Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Scout is Friendly

The image above comes from a set of postcards issued in 1913. There's one for each point of the Scout Law. I first saw them on the Scouting Magazine blog.

An experience I had last night got me really thinking about this one, though.

I was running a bit late for our regularly scheduled activity and was stopped in the hall by a boy and his mother who wanted to sit down and go through his Eagle Scout project workbook. I had told them that I would be able to meet with them on Wednesday night, but I was thinking we would do it after the activity. I asked them if we could do it after. Mom said that she couldn't stay that late and wouldn't be able to do it after. I told Mom I didn't need her, just her son.

Upon further reflection, I probably shouldn't have said it that way. I was running late, I wanted this young man to join us in the activity, I wanted to be there for all my young men, and I would have liked to sit down with this young man and talk to him without his mother. Sometimes I get the feeling that she is perhaps a bit controlling. On the surface it looks like she is the one doing the project and not her son. I felt, and still do, that I could have met with just the son and gone over his packet without Mom. After all, it's his project and he should be the one to lead it.

Anyway, we had a bit of a conflict but I eventually realized this was where I needed to be so I let the other young men do their activity with the other leader and I sat down with Mom and boy.

I'm not going to detail all of the issues we discussed at that meeting, but I discovered that this young man doesn't feel like he fits in. He doesn't think he belongs, that he isn't part of our group. His mother doesn't think he fits in and doesn't think he is really a part of our group. They told me as much, but what really drove it home to me was when Mom said that she didn't realize we had an activity and she didn't want to take me away from my boys.

First, I cannot understand how she didn't know we had an activity. We have an activity every week. I gave the young man a calendar of all our activities the last time I saw him. They should have known we had an activity. But aside from that, what came across to me was that, in their mind, everyone else had an activity, but it wasn't for this young man. He wasn't part of the group.

The second part that really bothered me is the idea that she didn't want to take me away from my boys. It was almost as if her son wasn't one of my boys, and I was just the person who needed to sign his paperwork.

I think I know a few of the reasons why this young man feels like he doesn't belong. I think I can understand them. I hope I was able to help him see and understand the other side of the coin too, but I am really bothered by the idea this entire family feels that they don't belong, and that no one wants to help them. They said they had been asking for help for his project but haven't been able to get commitments from anyone. 

This gets me back to the Scout Law postcard above. "A Scout is Friendly. He is a Friend to all and a Brother to every other Scout." I wonder if I, or our other young men, have failed to be a Brother to this boy. I sincerely believe that none of them would ever consciously do anything to make this young man feel unwelcome or unwanted. They would never consciously do anything to embarrass him or make him feel uncomfortable. They are better boys than that. I hope that I haven't done anything to embarrass him or make him feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. I have never intended to do so. And I told him as much.

I believe all our young men are friendly to to this boy, but have they been his Brother? Have I? There is something in the concept of "Brother" that goes beyond "friendly." It's more than being nice. It's more than saying hello in the hallway at school or at the store. It's more than a casual relationship on Facebook. It involves a connection. In Scouting it could be the common experiences that we all share. But more than that, the idea of "Brother" involves the divine. It includes the idea that we are all children of God. It implies a sacred obligation to help. And when I say help I mean more than a simple Eagle Scout project. I think the fact that the word is capitalized emphasizes that.

There are a lot more issues in this case than I can describe here. Nor is this the proper place. But I have been really troubled by the whole experience. I hope I can be a better Brother to this young man. I hope our other young men will come to see him as their Brother. We may never develop the relationship he has with his brothers. He may not accept our reaching out to him. He has a part to play in this relationship that he may not want to play. He may reject everything we do to help. He might misinterpret our motives and choose to be offended. But he is still my Brother. I have a sacred obligation to try.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Ethics Forum

