I’ve been looking at all the posts on social media around John McCain – those lifting up his good points and those lifting up his bad points – and I’ve found myself asking, when is enough, enough? How can we honour the good while not discounting the bad, even when it is repugnant to us?

In August the Episcopal Church lifted up Louis King of France, who died in 1270. He was lauded for his ‘purity of life and manners’ believing that the crown was given to him by God and ‘God would hold him accountable for his reign.’ He led a crusade against the Muslims and official action against Jews. In the Collect, the bad stuff isn’t raised, just the good.

And I look at some of the coalitions doing justice work these days and note that they often find a piece of common ground on which to stand while not agreeing on everything. Sometimes it’s a fine line between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stuff. So how can we honor the good while not discounting the bad? We are all flawed children of God after all.

It was not lost on me, as I wandered in and out of coverage of the memorial service for John McCain at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul that the music accompanying the casket as it was moved out of the cathedral was from Gustav Holst’s suite ‘The Planets.’  There is a set of words which accompany it, found in my edition of ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard’ written by Cecil Spring-Rice:


I vow to thee my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best.

The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.


And there’s another country I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know.

We may not count her armies, we may not see her king,

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering.

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.


How appropriate for an epitaph for John McCain.



It also was not lost on me when I heard the music that my friend Sue Gilmurray, composer and lyricist, had written a song in 1998 which we sang on the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship/Episcopal Peace Fellowship peace pilgrimage to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Communion bishops.  While she wrote a tune unique to the words, she commented that the words would scan to ‘I vow to thee my country.’  As a struggling pacifist, and with my sometimes warped sense of humour, I found that thought somehow delicious.

Here are the words for ‘The firing of the heart’:

There’s a flame that burns with shining zeal and patriotic pride

When our love for our own country means contempt for those outside.

It’s a flame we’ll have no part in, we will follow it no more,

For we need the warmth of brotherhood and not the heat of war.

And the flame that we would pass along to our daughters and our sons

Is the firing of the heart against the firing of the guns.


There’s a flame that warms the human heart when words of peace are said,

When we turn our backs on killing and we work for life instead.

We will raise a strong united voice the world cannot ignore,

As we spread the warmth of brotherhood and not the heat of war.

And the flame that we would pass along to our daughters and our sons

Is the firing of the heart against the firing of the guns.


We refuse to hate our neighbours.  We will not believe the lies

When our leaders tell us bloodshed is a noble enterprise.

Though each one alone feels powerless, yet each one can play a part,

Building peace with love and courage by the firing of the heart.

And the flame that we would pass along to our daughters and our sons

Is the firing of the heart against the firing of the guns.


These two sets of words are an example of the kinds of tensions which I raised around the commentaries on the death of John McCain.

I invite us to live with these tensions as we work for a world of human rights, peace and justice leading to healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.


Donna Hicks has been a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship since 1985 and joined the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship somewhere along that way.  She participated in the 1998 and 2008 peace pilgrimages to the Lambeth Conference.  Her primary work is on Palestine and she has been a member of the leadership team of EPF’s Palestine Israel Network and its predecessor action group/network for many years and is an EPF PIN representative to the cross-denominational Palestine Israel Network groups organized in part by Friends of Sabeel North America and others. She served with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, Palestine, from 2002-2009, doing human rights monitoring, hazardous accompaniment and violence reduction work.  She is a member of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Durham North Carolina and of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  She particularly treasures her time with the Network of Christian Peace Organisations, APF and FOR at a number of Greenbelt gatherings.




Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism  It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.

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