Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Corona virus and supply shortages

Like everyone else, I’ve been trying lately to navigate life under threat of the corona virus. I read news articles about the pandemic spreading through the country and in my state. I’m trying to deal with social distancing rules at work while my wife is now homeschooling all of the kids. Life is definitely different now. Amid all of this I keep having a thought and felt like it might be appropriate to write about here. It has to do with that delicate balance between being prepared and hoarding supplies during a crisis. Furthermore, it has to do with how we should treat others during this crisis.

I go grocery shopping and find empty shelves where stacks of toilet paper and paper towels once stood. Occasionally, I find it hard to get the supplies our family needs for our normal use in a regular week (like baby formula or wipes). When I do happen to find some, I’m torn between the need to get the resources I know my family will use and still try to be courteous to other shoppers who are searching for the same limited supplies.

There is a tendency, during times of crisis, to stockpile supplies that may be needed. We’re all seeing that play out right now. There is certainly something to be said for being prepared; my own church leaders have counseled members for years to have a supply of food on hand. And my own experience seems to suggest there is a fine line between preparedness and panic. It can be difficult. But I wonder if we might be missing the mark just a little. I have heard plenty of people tell how they are including firearms and ammunition in with their food storage. The idea being that they may have to defend their stores against everyone else who didn’t stock up and are now desperately looking to get what they can wherever they can. I just read an article today describing the run on guns and ammunition that is occurring right now.

The thought I keep having is, what if the answer to the shortages we are experiencing is the exact opposite of the natural reaction of hoarding supplies?

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I regard the Book of Mormon as scripture. In one passage, a prophet named Jacob expresses his concern that the people of his time were too focused on gaining material wealth. The counsel he gives to his people is: “before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.” After we “have obtained a hope in Christ,” Jacob says that the Lord will bless us to obtain riches, if we seek for them. But in the process of obtaining hope in Christ our hearts are changed so that we no longer want those riches for ourselves, but “for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted” (Jacob 2:18-19).

These are interesting thoughts, but they are made all the more interesting by the verse immediately preceding them: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you” (Jacob 2:17).

I’ve been struck by that last line: that they may be rich like unto you. It’s almost as if Jacob is saying that when you share with others, it will not decrease your wealth, but will lift others up and all will become wealthy.  

I have wondered lately if it is appropriate to replace the word “riches” in these verses with some of the supplies people are searching for these days—“toilet paper,” for instance. Is it possible that if I share my supplies I will be blessed to not run out of them and, in fact, there will be enough for everyone?

There are similar thoughts in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-33). Also “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:42).

The Old Testament account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath provides an interesting illustration of what I’m talking about. There’s a famine in the land and the prophet Elijah finds a widow and asks her for some food and water. The widow replies that she only as enough for one last meal for herself and her son. Elijah encourages her to share what little she has, promising that there will be enough for all three of them. Furthermore he promises that she won’t run out of food until the famine ends. “And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not...” (1 Kings 17:15-16).

Now, what would have happened if the widow had refused? What would have happened if she decided that she needed to defend her supply of food and attacked Elijah?

There are other stories of miraculous occurrences centered on someone’s decision to share what meager supplies they have.

In Matthew 14, Jesus found himself among a crowd of 5,000 people who didn’t have any food. Rather than sending them all away, as his disciples suggested, Jesus decided to feed them. I wonder how many skeptics in the crowd thought he was crazy to suggest feeding everyone when there were only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to be divided among them all. But, not only were they all “filled” but the leftovers added up to more than they started with. (See Matthew 14:15-21)

In the very next chapter, Jesus feeds 4,000 people from only seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Again, the leftovers added up to more than they started with. (See Matthew 15:32-38).

Ask yourself what would have happened if those who had the loaves of bread and the fish had refused to share, thinking they needed that food for themselves.

In the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes experiences she and her sister Betsy had while confined in the Ravensbruck concentration camp during WWII. They had managed to sneak a bottle of vitamin oil in with them and Corrie would give a drop to Betsy every morning, but worried at how long it would last. Corrie admitted that “my instinct was always to hoard it,” but Betsy had a habit of sharing with anyone else who was sick. “And still,” Corrie reports, “every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the tip of the glass stopper. It just couldn’t be!” The sisters compared it to the miracle with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. “It was one thing to believe that such things were possible thousands of years ago, another to have it happen now, to us, this very day. And yet it happened this day, and the next, and the next, until an awed little group of spectators stood around watching the drops fall onto the daily rations of bread.” This miracle continued until the very day that someone else managed to sneak some vitamins from the infirmary.

My own family history provides another miraculous account. During the early days of Utah food was often scarce. It became scarcer still when swarms of crickets devoured the crops. As the story goes, Andrew Burnham was one of the few who had a supply of flour and meal in his granary. Occasionally, people would come to ask if he had any to sell. The reply was always that there wasn’t any for sale, but anyone in need was welcome to a portion. Before long, Andrew found himself dividing his last sack of flour with a needy neighbor. The very next morning, another neighbor came asking for help. The neighbor was told of the situation but Andrew offered to see if they could perhaps sweep up a few cups. The story is that upon opening the door of the granary they found all the sacks filled with flour and meal just as they had been before Andrew Burnham started sharing. The food supply is said to have lasted as long as the food shortage continued.

I have come to believe that those of us who claim to believe in God need to step up here. We need to have the faith that miracles will happen to those who are willing to share.

Fortunately, there are those who are doing this; those stories are out there, too. I smile to think that someday, somewhere, someone will recount the story of how their supply of toilet paper was miraculously replenished just after sharing their last roll.

Now, I realize that this topic doesn’t really fit with all the other Scouting themed stuff I have reserved this blog for. But I believe Scouting embraces the principles I’ve been talking about. You might recognize the words Helpful, Courteous, and Kind.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Thoughts on the uniform

I recently came across an old article on the Bryan on Scouting blog about a troop that "allows its Scouts to wear any kind of pants or shorts they want with their uniform shirt." The reason for this is that they serve low income youth who often feel like they can't afford the pants. "These Scouts are only required to wear the official field uniform shirt and troop neckerchief."

Many of the Scouts in this troop also wear campaign hats. "How do they afford them? The Stratton hat company gave them “quite a deal” to buy the hats" the article states. 

This article, and the accompanying comments, got me thinking about Scout uniforms and I decided to post my thoughts here.

First, let's take a look at BSA policy on the uniforms. The Guide to Awards and Insignia is the place to go for questions about the uniform. On Page 5, the section titled "official policy" says: "While wearing the uniform is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged. The leaders of Scouting— both volunteer and professional—promote the wearing of the correct complete uniform on all suitable occasions."

So, it's the responsibility of Scout leaders to encourage Scouts to wear the complete uniform. 

Page 7 of the Guide to Awards and Insignia has this paragraph: "No alteration of, or additions to, the official uniforms, as described in the official guidelines or the Rules and Regulations covering the wearing of the uniform and the proper combinations thereof on official occasions, may be authorized by any Scouting official or local council."

In other words, no Scout leader has the authority to tell his or her Scouts that anything other than the full uniform is a correct uniform. This is explained further in the Cub Scout Leader Book under the section on uniforms: "The entire uniform should be worn or not at all. The pack does not have the authority to make changes to the uniform."

I have heard many people say that, because the want to relieve a financial burden from their families, they made a decision to have their pack's uniform be just the shirt. I know one Scout leader who actually asked his Cub Scouts not to wear the uniform pants because not everyone has them and, in an effort to be "uniform" would rather have everyone in jeans. 

These well meaning leaders are wrong. Sorry. 

I understand the desire to reduce the financial burden for youth who want to be in Scouting. I have five people in my family to try to outfit with uniforms and it can get pricey. But those are the rules and a Scout is Obedient. 

The other issue in the article that really caught my attention was the bit about the campaign hats, and the line that "the Stratton hat company gave them "quite a deal" to buy the hats."

The problem I see is that the Stratton hat company doesn't make official BSA uniform hats. The official hats come through the official Scout Shop and are manufactured by Stetson.

Early on in my Scouting experience I decided I wanted a campaign hat, but thought the official one was too expensive. I did some looking online and found one that looked the same but cost less than half as much. I ordered it and then bought an official BSA hat band and hat pin to make it look official. "Nobody will know the difference," I thought. 

A few years later I heard someone explaining how they saved money on a Scout shirt by buying a similar looking shirt from Wal-mart and putting all the right patches on. It's a lot cheaper that way, they reasoned. I felt like that approach was not honest because they were trying to pass off an imitation as the real thing. Then I realized I was doing the same thing with my campaign hat. So, I stopped wearing it, saved my pennies, and bought the real thing. 

When I taught Cub Scout leader training a few years ago I came up with what I called:
A Plan to Implement Proper Uniforming.

Step 1 - Cheerfully model the correct uniform.
Adults must set the example they want their Scouts to follow, and they have to do it cheerfully. 

Step 2 - Teach Scouts and parents what the correct uniform is and when to wear it. 
There could be lots of ways of doing this. In our new pack, the information packet we give to new families covers this topic. We also have a science fair-type display describing the correct uniform we put up at every pack meeting. Uniform inspections could be another tool to help teach the correct uniform.

Step 3 -  Teach Scouts and parents to follow the Cub Scout motto in wearing the uniform: "Do your best."
There are always going to be concerns about how expensive the uniform is. Teach them to "do your best." Their best might include having the Scout do extra work to earn the uniform. This also helps teach the value of being Thrifty.

Step 4 - Accept Scout's and parents' best efforts to wear the uniform. 
If a Scout comes without a uniform, what do you do? Be glad they are there at all. Official policy is clear: wearing the uniform is not mandatory.
If a Scout comes with just a BSA shirt, what do you do? Compliment them on how good they look in that shirt. Maybe that contradicts the "all or nothing" rule, but I'm not comfortable telling a Scout to change his shirt because he doesn't have the right pants, socks, and belt to go with it. And I think it would do more harm than good.

One final thought on uniforms.

