Friday, July 28, 2017

Our Values, the Boy Scouts of America, and a President
An Essay by the Reverend Ben Alford

(Note from the writer: although this essay was inspired by my reaction to the President’s Speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree and I refer to the President and the Boy Scouts briefly, the essay is about you, me and how our values are formed.)

I have been thinking a lot about values lately: how we form them, where they come from and why they are important for survival, our survival as individuals and nations. I began to reflect on these things as I watched The President of the United States address over 45,000 scouts and leaders at the National Boy Scout Jamboree.  Any speech to a group composed mostly of boys 12 to 15 years old that begins, “Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I can be with the Boy Scouts of America,” cannot end well, and it did not. I have written about the speech elsewhere, all 38 minutes of it, so I have nothing to add here other than, “in my opinion it was extremely inappropriate and an abuse of presidential power.”

What I want to write about is how we as individuals and society acquire our values and how our values change the world, for better or for worse. I will explore the search for meaning through my own life’s journey and how my values where formed and how they have formed me. As you walk with me on my journey, I hope you will get excited about looking again at your own journey. This has been an exciting, frustrating and enlightening three days as I have looked again at the forces which have shaped me into who I am. So, put on your mental hiking shoes and your imagination and join me.

The primary forces and sources that have shaped me and allowed me to grow as a human being are my parents, the Christian Church, the Boy Scouts of America, Civitan International, the people who have been a part of my life, and last, but not least, lots of time spent in the great outdoors, much of it alone. As I look at each of these groups I will outline their teachings, oaths, creeds and missions that have changed my life and by which I live. I guess this negative experience of the President and the BSA has had the positive effect of turning my thoughts inward so that my life can move outward.

As for all of us, my first teachers, by word and example, were my parents. Bennett and Eunice Alford gave me life, loved me, fed me, cleaned me up, introduced me to a larger family and took me to church. They did a good job, not a perfect job, as they were human, but their love held all things together, as St. Paul reminds us in Colossians. I remember the simple things, like trusting Daddy enough to fall back blindfolded into his arms, knowing he would catch me, and of after school Fig Newtons and milk with Mama, talking and talking and talking. Mama took me to church on Sunday Evenings and Daddy was my Scoutmaster. They also gave me, for better or worse, three younger brothers and all the lessons that come with siblings.

In the church we learned the Golden Rule, the First and Great Commandment, the Beatitudes, both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions and later the Creeds and the Baptismal Covenant.

The Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) 

The First and Greatest Commandment:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:34-40)

The Beatitudes (Matthew’s Version)


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)


Blessings and Woes (Luke’s Beatitudes)


 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man .(Luke 6:20-22)


Note that when we put the two versions side by side, we see that Jesus seems to care about our physical, earthly needs as well as heavenly needs. This was an important lesson for me to learn, altering the way I look at the world.


The Baptismal Covenant

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers?  I will with God’s help

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I Will with God’s help.

The message and the values I have gained from these proclamations of faith over almost 70 years of worship and study and life are: that God loves us and created us to love one another, friends and enemies alike, and to love ourselves; that we are to look for Christ in all persons created by God, showing our love in our actions as well as our words. One of the most important values and most difficult for me to fulfill is to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? We truly are called by God to be instruments of God’s peace, as we learn in the Prayer of St. Francis.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of being part of a religious community is that we consciously join together in worship and service with all sorts and conditions of people: old and young; conservative and liberal; red and yellow, black and white, and people of every nation, faith and creed. My faith and its values have shaped my values as I do my best to relate to all people as God’s children. These relationships also allow me, or perhaps force me to look at the world through their eyes as well as my own.

As I followed my father’s footsteps into the Boy Scouts, the values I learned based on the Scout Oath and Law supplemented and built on what I had learned and continue to learn in church and family to this day.

The Scout Oath

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

To always do the best of which I am capable, to do my duty to my country, while always putting duty to God higher than even my duty to my country. At times duty to both God and country can be difficult because standing up for God’s people who may be mistreated or persecuted by some of the laws of our nation can put God and Country into conflict. Jesus is the greatest example of this, standing up against the mistreatment of God’s people by the Religious and Civil authorities. This cost him his life, but he did it anyway because it was the mission God sent him into the world to carry out and his duty to God was more important than his duty to his country or even to his religious institution.

       The Scout Law

A Scout Is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

Like the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, some of the 12 points of the Scout Law can be difficult to accomplish or keep, but like the First and Great Commandment of Jesus, they state values that if followed, even if we sometimes fail, will change our lives and the lives of all those around us. There is always the fear, and sometimes the realty, that if we live by these values, that less scrupulous people will take advantage of us and even try to destroy us as they did Jesus. Just as Jesus’ life and values changed the world, even though he appeared to have lost the battle, we see in his resurrection the spread of the values for which he lived, died and rose again. All who share his values of love, justice and peace will have the same impact on the world as He did, even if we, at times, suffer some of the same persecutions he suffered
Civitan International, a civic group founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 1917 and dedicated to “Service above Self” is one more major force in the formation of my life and values. My connection with this organization goes back to the 1920’s when my Grandfather Alford joined the Albertville Civitan Club. He was later followed into the club by my father and after that my Uncle Bill became a Civitan as well. Boy Scout Troop 71 (now 4071) of which I was a member and my father Scoutmaster was and continues to be sponsored by the Albertville Civitan Club. In fact, the Troop is the longest continuously Civitan Sponsored Boy Scout Troop in the United States. My life has been personally touched and changed by Civitan through family and personal experience as a Boy Scout in a Civitan Sponsored Scout Troop.

My Civitan connection continued as a Junior Civitan at Albertville High School, and I first became an Adult Civitan in Montgomery, Alabama in 1983. In 2010 I became a charter member of The Greater Wetumpka Civitan Club and over the years served as Chaplain, Board Member, President-elect and President. When my wife and I moved to Albertville, Alabama in 2016 we both joined the Albertville Civitan Club, thus bringing me back to my Civitan roots established by my grandfather, and by Boy Scout Troop 71.  I share now the Civitan Creed which weaves in and out with the teachings of Jesus, Holy Scripture and the Boy Scout Oath and Law.


Our Creed is unique among service clubs, being the most completely developed ethical statement set forth for a service club and serving as a challenge to every Civitan. Originally written in 1922 by Champ Andrews of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Civitan Club, it has been modified over the years, most recently in 1984.

It reads as follows:
I AM CIVITAN as old as life, as young as the rainbow, as endless as time.
MY HANDS do the work of the world and reach out in service to others.
MY EARS hear the cry of children and the call throughout the world for peace, guidance,
                  progress and unity.
MY EYES search for others to join in the fellowship and service of Civitan
MY MOUTH utters the call to daily duty and speaks prayers in every tongue
MY MIND teaches me respect for law and the flag of my country
MY HEART beats for every friend, bleeds for every injury to humanity and throbs with joy at
                    every triumph of truth.
MY SOUL knows no fear but its own unworthiness
MY HOPE is for a better world through Civitan
MY MOTTO builders of good citizenship
MY BELIEF do unto others as you would have them do unto you
MY PLEDGE to practice the Golden Rule and to build upon it a better and nobler citizenship.

The Creeds and Covenants and practices of family, faith, friendship and fellowship form a tapestry made of threads of different textures and colors. The tapestry becomes a rich picture of a foundation for life built not on sand, as Jesus said, but on a rock, so that when the winds come and the rain pours, the house will stand, it will keep us warm and dry and will be a place of refreshment and peace from which we go into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.

What an exciting journey to be on. Glad you are on it with me.