The Rushmore Report – Five Highlights from Barbara Bush’s Funeral

It was one of the most beautiful funerals I’ve ever seen. By the time it was over, I was wiping tears from both eyes. I’m talking, of course, of the celebratory homecoming of Barbara Bush, dubbed “the first lady of the greatest generation” by historian Jon Meacham in his inspiring eulogy. Held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, where the Bushes have been active members for half a century, the service encapsulated all that is good about America. Let’s review five highlights of this awesome service.

1. President Bush’s socks

The former president ordered a pair of crazy looking socks – his trademark – covered with images of books, from John’s Crazy Socks store. The point, of course, was to honor Mrs. Bush’s commitment to literacy. After the service, Mr. Bush donated the socks to a young fan of his presidency – a man with Down Syndrome.

2. Granddaughters’ Bible reading

Six grandchildren – all women – each read a passage from Proverbs 31, which begins with, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband too, and he praises her. Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” This was a fitting tribute for the only First Lady in American history to be married for 73 years.

3. President Bush at the casket

The day before the service, 8,000 Houstonians filed by the casket at the front of St. Martin’s sanctuary. In typical Bush form, the former president sat there for an hour, in his wheelchair, to greet well-wishers. But first, he had his time alone, before the casket. It was an image of devotion and grace that will not be  forgotten.

4. Jeb Bush’s eulogy

The former Governor of Florida became emotional as he talked about his mom. He said, “We learned to be genuine and authentic by the best role model in the world.” Jeb then spoke of the woman who ran the family that ran the country in terms that clearly moved the hearts of the 1,500 invited guests.

5. Barbara’s personal faith

Jeb described the faith of his mother. He said that during his final visit with Barbara, he asked about her feelings about facing death. She said, “Jeb, I believe in Jesus and he is my Savior. I don’t want to leave your dad, but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.” The family pastor, Rev. Russell J. Levenson, Jr, confirmed Barbara’s amazing faith. The rector at St. Martin’s told of her confirmation at the age of 90, as well as his private conversation with her three days before her death. “Clearly, she was ready,” said Levenson.


Last Meal

Three men, an Italian, a Frenchman, and a Spaniard, were condemned to be executed. Their captors told them they had the right to a final meal before their execution. They started with the Frenchman.

“Give me some French wine and French bread,” he requested.

So they gave it to him, he ate it, and then was put to death.

Next, it was the Italian’s turn. “Give me a plate of pasta,” he requested. They brought him his pasta, he ate it, and was then executed.

Finally, it was the Spaniard’s turn. “What would you like for your last meal?” he was asked. “I want a big plate of strawberries,” he said.

“Strawberries? Are you serious?” they responded.

“Yes, I want a plate of strawberries,” he insisted.

His executioners replied, “But strawberries aren’t even in season!”

“I know,” said the Spaniard. “I’m willing to wait.”

The Bible says, “It is appointed for a man to die, and then comes the judgment.” You can be certain of both. Eating strawberries may put things off a bit, but nothing can change the facts. You are going to die. The question is not whether you will die, but whether you will be ready. That’s something only you can answer. And God.

“The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to the God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

A Grand Funeral

On September 6, 1997, the world watched one of the biggest funerals of all time. Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest, with over one million mourners lining the city streets and another 2.5 billion watching around the world on television.

The service began at 9:08 am London time, when the tenor bell sounded to signal the departure of the cortege from Kensington Palace. The coffin was carried from the palace on a gun carriage, along Hyde Park to St. James’ Palace, where Diana’s body had remained for five days before being taken to Kensington Palace. The Union Flag on top of the palace was lowered to half mast. The official ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey in London and finished at Diana’s final resting place in Althorp.

Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey while the British television audience peaked at 32.78 million, the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever. It was perhaps the most watched event in world history.