One of the requirements for the Religious Life Bronze award, and the Venturing Silver award, is to organize and lead, or help organize and lead an ethics forum for your crew or another youth group. The Venturing Leader Manual describes the ethics forum thus:
An ethics forum is simply a crew meeting devoted to learning about the ethical issues in your crew's career or interest area. You might invite one or more individuals with expertise in the area to speak to your crew. The presenters can describe the ethical standards for their profession that are upheld by corporations, trade associations, unions, or other organizations. It is best if they give examples of how those standards are used, explain the consequences of breaking the rules, and explain why the rules are important.
The presenters also can give examples of the ethical dilemmas that arise in their professions. These could be dilemmas for which ethical standards have not been written or for which it is difficult to understand how to apply standards.
In our crew I had gotten the young men to do several ethical controversies, and they really enjoyed them. I wanted to be able to do the ethics forum, but for the longest time couldn't quite figure out how to go about doing it. I just couldn't think of what career or interest area the young men would be interested in. I had one young man who wanted to do the activity to pass off the award requirement, but it needed to be interesting enough for him to take the lead.

Finally, inspiration struck. I had been hung up on the part about our crew's career or interest area and we didn't really have one. What I eventually realized was that our interest area could be religious life, and the expert individuals we could invite to speak might be the missionaries.What if we invited them to come speak about the rules and standards they are expected to follow as a missionary and why they are important?

I mentioned my idea to the young man who wanted to do the activity, and he had an idea. Instead of asking the missionaries, who are really busy, why don't we invite a recently returned missionary to do the same thing? I agreed and the young man ran with it. He called the returned missionary, scheduled it and organized everything.

It was a fantastic activity. This recently returned missionary was someone from our ward, who the boys knew and had known growing up. They were familiar with him, and he with them. He spoke to them about mission rules and why they were all important--even the one about having a part in your hair. He told them how following the rules would help them keep the spirit with them. He taught them and encouraged them to serve missions. He committed them to study the gospel further. At the end of the night, every one of our young men were genuinely excited to serve missions. It was wonderful.

This is the kind of activity that will help young men come closer to Christ. Now, you may say it has nothing to do with Scouting or Venturing, and you might have a point. We could have done this without any association to Venturing. However, the idea that gave birth to this activity came because we were thinking of how to fill an award requirement. I doubt it would have ever come up under any other circumstances.

Just another example of how Scouting and Venturing can be used to support Aaronic priesthood quorums.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ethical Controversies

"The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law."

In the Venturing program, more so perhaps than any other BSA program, the idea of making ethical choices is a major focus. The requirements for the highest award in Venturing, the Silver award, are broken into three categories: Emergency Preparedness, Leadership, and Ethics in Action.

The Ethics requirements for the Silver award consist of participation in Ethical Controversies and leading an Ethics Forum. Both of these types of activities are fantastic for LDS crews. In this post, I'll focus on Ethical Controversies and will save the Ethics Forum for another post.

Ethical Controversies are great. My young men love them. In fact, I think they would rather do an Ethical Controversy activity than play basketball. And my young men really like to play basketball.

The basic idea is that you will examine, from both sides, a dilemma without an easy answer. Each side will have valid arguments. For example: competitive sports. One side might argue that competition is healthy because it helps develop discipline, persistence, teamwork, performance under pressure, and can help prepare people for life in the "real world." The other side might argue that competition is unhealthy because it promotes selfish and egotistical behavior, encourages cheating and other immoral behavior, and does nothing to develop character and may even provide an environment for the destruction of a person's character. 

The rules are pretty simple. The crew is broken into two teams. These teams are then divided into pairs (if you have that many). Each team is assigned a position or opinion about the ethical dilemma. Each team takes a few minutes to discuss their position and develop arguments. The two opposing sides then sit down facing each other and are ready to begin. If you have enough people, dividing into pairs will allow you to have multiple groups discussing the issues separately.

To begin, one side presents their arguments. During this time, the opposing side can not speak except to ask questions. Those questions should only be to clarify the position in an attempt to understand. Once the first side has presented, the second side will present. Once both sides have presented, you get to argue. That's what the young men really like to do. The actual directions say you should "discuss." Also, "Defend your position and critique the opposition. Try to persuade the opposing pair that you are correct, then listen to their defense and critique. Remember to be critical of ideas, not people."

After they've had a chance to argue for a few minutes, switch sides and do it again. If you have enough to work in pairs, have each pair argue the second opinion against a different pair than at first. This is the really neat part of the whole process. Everyone will argue both for and against each position. That can be hard. Sometimes the young men have very clearly defined ideas about the issue. This activity compels them to look at an issue from the opposite side. It requires them to challenge their own ideas. And ultimately, I think it helps them make better decisions.

At the end of the activity, you are supposed to try to reach a consensus--to develop a position that everyone can agree upon. This also can be hard, but usually ends up with a position incorporating parts of each beginning argument.

This process can also be used for dilemmas within the crew. For example, a disagreement about what activities to plan. For further information about Ethical Controversies, both instructions and ideas, click here

Now, why is this so good for an LDS crew? To answer that I'd like to tell you about one we did recently. I decided to develop my own controversial situation for them to argue. It went something like this: "While on a trip to Salt Lake City with your family you are approached by a homeless-looking man who asks you for some money so he can get something to eat. You have an extra $20 in your wallet that you could spare." The two opposing sides were to give him the money, or to not give him the money. I also gave them specific arguments for each side, but I won't list them here.

During the discussion portion we had one young man tell a couple stories about his father related to each argument. He actually had a different story for each side. This young man's father had been the bishop of our ward when he passed away of Leukemia. Hearing this young man tell stories about his father and how he handled the different situations was a rather emotional experience. All who were present were affected.

This activity allowed us an opportunity to discuss (in a fun way) ideas behind charity, kindness, and Christ-like behavior. I the end, the consensus they reached came from those stories of our former bishop. The young men decided that the best course of action is always to rely upon the spirit.

This experience highlights just one way that the Venturing program is perfect for an LDS priests quorum. The Scouting programs are a tool to be used within the Aaronic Priesthood in helping our young men. Please, use them.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Religious Life Bronze

In my last post I mentioned that I would attempt to address the problem of making Venturing work in an LDS priests quorum. For starters, let me refer anyone attempting to start an LDS Venturing crew to the LDSScouting website. You will find there many good helps for getting a crew started. It is excellent.

What I would like to do here is to give a few examples of things I have found that have worked well and to show that the Venturing program is consistent with the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood.

Specifically, in this post I'd like to focus on the Religious Life Bronze award.

In Venturing, the Bronze award is the basic level award. There are five different areas of emphasis a young man can choose: Outdoors, Sports, Arts and Hobbies, Religious Life, and Sea Scout. (I saw an article in Scouting Magazine over a year ago that they were developing a Math and Science Bronze award, but no other information has been released yet.) Earning one of these bronze awards is required for the Gold award, which in turn is required for Silver. A Venturer may choose to work on any one (or more) of the five. Four of the five have an "expert" level award (Ranger for Outdoor, Quest for Sports, and Trust for Religious Life) that can be pursued after earning the bronze, but none of the expert level awards are required in the basic "advancement" scheme of Bronze, Gold, and Silver.

Most Venturing crews have a "specialty." For example, a crew chartered by the Red Cross might specialize in emergency preparedness and first aid. Another crew might specialize in shooting sports. Crews chartered to churches often specialize in religious studies. For an LDS crew, what more logical specialty could there be than religious life?

To earn the Religious Life Bronze award, a Venturer must complete nine of the following requirements:
nine of the following:
  1. Earn your denomination's Venturing-age religious award.
  2. A. Learn about cultural diversity.
    B. Make a presentation or tabletop display using the information you learned in (a) above.
    C. Invite someone from a different cultural background from yours and the majority of your crew's members to give a presentation on a subject of his or her choosing. Introduce your guest.
    d. Participate in a discussion about cultural diversity with your crew, Sunday school class, or other group.
  3. Plan and lead a service project such as helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house, participating in a community cleanup project, or taking on a fix-up project for a nursing home or nursery.
  4. A. Serve as a volunteer in your church or synagogue or other nonprofit organization for at least three months.
    B. Keep a personal journal of your experiences each time you worked as a volunteer.
    C. After you have served as a volunteer for at least three months, share your experiences and how you feel about your service with others.
  5. Go on a religious retreat or religious trek lasting at least two days.
  6. Produce or be a cast member in some type of entertainment production with a religious or ethical theme, such as a play, a puppet show, or concert for a group such as a children's group, retirement home, homeless shelter, or Cub Scout or Boy Scout group.
  7. Serve as president, leader, or officer of your Sunday school class or youth group.
  8. Complete a Standard First Aid course or higher course or its equivalent.
  9. A. Participate in at least two Ethical Controversies activities as a participant.
    B. Be a facilitator for at least two Ethical Controversies activities for your crew, another crew, your school class, a Boy Scout troop, or another group.
    C. Lead or be a staff member putting on an Ethics Forum for your crew, your church or synagogue, or your school class.
  10. Serve as a Sunday school teacher or assistant for a children's Sunday school class for at least three months, or as a volunteer for a church/synagogue children's activity such as vacation Bible school. (This must be different than requirement 4 above.)
  11. Meet with your church or synagogue minister/rabbi/leader to find out what he or she does, what they had to do to become your leader, and what they think is the most important element of their job.
Let's take a closer look at a few of these. Requirement 3 is something we should be doing anyway, right? This could also be the same as an Eagle Scout project.

