Last Saturday, I had the privilege of sitting with everyone in the church, without vestments or clerical collar. I simply sat at the back with fellow parishioners as we watched the induction ceremony of Ben Atkins as an Eagle Scout. Ben is the son of Jenn and Dennis Atkins, and has been a member of this parish for a very long time - at least as long as both Dennis and Jenn have been. One of the many hats that Ben wears around here is serving as an acolyte. Ben is also one of the youth that I consider to be incredibly humble and hardworking. I have admired his sense of purpose and duty, and during the summer's Vacation Bible School, I watched him helping out, chaperoning kids, and offering as much help as was needed.
For one, I didn’t know he was due for his Eagle Scout honor and so, much as I was surprised to see the invitation, I was happy for him because he is one of the a very few group of Boy Scouts who actually rise to that level. For me, just the thought that he is one of a few tells me more about what I have come to know about him, his tenacity, his leadership abilities, and his exuberant energy. From the back, I could see Ben look with prideful eyes at his parents, brother, grandmother, loved ones, and fellow Scouts.
Granted, I never joined the Scouts, although I remember at one point in my life I expressed interest in joining. I think that the Scouts are an interesting organization with a depth of richness that helps shape the life of young boys into responsible men. During the ceremony, one of the colleagues of Ben had lit ten candles representing the Scout Law: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent . Imagine how our world would look like if we all kept at least half of these laws.
Ben credits his parents, brother, and mentors - including our very own Kent Riggins - for shaping and nurturing him into the young man he has become. With a slideshow, Ben took us back from his early years as a Cub Scout through to the present day as he worked on his Eagle Scout project. It was an evening of great celebration and acclamation for a young man who has worked his way up, counting on the guidance of parents and others, and opening himself up in order to be shaped by them. Ben concluded his slideshow with a picture of the Atkins' family brick outside of Old Brick with the caption “ Life is the Journey ”.
My eyes lit up when I saw the caption “ Life is the Journey ”. Who knew? Clichés like that get me thinking, because many of us feel tempted to delineate one journey from the other, and assume that we are on a different journey than our lives express. It is for good reason that we are referred to as "pilgrims" - people who are on a journey because their lives arethe journey. And if you are on such a journey, you readily accept that nothing is permanent; you are on the move. I think it is incredibly freeing to embrace the idea that our lives are the actual journey. That, alone, helps us to be measured, forgiving, compassionate and caring, and to practice letting go.
I tend to remind people that the idea of heaven is not about worthiness before God. If it were about that, no one will ever get there. Rather, it is a question of whether we accept God’s invitation for life. Remember Jesus’ admonition? " Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these ." Ben is a little old to be considered a child - although he is still Jenn and Dennis’ child - but trust me, his boyish enthusiasm and smile makes you want to believe that he enjoys what he does, is content with his life being the journey, and has accepted God's invitation for life.
I don’t think we can all be Scouts, nor should we all be. But at the very least, I think we can embrace the Boy Scout laws as Ben, Kent, and many others have, and be content that by this alone we have chosen our lifelong journey, and on such a path must we walk.