“His mission was not his own”

“His mission was not his own”
Words shared by The Rev Russell J. Levenson Jr
during his eulogy of his friend and parishioner, President G.H.W.Bush


(18 year old Lt George H.W.Bush in naval uniform)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you came out on the other side
wondering how in the world you made it through?
How you survived and made it out alive?
Or more likely that you fared better than those around you?

Have you ever found yourself wondering or even lamenting “why me?”

Why me Lord?
Why was I spared and they weren’t?
Why did I win when I shouldn’t have–
knowing that someone else should have won?
Why was I so fortunate, or so lucky, and why were “they” not?

These can be haunting questions for anyone.
They can be a life’s curse or a life’s blessing.

For there is a great responsibility to whom much is given.
(Luke 12:48)

And life, for those who have had near brushes with death, know all too well, that
life suddenly becomes a tremendous responsibility.

Yet such a question as ‘why me’ can be particularly haunting
for one so young. For one who actually stares at death and yet surprisingly,
is allowed to walk away when others were not.

We have seen this in wars and sadly in recent terror attacks and mass shootings.

And it just so happened that this very overwhelming life issue of ‘why me’ actually
happened for a newly turned 20-year-old boy who found
himself alone in a small rubber yellow life raft, bobbing up and down in the middle of
the Pacific Ocean after having baled out of a burning airplane…
coming to the stalk revelation that he’d been spared while his friends had not.

This same “why me” question came up three times Wednesday during the funeral of our
41st president, George H. W. Bush.

First, the question was raised by Jon Meacham, the famed author, and presidential historian.
He painted the scene vividly as only such a gifted writer could.
A young naval pilot and his crew taking off from a Navy aircraft carrier with a bombing mission
on the docket.
They were to take out a Japanese radio tower on a tiny Pacific island.

“Shortly after dawn on Saturday, September 2, 1944, Lieutenant Junior Grade
George Herbert Walker Bush, joined by two crew mates,
took off from the USS San Jacinto to attack a radio tower on Chichijima.

As they approached the target, the air was heavy with flack.
The plane was hit.
Smoke filled the cockpit; flames raced across the wings.
“My god,” Lieutenant Bush thought,
“this thing’s gonna go down.”
Yet he kept the plane in its 35-degree dive, dropped his bombs, and then roared off out to sea,
telling his crew mates to hit the silk.
Following protocol, Lieutenant Bush turned the plane so they could bail out.

Only then did Bush parachute from the cockpit.
The wind propelled him backward, and he gashed his head on the tail of the plane
as he flew through the sky.
He plunged deep into the ocean, bobbed to the surface,
and flopped onto a tiny raft.
His head bleeding, his eyes burning, his mouth and throat raw from salt water,
the future 41st President of the United States was alone.

Sensing that his men had not made it, he was overcome.
He felt the weight of responsibility as a nearly physical burden.
And he wept.
Then, at four minutes shy of noon, a submarine emerged to rescue the downed pilot.
George Herbert Walker Bush was safe.
The story, his story and ours, would go on by God’s grace.

Through the ensuing decades, President Bush would frequently ask,
nearly daily— “why me?
Why was I spared?”

Next in line during this service, this looming question was raised by the former
Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney who also eulogized his former world leader compatriot
and more importantly, his dear friend.

Mulroney opened his verbal tribute to his friend by asking those in attendance if they could
remember what they were doing just after their 20th birthday.

Most should remember the joy and gaiety found in the passing a milestone—
that being the leaving behind of the tumultuous teenage years as they were
now standing on the great periphery of adulthood.

And yet I wonder as to how many of us know that at 20, one is more child than adult?

Mulroney shared that as he had just turned 20, he was working as a laborer in the outskirts
of Quebec while still living at home and thankfully enjoying his mother’s cooking.

All the while his one-day dear friend was bleeding and clinging to life in a liferaft
out in the middle of the Pacific ocean weeping “why me??”