The event was not a state funeral, but a royal ceremonial funeral including royal pageantry and Anglican liturgy. A large display of flowers was installed at the gates of Kensington Palace. Eight members of the Welsh Guards accompanied Diana’s coffin, draped in the royal standard with an ermine border, on the one hour, 47-minute ride through London streets. On top of the coffin were three wreaths of white flowers from her brother, the Earl Spencer, her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. At St. James’ Palace, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, her sons, and her brother joined to walk from behind. Five hundred representatives of various charities the Princess had been involved with joined behind them in the funeral cortege.

The coffin passed Buckingham Palace where members of the Royal Family were waiting outside. Queen Elizabeth II bowed her head as it went by, as flowers rained down onto the cortege from bystanders.

A grand funeral it was. And why not? For Princess Diana, this was the sad culmination of a life taken too soon. It serves as a reminder – 20 years later – that even for royalty, it is appointed to man once to die. And like Diana, we may not see that day coming. So what do we do? It’s called preparation. May we remember Diana’s death by preparing for our own.

The First Billionaire

When Howard Hughes, Sr. died, his son became a millionaire. He inherited the Hughes Tool Company, but decided to go into the movie making business. After marrying a Houston socialite, he threw himself into risky ventures.

In the late 1920s, Howard Hughes, Jr. turned his attention to aviation. He started his own aircraft company in 1932, Hughes Aviation. In 1940 he bought controlling interest in Trans World Airlines. He would buy RKO Pictures, several airlines, television stations, and several hotels and casinos in Las Vegas.

Hughes got married for a second time in 1957, but this marriage failed like the first one. Hughes eventually left the country and lived the life a a hermit. He was phobic about germs and succumbed to drug addiction.

He was the world’s first billionaire, but that did him little good when he died in 1976, while being flown back to the United States for medical treatment. He died alienated and alone. And I’m sure that in his final moments, he would have gladly traded places with anyone wealthy enough to have a phone, just so he could have some to talk to.

The Remedy

A man went to the doctor, who told him that he had a bad illness and only one year to live. So he decided to talk to his pastor. After the man explained his situation, he asked the pastor if there was anything he could do.

“What you should do is go out and buy a late ’70s Dodge truck. Then go and get married to the ugliest woman you can find, and buy yourselves an old trailer house and put it halfway up a mountain.”

The man asked, “Will this really help me live longer?”

“No,” replied the pastor, “but this will be the longest year of your life. You’ll be begging for it to be over.”

The fact is, for some of us, we do have just one year left to live – maybe less. The Bible says it is appointed to man to die – and then comes the judgment. But that is a date that is found only on God’s calendar. Your job? Stay prepared.

The Day Nero Committed Suicide

On this day in the year 68, the Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus committed suicide in Rome. His was a life of extremes and debaucheries. Nero gained the imperial throne as a teenager thanks to the manipulations of his mother, Agrippina, who is said to have achieved this coup by poisoning Claudius, the incumbent emperor, whom she had married.

In the early years of his reign, Nero banned capital punishment, reduced taxes, and allowed slaves to bring civil complaints against unjust masters. But his later scandalous behavior, excesses, and indecorous stage acting shocked even jaded Romans. It did not help that he had his mother assassinated and his wife, Octavia, executed. Rome’s great fire in 64 was blamed on Nero. He ignored rebellions in the provinces that sprung up during the decline of the Roman Empire, and the Senate condemned him to death by flogging. Upon learning of this, he committed suicide.

Life is not about how you start, but how you finish. And one thing all of us share in common, if we are able to read this, is the opportunity to still finish strong.

Dead Dog

A man ran into the vet’s office carrying his dog, screaming for help. The vet rushed his dog to the examination table. He then examined the dog, and said, “I’m sorry, but your dog is dead.”

The dog’s owner demanded a second opinion, so the vet went to the back room and came out with a cat and put the cat down next to the dog. The cat sniffed the dog’s body, looked at the vet, and meowed. The vet turned and said, “I’m sorry, but the cat thinks your dog is dead, also.”

The man wanted a third opinion, so the vet went to the back again, and brought out a black Labrador retriever. The Lab sniffed the dog and barked twice. The vet said, “I’m sorry, but the Lab thinks your dog is dead, too.”

