Presenting a better alternative

While talking to scouts last night about respecting the American flag, some of their questions led to a great discussion about our American right to free speech — specifically how the government can’t prevent any citizen from expressing his or her ideas even when those ideas make us feel extremely uncomfortable or unwelcome. As long as the expression is not a direct threat to personal or public safety or inciting violence, it has as much right to the public square as ours do. The second we start to limit speech, we’ve sacrificed one of the greatest of our founding ideals.

The way to counter ideas we find reprehensible is not squelching or drowning them, but by presenting a better alternative.

Choose kindness

My mind is still churning from last night’s scout meeting where we discussed bullying and personal protection. My scouts are all sixth graders. It’s hard to wrap my brain around how complex these kids’ lives are compared to my sixth grade experience. Cyber bullying wasn’t even possible. Active shooter drills unfathomable.

I left them with one simple entreaty.

“It’s really easy as a human being to let yourself be unkind. It comes naturally to us for some reason … but so does kindness. Choose kindness.”

Rebuilding myself

From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. This story takes place on Thursday, July 20, Trail Day 4.

We emerged from our tents before dawn in Copper Park. It was 5:30am, our earliest wake-up of the trek, but it was Baldy Day.

When we’d gathered months earlier to choose from among the 35 Philmont treks, our first order of business was to eliminate any trek that didn’t include the summit of Baldy Mountain. There is majesty throughout Philmont’s 140,000+ acres, but Baldy is the true pinnacle as the highest peak (~12,450 ft.) in the Cimmarron Mountains. Baldy is so famous in scouting circles, when you mention you’ve done a Philmont trek, the question you get is invariably … did you summit Baldy?

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Redefining his summit

From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. This story takes place on Thursday, July 27, Trail Day 11.

We came to a sudden halt just a few miles from the end of our trek. Why were we stopping?

I was sixth in line, a couple of hundred feet from my son who was in the lead. We’d assumed lightning spacing a mile or so before, remembering the ranger’s advice if we got caught in the middle of one of Philmont’s daily thunderstorms.

“Keep at least 50 feet apart on the trail, so that if one of you gets hit by lightning, it doesn’t jump from one person to the other.”

The sky rumbled and my annoyance grew in concert with the intensity of the rain. We didn’t have time for a break if we were going to beat the storm back to base camp. My son turned to look up the line as I walked toward him, and my frustration became concern as I got close enough to see the fear in his face.

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The wonder of Allerton Park

When I awoke yesterday to a thick overcast and the sound of wind howling alongside the house, I wasn’t sure how many families from our Cub Scout pack would show up for the nature hike we’d planned at Allerton Park and Retreat Center in nearby Monticello, IL. I was pleasantly surprised when seven scout families showed up at our caravan rendezvous point at the school at 9:30am. Raindrops were falling, but judging by the radar, they wouldn’t amount to much. When outdoors with some of the younger scouts and their siblings, we have to ensure reasonably comfortable weather conditions. Hiking in 40 degree rain with gusty winds wouldn’t qualify, so I was hoping the forecast would hold and the woods of Allerton would provide some cover from the elements as well.

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One tree, one stone, one spider at a time

We spent a good part of this weekend camping with my son’s Cub Scout pack at Camp Drake in Oakwood, Ilinois. Since joining the pack more than two years ago, the fall camping trip is my favorite activity of the scouting calendar. The October weather is usually perfect for hiking (and sleeping in a tent) and the color in the oak and hickory forest creates a beautiful canvas for the weekend’s activities. When we arrived Saturday at our Hickory Haven campsite, a thick carpet of fallen leaves shuffled and crunched as we set up camp.

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A singular moment of revelation

Last night was Cub Scout night. Each Thursday, the first through fourth graders that make up my son’s scout pack gather at 7pm in the lobby of their elementary school to open the week’s activities. Each week, the Cubmaster will choose one or two boys to lead the others in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Scout Promise. Last night, when the Cubmaster asked for a volunteer, my son’s hand shot up and I instantly knew this would be his chance to lead the pack. I could barely contain my pride and emotion as he walked to stand next to the flag, raising his fingers to his forehead in the scout salute.

Just a few months ago when my son first expressed interest in joining the scout pack at his school, I wrote a post highly critical of the Boy Scouts and what I perceived as their organizational culture of discrimination. Based on media stories and policy documents, I concluded that Boy Scouts was an organization to avoid. My son’s enthusiasm to be a part of the pack, combined with some very heartfelt testimonials by people I trust, helped me to overcome this conclusion and allow him to join. As I wrote last August, I was hesitantly willing to give “the local scout pack a chance to prove that it stands separate from the discriminatory policies of its bureaucratic parent.”

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Scout’s honor?

My last 24 hours have been consumed by a serious dilemma, the correct path from which remains unclear. My son has expressed interest in joining the Cub Scout pack based at his elementary school, but I hold serious reservations about allowing him to join an organization that is openly discriminatory (through official policy) against religious non-believers and homosexuals.

In the official FAQ from Boy Scouts of America, persons not subscribing to theistic belief cannot be scout members or leaders. The BSA definition of God is admittedly ecumenical and inclusive, but only for those faiths that subscribe to the idea of a personal God who bestows “favors and blessings.” A person is prohibited by policy from being a member or leader unless he subscribes to this general concept of God.

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