Yesterday a state funeral for George H. W. Bush was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Due to other duties I couldn't watch it in full. I caught a portion of Jon Meacham's testimony and heard a portion of George W. Bush's statement honoring his father. I later watched the son's message in full, as I had caught a word in his statement about being a loyal friend and wanted to check it out because it might fit something I wanted to do in my sermon on Sunday.
Funerals are interesting experiences. I know, I've officiated at quite a few over my years of ministry. None have been as large or grand as the one that took place yesterday. Funerals are not the time to lay out dirty laundry. They're not the time to point out faults, unless they are the kind that make for a memorable moment. George W. shared a few of those yesterday about his father, but they were designed to humanize not demonize.
Every President of the United States will produce a mixed bag of results. They may have some large stains on their record. George H.W. Bush had his share, including the use of Willie Horton as a meme for scaring white folks to vote for him over Michael Dukakis. My sense is that he regretted that usage, but it is a stain. On the other hand, he helped pass the American Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act. But it's not as President that we should remember him. From all that his friends and family have revealed, it was his capacity for friendship that marked his life. He may have been a patrician by birth, but it appears that he knew how to laugh at himself and show compassion for those who hurt. Maybe it was the loss of a daughter who was only three at the time that built into him that capacity. Such was the testimony yesterday.
The son spoke of his father lovingly, suggesting that his father, who was shot down over the Pacific in World War II and survived illness as a teen, had a fervent love of life, which he tried to live to the fullest. He also had a sense of duty to others. The testimony was this:
He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of the thousand points of light.I don't long for a time when white patricians ruled the nation. I didn't share his political framework (oh I did once, growing up, but I changed as I came into adulthood). But for a moment it is worth pausing to remember a man who wasn't perfect, but was, according to testimony a good and decent man. He was a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend. These are qualities that can be emulated. Since his mantra was "a thousand points of light," honoring the value of service and voluntarism, may we claim that vision anew.