Scouts Honor: 3 Responses to… Well, You Know

This morning, the internet was imploding with reactions to Trump’s address to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree. Horrified but not at all surprised, I mined my connections for folks who are active with the BSA–whether as former scouts, parents or leaders. I figured they could respond far better than I. Clearly, folks have much to say about this, because I got 3 great contributions. I thought about running them as 3 separate posts over the next few days. You know, maximize the traffic. But they are all such complimentary, not to mention timely responses, that I decided to share them all today. These are the voices of a current Scout parent; a former “bad Scout;” ending with an open letter to the BSA from a lifelong Scout and current volunteer. It’s an excellent model for others who might be thinking about contacting the organization.

Thanks for the input, and the wise reflections. Scout on. 

Iconic scout, by Norman Rockwell
Iconic scout, by Norman Rockwell

***

A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. This is the Scout Law that every Boy Scout and Cub Scout leader and member alike are required to memorize, recite, and take to heart.

This week, the President of the United States spoke to the National Boy Scout Jamboree… a little like a Denominational Assembly with more rappelling and less awkward singing. Instead of using that opportunity to inspire, to celebrate, to reflect on the values of the BSA, Trump did what he always does. Trump made it about Trump. And really, how can anyone be surprised or outraged by this anymore? My dog goes for the cat litter every time we leave the door open, and Trump does what he does when he is in front of a crowd. Neither of them can help themselves.

I can’t get worked up about Trump’s words, because in that context, his words don’t matter. After 20 years in congregational leadership, that’s hard to say. Words matter. A lot. They’re yuuuge.

In my experience with Scouting and working with my son through Scouts, words and ideas are not nearly as important as the character and behavior the organization seeks to instill in young boys on their way to becoming decent men and good citizens. Largely volunteer-run, the BSA is made of diverse families of many faiths and backgrounds running local chapters in every part of our nation. They open their homes and their hearts, give over their precious weekends, and serve as an example of what it means to put community and service first.

If you really want to know what Scouting is about, hang out in our troop leader Jeff’s garage the month before the Pinewood Derby and watch him teach twenty eager boys how to use a sander and saw. Watch Michael as he hustles popcorn in front of Lowes for four hours so he can pay his own way for summer camp. Come with us to Scout Camp as a college-aged Eagle Scout spends his summer break teaching 4th graders how to build a fire with flint and steel, just like they do in Minecraft.

In college, my roommate and I decided we wanted a loft for our beds to create more space in our dorm. I went looking in a furniture store. Peter, an Eagle Scout, bought 2x4s and bolts and built exactly what was needed. Twenty years later, there is no doubt in my mind that my son Tyler will approach challenges in the same way Peter did. For over a century, Scouts have been successfully teaching valuable skills and building character consistently across a wide geography.

Trump’s rambling amounts to a lot of irrelevant background noise in a context where the most important lessons are communicated through the relationships and activities formed at the local level.

In a lot of ways, the church and the Scouts have a similar mission. Both are all called to build up people… into disciples or scouts. Clearly those are different, although certainly not mutually exclusive. But the church and Scouts have taken on that task in very different ways. While the Scouts are not without its flaws, the church could learn a few things from them.

Where the church obsesses over ideas and written statements and resolutions, the Scouts devotes itself to gatherings and activities.  The church believes that if we can get the mind/heart/spirit in the right place, then the behaviors will fall in line.

The Scouts operates in reverse of this practice with better results. They teach boys how to use knives and how to bandage a wound (not a coincidence). They stick them in a tent and teach them how to build a fire and cook a meal on it. They make sure the kids are safe, challenged, and surrounded by adults who legitimately care for them. The Scouts focuses on behavior, and surprisingly the inner/character work happens along the way.

In my experience, the Scouts have a better track record of doing what the church should be doing. The Scouts, as a national organization, is not perfect, but I am amazed at how each little, local part of it tolerates an amazing breadth of people and consistently teach valuable lessons that carry on throughout a lifetime — Trustworthiness, Loyalty, Helpfulness, Friendliness, Courtesy, Kindness, Obedience, Cheerfulness, Thriftiness, Bravery, Cleanliness, and Reverence.

At a Scout meeting, my son and I spend time with parents from all kinds of religious, economic, political, and ethnic categories. I have never walked into a church activity to hang out with Mormons and atheists at the same time.

Last year, the local church that sponsored our Cub Scout Pack kicked the Scouts to the curb because the Boy Scouts of America refused to exclude gay and lesbian men and women from leadership. How often do our high and mighty convictions of the church complicate doing what is obviously the right thing?

What will that lesson be today? Do we want to teach our kids that they should disassociate themselves with any organization they have disagreements with? Do we want to teach our kids that you can’t learn to tie knots with people who don’t vote like you? Should we teach them you should only be helpful, friendly, courteous and kind as long as the people are treating you the same way?

Or can we teach our kids that sometimes the leader doesn’t speak for everyone. When the person in front is doing the wrong thing, you can still do the right thing. Even when you disagree with someone, you can still find ways to do great things together.

