June 7th, 2012



One of the nice side benefits of Scott Walker's victory in Wisconsin is savoring the reactions of my lefty colleagues, which is full of spluttering, hateful incoherence (spiked with funereal gloom). It reminds me of the beggars' show at a RenFaire I attended years ago. They offered to demonstrate "90 seconds of demonic possession" in a mud pit if the crowd would open their wallets and pay for it.
speed limit

The Future of the Past

Ray Bradbury, who died this week at the age of 91, is one of the greatest of American writers. Many tributes are pouring forth from people who have been moved by his stories and the style in which he told them. I, too, have been deeply moved at times by Bradbury's work.

One of the things that I most notice about Bradbury stories, though, is something I am sure he did not intend: the juxtaposition of an imagined future which in many cases is still in the future with the stories' narrative present which is now firmly fixed in the past. Bradbury himself -- and the ordinary people of many of his stories -- are from my parents' generation. The America he grew up in and from which his characters often come is an America I have never lived in but recognize from my parents' own stories. They are often timeless in their power, and yet captured in a setting that invokes nostalgia nowadays.

I think particularly of the story of the little boy who ceased to age. He was, by calendar, fully middle-aged, but he still looked about ten years old. When he realized he was never going to get any older, he packed his bags and went looking for one childless couple after another to take him in, to make him their son -- for a while. His job, his destiny, was being a kid. Looking into his soul and looking at the families he touched makes a powerful story. But the idea that a supposed ten-year-old could wander from one small town to another and be taken in by kindly strangers without all kinds of authority and bureaucracy and what-all is no longer believable about our day.

Still, most of Bradbury's fiction isn't really about the future, or the present, or even the past (though he could write stories set in the past, as in his magnificent, "The Flying Machine," set in medieval China). His stories are about people, strange people mostly, or maybe what it means to be normal when everything is so strange.

There is the man somewhere in Latin America, a member of the working poor, who looks out his window to see a fashion photographer taking pictures of glamorous girls with his cracked house wall as a background. He is offended that his life should be taken and used for mere background, as an ironic commentary on the supposed beauty of those who do not belong there. He confronts the photographer, who brushes him off. He then proceeds to (in our phrase du jour) photobomb them, by entering the frame with the glamor girls and dropping his pants, repeatedly. It is an assertion of his dignity, of his reality, of his right to be valued as he is and not as an accessory to someone else.

Then there is the lighthouse (of which almost none are left these days) and fog horn (ditto) which are mistaken by a prehistoric sea monster, the last of its kind, as a mating call. And the one ordinary child in a family of werewolves and vampires being assured by his mother that he is loved, even though he is different. And, of course, the Fireman Montag of an imagined future, who discovers those who memorize books -- each one becoming a particular book -- in order to save them from the book-burners of a dictatorship.

I can't remember most of the titles, but the stories -- the people in the stories -- are unforgettable.

By the numbers

So, just how big is United Methodist Scouting Ministry?

Well, to start with just a couple of numbers, we have about 320,000 or so youth enrolled in BSA units affiliated with UM churches. Probably only a fraction of those are actually members or constituents of The UMC, but all of them are participating in our programs, so they are part of the UM Scouting Ministry community. Add to those a fair number of UM children and youth who are registered in somebody else’s Cub Pack, Boy Scout Troop, or Venturing Crew, and the number grows a bit. Conservatively, we have 350,000 children and youth that we’re working with here. That means that just the BSA portion of UM Scouting Ministry is the largest single program we have for children and youth except for Sunday School. There are more youth in UM BSA units than there are in UMYF. There are more youth from our ministry attending Scout Camp than we have UM youth attending church camp. Probably more youth hear the gospel for the first time at Scout camp than at church camp, though Scout camp is less well equipped to handle the spiritual need represented by that.

Now, let’s add in the Girl Scouts. We’re the largest single sponsor of GSUSA units in the country. There are at least 150,000 girls in our programs. Then add in 4-H kids. Campfire. Big Brothers/Big Sisters. American Heritage Girls. At the end of the day, there are at least half a million children and youth in all the various CSYA/Scouting orgs and programs that we are involved with. That’s a conservative estimate.

Next, let’s talk about adult leaders. BSA probably has 1 adult registered for every 4 youth. Let’s take that as a general principle for all those programs. If there are a half million or more children and youth in our ministry, there are at least 125,000 adults directly involved. Counting in volunteers at all levels, let’s say there are 130,000 registered adults in our UM Scouting Ministry. As with the youth, many of those are not themselves UM, but they are, most of them, participating in a UM unit, which makes them part of our ministry to children and youth.

And it makes them part of our ministry to their families. Because we can’t forget that each person involved in our UM Scouting Ministry comes from a household, most of which include other people. There are brothers and sisters of our Scouts who are not themselves Scouts, but are reachable through their contact with our Scouts. There are non-registered parents. There are grandparents who show up at Courts of Honor and Pinewood Derbies. All of which means you can probably double the number of children, youth, and adults who are registered in some CYSA/Scouting program. That brings us up to around 1.25 million persons directly touched by our UM Scouting Ministry.

But that doesn’t include those who are still interested and supportive of the program. Think of all those not already described who were Scouts once upon a time, many of whom retain a soft spot for the ministry. If 20% of all UM members were once participants or parents in some CYSA/Scouting program (but are not otherwise described, above), well that’s somewhere north of 1.5 million UM members in the USA. Call it 1.75 million once you add in constitutents (family members and occasional participants, people who have never joined). Add that to the 1.25 million I’ve already totted up, and we’re at three million persons who in some way we could consider to be part of our UM Scouting Ministry community. That’s a monster number.

There are also those (who are probably already somewhere in the mix, above) who see the potential for making disciples of Jesus Christ through CYSA/Scouting and who affiliate in both formal and informal ways with our official organs of Scouting Ministry. All of which leads me to the following definition.
The United Methodist Scouting Ministry community comprises 1) all the youth and adults who are either registered in UM CYSA/Scouting programs or who are UM members and constituents participating in CYSA/Scouting programs affiliated with other groups, 2) their non-registered extended family members, 3) all UM members or constituents with a personal history of participating in CYSA/Scouting programs, and 4) other interested persons who share the vision of serving Christ and building up the Church through UM Scouting Ministry.
Take a look again at those numbers. Then ask yourself, how many people do we have trying to contact these persons, resource them, guide them, solicit them, focus their efforts?

Well, NAUMS has about 500 members. The Office of CYSA/Scouting in Nashville and its Scouting Ministry Committee involve maybe 30 members and staff, plus another 120 Scouting Ministry Specialists scattered about the country. Add in another 50 people who have served as Jamboree or Philmont Chaplains, Annual Conference Coordinators, or those who are otherwise available and interested in helping shape the course of UM Scouting Ministry (and who haven’t yet been described), and you have, what – 700 people?

Too often, we talk and act as if those 700 people were the UM Scouting Ministry community. They’re not. They’re the purported leaders of the three million people who compose the UM Scouting Ministry community. All of which means that squabbles among the leaders are both fruitless and debilitating. There is already too much to do, and nobody has a reach that extends far enough to get the job done. We need everybody, and everybody needs to work together to do the job that needs to be done.

He who has an ear, let him hear.