Try to imagine covering a worship service, in a cathedral, using modernized Anglican rites and a river of glorious sacred music and managing to produce news features that focus on (fill in the blank) instead of (fill in the blank).
After this week, you can probably guess what this post is about.
Yes, it’s another post about the mainstream news coverage of the state funeral — and too a lesser extent, the oh-so-Texas funeral in Houston — of former President George H.W. Bush. I’ve writing about that subject a lot this week (click here for a Bobby Ross, Jr., post with lots of links) and now you can listen to a “Crossroads” podcast on that subject, as well. Click here to tune that in.
Frankly, there is still a lot to talk about, especially if you think that that these various rites were about Bush 41, rather than Donald Trump. However, I’d like to signal that this post will end with some good news, a story about the state funeral that actually mixed lots of religion into a report on this topic. Hold that thought.
I’m at home in East Tennessee, these days, not in New York City. Thus, the newspaper in my driveway is the Knoxville News Sentinel, which is owned by the Gannett chain. Thus, I watched the whole funeral and then, the following day, read the following USA Today report in that local paper: “George H.W. Bush state funeral: 'America's last great soldier-statesman'.”
I was, frankly, stunned that this long story was, basically, free of faith-based content. Did the USA Today watch the same rite I did? Here is a long, and very typical, passage:
Ever the diplomat, the elder Bush managed in death to bring together the nation's four living ex-presidents, as well as President Donald Trump, the Republican he and his son George W. Bush refused to support two years ago. The gathering was at times awkward as Trump and his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, ignored each other.
The most touching moment came when the younger Bush, delivering the last of four eulogies, choked up recalling "a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have." As the late president's three other sons and daughter looked on tearfully, the audience burst into applause for the only time during the ceremony.
As an intergenerational smattering of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives listened intently, one speaker after another recalled qualities arguably in short supply today: Integrity. Kindness. Dignity. Humor. Empathy. Loyalty. Generosity. Truth.
“When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill, a commander in chief of formidable accomplishment and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor,” his son said. “He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.”
If you watched the service, you know the parts of the speech that — for Bush 43 — cut to the heart of this day. Click here for the full text, and look for these words, in context:
None of his disappointments could compare with one of life’s greatest tragedies, the loss of a young child. Jeb and I were too young to remember the pain and agony he and Mom felt when our 3-year-old sister died. We only learned later that Dad, a man of quiet faith, prayed for her daily. He was sustained by the love of the Almighty, and the real and enduring love of our mom. Dad always believed that one day he would hug his precious Robin again.
Then at the very end, the full, final quote that left a shaking George W. Bush leaning on the pulpit for support:
So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could ask. And in our grief, let us smile, knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.
With all that in mind, I would like to point you toward a feature that probably wasn’t in your local newspaper and that’s not a good thing. This is the main Religion News Service report about the state funeral, written by veteran religion-beat pro Adelle Banks. The headline: “George H.W. Bush’s ‘quiet faith’ remembered at cathedral funeral.”
Read it all, and enjoy this sample passage, which dared to actually include some material from the content of the funeral rite:
… Family members took turns reading Scripture, including Jenna Bush Hager — daughter of the 43rd president — who touched her grandfather’s flag-draped casket before she read from Revelation 21, whose first verse begins: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”
The Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, said the elder Bush made Levenson’s job as his pastor for almost a dozen years an easy one because of the late president’s concern more for others than for himself.
“Jesus Christ, for George Bush, was at the heart of his faith, but his was a deep faith, a generous faith, a simple faith in the best sense of the word,” said Levenson in his homily. “He knew and lived Jesus’ two greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor.”
The pastor recalled moments of friendship and faith as the former president’s life ended on Friday, from longtime aide James Baker massaging Bush’s feet to family and friends kneeling around his bed.
“We all placed our hands on the president; we said our prayers together and then we were silent for a full long measure as this man who changed all of our lives, who changed our nation, who changed our world, left this life for the next,” Levenson recounted. “It was a beautiful end. It was a beautiful beginning.”
Get the point?