Message to Friends and Coworkers upon the Termination of My Employment at Philmont Scout Ranch
Everyone, sorry this is long and sappy. I am not a wise or prudent man, but I am at least honest and sincere. This is probably not a wise or prudent thing to share publicly, for many reasons- but it must be said, and written down.
Los Angeles friends, I’ll be coming back from New Mexico early. I was discharged from my job at Philmont Scout Ranch earlier this week due to a mental health emergency and a suicide attempt, and it was determined that I would be safer coming back to Los Angeles and receiving psychiatric treatment there with the therapists and psychiatrists I’ve been working with for years.
So, I’ll be back soon- let’s hang out in early August.
D.C. friends, I plan to be in Washington D.C. from August 31st-September 5th, visiting family and coordinating plans for my permanent return to the City of Power in December 2017. Let’s meet up- I’ll be making pilgrimages to various sites around the city and would welcome companions, and aside from that, I’ll be hosting the usual “Luke’s DC Network Happy Hour” at Tortilla Coast, Capitol Hill- date to be determined. See you all there, and bring your friends and colleagues.
Philmont staff, all the new friends I’ve made in the last two months- thank you for everything. Thank you for your professionalism and personality, thank you for all the amazing experiences now imprinted on my mind and heart in both base camp and backcountry, thank you for showing me the kindness and friendship and love that every Scout owes to every other Scout and to every other human being. Thank you for being a part of my journey and helping me steer onto the higher path.
To the staff at every Backcountry camp I passed through– thank you for being welcoming, warm, hospitable, and friendly, yet professional, rugged, independent, and capable- the virtues of the great American pioneers and frontiersmen who did so much to shape our nation’s soul, virtues which you now embody and transmit not only to the young participants who pass through your realms, but to your lucky fellow staff who visit as well. (It is as our great patron Waite Phillips intended for this ranch!) Thank you for showing me that fellowship and allowing me to observe those virtues in action, and for helping me to realize the certain beauty of the simplicity of traditional American life. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to visit you at the camps again, but I won’t forget this summer when I witnessed the soul of America as I traveled through time in the Philmont wilderness.
To the Philmont Conservation Department- thank you for being the hard men and women of the backcountry, who work by both hand and head, who taught me again to appreciate hard work and physical creation as a means of service. Thank you for being to me in my development as the cowboys of North Dakota were to Theodore Roosevelt in his development, a rugged and principled band of great Americans who showed an unsure young man a crucial aspect of what makes people and nations great- a willingness to work hard, a stewardship of sacred inheritance consummated by sweat and labor, and an undying conviction that with right comes responsibility. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the honor of toiling alongside you again, but I will never let die in my breast the commitment to serve the public on the trail- a promise I made six years ago upon the death of the Park Ranger who supervised my Eagle Scout Project, which I now renew to all of you. Regardless of which trails and landscapes I help to conserve in the future, be they out west or back east, I won’t forget what I learned from all of you.
To my Foreman brothers and the administrators of the Order of the Arrow Trail Crew– I have nothing more to say to you that has not already been revealed to all of us, in the reflective silence of our hearts, in the ordeals through which we have gone together. Nothing I could say could augment in our minds the tests and experiences- the choice to step forward in so many ways, the hours and days of silence and meditation, the lonesome vigils of leadership and responsibility, the paths of arduous toil in the name of cheerful service, the self-denial of our worldly pains, the long nights awake and talking about our feelings, which I have shared with you all vicariously in our journeys through the Order of the Arrow, and even moreso, in our collective physical presence here in the wilderness of Philmont, as brothers bringing the OA Trail Crew program to new generations of Arrowmen. But this summer, as I climbed these Western Mountains, I heard more in the silence of my heart, upon reflection on our Order’s texts, than I have in nine years a ceremonialist. You each, and you all collectively, helped me to reflect on Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service in ways I’ve never known before, and for that I will always be grateful. In my future paths, I will not forget the fellowship I shared with you all this summer.
In the short time I had out here, I realized a lot of things, and some of you on staff helped me in ways you’ll never be able to understand.