The man was finally resigned to the fate of his dog and asked for the bill. It was $650.

“You are charging me $650 to tell me my dog is dead?” screamed the man.

“Well,” the vet replied, “I would have charged you just $50 for my initial diagnosis. The additional $600 was for the cat scan and lab tests.”

I know, that’s a really bad joke! But here’s something serious. One day, you will also die. No cat scan or lab test will be able to save you. And then comes the judgment. Are you ready?

The Rushmore Report: Boy Dies at Water Park – Four Lessons

A Kansas City water park and the world’s tallest waterslide remained closed this week while authorities investigated the death of the 10-year-old son of a state lawmaker. Caleb Schwab died Sunday at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas, while riding the Verruckt – German for “insane” – a slide that drops riders at 65 mph from a height of almost 169 feet. Riders sit in a three-person raft and are secured with straps across the waist and shoulders. Marketing materials include the slogan “R U Insane?”

“Since the day he was born, he brought abundant joy to our family and all those he came in contact with,” the family said in a statement. “As we try to mend our home with him no longer with us, we are comforted he believed in our Savior Jesus, and they are forever together now. We will see him another day.”

I see four lessons from this horrible tragedy . . .

1. Speed kills. Man is always seeking new ways to go faster. Men still brag about the “horsepower” in their cars long after they quit riding horses. Nothing in this life ever satisfies. I still remember the day in 1984 when I skipped seminary to be at Waterworld, the first water park in Houston, on the day that it opened. I was the first person to go down what was then the tallest water slide in the world. That slide would barely make it into a kiddie park today. Speed can be fun, but the constant desire to go faster, do more, and get more – kills.

2. Life is brief. James asked, “What is your life? It is but a vapor that quickly vanishes” (James 4:17). Caleb was just ten years old. But whether you live to be ten or 110, life is so short. The lesson? Live every day, all 24 hours and all 1,440 minutes to their fullest. Make every second – all 86,400 seconds of every day – count.

3. Family matters most. I know what it is to lose two parents, all my grandparents, an aunt, an uncle, and many close friends. What I don’t know is what it’s like to lose a child. I pray that is something I will never experience. But may this horrific experience of the Schwab family remind us the value of family. I try to meet my son for lunch once a week. And we never leave without a hug.

4. Jesus is the great Comforter. The Schwab’s family released their statement. Let me say it again: “We are comforted Caleb believed in our Savior Jesus, and they are forever together now.” Such a crisis may never hit your family. But some tragedy will. And when it does, only Jesus will be enough.

FDR Dies

On this day in 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away after four momentous terms in office, leaving Vice President Harry S. Truman in charge of a country still fighting the Second World War and in possession of a weapon of unprecedented and terrifying power. On a clear spring day at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt sat in the living room with guests while the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff painted his portrait. According to presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, it was about 1:00 p.m. that the president suddenly complained of a terrific pain in the back of his head and collapsed unconscious. One of the guests summoned a doctor, who immediately recognized the symptoms of a massive cerebral hemorrhage and gave the president a shot of adrenaline in an attempt to revive him. Another doctor phoned First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., informing her that her husband had fainted. She told the doctor she would travel to Georgia that evening after a scheduled speaking engagement. By 3:30 p.m., though, doctors in Warm Springs had pronounced the president dead.

Regardless of your political leanings or historical perspective, there is no disputing the significance of the Roosevelt Administration. No other president has been elected to more than two terms; FDR was elected to four. He was bound to a wheelchair and under great stress from managing the War. Still, he seemed invincible. Even his own wife didn’t consider his fainting to be serious enough to warrant canceling her speaking engagement. But at 63, he was dead.

The Bible says two things about death: it is certain and it is uncertain. Death is certain, in that “it is appointed to man once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Death is uncertain, in that we don’t know when it will happen. The appointment is on only one calendar – God’s. So here are the lessons from FDR’s death, 71 years ago today. First, celebrate the lives of your loved ones while you can. Second, be prepared for your own death, because the thing is, no one thinks they are going to die – until they do.