Politics & Policy

How’s Your Faith?

President Bush in 2008 (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
Dare to ask.

How’s your faith?” It’s a question President George W. Bush asked David Gregory, then the host of Meet the Press on NBC. It’s not a typical question from the president of the United States, but then again it’s just about the most important question a person can ask another. We don’t all have faith in God, or our faith in God doesn’t always look the same, but what brings us peace? What wakes us up in the morning? Is it more than obligation? Is it love? Is it gratitude?

In a memoir released in September, How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey, Gregory describes his early stirrings of belief:

I became a seeker during a momentous time in the world and in my career. I was covering the White House for NBC News during a period of war and highly charged politics. In the terrible days and months after 9/11, I watched President George W. Bush make the decision to involve our country in two wars. Whether his decisions were right or wrong, they were some of the toughest calls a leader can face.

When President Bush asked Gregory the question that would later become the title of an unexpected book he would write after some tumultuous and humbling change in his own life, the newsman found it “startling and memorable” that a president would ask such a thing, “especially because, as a White House reporter, I was known for asking tough questions of that president and for pushing him hard in press conferences.” Apparently, President Bush had heard from a friend that Gregory had “started down a path of religious exploration” and “he was curious about it.”

Reading of Gregory’s experience reminded me of one of my own interactions with the president, not long after he was out of office. He had written his memoir Decision Points, and his own faith rose to the surface as he reflected on how he approached his responsibilities and decisions. You don’t have to agree with all his decisions to see that his faith was more than a “sense of comfort” and “safe harbor,” as Gregory had once described it in a question to a Republican presidential-primary candidate several cycles ago. It was, as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once described to me his own faith, “his North Star.” It guided and inspired and humbled Bush, giving him more strength and power than any elected office or esteemed position in the world.

In Decision Points, Bush recalls that a conversation with Billy Graham in the summer of 1985 “had planted a seed,” making “the soul less firm and the brambles less thick” at a time in his life when he had decided to quit drinking. He started reading the Bible and matured in his understanding of what a life of faith meant. “Surrender to an Almighty is a challenge to the ego,” he writes. “But I came to realize that struggles and doubts are natural parts of faith. If you haven’t doubted, you probably haven’t thought very hard about what you believe.” He goes on to say: “That realization freed me to recognize signs of God’s presence. . . . Prayer was the nourishment that sustained me.” He also points out that “self-improvement isn’t really the point of the Bible,” although he knows that God works on him to make him a better man. “The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ.” We are made for more than this world, and we ought to live like that’s the case.

These are the kinds of questions and reflections that this time of year lends itself to — any time of year, truth be told, but the calendar does provide a prompt. Too often, we don’t look away from our phones or slow down. Give shopping and parties and the running around a break, and give yourself a gift of stopping and asking some of these questions.

#related#I have to laugh as I look around and see Dunkin’ Donuts ads urging us to “share the joy.” I won’t deny that if you bring a dozen donuts to work on a Monday or Wednesday or any other day, you’ll bring some cheer, or at least a possibly needed sugar rush. But true joy — knowing there’s more than the current burdens and even love — transforms. So while Christmas shopping or holiday partying, take a moment to ask, “How’s your faith?” Does it mean something more than a calendar date or an obligation or a consoling ritual? Would anyone ever know it from the way we live?

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