On 60 Minutes last night Senator John and Elizabeth Edwards bravely faced the Inquisition at the hands of Katie Couric. She was pleasant enough while busily probing the private parts of their lives, like an overly friendly proctologist. Elizabeth as you will know has had cancer. And it has recurred, this time in 2-3 spots in her bones. And it is incurable, though with treatment the inevitable could be put off a long time. Kay Yow for example, the coach of the women’s N.C. State basketball team, has been battling this sort of cancer for 20 years and is still coaching.

But John Edwards is wanting to do more than coach and influence a few budding athlete’s lives. He wants to be President of the United States. Now I must tell you I like John Edwards a lot, on a lot of grounds. He and Elizabeth are good members of historical Edenton St. U. Methodist Church in Raleigh N.C. John is a graduate of UNC law school and a big Tar Heel fan. Obviously I have an affinity for this man.

But more to the political point, he is an old school old style moderate southern Democrat. One who is basically conservative on personal ethical issues and progressive on issues like the environment, health care and the like. There aren’t that many Democrats out there like Sam Ervin used to be, who do not agree with the radical fringe of the Democratic party, but John Edwards is one. I like his work of late with the Poverty Center in Chapel Hill, and I like a lot of the positions he takes on key issues, including the Iraq War. I think many of his basic positions are coherent and consistent with the ethics of Jesus and various NT writers if they were to take a stand on such modern issues.

But leaving all that aside, should he even be running with his wife battling terminal cancer? As Katie Couric not so gently asked last night– shouldn’t he just withdraw from the race and attend to his wife’s illness and give her more time to be with their kids? Won’t this cancer become a distraction? How could he concentrate on major crises we must face if he’s busy worrying about his wife? Aren’t they in denial by carrying on as if nothing had happened? Well these are good and fair questions and it was interesting to listen to the answers.

One thing that especially struck me about these two last night is how much they love each other. John kept talking about how “we are running for President”. That is the way it is with them– they are indeed a couple, in it together through thick and thin. And both of them have an altruistic desire to be good public servants, to give back to the country which has blessed them so much. As you may know, John came up from very humble blue collar, mill-worker roots, which is why he relates so well to ordinary folks. This couple has a sort of optimism about the potential of Americans for good, that reminds one of John Kennedy at his best. This couple has asked “what can I do for my country”, and they believe they can make a difference. Whether they are right or wrong, these folks do not fit the mold of cynical, world-weary, unscrupulous politicians. They are honest, open, and yes they are ambitious.

Elizabeth said last night that she did not want her legacy to be that she was the one who deprived the country of her husband’s best service. She said she felt fine and was excited to continue on the campaign trail. And John said he didn’t want anyone voting for him out of sympathy. Rightly so. We need to elect the best candidate, not merely the one we most empathise with personally.

And of course they are both right that we do not know how long any of us are going to live. Tomorrow is not promised, and life does not say please, it just keeps coming. One person once said to me “life is what happens when you are making other plans.” How true. But this couple has decided not to let the “stuff which happens” decide how they will live the rest of their lives. I think this is brave rather than foolhardy, I think this is living on the basis of faith rather than fear of the inevitable, because of course all of us are terminal in this body in this life. It’s just that some of us haven’t read the memo yet or we are in denial about it.

So I say, leave them alone. If Elizabeth says she is not letting him quit and that’s her decision, then fine. If she says they will continue to make time for their children and family life as they always do, then lets not accuse them of being bad parents, or selfishly ambitious folks. There is in fact a strong sense of calling they have on and in their lives. They believe they are supposed to be doing what they are doing, they believe its what God wants, and who are we to say otherwise? So lets see how the next year and a bit play out. Let’s see how they do. Let’s pray for the health of Elizabeth, and let’s not wave the C word in front of their faces any more. Whether you like their politics or not, they are good Christian people. Let’s respect their decision.

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