My biggest pet peeve is when people referring to the official uniform as a "Class A" uniform and something else as a "Class B" uniform. Sorry, but those designations don't appear anywhere in the Guide to Awards and Insignia, or any official handbook or leader book. There is no such thing as a Class A or Class B uniform. There is the official uniform and everything else that is not the official uniform. What most people refer to as a Class B uniform is more properly described as an "activity shirt."

Monday, October 28, 2019

A New Beginning

I haven't actively posted on this blog in a long time. There are lots of reasons for that, but I'm not going to go into those.

I'm now a Cubmaster. My wife and I started a new family pack in our area, serving both boys and girls. So far, our daughters are the only girls, and we need a lot more families to get involved, but we're official.

I hope to post more as we get going.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A change of attitude

Last weekend my wife and I attended our council's University of Scouting event. We were there to take classes to learn what we need to know to start a new family pack in our area. It was mostly a good day.

I say mostly because there was one major frustration. Over and over again we heard complaints and gripes about how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do Scouting all wrong: We don't get trained and do stupid stuff, resulting in excessive insurance claims. We don't get parents involved in the committees, so important stuff doesn't happen. We don't tell Scout leaders what their job is when they are called so they don't even know what they're supposed to do. And on, and on, and on.

It was exhausting.

Look, I get it. I've been involved in Scouting in the Church for over 10 years. I've been a young men's president, and a bishop. I've taught basic training for nearly every program. I've helped with roundtable. I've been on stake Scouting committees. I've been there. And if you look at past posts on this blog you'll see I've contributed my fair share of gripes and complaints about Scouters in the Church not doing it "right."

That's when it hit me. The thing that I found so exhausting that day was something I have done myself for a decade.

Well, I'm tired of it and I'm going to make a change. And I'm going to start by saying I'm sorry to those who have been worn out hearing my complaints.

I'm going to try to approach things differently. When I look back on the 100+ year history of the Church and the BSA I am filled with gratitude for that partnership. It would be impossible to say what either organization would look like today had that partnership not happened. The fact is that both organizations are what they are today, at least in part, because of that relationship.

Just look at how many millions of members of the Church have been influenced by Scouting, either as a youth or because they were asked to help as a leader. Or think of the contributions the Church has made to the BSA, among them:

  • The chartered organization structure (read more about that, here.)
  • The push for women to be leaders for Cub Scouts (read about Lavern Watts Parmley, here.)
  • The involvement in creating both Varsity Scouting and Venturing
So, to the Church as a whole, I want to say thank you, for using the programs of the Boy Scouts of America for over 100 years to help millions of boys. To the BSA, I want to say thank you, for allowing such a close relationship to flourish.

Most importantly, to all the Scouters in the Church (past and present) I want to say, thank you for giving your time, talents, energy, and resources to help boys and young men. Thank you for doing what you have. For those currently serving, thank you for doing all that you can. And if there is anything I can offer to help you improve your service, I want to help.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

On this date...

Today is the day my Wood Badge course should have started.

For those who may not be familiar, in order for a Wood Badge course to go forward, there must be a minimum of 30 registered participants by 30 days before the course.

We didn't get 30.

We didn't get 20.

We didn't get 10.

We had 4.

And now, instead of sitting through an inspiring presentation on Values, Mission, and Vision, I am sitting at my computer thinking about what might have been.

In many ways it would be easy to try to lash out and blame other people. And, if I'm being perfectly honest, there are times when those feelings try to come out. But the thing that bothers me the most is the thought that maybe it's my own fault it didn't happen.

I know there are things I probably could have done differently. There are things I didn't do very well. I feel like the entire time I spent as a course director prominently displayed my own weaknesses more than anything else.

People have tried to tell me that it's not my fault, that I did everything I could have. I certainly tried. But still, I wonder. If I had done this differently, or tried that instead, maybe it would have made a difference. Or maybe it wouldn't have. The terrible thing is that I will never really know.

I am disappointed. There were lots of little things that I really wanted to try. From the content of the Gilwell Gazette, to the theme for our Blue and Gold Banquet, to the way we were going to handle the outdoor experience on the second weekend, there were lots of little details that I think would have made our course awesome.

I also feel a little guilty. I spent nearly a year and a half of my life working to make Wood Badge happen, and I have nothing to show for it. I won't be getting a fourth bead. I won't get a certificate that says "Wood Badge Course Director." My course number, burned into my memory, means nothing. And I feel guilty for thinking about these things because I know that conducting a Wood Badge course isn't for me. It's not so I can get another bead to hang around my neck.

Some time last winter I had what I thought was an inspired vision for my course. I had the strongest feeling that gave me a definite picture of future success. I felt like if we could get this course to happen, we would be re-charging, in a sense, the Scouting program in my area. I was certain that participants from my course would be transformed into the next generation of leaders who would continue to carry Scouting (and Wood Badge) forward in my area for the next 10 or 15 years.

But I don't have any participants. I don't have a course to provide training and inspiration to them that will change their lives and the lives of the youth they serve. And I don't know what the future holds.