Monday, June 27, 2011

Helaman's Camp 2011

Over the weekend I attended our Stake's young men encampment with the youth in my ward. It was a great time.

We went up on Thursday and set up camp. All the meals were provided for us so we didn't have to worry about that. During the program that night we heard from some of our Stake leaders about some of their missionary experiences.

After the program that night, we held a Venturing Silver Award review for one of my young men. He has been working very hard to finish everything and just completed the last of his requirements last week (First Aid certification). He wanted to do the review while we were there, so one of our other Venturers got a review committee together and did it. I'm quite certain he's the only one in our two local districts to have earned the Venturing Silver Award. I couldn't be happier for him.

On Friday morning, the Priests took a rafting trip down the river, while the Deacons and Teachers visited a nearby cave. I accompanied the Priests on the river. It was a lot of fun, even if I did get soaked. You see, it's not enough just to float down the river. You have to have a water fight the entire way. I was on a different boat than my young men so, naturally, they and their friends in a second boat teamed up against my boat. I'm not sure I could have been any wetter had I actually fallen in the river. But it was a really good trip.

We had another good program on Friday night, this time about Book of Mormon prophets. After the program we went back to our ward campsite and had a good spiritual discussion around the campfire. What a wonderful experience! We spent some time discussing our favorite parts of the camp and our Bishop told us a bit about what it took to plan the event. I took some time and talked to them about the name of the camp--Helaman's camp. It refers to a story in the Book of Mormon about 2,000 young men who take up arms to defend their country. I've given it a lot of thought recently and have come to the conclusion that they were Boy Scouts. Every description we are given of them fits the ideal that Scouting promotes for our young men. The reason we use the Scouting programs are to help our young men develop the kind of character that Helaman's 2,000 stripling warriors had. That's the real reason we do anything we do with our young men. We want to build men who will know the truth and are committed to. We want to build men who will be prepared to lead the church when their time comes. We want to prepare them so that when major decision points come to their life they will make the choices that will bring them the greatest happiness. That's what it's really all about.

On Saturday morning we packed up the camp, cleaned up the campsite and headed back down the mountain. It was a great event, and one I'm sure our young men will remember for a very long time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June Roundtable

We had a pretty good roundtable discussion this month. I didn't plan much as I thought it would be a good opportunity to just talk and bounce ideas off each other. I know that sort of thing helped me when I was just starting.

We ended up talking quite a bit about the place of Venturing in the whole scheme of Scouting, specifically in an LDS ward and Aaronic Priesthood quorums. If you think about it, there is a sort of natural progression from Scout group to Scout group, tied naturally to the Priesthood quorums.

A boy starts out as a Cub Scout in Primary, transitioning to a New Scout patrol in Boy Scouts at age 11. When he moves up to the Deacons quorum, he continues in Boy Scouts, but joins the other members of his quorum in their patrols. At age 14, he moves to the Teachers quorum and Varsity Scouts. At age 16, he transfers to the Priests quorum and the Venturing program. Each program should prepare the boy for greater responsibilities, and bigger activities than the one before. To me it seems natural and obvious for one program to lead to the next.

By the time a young man gets to Venturing, the adult leaders should be taking the back seat and letting the young men lead. They should be prepared for this, having been trained and given practice throughout their Scouting career.

Too often, though, they are not. The adults seem to have a hard time letting the boys lead.

In addition, so many leaders seem to stop the progression at Boy Scouts. We get so focused on getting them to earn their Eagle that we forget what is available to them in Varsity and Venturing. We ignore the older boy programs because we want them to finish what they started as a Boy Scout. And while earning Eagle is a good thing, so many youth are missing out on other fantastic opportunities because their leaders and parents are stuck in Boy Scout mode.

Other leaders and parents treat Eagle as if it were the top of the trail, and once a boy earns that he's finished--there's nothing left for him to do.

I wish more leaders and parents would get on board with the older boy programs of Varsity and Venturing. I wish they were as interested in the Varsity and Venturing awards as they are in the Boy Scout ranks. I wish they could see as I do the natural progression from program to program and from quorum to quorum, because there are more steps in that progression that I haven't mentioned yet.

Here is the complete list.

Cub Scouts (Primary)
Boy Scouts (Deacons Quorum)
Varsity Scouts (Teachers Quorum)
Venturing (Priests Quorum)
Mission (Melchizedek Priesthood)

Please, give the older boy programs a chance. They are the preparation for missions and life that our young men need.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fund Raiser

We just completed our fund raiser for the year. It was a little different from what we have done before. In past years we have done the flag project--place flags on people's lawns on holidays during the summer. While that is a good thing to do, and earned the boys a fair bit of money, I never really liked it. I don't think our Bishop did much either. Mostly because it takes boys and leaders away from their families every holiday throughout the summer.

