Boy Scouts, jamborees and the shaping of a life

Published 12:23 pm Saturday, July 29, 2017

by Andrew Book

Almost exactly 20 years ago, I found myself part of a troop of boys from the Atlanta area arriving at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, for the 1997 National Jamboree. Thirty-six thousand fourteen other Scouts joined me for a week and-a-half, which involved keeping the neatest campsite I’ve ever had, a lot of walking and Boy Scout activities of all sorts. I have quite a few memories from the 1997 Boy Scout Jamboree, but none of them include the presidential visit.

It turns out that President William Jefferson Clinton was also at the 1997 Jamboree. I know this because a friend whom I shared the Jamboree with told me. I went from there to look it up and, sure enough, President Clinton was there and he gave a speech. A speech that I, as an impressionable 17-year old boy, undoubtedly heard and was shaped by for years to come.

Except that I wasn’t.

I have no memory of President Clinton or anything he said.

My time as a Boy Scout shaped me deeply in ways that I couldn’t unpack if I tried. Growing up as a Tiger Cub, then as a Cub Scout, then as a Boy Scout, and finally earning the rank of Eagle Scout is a part of my story that is woven so deeply into the fabric of my childhood that I could no more pick out the ways Scouting has shaped me than I could separate the influence of my different family members or teachers. I have not been actively involved in scouting for many years, but I find the points of the scout law running through the back of my mind like the message on a computer screensaver: “Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, CLEAN (one of my troopmates always shouted that one, so it is fixed in my head that way) and reverent.” I am an Eagle Scout more deeply than I realize, and what President Clinton had to say to me on July 30, 1997, did not merit so much as a footnote in my life as a Boy Scout.

There were, however, many others whose involvement in Scouting shaped me deeply. Men and women (including both of my parents at different times) who invested untold hours in planning programs, events, trainings and meetings. These people spent their weekends with preteen boys around a campfire or canoeing a river with someone just learning to hold a paddle rather than enjoying “adult” activities. They learned how to tie knots so they could teach us, challenged us and pushed us to live by the Scout law, motto and oath, and rearranged their lives so that Cub Scout Pack 6 and Boy Scout Troop 18 could exist and thrive. Those are the people who shaped my life as a Boy Scout.

Recently, I found out that one of those people, David Grant, died. Mr. Grant (I don’t think I could ever call him “David.”) was the Scoutmaster for our large troop for several years. His work as Scoutmaster required extensive time and effort in everything from organizing trips to planning meetings and running board of reviews (those meetings where scouts present their work to achieve merit badges and advance in rank.) I have no doubt that the job was a burden at times, but he made sure that Troop 18 could happen so that I and many of my peers could have Scouting woven into the fabric of our being. I was not able to attend Mr. Grant’s memorial service, but all the Scouts in attendance were invited to wear their uniforms as a way of recognizing the connection we shared. It would take some work for me to find (and fit into) my Scout uniform, but you can believe I would have worn it if I had been in town.

Over the last week, everyone has suddenly become concerned about the situation of Boy Scouts in the nation today. I share the sentiment with those who found this week’s speech at the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree to be utterly inappropriate. However, to those who are worried about the impact of a speech I can tell you with confidence: one speech does not make a Scout. Boy Scouts are made by men and women like David Grant who give up their time and energy week after week, year after year, in the slow work of helping to shape the lives of boys. So, if you are as concerned about our nation’s Boy Scouts as the nation suddenly appears to be, I have a website for you:

I can speak on behalf of all Boy Scouts to say we would love to help you redirect your concern in a way that will impact lives for years to come.

As a pastor, I give speeches (we call them sermons) every week. I fervently hope and pray that those speeches will change lives, but the reality is that the vast majority of life change in every part of life (whether it is the church, Boy Scouts, or anywhere else) comes when we invest our lives in other people. If you want to see a change, invest your life in someone else!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or