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“Why Trail Life Is Great”

posted Dec 22, 2018, 12:09 PM by Chris Weinkopf   [ updated Dec 22, 2018, 12:20 PM ]

By Jerry Kwasek

TLUSA Southern California Point Man
Remarks from Redwood Glen Train the Trainer Three Peaks Conference

A study indicated that in the hierarchy of all audience learning methods, the lecture/essay was the least effective teaching method with regard to memory retention. St. Francis of Assisi confirmed that suspicion when he said he received more results preaching to brother rock and brother animal than to the people in his Church of St. Damian. In contrast, the more there is audience participation, the better the remembrance. Although we do not have a record of St. Francis’ sermons, we know from the journals of St. Bonaventure that Francis brought various animals into the church, and Bonaventure remembered the various smells that the animals left behind, along with their poignant textured residuals. 

As a sidebar to this, it reminds me of the story about the farmer who put his strawberries into a county fair contest. He won first place. A newspaper reporter asked the farmer how he was able to raise such luscious strawberries. The farmer proudly remarked that he put worm-infested manure on his strawberries. The newspaper reporter, being a city folk-type, said that he preferred sugar on his strawberries for breakfast. 

Back in the day when 3M introduced Plexiglas in the early 1960s, there was a 3M salesman who surpassed all the others. The CEO asked the salesman how he was able to perform such superior sales. He responded, “Well, I would go into a potential buyer’s office, put down a piece of Plexiglas, pull out a ball-peen hammer and smack the Plexiglas on his desk, and then write up the order.” The CEO made Plexiglas and ball-peen hammers required for all his salesmen. Still the one salesman, the next fiscal year, surpassed all the other salesmen in the sales of Plexiglas.

The CEO called the salesman into his office and asked how he was able to surpass his peers in yet again. The salesman replied that he put the ball-peen hammer in his prospect’s hand to smack the Plexiglas, and then wrote up even larger orders. 

However much you will remember from any of my so-called remarkable lecture/essay, I plan to break the rules known as the three “B”s of public speaking: “Be sincere. Be brief. And be seated!” Since we learn by rhyme and song I will have a special song to remember this essay at the end of it.

The subject I was given to prepare for the Redwood Glen Three Peaks Training conference was, “Trail Life is Great Because …” Interesting that at the same time I was preparing my remarks, I heard a charge of late that our Trail Life Troops are Troop-centric for now, rather than Southern California Area-mission centric. So this discussion has an existential component to addressing the very reason Trail Life was inaugurated in 2013.

I would like address the question, “Why Trail Life is Great.” One “why” is immediate for our boys and the second “Why”…. Trail Life has infinite results for all of us adults who are called to Christ’s discipleship in this movement. Then ask ourselves, “What will be our covenant relationship and commitment to this calling from Jesus?” I am going to define how Trail Life mirrors God’s love and encourages what is true masculine Christ like love.

The first reason Trail Life is great is because Trail Life has a profound impact on the success of our boys. As Dr. Warren Farrell and Dr. John Gray document in their new book, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys are Struggling and What to do About It, American boys are failing and falling behind girls academically. When boys grow up in the sense of numerically rather than qualitatively, they are reluctant to marry, and when they do marry, their marriages are failing, creating a vortex of more single-parent homes without dads. There is a cultural softening of boys leaning towards effeminacy. Society today is telling us that the more boys become like girls, the better our society will be.

Dr. Farrell and Dr. Gray cite a solution, noting that just the mere presence of fathers observing their sons at various functions — without doing any interaction with them — creates positive outcomes for their sons. What would happen if dads were interactive with their sons? How this works is beyond the scope of this writing, but if you are interested you can purchase their book online and/or I can e-mail you a summary reflection I wrote on Dr. Farrell and Dr. Gray’s work.

