Posts Tagged ‘George H.W.Bush’


A Charge To Keep (W.H.D. Koerner) hung in President Bush’s office during his presidency.

Recently Sherrylee and I visited the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Of the thirteen official libraries, we have visited all of them except the Hoover and the Eisenhower libraries, which we hope to see soon to complete our quest.

Without exception these libraries and museums are amazing! They tell the story of men who have served their country in the highest office of the land in war and peace, in glory and in shame, but all with a strong commitment to what they believed to be for the common good of the nation.  Regardless of whether history has proven them correct or whether you personally were a supporter of that particular president, you leave each library with greater respect for the man and a new perspective on the history that they shaped.

About a year ago, we visited the George H. W. Bush library in College Station, Texas, and one of the very obvious directions of the museum was to show Bush #41 as a man raised in a family of faith and who with wife Barbara attempted to rear their children in faith.  I had not known that about Mr. Bush, but was deeply impressed with how overtly this message was presented in the story of his life.

In a different way, I found the same to be true of #43, not so much in the biographical section of the museum, but just as explicitly.

Almost all of the presidential museums have a replica of the Oval Office in the White House as it was during that particular president’s term of office, but the replica in the Bush 43 library is the only one where visitors are allowed to sit behind the desk and actually walk around; one is only allowed to peer into all of the others.

The Oval offices have replica pictures on the walls, replica furniture that the former president had used and even replica family pictures and mementoes.  Here is where I was both surprised and impressed in George W’s library.  Behind his desk on a credenza sat a replica of his personal Bible for every visitor to notice. In addition, sitting not far from his desk on a spot that he might pass every day of his presidency sat a small, simply framed copy of A Charge To Keep I Have by Charles Wesley.

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

 The first two stanzas apparently spoke to President Bush. Not only is “A Charge To Keep” one of the themes of his library, but you might remember that it is also the title of his book released in 1999.

Both Wesley and Bush take the title words to this hymn from Leviticus 8:35, where Moses delivered to Aaron and his sons the final instructions from the Lord on the establishment of the wilderness Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) and the sacrifices: and keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not; for so I am commanded.”

I appreciate very much the decision President Bush made to demonstrate his faith in these small ways in his library. Not everyone is charged with being president—or high priest—or any prominent position where we are watched by masses of people, but we are all charged  as Paul charged Timothy in his first letter to him:

This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, . . .that you fight the good fight . . . .(1:18)

Wesley’s admonitions in this great hymn will help us:Arm me with jealous care/As in Thy sight to live,” and “Help me to watch and pray,/And on Thyself rely.”

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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:

And my first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your heads:  

Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: “Use power to help people.” For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen


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.

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