Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 1:19-34) transports me to the Camp Daniel Boone Boy Scout Jamboree of 1972, my first and last, when I went with fellow members of Troop 22 to compete in the annual competition. It was the last one, also for our beloved Scoutmaster, Mr. Cauble. He was gruff, scary, and a bit rough around the edges. Neighbors called him Granvil; his friends called him Hack, and his wife, a French woman he met in the war, called him Otis (with a French accent). He was a great Scoutmaster, and for him, the Scout motto, Be Prepared, primarily meant be prepared to survive in the woods. He taught us how to use a pocket knife and how to clean a fish. How to find dry wood and build a fire. How to blaze a trail. How to know what berries and mushrooms are edible. How to stay dry in the rain. How to find your way home when you get lost. He wasn’t too interested in the protocols of the meetings, the pomp and circumstances, the proper way to wear your hat, or the Scout Law. That year at the Jamboree Troop 22 did ok, winning some of the lake competitions, but our greatest pride came in seeing the Scoutmaster archery contest. We had no idea Mr. Cauble was such a sharpshooter. He won hands down, which meant our troop got to enjoy several cold watermelons as the prize. One other thing Mr. Cauble was good at – campfire stories. He’d get out his fiddle, start playing a mournful tune, and tell the scariest of ghost stories. I would probably have made it to Eagle Scout if he had stayed on, but as it was, I never got past Tenderfoot. He got fired after that Jamboree. Some of the parents as well as leaders in the Methodist church which sponsored our troop got wind that his canteen often contained more than water, especially late at night, which probably contributed to his stories being so compelling. In other words, some thought him a bad influence, preparing us for a life of rebellion. So we got a new Scoutmaster, an uptight stickler for the Scout Law and all the protocols of meetings and uniforms and earning merit badges for activities that had nothing to do with our lives or our survival in the woods. He taught us to stay safe on the trails others had blazed, but not to blaze our own.
I think John the Baptist was a lot more like Granvil Cauble than Troop 22’s new Scoutmaster. He was gruff, scary, rough around the edges. He drank wild honey from his canteen. He knew how to ignite a fire and how to blaze a trail. And he got the attention of the folks who were more interested in protocols and pomp and circumstance, so they sent an investigative team to see what he was all about. What kind of rebellion are you stirring up? Who are you, some kind of ghost from the past? He sure didn’t seem to belong in their present. No, he answered them, and quoted Isaiah, I’m the voice of one crying in the wilderness; be prepared. Blaze a trail. Listen to the one who’s coming; he might just save your life, and you might just find your way home when you get lost. John’s Jamboree out in the wilderness didn’t include any lake competitions, but it did involve a river activity. He was immersing people, which was another way of being prepared, of understanding what was at stake – death and life. John’s leadership didn’t win him any friends, and like Mr. Cauble, the powers that be found a way to get him out of the picture.
A lot of people who’ve studied the life of Baden-Powell wonder what he was really trying to start when he founded the Boy Scouts. He apparently had a leaning toward Nazi ideology, and wrote fondly about Mein Kampf. Whether he was simply teaching young boys wilderness survival skills, or conditioning kids to follow protocols and keep their hats on straight, we’ll never know for sure. It seems like the church has had the same confusion of identity over the centuries, up to our present time. We’ve lost touch with the spirits of John and Granvil, leading the watching world to question us: Are we preparing people for wilderness survival and immersing them in rebellion, or are we preparing them to follow the rules and earn merit badges for marching in order? Prepare ye the way of the Lord. It’s a great mandate. Be prepared. It’s a great motto. But the question is, prepared for what?
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith?