The Boy Scouts of America taught me valuable life lessons, like how to light things on fire and swear. I also learned how to tie knots, and by “knots” I mean exactly one knot and I only remember how to tie it around my waist. (Something about how the rope is a rabbit that comes up and around a tree?) The good old fashioned “granny knot” works every time.
One time at Scout Camp at Camp Helendade (affectionately called “Camp Hell”) I went into hypothermia when the swim instructors insisted we swim in an ice cold pool at sundown. Hypothermia, like explosive diarrhea, is an unfortunate thing to have, especial when you are 13 and far away from the comforts of your home. Also, I find outhouses repulsive and vomit inducing, and during my 6 day stay at Camp Hell I refused to go to the bathroom for 4 days. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it!
I was lucky to have a Scoutmaster who took his position seriously by keeping the troop active and earning merit badges. Thanks to him I was prepared to complete my Eagle Project by the time I was 14.
For most active Mormon families, the scouting program is a part of life. Some parents threaten their sons by forbidding a drivers license at age 16 unless he has earned the rank of Eagle. (My mom pulled that with me, although I’m certain she was bluffing.) Parents and religious leaders perpetuate the myth that the rank of Eagle Scout will give you an edge in the business world because, “if two people apply for the same job and one of those people is an Eagle Scout and the other one isn’t, the employer will hire the Eagle Scout.”
There was little I liked about scouting. I didn’t like “roughing it” because that usually involved an outhouse, and I didn’t like the crude and vulgar jokes about farting, pooping and other bodily functions. And I especially didn’t like the dominating “Priesthood Authority” that permeated every aspect of the scouting program. Every campout included a testimony meeting where the half dozen or so 12 year old boys were required to stand around the campfire and testify about how we “knew the Church was true.” As an adult I consider this inappropriate and manipulative.
For my Eagle Project I planned, produced, directed, hosted and performed in a variety show at a retirement home. An Eagle Scout project should be about service to the community as well as an extension of your interests and talents to demonstrate leadership skills, not necessarily a construction or hard labor project because “that’s what an Eagle project should be.”
I had to write a thorough proposal outlining the project, the benefit to the community, the planning details, and then pitch the idea. The project had to then go through 4 levels of approval. The final approval had to come from a man on the Council Advancement Committee, Brother Alan Larson.
My mom drove me to the Stake Center to meet with Brother Larson. Not a single wrinkle could be see on my tan shirt. The forrest green pants had a crease so sharp it could cut down a tree (which could then be used to build a shelter) and a sash of merit badges, 8 rows of 3, covered my chest.
Brother Larson’s booming voice told me to leave the office door open. I sat down in a folding chair across his huge, polished oak desk. He crossed his arms over his chest then leaned forward and flipped through my proposal with the same enthusiasm as a lazy student reading a math book. He stared at me with a look of boredom as I told him about my project, then he interrupted me and asked in a condescending voice, “So, is this project like a road show?”
I had no idea what he meant. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, roadshows in the Mormon Church were common, where latent thespians produced a stage show and took it on the road around town. The Church pulled the plug on that program long before I was ever old enough to know about it. I didn’t know how to answer his question because I had no frame of reference.
I answered him honestly, “I don’t think so.”
I was not used to adults, especially adults from my church, speaking to me with such contempt. Up to that point every adult who knew about the project thought it was a great idea. Brother Larson, a man who was supposed to be a shining example of Christ-like love offered no warmth or encouragement and instead spoke with the harshness of a bully.
He sighed in a disgruntled post office worker kind of way and said, “I’m going to sign off on this, but I’m going to be honest, I don’t think it’s a very good project.”
I felt like he spit on my merit badges and there was nothing I could but sit there.
Patriarchal, condescending, pious and bristly, he is not the rule of what a Mormon man in a position of authority is like, but he’s not the exception either.
I never saw him again after that interview.
A few weeks later I completed my Eagle Scout Project at the Crown Point Retirement Center in Corona. While the project only lasted 2.5 hours and didn’t involved farting or manual labor the necessary prep-work I had to do was no small task. Those skills of networking, planning, and creative thinking have served me well in my life. My Eagle Project was not typical but it was awesome and I did it without much support from the “higher ups.” I stayed true to my vision and my plan and did the kind of project I wanted to do, not what some other man told me I should. Being true to myself and my vision was the real lesson.