I spent last with the teenagers from our church at their annual girls' camp. Though I have spent many years, off and on, working with the young women from our church, I have never had life circumstances that would allow me to spend a week at camp with them. But circumstances change and children get older and easier to farm out to friends, and this year I decided it was time to say "yes" to this unique experience.
First and foremost, it was fun. I had a really good time. The girls are mostly delightful and funny and well-behaved. There was plenty to do--skits, activities, devotionals, service, certifying in camping skills, crafts, water games, etc. Our theme was "The Girl on Fire" and a lot of Hunger Games kitsch went into creating the structure for the camp. I was skeptical, as the books and films are fairly dark, but it was well-done and not overdone. So well done, in fact, that if anybody is looking for a camp theme next year I am happy to private message and give details. There is one more movie to go, I think the popularity of the series will linger for at least another year or two.
All in all it was a great experience and my poor husband spent what was probably a miserable 90 minutes over the course of the weekend listening to me give details. I will spare you here as most of the experiences are really of the you-had-to-be-there variety. Pranks, stupid skits, running jokes and gags are all so much better when you are sleep deprived and without other forms of entertainment. (Is that Channing Tatum riding on a donkey?? I nearly wet my pants at the time . . . as of this writing I can only muster a wan smile to what seemed so hilarious just seven days ago.)
Still, there is much that is memorable and worth bringing home that translates better into broader audiences. And, oddly enough, the thing I am thinking about is scouting. BOY scouting.
My current "official" calling in our ward is to be the advancement chair on the scout committee. I say official because I'm also working with the cub scouts and until not too many weeks ago was teaching Sunday School when I cried "uncle" with girls' camp approaching and got released from many obligations. I don't think this lay-low period will last long, but my work on the committee has been eye opening and, particularly in light of the press release from the Church this week, has given me much time to reflect on the nature of scouting and its unique role in the LDS church.
At a committee meeting earlier this year, one very earnest brother asked about how to motivate kids. This led to some interesting fall out that I have thought about often, and even more often this week. The first thing that happened is an older brother, whose primary contact with church IS scouting, left angry. This very thing had been discussed in the monthly Round Table meeting the week previous, and, once again, our troop had a very pitiful leadership showing at the meeting. This brother's anger was awkward, but not entirely without foundation. LDS troops don't run the way troops outside the church do. In some ways this is by design (handbook), but mostly it is in response to a "calling" not exactly being the same as something you "volunteer" for. All of those other scouters are volunteers and want to be there. Many LDS scouters are going through the minimum number of motions to feel that they are doing their calling adequately. It is harder to find ones that have strong testimonies of the merits of scouting and who love both it and the kids. This additional level of interest is really required if a person called into scouting is going to take the initiative to get the requisite training to be a really great scout leader.
That was Brother A's response; once he left the room, there was an actual discussion, albeit rather subdued. Brother Bishop (actually our bishop) said the key was to do Duty to God. This left me all kinds of skeptical. The Duty to God award is such an afterthought in American Young Men's programs. Most of the boys that end up earning it only do so after they receive their Eagle Scout and are already fairly motivated types.
Brother C, a member of our bishopric and a long time scouter (at least 40 years in scouting) shook his head vociferously at the bishop's comment and insisted: you have to get them outside. The more you sit around the more they will hate it. He then waxed poetic about an old time scout leader that engaged the boys by using his Dutch oven every week, ensuring that something delicious came out of it at the end of every scout meeting.
I've rolled these responses over in my head as possible motivators or barriers to motivation:
A--Dismissive anger for the lack of integrity among LDS scouting units.
B--The key to successful scout program is focusing on spirituality.
C--More guy stuff. And food.
I may not be the best person to speak to this. My oldest son, 13, is a gung-ho scout. He likes everything about it: the military aspects, the camaraderie, the uniforms, the patriotism, the memorizing, the bazillion merit badges, the awards. I think in many ways he came this way, but we have done some things. I will speak quickly to some things that we have done that have been successful with our boys (one Scout, one in the Webelos den and one in the Wolf den) before getting back to my thoughts on lessons we can learn from girls' camp.
We have . . .
1--NEVER implied that scouting is something you do if you like the activity going on that night. Scouting is part of being active in the church.
2--Been super involved. I have been cub master (now my husband's calling), primary counselor over cubs, on both the cub and scout committees. I have volunteered at cub camp, as well as keep up to date with district activities. The committee jobs were not things I was called to--I asked to assume those roles to keep the program running smoothly.
3--Made sure that we know the program. I have never once made it a leader's responsibility to earn an award for my kid. This doesn't mean that I've done it myself either, but knowing the program and the expectations can help you plan family activities (lots of cub things can be done in the normal course of family life with a little bit of organization) as well as help guide your child into ideas they can suggest for scout activities that might help them progress.
Okay, so we are definitely a scout family. At least for my oldest, he will remain so, regardless of the Church's decision whether or not to stick with BSA. This is a thing I also have strong opinions about, but it is a bit off-topic. Maybe another day. I have strong motivation with three boys for learning the program and helping it to be smoothly executed. I want my kids to want to be there. So back to my meeting with the committee all those weeks back.
A--Brother A is right. If scouting is going to continue to be a part of the church and our YM culture, then we need to be doing it properly. That includes attending the training that is quite good and presented at least every month, if not more often. We cannot complain that scouting is too complicated and hard to run if we won't avail ourselves of every resource available to us.
B--Our bishop is right. We are not connected with the scouts because the world needs more Eagle Scouts (though maybe it does); we are connected with scouts because scouting, for 100 years, has been seen as an incredible vehicle for teaching things that allow boys to become successful missionaries. The church's own research shows that boys that earn their Eagle Scout are far more likely to go on missions. The church isn't trying to churn out Eagles, they are trying to turn boys into Elders who can effectively and with conviction teach the gospel. The most important thing a boy can do is gain a testimony of the Savior. His love. His atonement. His sacrifice. The restored church. Scouting alone cannot do this. It isn't even intended to do this beyond some vague devotional gestures. If boys feel the spirit, they will come back for more. If they come back often enough, they can gain a testimony. If scouting is to fulfill its purpose within the church, leaders must more effectively integrate the principles in Duty to God, as well as look for ways to spontaneously share testimony and teach the gospel. Camping experiences must be more than a boys-will-be-boys melee where the only prayer is that everyone makes it back alive. And with all their fingers.
C--Our lifetime Scouter is right. Boys do need to be active. They don't do well when they sit for a long time. Tempering sitting and learning with standing up and doing is essential (not just for boys, by the by). Scout leaders, when they accept the call, must understand that in addition to training, those monthly campouts are a must if they are going to keep the boys working toward goals--intrinsic and extrinsic. Without these aspects, it will be very hard to get the boys to focus on the spiritual because being outside, away from electronics, eating food you had to make yourself, teaches you to really internalize.
I would like to take a moment more on the Bishop's comments. Because this is what I precisely saw at Girls' Camp. There was this awesome blend of spirituality and fun that was delightful. Perfect. As the girls shut off their devices, they could really look at one another, and at their leaders. They could more effectively feel the pull of the spirit the longer they spent in the woods. Thoreau was onto something, certainly. There was a certain deliberateness of action both from me as a leader, and in what the girls understood by week's end. Their hearts were soft, open, receptive.
Boys are girls are different, sure. But we are all children of the God and Goddess of this creation. They have endowed us with divine attributes that more clearly shine through when we spend time in Their creation. I have to believe that after a day or two in the woods, the same thing happens to boy-hearts that happens to girl-hearts. This is when a leader can step in and tell a story from his mission (and, no, thanks very much, that story should have nothing to do with something gross you ate) and touch hearts, change lives. He might tell a story about his own conversion to the gospel, the joy he felt in taking his wife to the temple, how he loves his kids, how he discovered his career path.
This is possible.
When scouting celebrated its 100th anniversary of its partnership with the LDS church, there were some great articles in both the Ensign and the New Era. One of these was called "Why I love the 50 miler." This is what it was all about. Taking boys to the brink of their capabilities so that they are humble, grateful and teachable. In this moment, when you are stretched to your limit of doing hard things, you find your truth.
Yes, Brother A, if the church continues with scouting then there must be a renewed emphasis on proper training integrity in completing the steps of scouting. Yes, Bishop B, there must be a spiritual awakening within the scouting program and the vision caught of how Duty to God might be married to the pursuit of skills. And yes, Brother C, the boys need to get outside more and not only learn but practice the skills outlined in the scouting program.
I don't know if the BSA/LDS relationship will last. There has been rumbling for some time that it won't be. But if the men will open their eyes and take some cues from the women for how the practical and the spiritual might be married, then young men doing scouting can truly begin to be blessed by their association with it.