On July 4th of this year, I was at the highest council Scout camp in America, Camp Steiner, elevation 10,400 ft. It’s rocky, rough terrain, with two beautiful lakes, a wealth of tall pines, and several remaining snow banks, even in early July. Our scout troop attended the whole week, but I was only there Thursday evening through Friday morning, helping in any way I could, and surprising my son, who was on his first long camp out (and who had no idea I was coming).
The evening of the 4th, the camp had their closing ceremonies for the week, held on the shore of Scout Lake, in an amphitheater with log seating, and two big fire bowls. There was plenty of typical Scouting silliness: skits, cheers, stories, songs. But there were two serious moments that affected me deeply. The first was an official flag retirement ceremony. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before, and I’m sure I did not realize that outside the military, only the Boy Scouts are authorized to conduct the ceremony. It felt strange to see the flag burning in a respectful and solemn manner, after having seen images of it being burned in hate and acrimony around the world. Everyone remained silent during the few minutes it took, and I have rarely witnessed a more patriotic scene.
The second thing was when they asked all the veterans in attendance to come forward to be recognized for their service to our country. My son, sitting with his friends, turned around and said, “That’s you, dad!” and he was more correct than he knew. There were probably twenty or twenty five adult leaders present, but apart from two staff members, I was the only one to come forward. They looked good in their scout uniforms, and I felt dingy in my t-shirt and jeans. But we stood there, and had a moment of silence for those had had served, and those who had paid for our freedom with their lives.
I know that the holiday is past, and everyone has gone back to their normal lives, with most people putting away thoughts of patriots, revolutions, and founding fathers until next year. But the ideas behind our nation, the concept of government that must respect the people it serves, and the elevation of personal liberty at the expense of public conformity, continue to be of vital interest as our nation ages. We have erred recently on the side of caution: we try and save people from being able to make bad choices, and try to nudge the electorate in the direction of greater state involvement in our daily lives. But in the greater sense, our government is failing its primary duty, which is to secure our ability to work and live unmolested by others.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the rights that were enumerated to be natural, unalienable, and bestowed upon us not by man but by God. But now our lives are not our own as we attempt to follow rules, regulations, and laws that are neither impartial nor equally applied. Our government can take everything from us without due process, and can shoot us with impunity. And we can only pursue our own happiness if does not offend those that are considered protected: gays, Muslims, blacks, women. And our own happiness can be officially curtailed if we are in a category that is allowed, or even encouraged to be denigrated: Christians, Asians, conservatives, fathers.
There are ways of getting back to a better place. One would be a Constitutional Convention, to curb the excesses of our government. Another would be a to fix our educational system to teach our children why America is worth preserving. But it all starts with us, as individuals. What are we willing to do to make the changes?