Monday over Coffee: Scout

Need a Word of Encouragement?

When I was little, I remember watching To Kill a Mockingbird with my parents. I learned later they liked the movie and the movie’s star, Gregory Peck, so much that his name, Gregory, ended up on my birth certificate. This was fortunate. The name ‘Atticus’ would have been a lot to live up to.

To Kill a Mockingbird later became one of my favorite books. Much later, when my wife, Kelly, was expecting, we considered the name ‘Scout’ if our baby was to be a girl. And while Scout would’ve been a cute name, I don’t think Harper Lee gave it to the protagonist of her novel because she thought it was cute. As Lee deals with themes of racial injustice, courage, compassion, and perhaps most of all, seeing things rightly, she’s telegraphing to us something very important with her main character’s compelling name.

Jean Louise Finch, the scrappy young heroine we come to know as Scout, ventures out and into the terrain of the Deep South in the 1930’s, reporting back to us as our narrator with an innocent, but unvarnished eye. Because as a child, she cannot fully fathom the scope and magnitude of the prejudice and hate before her, its wickedness is revealed to us all the more powerfully. She’s telling us what’s really out there. She has an uncomplicated relationship with the truth. She’s a scout.

Julia Galef is the founder of the Center for Applied Rationality. While her work has nothing to do with To Kill a Mockingbird, Galef promotes the same idea that Harper Lee’s novel does: to see what’s right before us rightly. Galef presents us with a stark choice: Do we want to navigate our way through life with the mindset of a soldier or that of a scout?

A scout's job, she writes, is not to attack or to defend. A scout's job is to look and listen to what’s before her to understand, to map out the terrain, to identify the obstacles encountered, to keep asking questions, and to find the way through. It’s a scout’s job not to fight, but to know what's really there so she not only may traverse the unknown safely, but see things rightly to report back and help others across.
While sometimes a soldier’s mindset is necessary, it often leads to becoming constrained into win/lose binaries and zero sum games. It tends to construct its own narrative of the lay of the land, bending the facts on the ground to conform to its prior beliefs. A scout instead continually cross-examines her prior assumptions. The scout is not only open to being wrong, but intrigued with the notion of changing her mind if that’s what the topography calls for.

The ground has shifted now beneath our feet. We’re in new territory and, perhaps more than ever, we’re being summoned to take up the mindset of a scout, not a soldier. We stand astride two terrible, convulsive events: the Covid-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Sometimes when terrible things happen, our instinct is to fall into a soldier’s mindset, but that doesn’t seem like what the topography is telling us to do right now.
What if, just as a scout in the wilderness would do, we try to stop and listen to what’s all around us right now, especially the voices and sounds we’ve tended to close ourselves off from. What if we begin considering it a virtue, not a failure or a liability, to change our minds when faced with ample evidence of new terrain. What if God’s asking us right now, especially those of us who have enjoyed the way things are for so long, to open up our eyes a little wider, to hold things not more tightly, but more loosely, not with fear, but with the mindset and the bearing of a scout.

God —
Help me find a stance toward the world that’s more agile, more flexible, and more graceful right now. May my eyes be open to the path of suffering others have tread, as well as the rocks and rills of the present terrain. Let me adopt the mindset of a scout, guided by your hand, true and righteous. Uncomplicate my relationship with the truth. Where I’ve strained the passions of my brothers, my sisters, may I humbly pay the debt the aspiration of true equality demands. May I loosen my grip both on what I think I know and on power itself in order to secure the bonds of affection that remain. And as I traverse the shifting ground, as I go over, help me to see things rightly. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk

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