Maybe that’s a copout or wishy washy… but that lesson and the ability to extend grace is going to serve us all better than a finely tuned sense of righteous indignation.

by Doug Kriz; Pastor of Grace Christian Church in Prosper, TX

***

I always felt like a terrible Scout. I only knew the minimal amount of knots. I learned my first aid for my boards of reviews (tests for the next rank) and then quickly forgot it. I never really enjoyed camping. So when it came time for my final test, my Eagle Board of Review, I felt the need to cram, hard. Knots. First Aid. Environmental science. Other stuff I’ve long forgotten. Between Scouts, school, sports and church, I only studied about 40% of what I had hoped to study before my Board. I walked in feeling pretty confident that this was going to be a disaster.

And then, in my Board, I wasn’t asked any questions covering what I had studied. The men in that room who had watched me through Scouts for 5 years asked me what I had learned. How had I grown from the boy I was when I started. What were my hopes and dreams for life. What skills and lessons had I taken from Scouts that would help me achieve that life. And then at the very end of the interview, they said, “Oh, one more thing, can you tie a square knot?” We all smiled because that’s the first and easiest knot you learn as a Scout.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that Scouts was not about the skills or survival or the know-how. Those men who had watched me grow gave me the gift of realizing that Scouts was about character, about improving yourself, about growth, and about personal responsibility.

So all I can do is to imagine the 30,000+ Boy Scouts who watched their President speak on Monday, and be concerned that they won’t have the chance to learn those extremely valuable lessons.

Others have pointedly hit on the bizarreness of the moment. Col. Morris Davis, citing the 12 points of the Scout Law that every scout has emblazoned on his psyche, says it well:

A Scout is … the things Trump’s not:

Trustworthy
Loyal
Helpful
Friendly
Courteous
Kind
Obedient
Cheerful
Thrifty
Brave
Clean
and Reverent

Rachel Held Evans surely summed up how a lot of parents felt watching:

It depresses me to no end that a man who bullies, lies, demeans & assaults women is presented as a role model for young men.

In a season of absurdity, it’s still painfully easy to see how absurd it is for this man whose only personal character is looking out for himself at all costs to stand in front of an organization that has the rare and much needed opportunity to teach young men about personal responsibility, integrity and the importance of learning and growing.

Trump does not grow. He does not learn. He publicly avoids any insinuation that he does because to him, having to study or improve himself in any way would be weakness. In his twisted narcissism, it would be like admitting that he’s not perfect already. So he does not grow or learn.

In an opportunity to teach young men the value of personal responsibility, Trump did everything in his power to to do the opposite. Someone said that beneath all of his diversions there was a good speech there. That may be. The only problem is that the diversions are Trump. That’s who he is. And in his diversions, in a youth rally worthy effort, he continued his crusade to pass blame and accusations at Obama, fake news… every person and institution that makes even the smallest hint of criticism.

In my Eagle Board of Review, I also learned that while all of us scouts were obsessed with ranks, ultimately those do not matter. No matter your rank or title, what matters is the character with which you carry yourself. Yesterday, Trump carried himself with all the demagogue adulation he has come to depend upon, still bragging about his electoral college margin.

So I can only imagine those scouts and the message they received:

  • Mercilessly destroy any notion that you need to learn or grow or improve yourself (because the best way to win is to never show weakness),

  • Never take responsibility. Always blame someone else whether it’s accurate or not, and

  • Once you get yourself a title that matters, that will determine your success, and excuse any moral failings.

The Boy Scouts of America doesn’t have to issue a statement repudiating anything Trump said in his speech. They can just let it go.

But if they do, they can count themselves among the growing many – like Franklin Graham, and all the members of Trump’s cabinet, and most of the GOP members of Congress – who have sacrificed their character and values just to get to touch this man’s robe.

If they fail to be clear that Trump does not stand for them, I can only wonder how many young men will fail to receive those valuable lessons that I received, when I sat down with those men who had guided me, and they showed me that character is all that matters.

by Brad McDowell: Pastor at First Christian Church, Wilmington, North Carolina. 

***

An Open Letter to the Chief Scout Executive, Michael Surbaugh:

As an Eagle Scout and present volunteer at multiple levels at the local level, it disgusts me to see the shenanigans that were allowed to be pulled off by the person currently acting as POTUS.

We are not the equivalent of the Hitler Youth and our beloved Jamboree, a national gathering of 45,000+ Scouts and Scouters, should not be turned into a political rally for personal and partisan gains.

I hope that you recognize  that some presidents are more contentious than others.  In the future, I can only hope than you insist on having to approve a copy of the speech before it is ever given.

As a program, we need to be cognizant of the very impressionable minds that we are molding and be careful that our portrayal of citizenship does not come off as blind nationalistic loyalty.

In the end, Mr. Surbaugh – I applaud the recent moved by the BSA to be much more inclusive of others.  Please do not let this latest political stunt screw up the momentum that the organization has going for it.

Sincerely,

John Peter
Eagle Scout from the Class of 1994
Order of the Arrow Member
Tribesman of Mic-O-Say
John Peter is an architect with the Pulse Design Group in Kansas City. As an Eagle Scout (Class of ’94) and present Scouting Volunteer involved at the Troop, District and Council level of Scouting in the Heart of America Council (Greater Kansas City area), he has lived and breathed the Scouting program for well over 30 years, including teenage summers working as staff at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation near Osceola, Missouri.
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