Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Perfect Scoutmaster

In The Book of Mormon we read an account of a man known simply as "the brother of Jared." He (and his brother, Jared) were living at the tower of Babel when God confounded the languages. They were able to obtain a promise from the Lord that their language, and that of their families and friends, would not be confounded. However, as part of the deal, they were instructed to leave and they would be led to a land of promise.

At some point in their journey, they came to the ocean and were told they needed to build "barges" to cross the sea. Upon finishing the boats, the brother of Jared went to the Lord with a problem:
"O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?" (Ether 2:22)
The solution the Lord gave to the brother of Jared is an interesting one:
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2:23-25)
Instead of telling him what to do, the Lord turned it back on him saying, in essence, "I've already solved a lot of your problems for you; I want you to come up with a solution for this one. What are you going to do about it, and how can I help?"

In response, the brother of Jared came up with a plan. He "molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass" (Ether 3:1). He then carried these stones to the top of the mountain and asked the Lord to touch them with his finger, so that they would give off light.

The rest of the story is truly remarkable,and one that everyone should study, but my point today goes in a different direction. 

As I was thinking about this story yesterday I realized that it has a lesson for us adult Scout leaders. The brother of Jared was, in many ways, just like our youth leaders. He was someone his family and friends looked to for leadership. He was imperfect, and occasionally needed reminding of what he was supposed to do. Sometimes, it seems that he was a little reluctant and maybe would have preferred his strong-willed brother be in charge. He was still learning leadership when he was asked to lead his people to their promised land.

In the building of the barges, the brother of Jared needed lots of direction. This he got from the Lord, who is the perfect Scoutmaster. The Lord knew his prophet, including his flaws and his personal stage of development. He knew when to provide specific direction and when to allow him to exercise his own leadership.

This can be a very tricky skill for adult scout leaders to learn. As we try to develop leadership in our youth, we may need to start out providing specific direction. But at some point, we need to begin to back off and let the youth lead. (If you've been to Wood Badge, you might remember this from The Leading EDGE presentation.) Instead of directly answering their questions we should turn it back on them with questions like "what are you going to do about it?" or "how do you think this problem could be solved?"

Like the brother of Jared, their solutions may be unconventional; they will probably think of things we didn't, but those ideas just might work out brilliantly. More importantly, they will learn something about their own abilities. They will gain confidence. They will become true leaders. And like the brother of Jared, it is then that the truly remarkable things begin to happen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Moral Relativism

I recently completed a survey for the BSA regarding a potential change in the membership policy. One of the questions is this: What is your greatest concern if the policy is changed to allow charter organizations to make their own decisions to admit openly gay Scouts and leaders? 

As I pondered how to answer that question and how to explain my concerns I realized that my biggest concerns are centered around the concept of moral relativism. That idea is essentially that different people have different ideas about what is right and what is wrong. A more extreme version, and where the trouble really starts, is that no one moral view is any better than any other. It seems to me that a change in policy would promote this idea. I do not believe it makes sense for an organization which maintains that we have a duty to God to embrace moral relativism.

The BSA's Declaration of Religious Principle states that "no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God." Furthermore this declaration states: "The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them."

While the BSA remains nonsectarian, the wording given in this declaration implies certain beliefs. First, that there exists a single divine being who we all worship. We may understand Him and worship Him differently, but He is the same for each of us. As we strive to follow his rule to the best of our ability we will be led in correct paths by Him.

Second, that He is "the ruling and leading power in the universe" and that we acknowledge "His favors and blessings." If we accept that God is the ruling and leading power in the universe, then we must accept that He has made rules and laws for us to follow. This also implies some sort of judgement following this life based on our choosing whether or not to follow His law. For over 100 years, the BSA has acknowledged those rules and laws include prescriptions of moral behavior.

I do not know how an organization can explicitly state that God is the ruling and leading power in the universe, that we have a duty to Him, and that it's members pledge to be morally clean and yet state that morals are relative. It doesn't work. In my opinion it could lead to the erosion of every other value we have.

I really like the statement from the American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi: "By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view, as I mentioned earlier, threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, I do not think mere moral exhortation is sufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a self-justifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality" (emphasis added).

I understand that some will say that the BSA remains non-sectarian (which is true) and that religious training, including what is moral and what is not, should be left to the home and church. I also understand that some churches do not teach that homosexual behavior is sinful (despite the fact that every religious text I know of says otherwise). I get that. And in a way, it makes sense to allow chartered organizations to decide for themselves.

But my conscience tells me that making the proposed change to the membership policy would be wrong. I believe with all my heart that God is against it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Steps to Success.

My wife has just been put in as the Webelos den leader in our pack. We got her set up with a uniform and all the books and materials she needs. She spent last weekend doing all the required on-line trainings and I think she's ready to go. This afternoon will be her first den meeting (Good luck, Love!).

It's been a little overwhelming for her. Especially in going to the council service center and buying all the books and uniform parts. After all, there's a lot to learn. Especially since she hasn't done anything like it before.

She is also a little worried about how things are going to go. Our pack has a grand total of 2 boys, so we combine with the adjacent ward (they have about 20). However, it seems that the leaders from the other ward don't do anything. She also told me that from what she's heard she isn't sure the other leaders in our ward are doing things quite the way it's supposed to be done. So she's a little discouraged, but is trying to reserve judgement until she actually sees how things are going.

Last night she told me that she is feeling much more confident in her ability to do the job. What is it that helped her go from completely overwhelmed to confident in just three days? There are two things: 1) she obtained and has been reading the handbooks, and 2) she has taken all the available training she can.

Our district executive created a document called Steps to Success as a New Leader. (Find it here: ). The two main parts are obtaining resources and getting trained. It is what I give to new leaders when I call them to serve. It is a great resource.

I maintain that reading the handbooks and getting training are the most important steps to success for any new leader. Of course, there will be difficult times ahead; there's sure to be more discouragement. At times I'm sure it will be overwhelming. But those two things will continue to help my wife (and any leader) through it all. The handbooks have all the information she needs for the program. On-going training (including roundtable) will help her learn new things and get ideas on how to go forward, it will help her remember the stuff she forgot, and it will help her develop relationships and connections with other scout leaders who will provide help and support in a myriad of ways.

On a personal note, I'm excited to share this journey with my wife and hope she enjoys it as much as I have.