Welcome to the LDS Scouter Blog. We hope to provide you with valuable information, share useful resources and maybe even improve some attitudes and Ward Scouting programs. The recommended way to use this blog is to start with the post, "Why I started this blog." Then browse through the post titles in the archive (found in the sidebar) for topics of interest.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Why do we use a program that places such a major emphasis on camping? This is something I have wondered for a long time. I have found several reasons the multitude of camping trips are beneficial to Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scout program relies on the patrol method. Boys are meant to be the leaders. They each have a position, and together, as a quorum, they plan the program. They should be the ones who decide on the activities and plan out what they will need. Weekday activities offer them some opportunities to practice this leadership experience, but there is nothing like a campout to really give the boys an opportunity to test their skills. In planning and executing campouts they will learn a lot about being prepared, using resources, meal planning, budgeting, cooking and how to get along with each other. These skills all directly translate to the mission field, where young men have to know how to take care of themselves, budget and get along with a companion and other roommates.

Recently I was listening to the audio version of Other Side of Heaven, the memoirs by John Groberg of his mission in Tonga (which the movie was based on). The first half of his mission was spent on a relatively primitive island. At one point there was a storm that knocked down most of the fruit trees and destroyed the crops. Remaining food was rationed out for five weeks, as another boat was expected before then. However, the boat didn't come for more than two months. As supplies got shorter and shorter, Elder Groberg found himself mostly sitting doing nothing to conserve energy. He would read scriptures or just think as he was sitting there day after day. He describes it as one of the most spiritual experiences he has been through and a wonderful chance to grow closer to God:

"It is possible, that in our busy, work-a-day world, one of the great blessings the Lord gives us is to put us in a situation where we must be quiet, without a lot of outside disturbance and pressures. Maybe then, we will study, ponder, and think of Him, His ways, His purposes.

"I reflected on the scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants: 'Be still and known that I am God.' I had always thought of that scripture as a statement to watch for his salvation after we had done all we could. Now I looked upon it more as a commandment, or better, an invitation and explanation of truth: 'Be still. Sit quietly. Get rid of outside pressures. Go to the temple, for example. Don't worry about this world, and know that I am God.' Or, 'Be still, so that you can know that I am God, and so you can learn of me and my ways.'

"If we aren't willing to be still, it's harder to know that he is God. If the purpose of life is to know and love God, than maybe one of Satan's best weapons to keep us from that knowledge is to keep us so busy, even doing good things, and so occupied with commitments and pressures, that we don't allow ourselves to be still so we can know that God is God."

Over the last few years, our lives have become increasingly dependant on technology. Most of us are rarely far from a phone (many of which allow sending and receiving text messages and checking e-mail or the internet), computer or television. In fact, addiction to this technology is becoming very common. Our drive to be constantly connected even results in poor judgement and dangerous behavior, such as people texting in cars, on bicycles or as they walk down busy city streets. Some scientists are saying this is causing a constant distraction in our minds, almost like a steady background noise that prevents us from spending time in real meditation. This interference may also make it difficult to really listen to the Spirit or find opportunities for deep reflection, to be still and know God. These scientists "argue that heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety, and that getting out into nature can help."

It may be more crucial than ever for us to take opportunities to get away from technology for periods of time, to get out in nature and commune with God. Teenagers find it even more difficult to separate themselves from technology. Frequent campouts provide them the opportunity to not only get away, but to use that time productively to grow spiritually, physically and in maturity.

In Trails to Testimony, Bradley D. Harris explains how to help the boys really take advantage of this opportunity for spiritual growth by using Scout activities as a "laboratory" for the boys to practice the things they learn on Sunday:

"We often go canoeing on Utah Lake. One evening, in the summer time, we were out on the lake. It was very windy. The waves were very big, kind of scary on a canoe. We had several people out there. Some were better than others in canoeing, and we had to help those that were being blown to the north part of the lake. We were concerned. We finally got some of the stronger strokers to help them back in, and we were getting within the safety provided by the rock jetty, and we knew that we were going to do a reflection, because we had taught the young men this before. The wind in my face and the front of my canoe, I was trying to make headway back to the shore. I looked at the tree, a tree where I wanted to go, it was my destination, and I realized that if I concentrated on the tree, that I would get there quicker and get there better. Also I noticed that if I concentrated on my strokes, every stroke, the way I had been taught in the canoeing merit badge, to get the maximum power from each stroke, that I would make headway. If I did less than powerful strokes, it was almost as if I was standing still in the water.

"So we all made it safely on the shore, with our life jackets still dripping wet, and here's the rules of a reflection: It's got to be done immediately after an event, and you set the rules. No cut-downs; no put-downs. There's no right or wrong answers. Ask open-ended questions. You make sure the young men understand this, because if not, there will be boys who will poke fun or make fun of others suggestions. You want everybody to be involved and to feel equally involved in the communication.

"So I began this reflection by asking some open-ended questions. 'What did we learn from this event? How did some of you feel when this happened?' And so on. Then I said, 'Let's see if we can draw some spiritual metaphors into this event.' Then I told them my observation of the tree. Many times when you conduct a reflection, you're not sure where this is headed. I wasn't sure where this was going to go, but that's fine. I said, 'What might the tree represent in this experience we had, from a Spiritual perspective?' One of the youth said, 'Well, that could be the priesthood or Jesus Christ.' I said, 'That's sounds great.' I said, 'What about the wind and the waves in our face,the constant problems that we had to face to get here?' And he said, 'That could be the temptations of Satan.' I said, 'What about the canoeing and concentrating on strong strokes each time?' and again, I didn't know where this was headed. One of the young men said, 'Well that could be daily scripture study and prayer.'

"The bottom line is, these young men left this event saying to themselves, 'That was fun. That was hard. Oh, and by the way, I need to remember to read my scriptures, say my prayers, focus on Christ and avoid temptation.'"

At a Little Philmont Training Course in Orem, Utah, David C. Pack told participants, "We are on a journey in our callings to work with youth, to know how to change boys forever. I love 50 milers and what it does for a boy. Before the hike, as a quorum, they think they are so tough. Everything is perfect. Then on Monday, a few hours into the hike, they wonder who talked them into it. That night, they are so tired; they just climb into their sleeping bags and go to sleep. Tuesday morning comes and as they contemplate death, they wonder if they will ever see their mothers again. Tuesday night at the campfire program, you will never see a more teachable group of boys, never better. Someone needs to be there to teach them. Sunday lessons will never be the same. Each boy has accomplished the hardest thing in his life up to that point, which makes him able to do more. Outdoors is a wonderful place to test a boy. Help each boy with a significant away-from-home experience, so, when he gets on his mission, he will remember that he didn't give up on the 50-miler, so he won't give up then."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Incorrect Traditions and Spirit-driven Programs

An LDS-BSA newsletter article from earlier this year described a "Little Philmont" held in the Orem Utah Timpview Stake. The keynote speaker, David C. Pack, noted "Mosaiah 1:5 that talks about how the Lamanites lived according to 'the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct,' and compared it to how some do Scouting according to how they have seen it done by others, which is also incorrect. He related D&C 8:2-3 which promises that the Holy Ghost will 'tell you in your mind and in your heart' what you should do, but then reminded us with D&C 9:7-9 that Oliver Cowdry wanted to translate without studying and couldn't because he 'took no thought, save it was to ask.' Brother Pack then said, 'God cannot bless us with inspiration on something we know nothing about. We must study by reading the manuals, by going to roundtable, by attending basic training and Wood Badge. We need to become dangerously educated because the Young Men need us to receive personal revelation. Rise up and get the knowledge to do it.'"

I have frequently encountered the attitude in Ward leaders and Scout leaders of opposition to policy because, "This is the way we do things. This is the way we have always done things." Ironically, those are often the same people who are turned off by the Scout program because it "doesn't work."

I observed an extreme example of a Pack where these traditions were the major driving force for years. Issues covered a full-range from incorrect paperwork to improper attitudes. The program only vaguely resembled Cub Scouting. Occasionally an experienced Scouter would move into the ward and be called to help the program, or someone would receive a calling in Scouts and take the initiative to get the training. These well-meaning Scouters would then suggest corrections in the program to better it, to make it closer to what the BSA has designed and what the Church has told us to follow. Suggestions were constantly met with walls of, "That's not the way we do things," from the leadership, until the Scouters would each eventually be beaten down and quit or move away.

