Honor, integrity, McCain: The Greatest Generation no more?

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The past week has been filled with one overarching story: the passing away of Sen. John McCain.

I myself was filled with a sense of loss just last Saturday night as word hit me of his passing, which at one and the same time struck me as strange and yet expected. It was strange in that I had no direct relationship with the man who could have fallen under the category of any of those celebrities one simply knows about. And yet, I had almost expected to feel this loss, because of what John McCain had come to represent to me in recent times.

Now, to be up front and honest myself, I probably would disagree as much as agree with the particulars of what McCain might say. My own political leanings have usually been less about a party affiliation and more about people: what they stand for, and their character. And so, it is not for the party that John McCain represented or any particular issue he championed that I grieve, but for what I see society has lost in the character of his personhood.

To be quite blunt, they don’t seem to make them like him anymore. We just mourned the loss of my father and mother’s generation as a family, and my brother quoted that Tom Brokaw book, “The Greatest Generation,” in referring to them. That’s the generation that rebuilt the country after the Great Depression, saved the world from Hitler and placed the first human on the moon.

My generation came up with the iPhone and Netflix.

And John McCain seems to me to one of the last public images that represents the values of that faded set of mores (however, in all irony, the actual year of McCain’s birth puts him in the Silent Generation).

I don’t want to recount his biography here as that’s been done all over print and TV the whole week, but suffice it to say that McCain’s story as war hero, man of faith and public servant is rich and varied. He was a man of principle who stood up for what he believed and fought for it to honor his country, his faith and his family. But unlike many today, he would uphold what he fought for as long as it was true, but when he was proven to be wrong, he had no reluctance about admitting his mistake (and there were some biggies) and moving forward with something that was more important than his personal status: the truth.

I like to be right as much as anybody (just ask any member of my family), but when I mis-measure a board in building something, I don’t have a magic board-stretcher. Sometimes you just have to admit you are wrong, correct your mistake and move on. But we seem to be in an environment where people will expend way more time, energy and money to justify an error than to simply admit what three little words — I was wrong — can sum up. Then it is end of story, and we can move on.

The other piece of McCain’s legacy to lift up was his willingness to tie people together. He had friendships that were strong beyond disagreements, and a true desire especially in his last days to see our country come together as one. Unity and pride in being part of that unity were a big part of his honor and integrity.

Jesus talked about just such values as being primary in the Kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus went so far as to say, “I am the Truth.” And again and again in the book from which McCain got his first name, Jesus declares that we should be ONE as he and the Father are one. It is hard not to see at least part of where John McCain got his basis.

And so, I, like many in our country, am mourning a man whose passing represents a loss, at least in most of the public eye, of honor and integrity. I don’t miss him because he was perfect or right or even because I agreed with him. None of those things were true. But I will miss him because his values of leadership, even in his final messages, did not betray his selfless love of others and ultimate hope for a future where we can all live together.

Maybe we too can’t be perfect, but maybe we can try our best, be forgiven when we falter and work together instead of against one another. I suspect that’s the best we can do this side of the Kingdom of God, where I’m betting John has finally found the truth and unity he fought for in this world perfected at last in the next.

Godspeed and farewell to John McCain. But, I ask: does it have to be Godspeed and farewell to values of the Greatest Generation?

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.