Tuesday, February 28, 2012


My job (the way I pay for my Scouting addiction) involves improving habitat for mule deer, elk and other game species. One great way to enhance habitat for these species, at least in certain areas, is through fire. In the right place at the right time, a wildfire can be a great thing. As a result, there is often a conversation in my office about places we would like to see burn, but for whatever reason we can't get the agency who has the authority to do it to actually do it. Almost every time, someone suggests that what we need is a group of boy scouts to go camping there.
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Each month, our ward does a pot-luck dinner as a way to socialize and fellowship each other. We usually have a theme--we've done Mexican, Italian, Dutch oven, BBQ, and Family Favorites. Since February is Scout month, I suggested the theme for February could be "Boy Scouts." It got announced as everything from "Boy Scout food" to "what scouts would eat." Without fail, this elicited laughs and suggestions of burnt (or raw) pancakes, ramen noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, or something else equally disgusting. The actual turnout on the night of the activity was, I think, the lowest we've ever had. I wondered if we scared people off....
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These experiences, and others, have got me thinking that a lot of people (including church members) don't have very high opinions of Scouts. They see them as irresponsible boys who will probably make a mess of things if not watched carefully. I am more than a little disturbed when I encounter such thoughts. Sure, maybe our boys are a little like that, but what really bothers me is when we treat our Scouts as if they were like that. Many people expect nothing better.

Robert Baden-Powell had a different idea. Consider these quotes from Scouting For Boys.
"A true Scout is looked up to by other boys and by grownups as a fellow who can be trusted, a fellow who will not fail to do his duty however risky and dangerous it may be, a fellow who is jolly and cheery no matter how great the difficulty before him."

"Living in camp for a Scout who knows the game is a simple matter. He knows how to make himself comfortable in a thousand small ways, and then, when he does come back to civilization, he enjoys it all the more for having seen the contrast. And even there, in the city, he can do very much more for himself than the ordinary mortal, who has never really learned to provide for his own wants."
"An old Scout is full of resource. He can find a way out of any difficulty or discomfort."

"A camp is a roomy place. But there is no room in it for one chap, and that is the fellow who does not want to take his share in the many little odd jobs that have to be done. There is no room for the shirker or the grouser--well there is no room for them in the Boy Scouts at all, but least of all in camp."

"A Scout is very careful about fires. When he uses one he sees that it is well out before he leaves the place."

"Scouts are always tidy, whether in camp or not, as a matter of habit. If you are not tidy at home, you will not be tidy in camp; and if you're not tidy in camp you will be only a tenderfoot and no Scout."

"Every Scout must, of course, know how to cook his own meat and vegetables, and to make bread for himself, without regular cooking utensils."

"A good Scout... does not, like the ordinary boy, want to go and rob [birds] of their eggs, but he likes to watch how they hatch out their young and teach them to feed themselves and to fly."

"A Scout never damages a tree by hacking it with his knife or axe."

"Any boy can smoke--it is not such a very wonderful thing to do. But a Scout will not do it because he is not such a fool."

"It would be simply impossible for a man who drinks to be a Scout."

"The ordinary boy is apt to frown when working hard at physical exercises, but the Boy Scout is required to smile all the time."

"A Scout is at all times a gentleman."

"A Scout will never accept a 'tip', unless it is to pay for work done. It is often difficult to refuse, when it is offered, but for a Scout it is easy."

"No man worthy of the name will allow a woman to stand up if he has a seat. He will at once give it up to the woman and stand himself. As a Scout, you should set the example in this by being the first man in the carriage to do it."
There are many more examples but these will, I'm sure, show my point. Baden-Powell wanted his Scouts to be good. He wanted them to be a cut above the average boy. He wanted them to be a cut above the average man. And he expected it of them. Scouting for Boys is all about improving boys with the expectation that "a Scout is" something great.

I think we should remember that boys have a way of meeting expectations. If we treat them like irresponsible kids who can't do things right then that is what they will be. But if we expect them to be men, they will rise to the occasion. That is what Scouting is about. You take ordinary boys who are irresponsible, messy, and mean, put them in a uniform and a patrol, call them Scouts and tell them "A Scout Is...." And then you sit back and watch as the boy becomes a man.

Let's stop talking about our boys as they way they might be now, but as the Scouts we know they can become.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Venturing Date Night, take 2

Last Friday we had our second Venturing date night. (For my discussion of our first one, see here.)

After our last date night, we had a discussion about the purposes of dating and I challenged them to do a second date and incorporate what they learned.

For the second date night, we had dinner and played some games. (The first was dinner and a movie). The bishop volunteered to make dinner for us, so it didn't leave much for the youth to plan. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I would have preferred the youth take more of a leadership role. On the other hand, I'm always wishing our Bishop would be more involved in the quorum.

Anyway, after dinner we sat around and played games. We all had a great time. Around 9:00, we all left the Bishop's house around and went home, although I suspect the youth continued their individual dates for a little longer.

On Sunday, we had a bit of a reflection on the date and I asked them to compare the two dates. They unanimously thought the second date was more fun and that it did a better job of helping them get to know their dates as well as characteristics they would like to look for in a future spouse. We talked about what they learned both about their dates and about dating in general. Overall, I think it was a pretty good experience for them.

I'm not sure I would recommend doing a date night regularly as a Venturing activity, but every once in a while I think it can be a worthwhile activity.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Outdoors

I've been thinking lately that I really need to get our youth camping more. This has been a chronic problem in our ward since before I moved in.

The Scouts (deacons) go camping exactly once each year--to summer camp. They should be camping monthly. I have volunteered to take them on a camp or two, but I can't do it all.

The Varsity Scouts are even worse. A few of them have gone with the Scouts to summer camp, but mostly not. The tradition has kind of been that once you turn 14, you're done. I've been trying to change that, and our most recent set of leaders is helping, but it's taking longer to turn things around than I would like.

I have tried to have the Venturers do one weekend activity each month, but that hasn't worked as well as I would have hoped. Those darn kids are so busy with school sports and work that it seems all but impossible to get them together for activities. We also haven't done very well with the annual super activity we should have, partly because I'm trying to get the youth to lead instead of doing it for them, and partly because I'm not as good at that sort of thing as I should be.

Getting the youth to plan and lead activities presents it's own challenges. A lot of the time they don't do it (they are getting better, though) so the activity isn't as good as it could be. A lot of the time the things they want to do involve stuff like dating, movies, video games, etc. I need to do better about steering them toward the outdoors, but so far I've been happy to have them plan and lead.

The thought of getting them outdoors has actually been the answer to a different problem I've been trying to solve--that of increasing the spiritual side of our activities.

It all started after a recent combined activity with our young women. We did the activity, the kids had fun, and we all went home without having done anything (that I could tell, at least) to bring the youth closer to Christ. I started to really think about how to improve those combined activities, and then migrated to our regular Venturing/Scouting/YM activities.

As I thought about it, the one thing that kept coming to me over and over again was that we need to do more camping, hiking, and backpacking. For the longest time, I couldn't figure it out. Why, if I'm trying to increase spirituality in our activities, would camping, hiking, and backpacking be the answer? What does that have to do with anything? I was baffled.

And then I read Trails to Testimony by Brad Harris. One thing he mentioned has helped me begin to understand. I still don't claim to fully understand the connection--I'm sure more will come as we try to implement things--but here it is:

Throughout recorded scripture, whenever the Lord wanted to speak to his prophets, or they needed a spiritual experience, they went to the mountains or into the wilderness. They separated themselves from the world and communed with God. (Paraphrasing here, as I don't have the book with me at the moment....)

There is something about that separation that is important for our young men. We need to separate them from worldly influences--television, cell phones, the internet, etc.--and get them to a location where their Father in Heaven can speak to their souls without distraction.

This reminded me of a poem I came across a while ago by Robert Service, titled The Three Voices. I don't really do poetry, so I can't say I completely understand the poem, but it has affected me, especially the last two stanzas.
The waves have a story to tell me,
       As I lie on the lonely beach;
Chanting aloft in the pine-tops,
       The wind has a lesson to teach;
But the stars sing an anthem of glory
       I cannot put into speech.

The waves tell of ocean spaces,
       Of hearts that are wild and brave,
Of populous city places,
       Of desolate shores they lave,
Of men who sally in quest of gold
       To sink in an ocean grave.

The wind is a mighty roamer;
       He bids me keep me free,
Clean from the taint of the gold-lust,
       Hardy and pure as he;
Cling with my love to nature,
       As a child to the mother-knee.

But the stars throng out in their glory,
       And they sing of the God in man;
They sing of the Mighty Master,
       Of the loom his fingers span,
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole,
       And weft in the wondrous plan.

Here by the camp-fire's flicker,
       Deep in my blanket curled,
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom,
       When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled,
And the wind and the wave are silent,
       And world is singing to world.

So I'm going to try to do better. I'm going to really work on getting them out more. Camping, hiking and backpacking. I've already spoken with my young men about it and they were all in favor of the idea. Now we just have to work out the scheduling issues.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Trails to Testimony

I just finished reading Trails to Testimony by Brad Harris, and thought I would give a review. But I'm not really very good at that sort of thing, so this probably won't be quite like your usual book review.

In many ways it was a difficult book for me to read. I still can't figure out how to describe my reaction. During the first few chapters I was a bit depressed, actually. The book begins with a pretty strong emphasis on the priesthood and the spiritual side of things. To be honest, I haven't been as good at this side of Scouting as I should be. I have been struggling lately, trying to figure out how to do better. The opening of this book re-enforced that, and it can sometimes be hard to be told you need to do better. I recognized what I needed to improve, but still didn't know quite how to do it. Furthermore, I could tell that much of the information would be really beneficial for all of our leaders, our Bishop, and all of the boys' parents. This reminded me of all the struggles I've had in trying to implement the Scouting programs in my ward.

As I moved into the middle chapters on the aims, methods, and program side of things those reminders continued. However, I began more and more to have my own opinions and thoughts validated. It was really nice to read something that confirmed nearly everything I have thought over the past few years about what we should be doing with our boys. Again, I thought much of this information needed to be shared with our other leaders and boys' parents.

The chapter on conducting reflections was probably the single most useful part of the book for me. I had been thinking for some time that I needed to do better about finding and bringing out spiritual experiences and discussions in all of our activities and this chapter provided many solutions. The night after I read this chapter I woke up at 3:00 in the morning, unable to sleep. For the next two hours, all I could think about was how to improve my efforts.

In general the book was loaded with examples of both the good and the bad that happens in Scouting in the church as well as helpful suggestions on how to improve. I will probably re-visit those sections often.

Another thing I really appreciated was the balanced approach and effort to include all of the programs in Scouting. I have felt many times that the Venturing program is one of the best kept secrets in the church and the most neglected of all the Scouting programs. Brother Harris did a fine job including all of the programs, including Venturing. More than once I was struck by an apparent emphasis on the need to utilize the separate, older boy programs in cooperation with our Aaronic priesthood quorums. Indeed, any book about using Scouting to strengthen the priesthood would need to do this, but it was very well done here. It helps, I'm sure, that the author helped form the Venturing program.

I also really appreciated the bad examples, and the incorrect traditions illustrated. While I think I've avoided most of these, having it spelled out so clearly helped me realize several things I can do better.

On Sunday, before I actually finished reading the book, I not only recommended it to my Bishop, but I asked him to get it and read it on the basis that it would help our young men. To his credit, he seemed more than willing.

I also recommended it to my Father-in-law, who is the stake presidency member over Scouting in another stake. (Actually, he's borrowing my copy.)

I intend to recommend this book to all of our young men leaders, but missed my chance to talk to them about it on Sunday. I'll take care of that on Wednesday.

I would also recommend this book to anyone interested or involved in Scouting in the LDS church, including parents of Scouts. It really is that important.

P.S. In my copy (printed Feb, 2012) on the "Praise for" page, there was a review by a C. Fisher from Texas. Could that be our friend Fishgutts?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nephi was an Eagle Scout

This morning I was directed to the blog of Brad Harris, author of Trails to Testimony. He describes how Nephi was an Eagle Scout.


This is right in-line with my own thinking about LDS Scouting heroes. See my previous posts here, and here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New feature

I've been meaning to do this for a while and just got around to it. I've added some labels to my posts and have links to the labels in the right hand column. I don't know if they're very good, but they might help people find things better. Hope it works out okay.

I did notice that some of my posts had errors and I corrected them. Which had the unintended side effect of re-publishing those posts at the top of the list. So now they're not quite in order. Oops.

A Scouting Parable

This was shared by David Pack from the LDS-BSA relationships office at a Little Philmont training last Saturday. I wish I could have recorded it word-for-word because it was so good. But I can't, so you get my re-telling of it.

There is one cuisine that you'll only find at a Scout camp. You're probably all familiar with it. Blackened Scrambled Pancakes.

Every troop has a boy that always complains about being cold and hungry. You probably have a picture of him in your mind right now.

At camp, this boy who is always cold and hungry, gets up in the morning and, you guessed it, is cold and hungry. Since cold trumps hungry, the first thing he does is build a fire. And you know boys, it can't be a small fire. If it's small, he is disappointed. So he builds a big fire. Then hungry takes over.

He goes over to the patrol box and grabs a frying pan. He runs back to the fire and puts that frying pan right in the middle of the hottest part of the fire. He goes back to the patrol box, grabs the box of Krusteaz and dumps some in a bowl. He adds a bit of water until he thinks it looks good and starts to stir. He gets it mostly mixed up; there are a few clumps of powdery mix still left, but he's hungry and doesn't want to take a lot of time on this.

He goes back to the fire and, without thinking that the frying pan might need a little oil, he dumps a glob of his pancake mix right into the pan. Of course, the pan has been sitting for several minutes in the hottest part of the fire. It doesn't take long for the boy to realize his pancake is burning. He runs back to the patrol box to grab a spatula, then back to the fire. Since he didn't think to use any oil, the pancake is stuck. He does his best to scrape the burning mass of pancake off the bottom of the pan and flops it over onto the other side.

Since the pan is still really, really hot the pancake starts to burn again. He runs back to the patrol box to grab a plate, then back to the fire to get the pancake. He does his best to scrape what's left of his pancake onto the plate then, as his patrol mates watch dumbfounded, he begins to pour syrup all over it.

He takes one bite and says, "Mmm. Just like Mom makes."

The moral of the story: When the boys cook it, they like it.

Happy Birthday BSA!

On February 8, 1910 the Boy Scouts of America was officially born. We all know the story of William D. Boyce, lost in a London fog, who received help from a young man who refused a tip for his service. From that simple Good Turn, the great Scouting movement was brought to America. Since then, millions of boys and their adult leaders have been blessed by the simple idea that any boy, from any background, can become a man of noble character.

I'm proud to be able to be a part of this movement. It has been a great blessing to me, both as a boy and as an adult.

On Sunday, churches across the country will celebrate Scout Sunday. Traditionally, this is held the first Sunday following February 8. This has been done because Scouting promotes duty to, and reverence toward, God. Many LDS wards have kept this tradition, asking youth and leaders to wear their uniforms to church. Our ward was going to do the same, and our Bishop requested all the young men wear their uniforms on Sunday.

Then I showed him the handbook. From page 6 of the LDS Scouting Handbook:
"February has traditionally been Scouting Month in the United States. Leaders of Scouting units chartered by the Church may plan and carry out approved activities during the week to recognize this tradition. However, in keeping with the purposes of Sabbath observance, boys and leaders do not wear their uniforms to regular Sunday meetings or while administering and passing the sacrament" (emphasis added).
I don't mean to put a damper on anyone's Scout Sunday celebrations, but we do need to follow the guidelines the Church has given.

I love Scouting. I love that the Church has, almost since the beginning, sponsored troops, teams, and crews in local wards. It has been a great blessing to me and many others. Let's celebrate that. But let's not let Scouting become more important than the Sabbath. I don't think that was ever the intent.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

More Advancement Woes...

Our district is holding its annual merit badge pow-wow in March and I've been handing out registration forms for the last couple weeks. One boy, a Life scout, asked me if it would they would let him sign up for three required merit badges (the pow-wow rules say a max of two). He was hoping to get three of them done so he could finish his Eagle quickly. He's 14 and wants to get things finished up. Good for him.

I told him that he should follow the rules of the pow-wow and I would help him find a counselor for any other merit badges he wanted to earn so he could work on those, too.

I logged on to our council's internet advancement site and printed off a report for this young man. My plan was to figure out which merit badges he still needed for Eagle and get him a list of counselors for all of them. Things were going well, until I found he needed more than what I thought he did. So I dug deeper.

As it turns out, he didn't have enough required merit badges recorded to have earned his Life rank.

I have run into similar problems with some of the older boys, but they have been easy fixes. With the switch to internet advancement, not everything transferred over very well. The boy gets me the date from his merit badge card, or board of review, and I enter it into the computer and everything is fine. This boy is young enough I didn't expect to have that problem. Indeed, it looked like there wasn't anything missing, except for this one possible required merit badge.

I spoke with him last night and went over his report with him and the Scoutmaster, who helped with all of his advancement until he turned 14 a couple months ago. I'm still not really clear on what happened, but I think it went something like this:

Boy worked on requirements for the merit badge (citizenship in the community) at a pow-wow.

He didn't finish all of the requirements by the end of the pow-wow.

He attended the city council or school board meeting later, as required. According to him, that's all he was missing.

He reported back to his Scoutmaster that he had gone to the meeting and finished the merit badge.

He did not get requirements signed off by a merit badge counselor. Apparently he didn't know he needed to. He thought all he had to do was report back to his Scoutmaster.

Having not received a signed blue card, the Scoutmaster didn't have it processed. The date was never entered in and the merit badge was never awarded.

The boy, having reported back to his Scoutmaster, thought he was done.

The scoutmaster is frustrated with the boy for not finishing the requirements. And he is right--to a point. It is the boy's responsibility to do the requirements and collect the signatures. The boy says he was never given a blue card. He doesn't have anything with any signatures. The boy is frustrated that he wasn't awarded the merit badge that he did all the requirements for.

I am frustrated with all of them. I'm frustrated with the Scoutmaster and the merit badge counselor who should have made sure the boy understood the process. He didn't know he needed a blue card. He didn't know he needed to get it signed by the counselor. He was probably never taught what he was supposed to do. To be fair, he was a 12-13 year old boy who may not have been paying attention when he was told, but I still think those adults should have done better helping him understand what was expected of him.

Furthermore, I am frustrated with the Scoutmaster for not checking that everything was done before he was sent off for his Life board of review. The Scoutmaster should have known that the requirements weren't all completed--that he needed one more merit badge. Why didn't he pick up on that? I suspect he wasn't keeping track all that closely. It's hard to do that when you don't come to church or troop meetings most of the time. It may have been the assistant Scoutmaster who arranged the board of review because the boy said he was ready and the assistant didn't know any better (the assistant is still fairly new and hadn't gone to basic training at that point--he has now).

The Scoutmaster's wife has been doing the advancement for the Troop (I handle the team and crew). When they thought his requirements had been completed, the Scoutmaster and his wife should have checked the official report to make sure all the merit badges were recorded (like they do for Eagle) before having the board of review convened. The committee chair, who organized the board of review should have asked for this report.

Instead, everyone assumed that someone else had taken care of what needed to be done and things got messed up. And now I get to step in and try to help get things fixed. I may also get to have a very interesting conversation with the boy's parents, who I suspect will be none too happy that things worked out this way.

Maybe I'm over-reacting.

There is still a small possibility that the boy actually did get the merit badge and it just wasn't recorded properly. There is a small possibility that he has documentation and it will be an easy fix. That's what I told him was our first step--let's double check everything and make sure we're not missing it. But I'm worried that it isn't there. Which means he didn't really earn his Life. Which could present some serious problems later if we don't get things straightened out now.

Fortunately, the boy has time. It's not like he's about to turn 18. He has time. But I am worried about what this could do to his enthusiasm. I'm also worried about what other problems have been glossed over with our Scouts.