So, we tried something different. We put on a dinner and silent auction for our ward. We may not have raised quite as much money as with the flags, but we did pretty well. Our Varsity Scouts had spent the month before learning blacksmithing and had made knives to sell at the auction. I made a couple hiking sticks and some antler whistles.

Both of the sticks came from Juniper trees burned in a fire a couple years ago. I found that if you cut them within a year or so of the fire they are solid and dry. The limbs are burned off and once you strip the bark (Juniper bark comes off easily) and clean them up, they turn out really nice. I've thought it would be a fun thing to do with our young men sometime.

This one was a Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum). I just did a simple carved hand grip. It sold for about $20-$25.

 This one was a Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma). I tried a more complex carving on the grip. It wasn't that hard, really, just took time. I think it sold for about $33 and was probably the single highest selling item we had.
When I got home from work yesterday, my wife told me that someone had come by asking if I would be willing to make another of these to give to a friend of theirs for a birthday or anniversary or something. We'll see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

LDS Scouting Heroes

I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a story about a group of Boy Scouts. Of course, they didn’t start out as Boy Scouts, but that’s really what they were.

These young men were living at a very dangerous period of time. Their country was at war. But they were being attacked by more than just an enemy from outside. There were many of their fellow countrymen who agreed with and openly supported their enemies.

The fathers of these young men had a great desire to join the military in support their country, but through various circumstances, were themselves unable to fight. But these young men could. Being Boy Scouts, these young men made an oath to do their duty to God and their country. They formed themselves into patrols and troops, took up weapons, and reported for duty.

Can you imagine going to war? Having not served in the military myself, I don’t think I can really appreciate what these young men did. There must have been times when they were frightened or scared. But, like any Boy Scout, they were brave. Anyone who would volunteer for military service would qualify for this title, but these young men were especially so. Because of their age and inexperience, they were often used as decoys. They would parade out in front of the enemy to lure them away from their hiding places. The enemy, thinking they would be an easy target, usually went after them. These young men then had the duty to run and hope that the rest of their army could catch up before they were caught and slaughtered.

Time and time again, these young men were placed in this situation. And when the fighting began, they not only fought along side everyone else, but they were known for standing their ground when others would fall back. Their captains frequently remarked on their courage. They were brave.  

These young men were known for living and exemplifying every point of the Scout Law. Just as they were known for their bravery and courage, they were also Trustworthy. If they were given an assignment, it would get done.

They were Loyal to their country, their God, their families, their faith, and their leaders.

They were Helpful. At a period of time when their country needed them most, they stepped up and helped. Whenever their fellow soldiers were in a bind, they came to help.

They were Friendly. The original description of this point of the Scout Law stated that “[A Scout] is a Friend to all and a Brother to every other Scout.” These young men considered themselves to be brothers. As a group they were so close to each other, and to their leader that they called their captain, Father, and he called them his Sons.

These young men were Courteous. They had great respect for women, especially their mothers. They would often tell of their mothers and the things they learned from them.

They were Kind. The records we have of these young men don’t say much about their kindness, but it can be inferred. It has to do with their being helpful, friendly, and courteous.

They were Cheerful. They never grumbled or complained at an assignment, but did it willingly. In fact, when given a choice, they often chose the harder path. Perhaps that came from their loyalty and bravery.

They were Thrifty. Again, the surviving records don’t say much about this, but they were known for being helpful to those in need. You can’t do that without being thrifty.

We already mentioned how Brave they were on the battlefield. Their entire army was impressed with their courage and convictions. But they were brave in more than just that. They had the courage to stand for right. They did not fear what others could do because they had an unshakable faith in God. This was learned from their parents, who had to stand up for their faith, even when they were hated and threatened for doing so.

They were Clean. Cleanliness is more than just washing your hands before dinner. It means being clean in thought, speech, and action. This is also related to the last point—Reverent.

These young men were known by all to be reverent. The record states that “they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually.”

If you didn’t know before, that last paragraph should have given away who these young men were. They were the “Sons of Helaman.” The 2,000 stripling warriors we read about in the Book of Mormon. You probably never thought of them as Boy Scouts, but that’s what they were. They may not have ever worked on merit badges or earned the Eagle badge, but they were Scouts. Another way to say it is that through active participation in the Scouting programs, our modern youth can become the kind of men Helaman would have been proud to call his Son.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where has all the romance gone?

