On Being an Eagle Scout

I grew up in a Disciples church, and one of the traditions of the Disciples is the priesthood of all believers. We made a frequent practice of inviting guests to preach from time to time, which was a refreshing change for the congregation. I recall one particular Easter Sunday on which we had the area minister preach. I remember most of his message.

He started out by admonishing our permanent staff for not preaching to us on the occasion of Easter. He went on to say

He told a story about the experience that he and his wife had had as foster parents. Being foster parents is hit and miss. Sometimes you’re paired with charming but needy children with whom it is easy to make a personal connection and provide meaningful parenting and mentoring. Apparently those times are rare.

For example, in one cycle he and his wife had been matched with two charming kids with whom they worked for several months. At that time, both kids had begun to do well in school, live as part of the family, and participate in the life of their church. When the kid’s real parents ready, there was a very emotional handing over ceremony wherein the minister and his wife returned the kids to their home. It was bitter-sweet because it was so rewarding to watch the kids grow, and the parents had been rehabilitated (or whatever) to the extent that they valued the kid’s new success in school and pledged to keep them involved in church, and there was a palpable sense that the family was on a firm footing and would succeed. Everyone cried, and the kids and parents went about their lives.

I recall that the minister was a great storyteller. He let slip in pieces throughout the sermon that the reason he and his wife were foster parents was that they were unable to have kids of their own.

The next round of kids was less easy. For the first problem, they were older: two boys, one at 11 and the other at 15. Both had been in and out of trouble for most of their lives, and they were each a hand-full. They were the kind of kids who you might expect were raised by the kinds of parents who’s kids end up in foster care: neither had ever been successful in school, lived in a loving home, or been part of a church.

Over a period of nearly a year, the minister and his wife worked with the boys to try to provide a safe and stable home for them and to try to integrate them into the community. It was quite a struggle. Both were prone to trouble—I recall that the older one had problems with gangs—and they pushed back frequently against their foster parents. It was hard, but the boys went to school every day, or at least they were dropped off there, they were supported at home, and they were escorted to church every Sunday.

Lo and behold, after several difficult months, the younger one began to succeed in school. He had received two passing report cards in a row, and he began to take interest in church. Thereafter, the older boy also began to participate in the church—first through its basketball team, then in other ways.

As foster parents, they felt that they were never successful with the boys until the time the call came that they should move on. To the wife, it was a sense of relief: these two boys were the kind of kids who you might expect were raised by the kinds of parents whose kids end up in foster care and had changed little while in her care. She was ready for a break.

When they explained to the younger one that he and his brother were going home, the now-12 year old seventh grader said he didn’t want to go. For the first time in his life, he knew what it meant to be successful at school, to be part of a family, and to be involved in a church.

In an odd moment of clarity, the older boy explained to his brother that his success did not come from their parents or foster guardians. His success was his own, and that they could choose to succeed in school, to be a family for each other, or to be involved in church if they wanted.

The most remarkable things happen in unremarkable moments. That was the moment in which those two boys grew up.

The younger boy went on to say to the minister and his wife that he didn’t want to go. He said that for the first time in his life, he was successful at school, part of a family, and involved in a church. He said that he was going to be a player in the Easter pageant at church the next week, and that if he couldn’t be there, he wouldn’t be a good Christian.

The minister said, “your success isn’t something you do, it’s something you’ve earn. Being Christian is not something you earn, it’s something you are.”

Now, I know this isn’t an “amen” ’n crowd, but now would be the time.

Here we are in an unremarkable moment on some sunny day in May to celebrate CE’s Eagle. It’s just seven requirements, but this one came hard. I know, however, that nobody here today would have ever though that this moment wasn’t going to happen. We all know what an Eagle scout looks like; we all know CE; and we all know that an Eagle Scout is not simply something you earn.


Travis J. Williams, Ph.D.
Future Scout Parent