This past Friday night at Scouts was quite interesting, in that a Scout was leading a talk on different cultures as one of the requirements for his First Class level.
The first part of the talk was led by two Scouts who are of the Hindu faith, and it was fascinating to hear about some of their beliefs. One must at this point bear in mind that while inherent in the Scout Promise is a "duty to God", as an organisation open to members of any faith it is important that we respect the right of members of a particular faith to perform their "duty to God" as they understand it in their own particular faith.
There was a moment of raucous hilarity, as some of the Scouts started peppering the two presenters with questions relating to the clothes they were wearing. While certain items do have some traditional meaning, much of what members of the Indian community wears is a matter of personal taste - in the same way that others may wear jeans and T-shirts, for instance. The young lady's response to the many questions about the meaning of each minute item of her apparel - "Because I like wearing this. Why do you wear a T-shirt with a Smurf on it" - was priceless!
Once they had completed their session, the Scout leading the discussion then gave a brief discourse on the Christian faith, since the criteria called for a comparison between different cultures or belief systems. And it was at this point that things began to get a little bit heated - especially when it came to comparisons between the Roman Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. While I allowed the discussion to run as part of the learning exercise, when one of our younger Scouts (who happens to be Roman Catholic) started getting a bit wound up at what she perceived to be attacks on her own faith, I stepped in and exhorted the Scouts to focus on commonalities and embrace differences.
They were in fact quite interested - both from a Catholic and a Protestant perspective - to learn that much of the tradition handed down from the earlier Church that remains in use in many Protestant churches, such as the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and various forms of spiritual discipline, were handed down to us from our Catholic ancestors. They were also gratified to learn that both branches of Christianity acknowledge the Triune God, and regard Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
But the eye-opener for me was that, given a little bit of guidance, the youngsters were quite ready and open to understand and embrace one another's differences, and celebrate their diversity. Certainly, despite some robust discussion, no friendships seem to have been jeopardised by the subjects that came up. And herein lies the lesson for us so-called "adults", who have gone to war over far less!
And all credit to our two Hindu Scouts, who took the brave step in sharing their faith story in front of nearly 30 of their fellow Scouts. In an environment where the overwhelming majority of the youngsters come from Christian backgrounds, they have never considered themselves to be anything other than a part of the Scout troop - nor have their friends ever regarded them in any other way than as fellow Scouts, either.
For me as a Christian, it was an object lesson in tolerance, friendship, and mutual understanding. I'm pretty certain that this is how God would have wanted it.
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