Two to Tango?

There is an old saying, “It takes two to tango.” I got curious and searched for the origins of the expression. In 1952, a song titled “Takes Two to Tango” was released by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. One of my favorite musicians of all time, Louis Armstrong, recorded it on a 45 rpm record. Take a moment and enjoy listening. A link is below.

There are all kinds of things we can do solo. But if we want to be in the dance together, it will take two. The dancers that make Scouting work are local churches and local councils. The BSA would never have grown into such an amazing organization without partners who embraced their steps for the last 100 years. The dance was a concerted effort of movements. Each partner moved with the other, sometimes in tandem and sometimes in opposition. Each brought richness to the movements.

The music has changed. The irony of dance partners is that they dance to the music but they don’t play the music. The music comes from others. In our case, the music comes from legislatures changing laws, courts making rulings, and lawyers engaging in legal battles. The music has not stopped. The movements have changed to a new tune.

I agree that “our ability to serve kids is paramount.” I also agree that the solo dance is not the way. We love Scouting. We want to stay in partnership. Maybe it is time to learn the Waltz or to Swing Dance together, please.

We are ready. Councils, may we have this dance?

The Wisdom of Cliff

Devoted United Methodist and Scouter, Cliff Coan attended the United Methodist Service Conference. Our average age was just over 67 years old. But even with a bit of creak in the bones, tremendous work was done to revive the chapels.

We spent time in prayer and communion. We shared thoughts about the challenges that lie ahead and behind us. Cliff shared his thoughts with me. I share these pearls with you.

In front of a conference of United Methodist Scouters, I once delivered a speech based on a Ted Talk by Tim Harford (you can watch his speech here) about how frustration can make us more creative, I only dimly guessed at the time how appropriate my presentation would be in 2022’s world of lawsuits and schisms.

Harford’s talk related how, in 1975, a 17-year-old girl persuaded famous jazz pianist Keith Jarret to schedule a concert in Cologne, Germany. Due to a miscommunication, the piano onstage that rainy night was a dilapidated rehearsal model — totally unfit for a musician of Jarret’s caliber.

He almost refused to perform, but perhaps moved by the young girl’s pleas, the jazz improvisationalist sat down at the junk piano, embraces and works with the mess, and . . . it’s magic!

Jarret’s producer had decided to record this concert as a cautionary tale. — “If you don’t give Keith the right piano, this is what you get.” They never expected that the music would be releasable as an album, let alone “The Köln Concert” album, which became the bestselling jazz piano album of all time.

Jarret didn’t just produce a decent performance because he’s a genius. He delivered what many people think of as his best performance — partly because of the challenges of a less-than-perfect situation.

Another venue that showcases working with less-than-perfect situations is “Forged in Fire” a “reality competition” I enjoy watching. It challenges master smiths who create knives, swords, axes, etc.

These competitors are experts — everyone knows they can take the best steel, the best handle material, the best forge — and produce a great knife.

One of the first scenes in every episode is where the judges introduce the competitors, then unveil the type of blade they will be making for the competition — but more importantly, the hosts unveil the raw materials the competitors will be using to make the knife.

And the materials are usually something completely unexpected — like, for instance, an old motorcycle, or a bunch of gardening tools, a three-inch ball bearing, or pieces of a car.

You see, the thing is, these competitors are experts — everyone knows they can take the best steel, the best handle material, the best forge, and produce a great knife. They are being challenged to perform under less-than-the-best conditions.

Mostly, the competitors hate it.

But just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t helping you.

Even though it may not seem true, disruptions, challenges, and hardships can help us solve problems. They force us to become more creative.

If you’re of a certain mindset, you could say that God likes to take even more impossible odds than broken pianos or rusty pieces of garden tools and show off his ability to produce artistry. Or He may just want us to trust Him to give us the creativity and inspiration to fashion a work of art. I don’t know His reasons — that’s way above my pay grade.

So, here we are today — figuratively seated in front of a broken piano that was once a finely-tuned mechanism for Scout units and United Methodist Churches to operate together, with a pile of rusty car parts at our disposal.

With the help of God, we have an opportunity to forge a new masterpiece, to create our best work of art for the youth of the future.