I realized that a life indoors can never be more than half a life, that a life of the mind must share space with the life of the body for the fullness of the soul. I realized my need, which I did not fulfill over the last five years, to spend more time on outdoor adventure and conservation service. I’m leaving the wilderness, but I don’t want the wilderness to leave me.
I realized that self-obsession in whatever form- be it pole-climbing careerism, or self-indulgent navel-gazing, or a proclivity to use our modern social media technology to elevate one’s own thoughts and whimsies to the center of one’s own existence- is pernicious and destructive, preventing us from being the other-directed best possible versions of ourselves, preventing us from being capable of the best possible service to our fellow human beings, preventing us from living in the unselfish communion, service, and fellowship with others which our untrodden hearts naturally desire to inhabit.
I realized that, in personal relations at least, an ethic of patience, compassion, forgiveness, love, and humility is the proper way to deal with human folly and fallenness; and that both slights to honor and bouts of incompetence are best suffered through and treated gently but firmly. Only thus can resentment be forestalled, and even more- personal enemies can, if treated rightly, perhaps be brought to neutrality, respect, and even friendship.
I realized that pain and confusion, aside from being natural to our broken condition, are also the only route to the discovery of purpose in struggle and meaning in suffering. Holding a stiff upper lip and a cheerful attitude, even in the midst of irksome tasks and weighty responsibilities, helps us discover the truths of life more truly than the modern conceit that we must merely “follow our passions.” I wondered many times (and still wonder) what the hell I was doing at Philmont this summer. But enduring through it as best I could, I found more answers, and more questions, than I would have had I thrown up my arms and quit in frustration.
I realized that duty, commitment, responsibility, or whatever else you’d like to call it is what separates the adult from the child and the flake from the servant. It is central to manhood and womanhood, and we abandon it not only at our own peril, but at the peril of those to whom we have duties. I’ve held it as an ideal for my entire adult life; I have never been tested in my commitment to it before this summer, and I am told that I passed the test. I hope that when it comes back, I pass again.
I realized other things, helped on by people here on the ranch- that Philmont really is a special place, that not everyone is interested in politics (and that that should give pause to those of us who dedicate ourselves solely to politics!) that there is a certain pleasure to knowing that you are useful in many ways. I cannot write them all here, nor would I dare to write an “Epigrams” of my own til I’ve had several decades’ longer life experience and reflection and study.
But suffice it to say that I learned and realized many things here at Philmont, and must thank the entire ranch staff for helping me along.
I don’t think I’ll be invited back to staff Philmont in the coming summers, because my mental illness creates unacceptable liabilities both to myself and to Philmont. But I’ve found, in my summer in the mountains, a renewed passion and commitment to live a different sort of life than the life I lived for the last five years- moving forward, a life whose existing vigor in intellectual exploration and public service is matched by renewed vigor in outdoor adventure, hard labor and community service, and most of all a renewed and undying commitment to serve as best I can the Boy Scouts of America and the Order of the Arrow, those great institutions that did so much to forge my character and influence the way I orient myself towards myself, my community, my country, and the world.
So moving forward, I’ll be recommitting myself to Scouting. I’ll be getting active in the Order of the Arrow’s Amangamek Wipit Lodge in the DC area upon my return to the Nation’s Capital in December 2017, assisting with ceremonies training and perhaps other things. I’ve offered members of the National Order of the Arrow Committee my services in promoting OA High Adventure, so that younger Arrowmen can find in the mountains of Philmont (and BSA’s other high adventure bases) the things it took me seven years to find. I’ll be proposing, to the same OA National Committee, a plan for a new program- an OA Seminar in Public Service- that would wed the ideals of Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service to a practical educational and professional experience in the halls of power of Washington D.C.
If the OA Seminar in Public Service takes off, it will be designed to inspire young Scouts and Arrowmen who, like the Luke Phillips of seven years ago, want so badly to serve their country but don’t know how. This, so that someday these growing leaders might find in themselves the ability, knowledge, and enlightened, indomitable will to emulate our great contemporary bipartisan, country-first public servants, who were first formed as Boy Scouts- men with the Scout Oath and Law etched on their hearts, and a commitment to the noble cause of country inscribed in their minds. These public servants represent the last, best hope for order, stability, and dignity in American governance in these troubled times, and the creation of more like them ought to be an imperative of those who can make a difference. I hope to do my part to get that ball rolling.
Aside from striving to use my meager talents to give back to Scouting, I’ll be continuing my professional development and self-education- finishing my degree at the University of Southern California, studying and writing and publishing and advancing public discourse in this age of extremes, striving to enter service to Uncle Sam’s Federal Government in some degree, and generally shaping myself into the Scholar-Servant I am temperamentally fit to be, and am vocationally called to be. I want to serve my country, and regardless of the roadblocks I have faced along the way, I will continue along that journey.
But those roadblocks are intense, and I must confront and overcome the one that keeps haunting me and coming back to take away the things I love most in life.
My fundamental psychological instinct, the root of my neurosis, is a self-loathing and self-deprecating tendency towards self-torture and self-destruction in all forms. It is central to my self-conception and was central to my psychological development; for as long as I remember, I have hated myself. This has resulted in years of frequent, low-level, subconscious or habitual, self-inflicted putdowns, and less frequent but still common episodes of active self-harm. These latter episodes have resulted in four hospitalizations at hospitals and psychiatric institutions, as well as innumerable suicide attempts and self-beatings. I have been going to therapy for about six or seven years, including a long-term Partial Hospitalization Program at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, California. I have also been on various psychiatric medications in this time. These struggles, aside from their obvious effects, have ended or precluded multiple relationships and friendships, and with my recent termination from staff, they have now taken away my ability to serve an institution I love dearly for the second time. The first time was in 2015, when I left the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band to deal with my mental issues. This time, I have been discharged from the Philmont Scout Ranch staff to take care of the same issues.
If things continue along these lines, I fear I will either continue to lose opportunities and experiences and relationships, as I lost the Trojan Marching Band and Philmont Scout Ranch; or that I may go the whole way and kill myself in a furious fit of self-hatred. I came to Philmont thinking the beauty of God’s nature, the toil of hard labor, the fellowship of Scouting would heal me, and that I wouldn’t have to worry about proper treatment and care during or after my time at the ranch. I was wrong, and I now accept that no matter where I am or where I go my demons will follow me- I must learn to manage and defeat them on my own. So I am committing myself to addressing my problems again, more vigorously than ever before.
First, I will be giving up alcohol in entirety, since I am unable to separate pleasurable and social drinking from self-medicative and depressed drinking.
Second, I will be reinstituting, as I have so many times in the past, a regime of consistent mental illness treatment- daily mass attendance as frequently as possible, weekly meetings with priests and other spiritual counselors, daily Alcoholics Anonymous attendance as frequently as possible, weekly meetings with a therapist and a psychiatrist, a healthier diet and moderate weekly exercise, monthly vigorous exercise including conservation service projects and backpacking trips, and constant study of spiritual texts.
Finally, I will be committing myself to doing something I have never done before, but have desperately needed to do since I first conceptualized my own struggles so many years ago- I will explore, through spiritual, philosophical, psychological, and self-reflective studies, the roots of my self-destructive impulse- its origins and formation, its development, its application to my life and my treatment of myself, and its mechanics. And, far more importantly, I will investigate through various means- intellectual, spiritual, lifestyle changes, etc.- the best ways I can consciously alter that fundamental negative instinct, and replace it with either a positive, self-affirming, self-loving attitude, or at the very least, with a neutral, accepting, non-judgmental attitude. The latter, even, would be a great accomplishment.
It all boils down to this- every minute of my life, I make the choice to hate myself, and I must find a way to change my minutely choice to one of self-love or at the very least self-acceptance. I can say without reservation or equivocation that this will be the hardest thing I have ever done, so accustomed as I am to earlier habits of self-hatred.
But my mental health goes far beyond me and my own comfort, self-esteem, and dignity, and to my broader ambitions to serve my country. As I hope I have made clear above, I do not intend to live for myself- I intend fully, with the fullest approval of my inmost conscience, to live primarily or solely for the preservation, betterment, advancement, and perpetuation of the United States of America, both as a nation and heritage existent in the 21st Century, and as an idea which will live down throughout the ages long after the Lords of Washington have been extinguished from the Earth. I want to live and die for my country, and if I cannot die for it, I want to live all the more fully for it. I aspire, as did my great mentors Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and Theodore Roosevelt, and so many others, to spend my life cultivating my character, my intellect, my skill, and my legacy, to do for this country what must be done, now and moving forward. I want to so live and excel that I may serve, and I need to be alive and mentally stable to do that.
If I kill myself- or even if I don’t kill myself, but still force myself to live a living death- I can’t serve my country, I can’t explore the mysteries of the human experience and write them down for all posterity, and I can’t give a speech on the Tricentennial of the United States of America on July 4th, 2076- one of my lifelong goals. I need to be alive and well to do any of this, and I suspect that if I achieve any of my ambitions, there will be enough people trying to kill or maim me that it would be of the utmost harm for me to assist them in that endeavor.
We stand at an awkward and tumultuous point in our national history as Americans, with so much in the air, so much uncertain, so little firmed on solid ground and accessible for us to observe and interpret. We are at one of those times, or are swiftly approaching one of them, where we’ll need great leaders to make wise and prudent decisions while reassuring the American people of the sanctity of our values, institutions, and existence, and embodying them.
We inhabit an age of small souls, but still we stand on the shoulders of giants. One of those giants- Eagle Scout, Navy veteran, Congressman, Speaker of the House, Vice-President, and President Gerald R. Ford, an underappreciated servant to our country- lived humbly and dutifully, without the ambition or dramatic flair of his predecessors or successors. But in the moment his country called him to lead, he did his duty to bind the nation’s wounds and restore what confidence he could to a people broken, divided, and despairing. He could neither anticipate nor resolve the crises we’ve inherited since the Bicentennial, but his example- in his public life, in his private character, in what he strove to do- is worth examination and emulation by all who aspire to serve.
It is the example of Gerald Ford that I hope to communicate to others through every task I do and every office I hold. It is the example of Gerald Ford that I hope to follow, by marrying a commitment to the principles and mission of the Boy Scouts of America with a commitment to public service and humanistic scholarship for the advancement of the United States of America. As I continually reiterate, I do not aspire to be President of the United States, but I do hope to do for our country, through other roles and vocations, the sort of things that Gerald Ford and so many other public servants across our history have done and will do. And if, through the yet-unborn OA Seminar in Public Service or other undertakings, I can help to train and inspire the next Eagle Scout to ascend to the Presidency, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
For these realizations, for these new commitments, and for a summer of spiritual and personal growth which set the stage for what I hope is a new summer of life, and for the life, the opportunity, the friendship, and the fellowship accorded to me in the summer of 2017, I will always be grateful to the staff of Philmont Scout Ranch. It’s time for me to get back to work in the civilized world, but I won’t forget what I learned out here.
July 28th, 2017
Raton, New Mexico
Here I copy some passaged that were important to my experience this summer.
“A Man of Perfect Manhood”
“I had a vision for my people- a man of perfect manhood, a being physically robust, an athlete, an outdoorsman, accustomed to brunt of flood, wind, and sun- rough road and open spaces- a man wise in the ways of the woods, sagacious in council, dignified, courteous, respectful to all, a good-natured giant; a man whose life was clean, picturesque, heroic and unsordid; a man of courage, equipped for emergencies; possessing his soul at all times, and filled with a religion that consists, not of mere occasional observances, not of vague merits horded in the skies, but of a strong kind spirit that makes him desired and helpful here today.”
-Ernest Thompson Seton
“The True Joy in Life”
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations…”
-George Bernard Shaw
“You Are a Marked Man”
“…The Boy Scouts of all nations constitute one of the most wholesome and significant movements in the history of the world, and you have been counted worthy of the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.
All who know you rejoice in your achievement. Your position, as you well know, is one of honor and responsibility. You are a marked man. As an Eagle Scout, you have assumed a solemn obligation to do your duty to God, to country, to your fellow Scouts, and to Mankind in general. This is a great undertaking.
As you live up to your obligations, you bring honor to yourself and to your brother Scouts. Your responsibility goes far beyond your fellow Scouts, to your country and to your God. America has many good things to give you and your children after you; but these things depend for the most part on the quality of her citizens.
Our country has had a great past. You are here to make the future greater. I charge you to undertake your citizenship with a solemn dedication. Be a leader, but lead only toward the best. Lift up every task you do and every office you hold to the highest level of service to God and to your fellow man. So live and serve that those who know you will be inspired to the highest living. We have too many who use their strength and brains to exploit others and to gain selfish ends. I charge you to be among those who dedicate their skills and ability to the common good. Build America on the solid foundations of clean living, honest work, unselfish citizenship, and reverence for God, and you will leave behind you a record of which every Scout can be justly proud.”
-Excerpt from the Eagle Charge
“Our Proper Destiny”
“These properties are donated and dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America for the purpose of perpetuating faith, self-reliance, integrity, and freedom- principles used to build this great country by the American pioneer.
So that these future citizens may, through thoughtful adult guidance and by the inspiration of nature, visualize and form a code of living to diligently maintain these high ideals and our proper destiny.”
-Waite Phillips’s Dedication of Philmont Scout Ranch
“The Iron Qualities of True Manhood”
“We need, then, the iron qualities that must go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must be done, and to persevere through the long days of slow progress or of seeming failure which always come before any final triumph, no matter how brilliant. But we need more than these qualities. This country cannot afford to have its sons less than men; but neither can it afford to have them other than good men. If courage and strength and intellect are unaccompanied by the moral purpose, the moral sense, they become merely forms of expression for unscrupulous force and unscrupulous cunning. If the strong man has not in him the lift toward lofty things his strength makes him only a curse to himself and his neighbor. All this is true in private life, and it is no less true in public life. If Washington and Lincoln had not in them the whipcord moral fiber of moral and mental strength, the soul that steels itself to endure disaster unshaken and with grim resolve to wrest victory from defeat, then the one could not have founded, nor the other preserved, our Federal Union. The least touch of flabbiness, of unhealthy softness, in either would have meant ruin for this nation, and therefore the downfall of the proudest hope of Mankind. But it is no less true that had either been influenced by self-seeking ambition, by callous disregard of others, by contempt for the moral law, he would have dashed us down into the black gulf of failure. Woe to all of us as a people if ever we grow to condone evil because it is successful. We can no more afford to lose social and civic decency and honesty than we can afford to lose the qualities of courage and strength. It is the merest truism to say that the nation rests upon the individual, upon the family- upon individual manliness and womanliness, using the words in their widest and fullest meaning.
To be a good husband or wife, a good neighbor and friend, to be hardworking in business and social relations, to bring up strong children- to be and to do all of this is to lay the foundaitons of good citizenship as they must be laid. But we cannot stop even with this. Each of us has not only his duty to himself, his family, and his neighbors, but his duty to the state and to the nation. We are in honor bound each to strive according to his or her strength to bring ever nearer the day when justice and wisdom shall obtain in public life as in private lie. We cannot retain the full measure of our self-respect if we cannot retain pride in our citizenship. For the sake not only of ourselves but of our children and our children’s children we must see that this nation stands for strength and honesty both at home and abroad. In our internal policy we cannot afford to rest satisfied until all that the government can do has been done to secure fair dealing and equal justice as between man and man. In the great part which hereafter, whether we will or not, we MUST play in the world at large, let us see to it that we neither do wrong nor shrink from doing right because the right is difficult; that on the one hand we inflict no injury, and that on the other we have a due regard for the honor and the interest of our mighty nation; and that we keep unsullied the renown of the flag which beyond all others of the present time or of the ages past stands for the confident faith in the future welfare and greatness of Mankind…”
-Theodore Roosevelt, Chief Scout Citizen, “Manhood and Statehood”