while only serving one term of office, did much to shape the direction of our country. His successes were rightfully uplifted, but his family and friends did not hesitate to also allow for the failures in his life and service.
My wife, a historian in her own right, observed that she had seen the beginning of a change in our country while concluding her tenure as a teacher. Today’s culture is not much concerned about the past, about pride in country, or expressing the value of dignity for all people. Instead, the focus is upon winning regardless of the cost, eliminating those people with whom you are in disagreement, and with “what’s in it for me?” Gone are the days of stressing sexual and ethnic equality, making friends with one’s enemies, and a global perspective that involves being an active participant in the world’s activities.
While not wanting to minimize the significance of the setting, the music, and the great thoughts that were expressed (which, by the way, included the remarks by Jon Meacham, the historian. If you haven’t read his book “The Soul of America,” you’re behind times), there were three words that came to mind as I watched and listened: humility, friendship and God.
You don’t hear much about humility these days. After all, who wants to be “put down” by admitting that he or she might not be perfect, especially if you happen to be the president of the strongest nation in the world? You don’t hear people in power saying, “I’m sorry,” “I made a mistake,” and accepting the responsibility for failure. But here in a funeral, uplifting one of the truly great men of our time, it was never considered a sign of weakness nor poor leadership. Instead, it was the mark of someone who was not afraid to admit his humanity and his limited ability to both know and to do everything correctly. A little humility goes a long way in getting votes and respect in the political arena, even today.
But one of the strongest words I heard countless times involved friendship.
Brit Hume, a commentator for Fox News, described it this way: “When I wrote that Tiger Woods could learn a lot if he accepted Christ, I got blistered by people all over America; but President Bush sent me a personal note which said, ‘Way to Go, Brit. You’re right on target.’” Friends encourage one another; they build one another up, not tear each other down. Why not have friends across the political aisle with people you don’t agree with and even don’t like, even with people you have never met before? One of the highest praises for President H.W. Bush has to be that “he was a friend.”
Last, but certainly not least, I cannot remember so many references to God on television in any show, newscast, political observance or national holiday as that witnessed at President H.W. Bush’s funeral service. The setting, Bible readings, music, references to the Almighty and expressed hope in the future all shouted to a stunned nation that we are still “a nation under God,” that the efforts to remove our religious edifices, to eliminate references to God in our prayers and invocations and to minimize the role of the church in America have all failed. There really is a God and, even after death, President H.W. Bush called out for us to remember our roots and our faith in the Almighty. Giving “lip service” to God is not the same as the crying out of hearts needing to feel the presence of God during difficult times. We argue and harangue about people who refuse to acknowledge our country during the playing of our national anthem and “take a knee” instead of standing at attention, but I long for the strength of Godly people who are not afraid to “take the knee” before the Almighty God and to ask for His forgiveness, strength and wisdom.
Thank you, Mr. President, for calling our nation back to its roots in God.