For a third time this somber day of a State funeral, another speaker addressed the question…
“Why me?”

This time the speaker was President Bush 41’s parish priest,
The Rev. Bruce Levenson who once again raised the question but who rather matter of factly
gave us the answer.

Father Levenson explained that “his mission was not his own.”

His mission was not his own.

It was other than and much more than that liferaft bobbing up and down in the
ocean…

Yet that is not to say that the lives of his comrades at arms on that fateful day
were any less important.
Any less than, as some might think with such a response to such a question.
That somehow, they were simply “allowed” to die while young George was allowed to live.
The issue of allowance is not to be the issue here nor are we to be recipients of such
deep knowledge.

For God uses our lives and our deaths to extend far beyond our simple understanding.

It is the ripples that reverberate outward from the dropped stone in the pond.

The ‘why me’ questions that have been asked by countless individuals who have lived to tell of
another day all live with a tremendous burden of guilt and a tremendous burden of responsibility.

Father Levenson, James Baker, Al Simpson, Brian Mulroney and even son George H. Bush
each reminded us that a day did not pass in George Herbert Walker Bush’s life that he did
not ask that question…nor not feel the heavy responsibility.

He either asked the question audibly or silently…but he asked none the less each and every day.

I am reminded of the 1946 Christmas Classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

The entire premise of the movie, for Jimmy Stewart’s character George (so aptly named),
was what would life have been without him. How in turn would the lives of those who
were a part of his own life turn out without a George Bailey to interact with them?

One dark and lonely Christmas eve night so long ago, George was inches away from ending his
own life, by jumping into an icy cold river.
Yet God needed to give George a wake-up call.
He still needed George to do some important things.

Much like in the real-life story of a young George Bush…God still needed
for him to do some things.

Now I can’t say that all such stories have happy endings.
Nor can I say that all spared lives seem to turn out better than imagined.
So why George H. W. Bush?

That is the question remaining for all those lives that have been affected,
touched and even created because of him to ponder…as well as those of
us who have been directly or indirectly affected by his actions, choices,
legislation as well as leadership to ponder…

Yet the one thing that I do know…the same thing that President Bush knew…
is that God will have has His ways.

Ways that elude us.
Ways that often frustrate us, but they are His ways and His alone none the less.

What President Bush learned, one of life’s most important answers, was that his life,
his mission was indeed not his own…
it was God’s.

That we should all bend our ways to be His ways…

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!
You have been faithful with a few things;
I will put you in charge of many things.
Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:23

Snippets of Life through a couple of Psalms

I am like a pelican of the wilderness:

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(pelican in flight, Destin, Florida / Julie Cook / 2014)

I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.

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(Vienna Zoo / Schönbrunn Palace / Vienna, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012

I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.

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(pigeon atop roof of the Old State House / Boston Massachusetts / Julie Cook / 2014

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.

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(praying mantis / Julie Cook / 2014)

For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears

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(embers in the BBQ / Julie Cook / 2014)


Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

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(seal swimming / Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2012)

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(basking sea lion, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2012

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(the tip top of an orca, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2012)

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,

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(Georgia clouds / Julie Cook / 2013)


you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,

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(Watten, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

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(espaliered apple tree, Mondsee, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,

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(neighboring Georgia bull / Julie Cook / 2014)

kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,

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(Web image of painting of Henry VIII)

young men and women,
old men and children.

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(homeless man, courtyard of The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(young boy posing for mom’s picture atop the duckings in Boston’s Public Gardens / Julie Cook / 2014)


Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

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(full moon over Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

And he has raised up for his people a horn,
the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Jewish and Christian religious groups de
(web image of a rally in support of Israel)

Praise the Lord.

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(happy flowers covering Boston, Massachusetts / Julie Cook / 2014 )

What defines you?