The second reason Trail Life is great has to do with us who participate in its mission, which has infinite and profound consequences in our pilgrimage with Christ (besides looking good on our résumés when we see God). God, who is all love, will be looking for His image in the mirror of our souls when we meet him in person. Trail Life is great because you, the leaders, are great disciples, and the One who is the greatest is among us, namely, Jesus. Trail Life is not a spectator sport. Where else can men engage boys to become the best versions of themselves that will leave a lasting, grace-filled impression on both the father and his sons for life? Trail Life is Jesus Christ-centered, and he said where two or three are gathered, he is with us. So every Trail Life gathering has Jesus in attendance. 

In Matthew 18:5, Jesus said that when we receive a child. we receive him. Imagine, each Fox, Hawk, Mountain Lion, Navigator, and Adventurer is Jesus, and we are receiving him into our hearts as dads. Who would turn down a visit from Jesus in person?

There was a boy who was sick on Sunday and his parents left him with a child-care sitter while they attended church. When the parents returned, the sick youth asked how the service went. His parents said that the pastor welcomed Jesus in person because, in his sermon, he said that where two or three are gathered, Jesus is among us. The youth remarked, “Shucks, the one time I am not able to go to the church service and wouldn’t you know it, Jesus shows up!”

The whole premise of Trail Life is to follow Christ, who is our role model. However, even God the Son had a dad to give him vocational training of what it meant to be a man of God’s love. 

Our vocational calling as dads in Trail Life is to raise godly men, and if the role model of a godly men for Jesus was St. Joseph, then Joseph is our role model for genuine masculine love. Joseph demonstrated for all of us dads genuine masculine love. Joseph utters no words in the gospels; instead we witness a man of action. The Gospel writers wanted to convey the message: Joseph is a doer! The Gospels imply that Joseph is a provider, a protector, a moral leader, a vocational trainer, and a disciplined man of self-mastery in body and spirit. Joseph modeled humility and obedience. Joseph was such a good teacher and role model that Jesus learned how to provide and protect his mother, enough within 30 years that he could go about his heavenly Father’s mission. Jesus provided and protected Mary even at the cross on Calvary, delegating his “Masculine Love” that authority and love to his beloved disciple, John. (I have an expanded essay on this topic for those interested upon request, “The Masculine Love of St. Joseph.”)

What are the attributes of a Christ-like leader found in Trail Life? The Trail Life Oath and Motto provide clarity of thought and, in Trail Life meetings and outdoor experiences, “Hit the Trail” activities encourage integrity of action. True Christian leaders have both attributes, clarity of thought and integrity of action.

For example, clarity of thought for Mother Teresa is Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 25. Jesus says that because you did it for one of the least of my brethren you did it to me. Mother Teresa said she would pray in the morning and then go out pick up the dying Jesus on the streets of Calcutta wherever she could find him. Her presence could be as simple as offering a hand to a homeless man, whereby one man responded, “Oooo the warmth of a human hand.” Another dying man, as she lifted him up, said, “For the first time in years on the street, I will now die a human being!” 

Because we dads are taking up the reigns as role-model guides for young people, we are doing Trail Life for Jesus. You might say that I am no Mother Teresa or St. Francis. We already had a Mother Teresa and a St. Francis, now we need you dads to pick up where they left off as the best holy versions of yourselves. You might note that the Acts of the Apostles ends abruptly once St. Paul arrives in Rome. The writer of Acts is telling us that the salvation story continues with us as other Christs. We in Trail Life might be the only Bible another may ever read in their lifetime. For me, I pray and go out to serve not only your sons and daughters but all adult leaders in Trail Life USA of Southern California, whom I see disguised as angels and likely Jesus Himself, as St. Paul highlighted.

Three leaders who began with clarity of thought and who failed integrity of action in the Old Testament were King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. Failed Spirit: Saul lost his trust in God after he successfully conquered the Philistines in the beginning of his reign by calling up other powers to rescue him. Failed Body: David lost his integrity to a weakened will of self-mastery for a one-night affair with Bathsheba. And Failed Mind: Solomon muddled his clarity of thought in his prayer for wisdom to the winds of pagan women’s idolatrous influences. The consequence all three kings’ failures in leadership was worship of God suffered, there was conflict in Israeli society, children suffered, and there was disharmony in their families. Sound familiar today when men fail in their leadership roles? 

