As America has grown increasingly secular, many have wondered, "Where are the influences for good in our common life?" Thoughtful people have looked about to see what remains in our society that are the conscious and intentional movements to create honesty, courage, decency, fair play, hope, humility, faith and the quiet virtues that we vaguely remember being articulated by grandparents at home, certain teachers at school, people of honor to whom we looked up.
Who cares anymore? Who is consciously promoting the highest ideals and goals in the hearts of the young, and of all of us?
We know, to our sorrow, the stories of those in high places who have betrayed ideals we have assumed were common in the morals and ethics of Americans: professional athletes who have abused wives or girlfriends; the President of the Patriots found in an indecent massage parlor; intentional cyclists who have cheated by taking performance-enhancing drugs.
No realm of our common life seems untouched. And on and on it goes. Police. Judges. Politicians. Priests. Ministers. Famous athletes. It is the grim reminder of what the Bible has always known - the reality of sin in our lives.
But who is working to overcome and counter these influences? What are the intentional trainings for decency and goodness in America's life?
For sure the churches still consciously work for humility, and hope in the human spirit. President Carter still teaches his Sunday School class at age 94 in his Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. Joe Cavanagh, energetic young Catholic boy grew up in our town, went through "Pilgrim Fellowship" at Colonial Church, and has founded and successfully led his growing organization that teaches civility and kindness to high school students across the county.
And, there is still the Boy and Girl Scouting movement, gathering 12- to 18-year-old young people to teach them skills of the outdoors, and a whole host of abilities that are invaluable in life. Not only that, but they teach qualities of character, the virtues of courage, the ways of humility, the spirit of faith.
All across the country churches are often the leading sponsors of Boy Scout troops. I remember my Troop 164 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that gave me my start in scouting. The North Congregational Church was our sponsor. My mother particularly helped me work on the requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks in scouting, community leaders helped me with the merit badges that led to Life Scout, and finally Eagle. I was away at prep school when I managed to earn the 21 merit badges that made me an Eagle.
There was honor in these hard-won ranks. At Camp Manning, of the Daniel Webster Council, I became a member of the Order of the Arrow. Here was an organization for boys that encouraged achievement, leadership skills, fair and just relationships, working together, survival in the outdoors.
"A scout is honorable, trustworthy, brave, clean and reverent." "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country. I will keep the Scout Law."
We saluted, we shook hands, we tied knots, we swam, we worked together.
And, to my surprise, through the many years, I found myself part of a life-long fraternity of Eagle Scouts, who, in their various professions and lives, kept a code of ethics and morality in their lives and relationships. I am grateful that two of my grandsons were scouts, and one of them is also an Eagle.
One of the great honors of my life was to find, at his Eagle Scout investiture, my grandson Billy had claimed me, his grandpa, as his Eagle Scout Mentor. I wear that pin with gratitude and pride, knowing full well how many and good influences he has had in his life.
A couple of parishioners are Eagles and acknowledge that influence in their lives and mine.
I am grateful for scouting in my life, even as I acknowledge multiple other influences that have been profound and good, for me. The Pilgrim Fellowship in the Congregational churches I have served, where, for a season of years often 400 high school young people were gathering on Sunday nights at Colonial Church, under dedicated and skilled lay and professional leaders, to come to know Jesus, and follow Him.
Young people of many backgrounds and different churches are proud to tell me they went through "P. F." at Colonial Church.
And, there is Young Life, which our first full-time Youth Director worked in the ministry to help establish for all young people. Loving and faithful, that movement continues to bring kids close to Christ.
There are fellowships in college, like Campus Crusade, and InterVarsity Fellowship, supported by churches and individuals, that winsomely witness for Jesus on campuses across our country.
There are people who care, who have learned themselves, and passed on to later generations - praying and supporting such work. The late Dr. Bill Starr, dear friend of mine, led Young LIfe nationally for 20 years. So many have come along to give their lives to such service and influence.
In cynical, secular days, God is not dead in America. His people still care, and dare. Praise God for them all.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES