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?


  1. Bishop Harris's book is great. I, like you, saw all the good I was supposed to going and got down (did I read that right from your post?). I am still 4 years into my calling breaking "the traditions of our [Scouting] fathers" in my ward....and that is why it is so important that I break those traditions and have better ones for my replacement. I still have issues that could so easily be fixed but parents just won't help me. They leave the ball in my court instead of realizing I am supposed to be helping them.

    One of the biggest couple of things I got from Bishop Harris's book is the fact that our boys should be camping. He uses the analogy that the Lord spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his mortal Ministry. Our Scouts should be doing the same thing to prepare for their missions.

    Second, he gives us a "perfect model" to follow. Now there is a huge difference between what they teach in a syllabus and what really happens. But I can dream that someday I will have a perfect unit.

    The road to perfection is full of construction. I know I must at times deal with my own "expectations" and realize that my unit(s) will never, EVER be perfect especially if they are run by boys. But that drama and unpreparedness means the program is working and we have things to work on.

    I don't think you are wrong that the book is "difficult" to read but I don't think it is written in a typical manner either. Split pages ensure that you can see how the program works with the Priesthood and how the Scouting program and the Priesthood are so similar in aims and methods.

    My copy of the book is marked up. In fact, his previous version of the book before the new Church Handbook was marked up even more.

    Don't be too hard on yourself Tory. Remember, parents and boys have their own agency that they freely use to both of our dis-satisfactions.

    And yes, that was me quoted in his book for a review......

  2. This book should be required reading, gifted to every potential Scoutmaster/Varsity Coach/... upon issuing a calling. I've read mine a few times and reference it regularly. The push-up analogy to describe the "Activity Arm" concept is brilliant! I used it last weekend in my ward merit badge counselor training: the bishopric member demonstrated a normal pushup, while I did a few one-arm reps (left arm, for dramatic effect). I hope the visual has a lasting impact.

    If anyone needs to know how Scouting and Priesthood work in parallel, this is the answer.