I have a warm spot in my heart for the Boy Scouts of America. My four years with Troop 66 in Affton, Mo. -- many, many camp-outs ago -- were a memorable mix of outdoor fun, life lessons and a sense of accomplishment.
I still can tie a bowline and a clove hitch. I know the difference between a square knot and a granny. If you want a knot to grow tighter the more you pull on the rope, two half-hitches is the way to go.
I remember an exhausting 21-mile hike along the Lincoln Trail on a blustery winter day, starting a campfire with flint and steel and learning to cushion my sleeping area with a drop cloth over a pile of fallen leaves.
I remember the responsibility of being a patrol leader, the last-minute cramming with my mother before merit badge exams and the pride of climbing the ranks from Tenderfoot to Eagle. Many thanks are owed my scoutmaster, Jim Fox, one of nicest men on earth.
The Boy Scouts have flourished for more than 100 years because they excel at schooling young men in a code of conduct and providing them a sense of purpose. America would be a better place if everyone lived by their reminders to "Do a good turn daily" and "Be prepared."
So it pains me every time the organization steps on its kerchief with a public display of discrimination against homosexuality. The Silverado Council is taking the heat right now for expelling 18-year-old Ryan Andresen of Moraga, who qualified for his Eagle Scout award, but the fault runs deeper. Organizational policy is to blame.
Andresen fulfilled every requirement for scouting's highest rank except for being straight. You see, a Boy Scout must be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. But he can never, ever be gay.
If that sounds like wrongheaded thinking, it's because it is. Even the military now welcomes gays. There are gay politicians, gay athletes, gay movie stars and gay business leaders, but the Boy Scouts have distanced themselves from reality by pitching a tent on He-Man Island.
Scouts have always come from different walks of life, with varied interests and backgrounds. President Gerald Ford earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Ditto for director Steven Spielberg. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and James Lovell both belong to the club. So do legendary journalist Walter Cronkite and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, who was a basketball star before becoming a politician.
But Ryan Andresen will not be allowed to join them because of his sexual orientation.
That flies in the face of the values I've always associated with the organization -- responsibility, integrity and fairness. It's especially strange because it has been surprisingly progressive on many other fronts, adjusting as society has evolved.
The organization's website (www.scouting.org) has links to its YouTube channel, Twitter and Facebook accounts. To retain the interest of older scouts, it created Sea Explorers, Venturing and Varsity programs. And it broke down old barriers when it welcomed coeds to senior groups.
Among the updated merit badges it offers are robotics, environmental science, disabilities awareness and nuclear science. Soon to come will be merit badges for game design and animation.
But there's one thing that's still missing and dearly needed: tolerance.