Like Jarret and the competitive knife smiths, we may hate the disruptions — but just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean it won’t help us come through stronger and better.

If we keep up the old idea that it is “youth protection”, we fail to realize the depth of the challenge.

Protecting youth from sexual and other abuse is a critical mission for those who serve youth. The harms done go far beyond the moment. Trust and hope are destroyed. Spiritual harm is a seldom recognized consequence. We have an obligation to follow practices that prevent the opportunity for abuse before it happens.

It is also adult protection. When we prevent situations where abuse could happen, we also avoid the impression that something could have happened. Adults need protection from accusations. But there is only one way to do that. Do not be in situations where abuse could happen to start with. We trust victims and should. So stay away from the possibility.

Those who serve in organizations carry the standard of the organization with or without a specific position. Abuse reflects on the organization rather the organization was able to stop it or not. All organizations will be eventually held to the standard of protection.

Historical service is being held to today’s standard. Think about the long future as you act. It will impact the youth, adults, and organizations.

It is time to start recognizing a simple truth.

It is Youth, Adult, and Organization Protection.


In the Sixth Edition of the 1972 Scoutmaster’s Handbook, page 79, there is a section titled “Where to Counsel”. Scoutmasters are identified as coaches, counselors, and friends. The where and how to counsel were described. “Every Scout in the Troop should understand that you counsel often with individuals. Every Scout should be made to respect your need to deal with the individual boy privately.”

Scouting’s culture of protection has changed so much that the quote from 1972 causes a strong sense of horror in Scouters. It is not the idea of working with Scouts, but the individual and “private” problem. Misunderstandings, like in the 1972 handbook, created an environment for abuse to happen. These perceptions were a part of our collective culture during the time. Two years later, in 1974, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) passed. A first in our country shifting to protect children.

Change is an ongoing process for Scouting. BSA’s change to two deep leadership was critical. Youth Protection Training continues to improve. Before an applicant can join or volunteer with Scouting, the BSA verifies that he or she is not included in their database of individuals who have been prohibited from participation. The Volunteer Screening Database is in place to prevent the registration of individuals who do not meet the BSA’s standards due to known or suspected abuse or misconduct within or outside of the organization. This database is not available to charter partners. “Suspected abuse or misconduct” does not show up on a background check. Criminals or potential criminals will not put references on their applications identifying their wrong behavior. A charter can do due diligence and still be fooled.

Supporters of Scouting must depend upon the professional organization that determines membership and the rules of Youth Protection. I cannot tell you how many small rules, like water guns and water balloons, have surprised well-meaning Scouters. BSA has professionals for a reason. They are experts in the field who keep everyone safe. The rules are followed because BSA is trusted by those who have learned and is well ahead of the curve.

Change makes sense. The Scoutmaster Handbook changed. Change to the training and tracking protects youth, adults, and organizations. Is it time to realize we need to make small changes that will keep Scouting stronger and safer for the future?

It just makes sense now.

Restructuring does not mean doing the same old thing. Let us keep Scouting strong for generations together. Let us lead the change for a better future.

The Fifth Edition from 1965 and the Sixth Edition from 1972 ScoutMaster’s Handbook


All ministry comes with risk!

Would any have followed if Jesus had offered the invitation to the disciples the way a legal profession looks at it?

I can imagine the legal disclaimer. Peter, if you sign this contract to follow me, “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” You will die for me.

These contract clauses are still there even if they are not explicitly defined. There is a risk for us to go into the world. It is the call and the mission.

Organizationally, we deal with risk through insurance. Some insurance groups will not insure a local church if they support the local Boy Scout unit with a traditional charter agreement. Loss of insurance impacts all ministries of the local church. The loss also impacts the conference. These insurance companies will support either an Affiliation Agreement or a Facilities Use Agreement. This limits our choice of connection. The short sight of some Councils may also have an impact. We will be as strong a partner as allowed. We want the long-term stable path.

Why not seek the path that offers the deepest rewards? That is supporting Scouting in the new agreements.  

It would have done no good for the disciples to die in the first year of the ministry than after the Gospel was shared. Keep the church around to serve in the future of a stronger ministry in the world and Scouting. Please.