When I first read Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys, I was struck with the romance of the idea. Throughout the book there were stories of men and the adventures they had and the things they accomplished. Baden-Powell referred to all of these men—including King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table—as “Scouts.” The idea, as I understand it, was that he intended the youth in the Scouting program to look up to these examples of manhood and worthy character and want to become like them. The Scouting program with all its methods (uniform, advancement, patrols, etc.) was a tool developed to tap into a boy’s imagination and help him become a man. Romance is built into the very core of the Scouting program.

I also recently read the 1st edition of the Handbook for Boys, the American version of the Scouting manual. What struck me most was the difference in tone between this book and Scouting for Boys. Gone were the stories of Knights and adventurers. The romance wasn’t there. It made me wonder why anyone would want to be a Boy Scout. It got better with later editions of the Handbook, but lately it seems to have gotten worse.

We've taken away the iconic images. Look at your Boy Scout Handbook. Most of the pictures are photographs, and you'd be hard pressed to find one with boys in a uniform. When they do have a uniform, they never have a neckerchief, let alone a hiking staff. Compare that to Scouting for Boys. Baden-Powell's illustrations were about the ideal Boy Scout. Same with older versions of the Handbook for Boys. Sure, it might be unrealistic in today's world, but that's not the point. They presented to the mind of the reader the romantic idea of what it means to be a Boy Scout. 

I think our modern version of Scouting, particularly in the LDS church, is often missing the romance. Most LDS troops, being small, simply don't have functioning patrols. We usually don’t use a boy’s imagination to help him learn. We don’t often play games to teach skills. We often focus too much on badges and ranks and forget to play the game. And we almost never hold up men in front of boys and paint them as heroes. We don’t give them the desire to become. But we can. We have great heroes we can point to. I'll show you a few in the next post. Let’s re-capture that romantic ideal of a Boy Scout.

In the Venturing program we have even more challenges. What is the romantic ideal behind Venturing? I don't think one has been established, at least nation-wide. Venturing doesn't use the classic Boy Scout organization of a Troop made of Patrols. There is no built-in romance. Each crew can choose a specialty and, I suppose that specialty can provide it's own romantic ideal. I've started to wonder what that could be for an LDS crew focused on religious life and missionary preparation. And I've got an idea, but I'm not quite sure how to use it. When I figure it out, I'll be sure to let you know.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Exciting Opportunity

I seem to have ignored this blog lately. Perhaps it's a symptom of other things. I seem to be stalled a bit in my Scouting. Not that good things aren't happening, its just that I'm not sure where to go with it. When I was doing my Wood Badge ticket, and working on my Venturing Leader's Training Award, I had goals and something to shoot for. I had a vision of where I wanted to get our Scouting program and had an idea of how to do it. Well, I accomplished my goals. I earned my Wood Badge beads and my training award. And I've seen a lot of progress. And I'm happy about that.

I've been thinking lately about the romance of Scouting. What was it that made Scouting a success to begin with? Why did boys start forming patrols and recruiting adults to help them? What got them interested and kept them motivated? I've thought lately that it was largely a romantic ideal of actually becoming a Scout. Boys were presented with a Hero, or heros, and told that they could become like them.

I've started to wonder where the romance has gone. What appeal does Scouting provide to boys today? What makes them want to keep doing it? I'm not sure I have the answers.

Later this month our stake is holding an Aaronic Priesthood camp. Although they are not advertising it specifically a Scouting event it kind of is, really. I've had a lot of thoughts about this camp and how it might relate to my thoughts on the romance of Scouting. I'll probably blog about those thoughts later as I develop them further.

Anyway, that's sort of a long introduction to say that I've been struggling a bit with where to go and what to do with our young men. But I got a telephone call last night that I think will help me. It went something like this:
Caller: "Hi Brother Mathis, this is [so-and-so]. I understand you've taken Wood Badge."

Me: Yes.

Caller: Did you finish?

Me: Yes.

Caller: Would you be interested in serving on staff this year?
I've been wanting to be on Wood Badge staff pretty much since the day I arrived at Wood Badge for my course. Of course I said yes.

I'll have a few meetings in the next couple months to get ready and then it's off to Gilwell at the end of August. I don't know what assignment I'll have at the camp but I don't care. I would be happy to be a Dishwasher, Second Class if that's what they need. I just want to be there.

If you can't tell, I am pretty excited about it. Partly because I think it will be a fun thing to do, and partly because I believe it will help me be a better Scouter and improve the program for my young men. At least it did when I took the course. And I think it can for anyone who attends.