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e. e. cummings

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Pacific Rim Trail / Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2011

I imagine if you ask people what it is that defines who they are, most people would respond with something associated with their work or job. It is as if they are a product of the job. I had written an entire little preamble to today’s topic about work, jobs and identity..of how we tend to let work or the job suck up our identity but I really didn’t like where that seemed to be leading…feeling as if I began veering off base.

My intention and my thoughts here are to go much deeper than the mere obvious.

When asked what it is that defines me, defines who I am…my response a year ago would have been that I was a teacher–I’d follow that with my being a wife and mother. I think that’s pretty much how most of us would answer when asked. We define ourselves by telling others what it is we do for a living–our job, our work. We tell others that we are a student, a soldier, nurse, a contractor, a policeman, a doctor, a wife, a husband, a mother, a father…. But do any of us, who are Christians, respond first with “I am a Christian”…then to follow that with what it is we do?

Have you ever been at a function and met someone for the first time with the first question usually being, “so, what do you do?” They want to be able to define who we are, measure our place, figure out how we fit in…what is our production level–are we being successful, are we a contributor, are we a rising star, a game changer, will we be impressive or someone who is to be quickly dismissed.

There was a time, in the early days of our Christian faith, when it was dangerous, even life threatening, to be defined by ones belief and faith… and yet the early followers of this new religion did not skirt the issue–it was the foremost defining factor in their lives…the foremost defining factor. It was that big of a deal to them.

Somewhere, sadly, along the line of Time, the definition of being a Believer no longer seemed appropriate to throw out there when “defining” ourselves to others. Our faith no longer relevant when telling others of who we are. I’m Scotch/ Irish, I’m adopted, I’m a wife, a mother, I’m a retired educator…all of that sounding normal, typical—but if I were to met you on the street greeting you with “hi, my name is Julie. I’m a Christian” You’d probably look at me uttering something awkward like “oh, ok, uh good… uh good to know” all the while thinking you needed to move along quickly as you’d just run into some sort of fanatic.

Awkward, not relevant, not socially acceptable….

But it shouldn’t be that way–it should be standard.

If we are believers, if we are members of a Christian church, if we claim to be of a denomination, then why wouldn’t we first announce the definition of who we are by stating that we are a Christian, a follower of Christ? How many people have happily, defiantly, proudly, strongly, bravely proclaimed to be such knowing that they would face imprisonment, torture and death? How many people have sacrificed everything to be able to say that they are defined by their Christian Faith?

Sadly we consider it awkward and out of place proclaiming our faith when meeting others. Would Jesus not proclaim us to others joyously and gladly without a second thought? We will not be twisting arms or pushing others into corners with our proclamation but rather we will simply state who we are foremost, as everything else simply follows suit.

On this new day to this new week, how will you be defined?

My Dad is like the tide, ebbing and flowing

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(Photograph: Area of Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon, Tillamook Island Light House / Julie Cook / 2013)


“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Things seemed a bit panicky over the phone yesterday from my step mom’s perspective. Seems Dad is reverting back to some negative behaviors after we worked putting life back on an even keel a couple of weeks ago. I’m off to visit today and hopefully bring a little more order, to smooth the waters, until the next Nor’easter blows in…which I fear may be sooner than later….I wish I knew what to do to make their lives, both of them, better and easier, but there is not a clear-cut picture quite yet. Lot’s of resistance to all sorts of ideas and suggestions on both sides of the fence in that house.

My son is an only child, as I am these days. That does not make things easy as we age. I now feel badly for his potential role one day… I will continue worrying about him, as I do, but now it will be from the window to my own life with my Dad. I wish life was easy, but there were never any promises for such. We get up each morning and we do the best we can by the people we love, the ones we are entrusted to care for and for ourselves as well. It is by Grace that we can continue putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward… as forward is always a positive.

I have always found such comfort and solace when I am at the ocean…funny how I now liken it to my dad, his mind, his actions and his life. Ebbing and flowing……