Requirement 4 is pretty easy too. Don't think your young men are volunteering in church? What about the sacrament? Isn't that volunteer work? They might not take the initiative to write in their journals, but we can work with that. My crew/quorum has been taking a few minutes at the beginning of quorum meeting to write in a Sacrament Journals about their experiences that day. At the end of the three months we have a lesson on the Sacrament and everyone can share their experiences. And they all have that requirement finished.

Requirement 5 is easily met at youth conference, or EFY, or even perhaps on a crew activity, if the focus is religious.

Starting to look pretty easy, huh? Just wait.

At the end of the requirements list comes this note: "Activities or projects that are more available in your area may be substituted with your Advisor's approval for activities shown above."

This opens up the requirements to just about anything you can imagine. Those substituted requirements should have about the same level of difficulty and should relate to Religious Life, but it presents a wide variety of possible activities. Let's look at a few examples.

I would start with an adjustment to Requirement 11. It just doesn't really fit an LDS crew. But you could have the young men meet with the Bishop to discuss the purposes and responsibilities of the Aaronic Priesthood, or how the ward functions, or any number of things. The original requirement doesn't say it has to be done one-on-one, does it? Could you have the Bishop take a turn teaching the lesson in quorum meeting and fill this requirement? I think so. It wouldn't even detract from normal quorum lessons.

Look at Requirement 2, C&D. In small town Utah there isn't a wide selection of people who come from a different cultural background. However, there is an abundance of returned missionaries who have been to many different cultures. Invite them to come and speak to your crew.

What else might a faithful LDS youth be expected to do? How about Seminary? Could one year's participation be an appropriate substitute for one of the above requirements? A Missionary Preparation class might also be appropriate. How about reading the Book of Mormon? I think reading, studying, and discussing with others the Book of Mormon could be a good substitute for some of these requirements.

Starting to get the idea? The way I see it, the Religious Life Bronze award is perfect for an LDS Venturing crew. It's easy to do, and doesn't even take much time away from the high adventure type activities our young men enjoy so much.

In later posts I intend to discuss the Ethical Controversies and Ethics Forum (required both here and for Silver) as another perfect match for an LDS crew.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I recently found a website called The Combined Resource for Scouting and all Youth Programs of the LDS Church. On this website are requirements for all of the youth awards from Cub Scouts to Venturing, from the Faith in God award to the Duty to God program and Personal Progress. (Although, as a side note, the Duty to God pages have not yet been updated to show the newest program.) And when I say all requirements, I mean ALL. Even merit badges and special awards. All of them. In addition to the award requirements are ideas for Family Home Evening and Sabbath activities designed to fill these requirements. It looks like it could be a fantastic resource for LDS parents who want to help their children in these programs.

That said, I do have to take issue with a couple items. And these items underline one of my biggest frustrations as a Venturing leader--that of complete and fundamental misunderstanding by almost everyone about what Venturing is. 

On the America Jane page for Varsity and Venturing programs is the following text:
Once young men turn 16 (Priests), they are technically no longer part of neither the Boy Scout nor the Varsity program, but are now part of the VENTURING program (more details below). However, while Venturing offers its own unique awards, the rank advancements are exactly the same as the Boy scout program (***except the lowest rank that can be earned is the Star rank, which means scouts must already be First Class rank or higher or they can't advance***) and Venturers still earn Boy Scout merit badges and Boy Scout special awards. So while BSA may box Venturing into a separate category from the Boy Scout program, I think it works just as well for the average parent to think of Venturing as a different add-on to the basic Boy Scout program. 
Please, please, please!!! don't think of Venturing as a different "add-on" to the basic Boy Scout program! It is a separate and distinct program! 
Okay, let me try to correct the errors. In the LDS church, once a young man turns 16 he is no longer registered as a Boy Scout. He is registered as a Venturer. They are separate. Let me emphasize this next part especially. The Venturing program DOES NOT use the Boy Scout ranks! The Venturing program has it's own set of unique awards. Venturers who have been registered as a Boy Scout and who have already earned the rank of First-Class, are allowed to continue to work toward Eagle. But the Boy Scout ranks are not actually part of the Venturing program. Neither are merit badges. There are some pretty good arguments to be made that Venturers should not be able to work on Boy Scout ranks because they are separate programs. If a Venturing crew is working on rank advancements and merit badges, they are not doing Venturing. (This is exactly the reason I told my Venturers that if they wanted to earn their Eagle, they would have to do it on their own; as a crew, we would be doing Venturing.)

Have I emphasized enough that the Boy Scout and Venturing programs are separate? Let me add just one more illustration to show how separate they are. The Boy Scout program is open to all young men ages 11-18. The Venturing program is available for all young men and young women ages 14-21. That's right. Venturing is co-ed. But, the chartered organization has the authority to restrict that a bit. The LDS church charters male-only crews. It is possible that there are all-female crews but I don't personally know of any.

If I've gotten the first error corrected, let me go on to the next one. Further down the Varsity/Venturing page on the America Jane website is the following:
The awards unique to the Venturing program are pretty heavy duty. Very appropriate for the age of the young men working on these awards. Remember, the Venturing program is for young men up to age 20. After looking at the requirements for some of these awards, you LDS readers will see it would be difficult to really work this program in just the two years an LDS young man is a Priest.
It's the last line I have an issue with. And I have enough of an issue with it that I'm going to type in my agitated italic font again. Venturing IS NOT difficult to really work in an LDS priests quorum!! I think the above statement comes from another fundamental misunderstanding. This one not just about Venturing but about Scouting in general.  This statement sort of  implies that in order for the program to work, the young men need to be working on and earning all of the awards. It's like saying that the main purpose of the Boy Scouts is to achieve the rank of Eagle. 

Let's go back to what the purpose of scouting is. On the BSA website we find the BSA mission statement.
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
In other training materials we learn that the BSA has three "aims" : character development, citizenship training, and personal fitness. 

Each of the different programs uses different methods to accomplish those aims.

The Boy Scout methods are: Ideals, Patrols, Outdoor Programs, Advancement, Association with Adults, Personal Growth, Leadership Development, and Uniform. 

Venturing uses the following methods: Leadership, Group Activities, Adult Association, Recognition, Ideals, High Adventure, and Teaching Others.

Notice the differences between Boy Scouts and Venturing? Let's outline a couple.
  1. Advancement isn't a method of Venturing. Recognition is. There is a difference.
  2. Uniforms aren't a method of Venturing. Those are optional.
  3. Patrols aren't a method of Venturing.
What I'm getting at here, is that advancement is only one of the ways the BSA encourages character development, citizenship, and fitness. A good program does not focus exclusively on advancement, but advancement is a natural result of a good program. That is especially true for Venturing, where advancement is not specifically a method. 

With that long-winded detour, I would like to go back to the idea that "it would be difficult to really work [Venturing] in the two years an LDS young man is a priest." I will admit it would be exceedingly difficult (perhaps even impossible) for a young man to earn all of the Venturing awards in two years. But that is very different from making the program work. Even if "advancement" is the main goal, there would really only need to be three awards earned--one Bronze, the Gold, and the Silver award--and that can be done in two years. Just ask my young man who is on-track to earn Silver by May, well before his 18th birthday. 

I intend to develop a series of posts to show exactly how Venturing can be made to really work in an LDS priests quorum.  Hopefully I can convince a few people to actually give it a try.