Interesting that in the Trail Life Navigators/Adventurers’ handbook we receive an outline for clarity of thought (Roman numeral, page 11). Trail Life Woodland Trail’s emphasis is on knowledge; Navigators, understanding; and Adventurers, wisdom: What is the difference in these thought processes?

A tomato is an edible plant. Knowledge is understanding that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is that you do not make fruit cocktail with a tomato.

Trail Life teaches the appropriate clarity of thought in all of its trail badges: For example:

  • Knowledge: We know what a pocket knife and a square knot look like.
  • Understanding: A pocket knife is useful for unbinding, and a square knot is for binding
  • Wisdom tells us that a knife in the hands of a surgeon is for healing a life, while a knife in the hands of a criminal is for harming or even killing life. The criminal’s knot is for overpowering another. The bowline in the hands of a Trailman rescues and saves the life of another.

Our call to discipleship as Trail Life leaders has eternal consequences. Mother Teresa’s clarity of thought heard the cry of Jesus on the cross, “I thirst.” Christ continues to thirst, coming from the pleas of moms and dads looking for the traditional values that Trail Life can bring. Today there is a thirst for traditional values. Each week I receive reports from interested moms and dads who want to have their sons join a Trail Life troop or even start one. It’s only a spark of interest but, like tinder, the kindling must be encouraged by we who are disciples in the Trail Life movement. Trail Life can help slake the thirst for those moms and dads. 

Trail Life’s traditional values as our guide can truly make us free. A locomotive is not truly free unless it has tracks to run on! The Trail Life tracks we run on are our Oath and Motto. We raise our hand in the Trailman’s oath instead of a Trailman’s promise because we are bringing those everlasting traditional values to the life of boys. The task is so awesome that it will take God’s grace-filled assistance to fulfill the Trail Life motto to “Walk Worthy.” That is the difference between an oath and a promise! It is the difference between a shepherd and a hireling!

In addition to an oath we will sing a hymn of love. Singing is the poetry of our souls. Jesus and his Apostles sang a song after the New Covenant Passover meal. Jesus knew that he and his disciples later in their lives, would have to go through a “Good Friday” in order to have an “Easter Sunday.” St. Paul and his followers, St. Peter, and many Christian martyrs sang songs on their way to their own trials.

Each of us Trail Life leaders will go through a “Good Friday” as we prepare for it in our own “Garden of Gethsemane.” For some of us it will be the discouragement of not finding enough male leaders to run our Trail Life Troop. For some it will be our own personal temptations to distract us from our clear thinking. Still, for others, there will be other competing influences. Outside influences will wane our clarity of thought, some from our own personal weaknesses.

Our own sons will age out of the Trail Life program and thus our motivation to continue to share our knowledge and wisdom that was cultivated for many years in Trail Life for future dads and moms may become dimmed. 

For me, my personal “Garden of Gethsemane” and “Good Friday” was the loss of the Boy Scouts of America to the winds of societal pressure. I lamented that a scout was no longer brave. A scout could be bribed and swayed away by agendas coming from national and local financial sponsors. My Easter Sunday was finding and walking with all of you in Trail Life.

Whatever our “Garden Gethsemane” may look like, it is important to pray for God’s grace for clarity of thought and integrity of action through a personal Pentecost, whereby the Holy Spirit will guide us on the dark night of the soul trail. Let us pray, “Your word is a lamp onto my feet!” (Ps. 119:105).

I will pray that, hopefully, Trail Life will continue as part of your discipleship with Jesus throughout your lifetime, as you continue to stand so tall in stooping to help a boy become a godly man. Just as Jesus and the apostles, and Christian martyrs, sang holy hymns, I have a Trail Life hymn to share with all of you! God Bless You On Your Trail Life Journey.


Sung to the tune of O Christmas Tree

Softly falls the light of day
While our campfire fades away
Silently each Trailman asks
Have I done my daily tasks?
Have I kept my honor bright?
Can I guiltless sleep tonight?
Have I walked so worthily,
With Jesus Christ so humbly?

Jerry Kwasnek
Jerry Kwasnek
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