Goodbye, Rex

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a national scouting convention, “Will Willimon is one of my favorite writers,” which thrilled me. Then Rex spoiled it by boasting, “I’ve read everything he has written.” No way Rex would have had time to climb to the top of Exxon if he had done that much reading.

Rex was impressed by my confession (when I spoke at the hundredth anniversary of the Boy Scouts) that anything I know about leadership I learned in Scouting. When a District Superintendent told me, “Bishop, there is no way you are going to talk the Conference into reorganization,” I replied, “You clearly don’t know to whom you are talking. I convinced a group of fellow twelve-year-olds—Camp Old Indian, near midnight on a Saturday in January, ten degrees and sleeting, no electricity—to go to the creek and wash the pots and pans from supper. I am a visionary, results-oriented, entrepreneurial, transformative leader!”

   In claiming that the main thing I got out of scouting was leadership, I’m being less than truthful with Rex. The chief training I received in scouting was an advanced course in works righteousness and the cultivation of overweening ambition. Scouting’s constant encouragement to climb the ranks, to accumulate merit badges, and to out shoot, out chop, out learn, out fight everyone else, kept ambitious male adolescents like me busy.

God and Country Award by twelve, Order of the Arrow (Brotherhood rank, no less) by thirteen, Eagle as I was turning fourteen, National Jamboree, I kept my mother busy ripping patches off my uniform and sewing on new ones as I ascended the ranks.

I wasn’t any good at sports (blame my fatherless, rural childhood). If I had had a father and had lived near town, I would have been Jackie Robinson. Scouts was my sole way of climbing, though no junior high school girl has ever gone steady with a boy because he was an Eagle Scout.

Thanks, Rex, for reading my books and thanks for your service to Scouting. Thanks for being a good Boy Scout and not lying or stealing. You were right in what you said about the President. No way your successor, Mike Pompeo, is worthy to lace your boots, sycophantic boot-licker that he is. I’m genuinely sorry that the last truthful person has left the Trump administration.

—Will

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