Contention grew between those who wanted to do things their way, and those who wanted to do things the Scout way. Meetings and conversations were filled with disagreement, and in some cases deep bitterness. In his recent Conference talk, Dallin H. Oaks, related a story about Joseph Smith. One morning, after the prophet had an argument with his wife, he found himself unable to do any translating. The Spirit was not with him. It wasn't until he had made up with his wife that he was able to translate. Even Joseph Smith could not feel the Spirit when angry or upset. Meetings full of contention are not being attended by the Spirit.

It is no surprise that many Cub Scouts in that ward were indifferent toward the program. Dens that had several active boys attending Primary on Sunday would only see two or three of those boys during the week at Den Meetings and Pack Meetings. Indifference was often carried into Boy Scouts as well.

In contrast, another Pack's meetings were orderly, always attended by the Bishopric. Everyone in the Pack was expected (and helped) to get the training appropriate for his or her position. Each had a copy of the Church Handbook on Scouting, and a section was read from the Handbook at every meeting. The program was not perfect. Occasionally something would be found out of line, but it was corrected. There was no contention. I believe that even when not 100% correct (and who is, really?) this Pack was blessed, because they were trying to do what the Lord expected, not trusting to their own wisdom.

I believe this is what the Lord wants from meetings in the Church: orderliness and a dedicated effort to following all of the programs in the way they are intended. We need to be careful not to confuse personal opinions about programs or policies with revelation related to our stewardships. We need to beware of incorrect traditions. Forget what you want and do the work necessary, study things properly, so that you can receive proper revelation to create what the Lord wants.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"That boys may still dream dreams and live to fulfill them."

From a talk by Thomas S. Monson in a special Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting Training Broadcast in 2007:

Several years ago a group of men, leaders of Scouts, assembled in the mountains near Sacramento for Wood Badge training. This has been an annual event where men camp out and live as do the Scouts they teach; it is a most interesting one. They cook, and then they have to eat their cooking. They hike the rugged trails, which age invariably makes more steep. They sleep on rocky ground. They gaze again at heaven's galaxies.

This particular group provided its own reward. After days of being deprived, they feasted on a delicious meal prepared by a professional chef named Dimitrious, who joined them at the end of their endurance trial. Tired, hungry, a bit bruised after their renewal experience, one asked the chef why he was always smiling and why each year he returned at his own expense to cook the traditional meal for Scouting's leaders in that area. He placed aside the skillet, wiped his hands on the white apron which graced his rotund figure, and told the men this experience. Dimitrious began:

"I was born and grew to boyhood in a small village in Greece. My life was a happy one until World War II. Then came the invasion and occupation of my country by the Nazis. The freedom-loving men of the village resented the invaders and engaged in acts of sabotage to show their resentment.

"One night, after the men had destroyed a hydroelectric dam, the villagers celebrated the achievement and then retired to their homes.

Dimitrious continued: "Very early in the morning, as I lay upon my bed, I was awakened by the noise of many trucks entering the village. I heard the sound of soldiers' boots, the rap on the door, and the command for every boy and man to assemble at once on the village square. I had time only to slip into my trousers, buckle my belt, and join the others. There, under the glaring lights of a dozen trucks, and before the muzzles of a hundred guns, we stood. The Nazis vented their wrath, told of the destruction of the dam, and announced a drastic penalty: every fifth man or boy was to be summarily shot. A sergeant made the fateful count, and the first group was designated and executed."

Dimitrious spoke more deliberately to the Scouters as he said: "Then came the row in which I was standing. To my horror, I could see that I would be the final person designated for execution. The soldier stood before me, the angry headlights dimming my vision. He gazed intently at the buckle of my belt. It carried on it the Scout insignia. I had earned the belt buckle as a Boy Scout for knowing the Oath and the Law of Scouting. The tall soldier pointed at the belt buckle, then raised his right hand in the Scout sign. I shall never forget the words he spoke to me: 'Run, boy, run!'

"I ran. I lived. Today I serve Scouting, that boys may still dream dreams and live to fulfill them."

Dimitrious reached into his pocket and produced that same belt buckle. The emblem of Scouting still shone brightly. Not a word was spoken. Every man wept. A commitment to Scouting was renewed.

It has been said that "The greatest gift a man can give a boy is his willingness to share a part of his life with him." Aaronic Priesthood leaders, Scout leaders, may you make the commitment to share your lives with our precious young men. They depend on you. Their very salvation may be at stake. You can build a bridge to the heart of a boy and can help to guide his precious soul back to our Father in Heaven.

May such be so, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why do Mormons...?

Every so often I get in a conversation with a "traditional" (non-LDS) scouter and they often have a question or comment on how the Church conducts the scouting program. I'm afraid that most often, it's a (well-earned) criticism and it bums me out that the church's scout programs often have a bad reputation. This morning I got in a conversation with a fellow at our local scout shop. (OK, it's really just a tiny corner of a clothing store; they're just kind enough to also supply scout supplies). We were commiserating about the difficulties getting volunteers to help out with pack and District activities. I mentioned that I've been doing our local day camp for the last couple years and he grinned and said he'd done it four four years in Reno. He said something like, "No offense, but it's really hard to get the LDS packs to supply volunteers." I had to agree that it's often really difficult to get LDS volunteers. He offered several suggestions, but unfortunately, they wouldn't really work in our situation.

I think sometimes, in the Church, we tend to think that unless we have been called, we don't have to help out. Cub Scouts is treated as drop off child care and Boy Scouts as something to be studiously avoided. In addition to the Cub Scout program being the basis for preparing a boy to be a priesthood holder and preparing him for his mission, it is a program to train parents. Parents should learn early on (hopefully someone will take them aside when their oldest son turns eight and explain the Cub Scout program to them and what is expected of them) that they are an integral part of their son's scouting experience. Whether he succeeds or fails will be highly dependent on how well they lead him. The scouting program is also good for parents. How much easier is it for the parents of a young man that has been an active scout to send him on a mission than the parents whose son has never been away from home in his life? At least the scout's parents know he can survive a weekend in the wild and that he probably won't starve to death in his first few weeks in the field. (He might only be able to prepare a very limited menu of burned food and may be in danger of burning down his apartment, but at least he won't starve).

Sometimes my conversations with traditional scouters come around to how we as LDS groups tend to pencil whip the boys through the program. (To be clear, pencil whipping is when a requirement is signed off but the boy hasn't really fulfilled it or met the objective. This cheets both the boy and the leader). I generally have to agree that it does happen. A year or so ago, our District Eagle Scout Project coordinator passed away and the people that took it over were aghast at some of the projects he'd approved. I don't know if he was LDS or not, but it does seem that we put such a high focus on getting the Eagle that sometimes we lose track of the importance of the boy earning his advancements. The guidelines for being a merit badge counselor are pretty specific that the counselor can't change the requirements. Of course, there are occasionally rare instances where it is appropriate to fit the requirements to the individual's abilities, but it shouldn't happen very often. I've seen whole groups signed off when collectively the group barely passed the minimum requirements, let alone each individual. (One traditional scouter told me after last year's Day Camp that a number of LDS groups had given belt loops for the activities we'd done at Day Camp, even though we'd only superficially covered the requirements. The intent was to get them started and they could finish off the requirements at home or at Den Meeting). It's important to remember that a boy having a shirt full of decorations is far less important than his having the knowledge he gains from learning and doing on his own and his knowing he didn't slide by. Neither the scout nor his leaders can claim to be trustworthy when awards are given and not earned.

One big reason these kinds of conversations really burn me up is that the Scouting program is also supposed to provide missionary opportunities. Generally we tend to think that these opportunities are limited to the boys we might bring into the program (less-active or non-members). I'd guess in reality we make just as big of an impression on their parents and other scout leaders. Some of these people are really the salt of the earth, but because of the examples they see in our leaders and parents, they'll never desire to join the church.

I attended Naval Science Institute in the summer of 1998. In the first few weeks we identified some areas we thought the service was lacking in leadership. We agreed that our small group wasn't likely to make huge changes, but our motto was "Change Your 10%". We agreed that wherever we went, each of us would do our best to improve the 10% we had influence over. In the years since 1998, I've had other conversations that make me not-so-proud to be an LDS scouter. All I can do is agree that we [LDS scouters] should be doing things the right way, try to lead by example and change my 10%.