There are many themes to explore during Advent and Christmas: expectant waiting, preparation and the mystery of the incarnation, to name a few.
This season also offers an opportunity to think about what we long for and aspire to, whether that is patience, preparedness or the kind of peace proclaimed by the angels who announced Jesus’ birth: “…On earth peace, good will toward men.”
The passing of former U.S. Senator George McGovern in October brought forth an array of tributes calling to mind characteristics that are worth aspiring to. They came from across the country and world, from both Republicans and Democrats. And in South Dakota—McGovern’s home state and the headquarters of the Good Samaritan Society—we’re very mindful of his life and legacy.
I would suggest that McGovern’s greatest legacy is having lived an “integrated” life in which he actively worked to facilitate peace and good will.
In the Society, we talk about “mission integration”—how we integrate our mission of sharing God’s love in word and deed in all we say and do. An integrated life is one lived authentically, in a principled way, and who’s enduring significance is perhaps seen more with hindsight than during one’s own lifetime.
McGovern was described as one of the most gentle, decent persons you’d ever meet in American politics. He was well liked, even by people who sharply disagreed with him on political or policy matters. He held the belief that political differences do not mean persons of opposing views are necessarily insincere or unpatriotic.
Those of a certain age remember well those turbulent days of the late 1960s and early 1970s and how formative they were in our individual and collective psyches. McGovern’s most memorable moment on the national stage was as the Democratic candidate opposing Richard Nixon in 1972. We remember the outcome, too, when Nixon won in a landslide.
What made those days turbulent we also remember well. Far and away, the major issue was the Vietnam War. McGovern opposed the war on strategic and moral grounds. How divisive that war was! During Veterans Day services last month, we saw many Americans uniting in honoring those who have gallantly served and are serving our country. We remember how that wasn’t always the case for those who served in and returned home from Vietnam.
We remember, too, the civil rights movement events of those years and how the struggle for equality among races took shape and transferred to other causes and groups that continue today.
George McGovern was deeply human. There was no greater evidence of that than in his 1992 memoir, Terry, in which he detailed the life and death of his youngest daughter, an alcoholic who froze to death in a Wisconsin snow bank after a heavy bout of drinking. The painful experience described by McGovern and his wife is intensely personal, yet universal.
McGovern was a man of passion, principle and faith who cared deeply. He was “comfortable in his own skin.”
An integrated life is one lived with integrity and intentionality and oriented towards others. Consider how you can promote “peace on earth, good will toward men” this season as you wait, hope and prepare.
By Bill Kubat, MS
Director of Mission Integration