Yesterday, Sherrylee and I visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. In recent years, we have visited five of the libraries, and I enjoy it more with each one. There are twelve official libraries and museums, but Gerald Ford has two—a separate library and museum, so only eleven presidents, the eleven beginning with Herbert Hoover and ending with Bill Clinton, are represented.
After visiting each museum, we leave with a picture of a man, his family, and his work who has had an immense influence on our country and the history of the world. Most of these libraries are built shortly after the end of the presidency they honor, so, in some ways, they lack the purview of a longer, historical evaluation. Those libraries built during the lifetime of the man they portray, however, appear to reflect what the man himself wants his legacy to be, how he sees himself, not his opponents’ views, not the media, and not the judgment of historians.
It is this very personal quality that I found both fascinating and encouraging in the George Bush Library yesterday. This is a presidency that was not so long ago that it has become mythical, nor so recent to still be part of the political debate. He is still alive—not thriving according to reports, but then he is 87 years old.
I saw him at a Texas Ranger ballgame a while back, but my favorite memory is from March 1992, when I heard him speak on the campus of Oklahoma Christian during his re-election campaign–one of the most beautiful March days I ever remember. The Bradford pear trees were at the peak of their bloom and the bright sun just barely knocked the chill off early spring. For a decade after that, I measured the advance of spring by that day in March that President Bush came to our campus.
Two things stood out to me after two hours in President Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum. First, I never knew how much his personal faith in God penetrated his life and presidency. At every turn, the exhibits very quietly but explicitly testify to his faith in God . The section on his parents mentions not only regular church attendance but that each day the family read the Bible together and prayed together. The ordination certificate of Bush as an elder in the Presbyterian church during his oil days in Midland, Texas, hangs in the middle of his early business career exhibit.
You probably don’t remember that his very intentional first act as president, just a couple of minutes after taking the oath of office, was to lead the nation in prayer. Here are his words:
His library is amazingly full of expressions of personal faith during his presidency. Did you know that President Bush built a chapel at the presidential retreat Camp David and was the president who first initiated regular worship services there?
Second, I heard a war hero who flew 58 attack missions in WWII, a man who was shot down by the Japanese and barely escaped with his life, a man who directed the Central Intelligence Agency and who was the ambassador to the United Nations during the Cold War, call in his inaugural address for a “kinder . . . face of the Nation and gentler . . . face of the world.”
Some have accused him of being a wimp, for not having the guts to finish off Saddam Hussein, for instance, in Desert Storm. I read his first words as President—the most powerful man in the world—and I don’t hear someone longing for power. I hear someone who feels blessed with power, not because he deserves it, but as an opportunity to do good in his neighborhood.
I really like “kinder and gentler”. We need that not only in the political rhetoric today, but in the hearts of our political leaders. I suspect the daily Bible reading and prayers and the “kinder and gentler” thing are part of the same package.
I’m glad to have learned this about George Bush. It is not the whole story, perhaps, but it is part of his story that he wanted told on the walls of his library.
Thank you, Mr. President.
As we are taught to pray for the leaders of our country, so we pray for you and Mrs. Bush and give thanks for the good you have done in this world.