So, yes, I did follow the funeral for George H.W. Bush, the 41st, today, on NPR News.
And, like many of you, I felt conflicting emotions. Not so much because I admire the man (I do not), but because I admire and am connected to the institution. I am an Episcopalian. So was the 41st. So were many, many of the last 45 Presidents.
And so here we are at the National Cathedral, facing a question central to our identities; the relationship between power and emancipation. Not all religious communities face this question in the same way as Episcopalians. Along with Unitarians, Quakers, and Congregationalists, we have a very special relationship to the institutions of our country. When we separated from England, we did not, by any means, separate from power. We assumed it. We embraced it.
And so I listen to my Presiding Bishop, who is also the Presiding Bishop of the Bush family, celebrating a Mass not dissimilar from the Mass celebrated at the most lowly street-person’s funeral, in our tradition.
It is, on its face, democratizing. It presents the low and the high on the same scale. They are now equal.
But why the National Cathedral? Why this monument?
Let me suggest that power is real. Let me suggest that the thousands who lost their lives in Central and South America under George H.W. Bush’s government service — because of George H.W. Bush’s service — is an expression of power; which is not independent from Yale; which is not independent from oil; which is not independent from the National Cathedral.
In some religious traditions, faith and power need not be reconciled. In some traditions, faith has never occupied, is not at risk of occupying, power. Not in my tradition. Power faces faith every day, every moment. The question is: how do we face it?
Are we standing with Mary and the Disciples at the foot of the Cross, or are we standing with the Roman Guards? What I fear is that my tradition, often, regularly, traditionally, stands with the Roman Guards. Not that it does not see or appreciate or value the Palestinian Jew over whose death it has ritually observed. But, true to its form, it has overseen the death, the crucifixion, the execution, with dignity, poise, demeanor. I worry about this. Politics and power intersect faith. How do we do that? How should we?