Saturday, November 21, 2009

Throwing Down the Masonic Glove

Greetings Brethren,

It's been a little while since I've posted. The second half of 2009 has kept me Masonically busy. I have had the chance to visit most of the Lodges in the District and have thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Thank you all for the hospitality you show and the good work you continue to do. If you are a Mason and not already a Member of The 54th District Facebook Page, please consider joining. We have 60 members and continue to grow! It is a forum to discuss Masonry and get in touch with other members in the District, plus it gives you reminders for the Official Visits.

Next year's Official Visitation schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, February 9, Valley Lodge No. 613
Thursday, February 18, Forbes Trail Lodge No. 783
Thursday, March 4, Pollock Lodge No. 502
Wednesday, March 10, Infinity Lodge No. 546 (8:00)
Thursday, March 11, Orient Lodge No. 683
Tuesday, April 13, Penn-Brotherhood Lodge No. 635
Wednesday, April 14, Bethel Lodge No. 789
Tuesday, April 20, Plum Creek-Monroeville No. 799
Tuesday, May 11, Tyrian Lodge No. 644
Monday, May 24, Lodge Ad Lucem No. 812 – Reservations Required

As you may have noticed, we have a few new Lodges in the District. I would ask that you consider coming out to the Visitations to welcome the new Lodges to the 54th, make new friends and enjoy some Masonic fellowship. That brings me to my point:

Last year, I put out the challenge to get one hundred Brothers at an Official Visit and you answered the call. This year, since we've increased the size of the District, that number needs to grow. I'm officially challenging you, my beloved Brothers of the 54th, to bring 150 Masons to an Official Visit. If you answer the call, I will again cook at the School of Instruction (chef's hat and all). If you can reach 200 at any one visit, I will cook an even fancier meal and will endeavor to serve it to you myself.

So the gauntlet (white Masonic glove) has been cast, will you pick it up? Can we look back at the 2010 Visitation season and say that we sat in Lodge and shared the Light with 1,500 or even 2,000 Brothers this year? Let's work together to try to make that lofty dream a reality!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chili Forecast

In one of my previous posts, I made a prediction that I didn't think we could get 100 Masons to a vist. However, upon further reflection, as a way of saying thank you to all who supported the District during this year's Official Visits, I have decided to stray ever so slightly from my original proposition.

You will recall that I offered to cook for the School of Instruction if we exceeded 100 people at a Visitation. Well, we never did. We got to 94, but because I am grateful to those who did make it, I will indeed cook chili for Monday's (June 1) meeting of the Allegheny Valley School of Instruction.

It has truly been an honor to visit with and learn from all of you, and a bowl of chili is the least I can do to thank you for making my job as District Deputy easy.

Hopefully I'll see you at the school.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Heroes and Saints

The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.–Felix Adler

Brethren, during my visits this year, you have heard me remark on a variety of subjects all related in some way to the workings of our Gentle Craft. At Forbes Trail Lodge, the theme centered on the importance of not only attracting, but keeping good men interested in our Fraternity, and that if memories of what was, exceed dreams of what can be, we are all but doomed.

At Pollock Lodge, I talked about change; changing our attitudes toward each other, the Craft and the world outside. I also identified some typical obstacles to change and how to avoid them.

At Valley Lodge, through the story of Damon and Pythias, I talked about being Brother and the self-opening that is required for that to truly come to pass.

My visit to Bethel Lodge was just after my house had been burglarized and you permitted me a reminiscence on that which I lost, only to realize that – just as it is with our working tools - things aren’t as important as the feelings or memories they evoke.

My remarks at Plum Creek focused on making better use of our time by trying to live the rule of the twenty four inch gauge – making better Masonry by making better Masons.

Lastly, at Tyrian Lodge, I focused on the Giant Sequoia – comparing its biological adaptations to the sociological adaptations of Freemasonry.

What does any of that have to do with the epigraph? It’s quite simple. Each of those messages calls us to be either heroes or saints – sometimes both – for the Craft.

Let's hear that again. "The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light."

On its face, it talks about two types of illumination - one that is corporeal and one that is spiritual. It’s worth noting that nowhere is one way judged to be better than the other. As Freemasons we have to recognize that both are important. Whether we are being heroes by setting the torches that introduce new men to the Fraternity, or being saints by living the well-ordered life of the twenty four inch gauge we are doing important work in the quarries of Freemasonry.

Tonight Lodge Ad Lucem has heard its first presentation from its first Entered Apprentice. We have functioned in both ways for Eric, both in the kindling of a light within him and of corporately being a light for him.

Let us continue to recognize the importance of being both heroes and saints for this Fraternity we all hold so dear to our hearts.

I’d like to close with excerpts from Rumi’s poem A Basket of Fresh Bread where the poet illustrates the importance of both physical and spiritual action in our lives:

The Prophet Muhammad said,
"There is no better companion
on this Way than what you do. Your actions will be
your best friend, or if you're cruel and selfish,
your actions will be a poisonous snake
that lives in your grave."

Wait for the illuminating openness,
as though your chest were filling with Light,
as when God said,
Did we not expand you?
(Qur'an, XCIV,1)

Don't look for it outside yourself.
You are the source of milk. Don't milk others!

There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,
and yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on your inner door. No other.

Stay bewildered in God,
and only that.

There is one
righteousness: Water the fruit trees,
and don't water the thorns. Be generous
to what nurtures the Spirit and God's luminous

Don't feed both sides of yourself equally.
The spirit and the body carry different loads
and require different attentions.
Too often
we put saddlebags on Jesus and let the donkey
run loose in the pasture.
Don't make the body do
what the spirit does best, and don't put a big load
on the spirit that the body could carry easily.

I pray, Brothers, that those words may speak to you as they have to me and that you leave here tonight inspired to be the mighty heroes and humble saints that our gentle Craft needs.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Redwoods and Blue Lodge

Ninety-four. Ninety-four men packed Tyrian Lodge - a room with only 68 chairs - for my Official Visit. I will honestly never get used to the feeling I get walking into a room filled beyond capacity - there is none like it. Thank you all for supporting your Lodges, Officers and me during this Visitation season. It has been a delight for me. I hope it has been enjoyable for each of you as well.

We had much on the Trestleboard this evening. I was privileged to present three Brothers with their Fifty Year Emblems and also to give a 60 year wreath to another Brother. We also awarded the final Trowel this evening. I will post more on that later.

When called upon, I gave the following remarks:
Redwoods and Blue Lodge
Okay, so what’s the difference between a Freemason and a Giant Sequoia? That is not actually the beginning of a riddle, but it turns out that the answer may actually be “a lot less than you might think.”

In coastal California where the conditions are right, the Giant Sequoia tree can typically grow to be over 200 feet tall with several having been documented at well over three hundred feet. Amazingly, a tree of this height typically would have root system that does not go much deeper than eight feet. So how does a tree that is more than a football field high manage to survive the strong coastal winds with such a shallow root system? They do something very interesting. Instead of a deep taproot anchoring them to the ground, they send shallow roots more than a hundred feet outward. In a redwood forest, the trees are closer together than that, so when examined closely, one would find the roots of several trees interlocked with one another. You see, they do not rely on their individuality, but their interconnectedness to give them strength.

While Masonry is in many ways a truly individual journey, a Mason, just like the Sequoia, needs to rely on his Brothers for strength. That strength can come in many forms. Depending on where each man finds himself in his Masonic pilgrimage, it can be defined as the patience of a mentor with a frustrated student, the encouragement of a Master to his Officers, the Charity of the Lodge to a Brother in need or the strong grip of a friend each of us has felt within these walls.

You see, for Masonry to thrive, there must exist a willingness to receive support as well as the ability to give it. That may mean asking for help with your ritual, but then remembering that you do not have the right to grumble when the Master calls an extra practice. It means giving freely of your strengths to your Brothers and supplementing your weaknesses with the their assistance thereby growing as a group.

Another interesting thing about the Sequoia is that they are often found growing in distinctly shaped groups; either in a line or a circular pattern called a cathedral. The trees growing in a line come from a parent tree that has fallen down. Those branches that are pointing upward after the parent has fallen will actually begin to root and become trees in their own right, each one separate and distinct from the original tree that fell. In the same way, we introduce good and upright men to Freemasonry with the hope that when we leave this earthly home, they will stay behind. And if their thoughts are focused heavenward (meaning we have taught them well), they too will grow to become the leaders of our Lodges and keep this great Fraternity alive.

The trees growing in a circular pattern, or cathedral, are trees that have sprung up from the roots of a fallen tree. Though the body of the parent tree is gone, the roots see to it that the community carries on by sending up saplings. As these saplings begin to root, they are able to weave themselves quickly into the already intricate root system of the parent plant, giving themselves immediate support to grow straight and true. In the same way, Masons, as we labor, provide support for future generations. If each of us is true to our calling, we will leave behind a strong foundation upon which each successive generation can build.

Another interesting adaptation of the Sequoia is its ability to take in water through its leaves. You see, these trees can grow nearly anywhere, but the area of coastal California where they thrive has a peculiar type of climate. In areas without regularly occurring fog, the tree’s height is limited to the distance it can push water vertically from the root system toward the upper leaves, but the near constant morning fogs of the region allow the upper leaves to supply their own water by pulling it from the heavy air, thereby allowing the trees there to grow to heights unattainable in any other place.

So it is with Masonry. It is possible to go through life without thinking about whence we came or whither we travel, and often, outside of this sanctuary, that is exactly what we see. However, the man who stops and ponders those questions, the man who realizes he comes from something greater than himself and has a duty to his Creator to be the best man he can be – that man begins to use the upper leaves of his intellect to not just survive but to thrive. Just like the roots supplying water, we bring some light and knowledge to our new members, but it is not until those men begin to use their own intellect, discerning life’s important truths for themselves, that they truly grow to their fullest potential as men worthy of the name Freemason.

When you leave here tonight, ask yourself if your root system is spread out far enough. If not, strive to give more support to your Lodge. Ask yourself if you have introduced worthy men to this Fraternity. If not, resolve to for we are never more than a generation from extinction. Make sure you are helping to build the strong foundation for the future – leaving behind a cathedral in which other worthy men can dwell. Lastly, remember always that we are here by the grace of the Great Architect of the Universe and to Him we will each someday return; that our time here is to be used shaping the ashlar of our lives. Each action we take either helps or hurts that process. Promise yourself that if you are the only Mason someone knows, that person will look up to you as he would a Sequoia; as a giant among men towering over a forest of mediocrity below.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Battle for the Trowel

The battle for the Travelling Trowel is drawing to a close. There is only one more Visitation left and the game is not won. The totals, including Tuesday's Visitation, are as follows:

  • Pollock Lodge - 76 Points
  • Valley Lodge - 39 Points
  • Tyrian Lodge - 24 Points
  • Forbes Trail Lodge - 39 Points
  • Bethel Lodge - 69 Points
  • Plum Creek-Monroeville Lodge - 23 Points
Now, as you can see it is close. So close that I may end up cooking a meal as promised at some point in the very near future. I still have my doubts as to whether the District can do what is necessary to bring a full 100 men to a Visitation. I mean, I've offered over and over, and the Masters just haven't been able to get it done! Editor's Note: P.J. really doesn't doubt it at all. This is just his Brotherly attempt at talking trash.

Look at it this way: A full slate of Officers and three newly raised Masons would givea Lodge 26 points, so anyone can still win.

The real prize is an evening with your Brothers, so we're all winners in the end just by showing up.

See you on May 12th!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Measure for a Man

I have to tell you, my Brothers, that I feel something special happening. I really believe that change is afoot in Freemasonry. A typical Official Visit seems to draw between seventy and eighty people. As I prepared for last night's Visit to Plum Creek Monroeville Lodge No. 799, I will admit that I was steeling myself for disappointment. I was sure that the Penguins v. Flyers playoff game would hold greater sway over men and cause a decline in attendance. Was I ever wrong!

By my count, ninety-one people decided that a night of Brotherhood was more important and of far greater value than a hockey game.

I am thankful to all who attended. They may have missed an exellent hockey game, but those who chose other options missed out on something far more valuable - the chance to share in the Mystic Tie of Brotherhood.

When called on for comments, I was privileged to offer the following:

The Measure for a Man

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by a Brother after a Lodge meeting who tells me how different things were in the old days; how they would have to have three or four extra meetings each month to accommodate all the new Masons who were entering the Fraternity. A quick check of your Lodge minute books from the 1960s would be all you need to confirm it for yourself. The lament continues. “Nowadays, you see a man here three times and that’s it. He never comes back.”

There may be myriad reasons for why this is so, but tonight I want to focus on just one of them – the sum of our parts. Masonry is built entirely of Masons. Masons, when they leave here, have problems, appointments, stresses, joys, burdens, conflicts, jobs, bills and countless other demands on their time, talents and treasure. How we present ourselves as Masons, and by extension, how we present Masonry, has a lot to do with whether a new Brother returns to Lodge.

Let me tell you about my own experience. My first exposure to Freemasonry was at my grandfather’s funeral. Brother Bob Geiger presented the service. Its message of consolation and hope attracted me immediately. Before they left, I asked what I needed to do to become part of the organization. Two of the members who knew my grandfather agreed to be my recommenders if I wished to join. I finished the paperwork and waited. The night of my Initiation finally came. Neither of my recommenders were able to attend, so when I arrived here I knew no one. After a few introductions and handshakes, I was ushered into the preparing room by Brother Vern Henery. His soft manner and kindness instantly made me feel at ease. Brother Jim Smith conferred that Degree. After the meeting, I was introduced to Harry Bauer who would go on to teach me my work. Brother Joe Connors conferred my Second Degree and Brother Skip Green acted as Guide. Brother James Rainey conferred my Third with Brother Chuck Kammer acting as guide.

What does my nostalgia trip have to do with the sum of our parts? It’s simple. Each of these men is the face of Freemasonry for me. Each of them took so much pride in his work that he refused to settle for an “okay” degree. Their attention to detail and the pride they rightly took in doing excellent Ritualistic work played a major role in my immediate attraction to and continued interest in Freemasonry. The guides knew how to prepare me, the Worshipful Masters and Officer knew their work and Brother Bauer knew that anything worth doing was worth doing correctly. The insistence by each of these Brothers (and you all know Brothers just like them) on exemplary work made them, and the Lodge they called home, a place that I wanted to spend my time.

In short, better Masons make better Masonry.

But how do we become better Masons? Learning ritual, attending meetings and practices – these things take time. And with work, soccer practice, dinner with our friends, we’re all just tapped out.

Masonry already addresses this. We have a way to balance our services to God, our profession and our entertainment. We call it the twenty-four inch gauge.

What if we could actually spend an entire week living as that working tool teaches us? Fifty-six hours for work - some work more, some work less, but that is a good average. Fifty-six hours for refreshment and sleep – that should suffice for most. We would then be left with that same amount for service. Now, can you imagine how a great a world we would have if we each spent a full fifty-six hours weekly in service to God through our church, synagogue, Lodge, a favorite charity or volunteer organization?

What kind of man could you be if you actually lived that way? You would be a man that anyone would be proud to count as a friend. You would be a role model for others, a man to be emulated. You would be an exemplar in your Lodge, family and community.

Do you know what else would happen if you really lived by the gauge? Petty disagreements, personality conflicts and the other minor issues that sometimes creep into Lodge workings would disappear. Why? Because grumbling when the Worshipful Master calls a practice doesn’t have a place on the gauge. Complaining about who is chairing the Pancake Breakfast Committee what date we’re holding the Past Masters’ Dinner is neither a service to God, your usual vocation, nor is it refreshment or sleep, so it isn’t worthy of your time.

So making use of the gauge will make us better Masons. Pride in who we are and how we work will help attract and keep men in our Lodges. Perhaps then will we return to those days when we have so many candidates that we need three or four extra meetings each month to accommodate them.

Let us leave here tonight and vow to do nothing save that we do it to the best of our ability; to take so much pride in our work that we inspire our new Masons to return; and most of all, let us ask the Great Architect of the Universe to help us order our hours and our days that we might serve Him and all of humanity thereby living up to the strong legacy that is Freemasonry

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Real Working Tools

Last night's Official Visit to Bethel Lodge No. 789 was thoroughly enjoyable for me. I was not in the greatest of moods in the days leading up to the Visit (for reasons which will become obvious as you read), but I left renewed and energized by the love shared in Lodge that night. I was privileged to address the Brethren as follows:

The Real Working Tools
Last Thursday night, my wife Gail and I came home from an evening out to find that our house had been burglarized. After the initial shock had worn off, the sad process of taking inventory of the loss began. The worst was the jewelry. The engagement ring I gave my wife just shy of twenty years ago was gone. Her grandmother’s diamond ring, our class rings from high school and countless other sentimental items are probably forever lost to us. We both lamented the memories that had been taken away by people who cared little about anything but money.

Then it hit me. The memories weren’t gone at all. They were still there as vivid as ever. High school friends and graduation still exist in my mind. I still remember with complete clarity the look on Gail’s face when I gave her an engagement ring and promised her that I would love her forever. You see, gold, silver, jewels and possessions are not what matters, for they are just things. Memories, friendships and love - those are priceless possessions, and they can’t be stolen by common thieves.

As Freemasons, we spend a lot of time talking about things - plumbs, levels, squares, gavels – but inside we know that it is not those things that are important. What matters to us are the lessons they teach or the memories that they evoke. The ideals that those tools teach us – the equality of all mankind, the importance of upright conduct, virtuous behavior and unassailable integrity – those ideals are what we focus on, not the tools themselves. The tools are just visible tokens to remind us of things which we must, as Masons, feel in our hearts.

I would venture to say that each of you remembers who you learned your work from, or in many cases, who conferred and guided your degrees. Each of you probably has a story about a Brother, perhaps still here, or perhaps now at rest in that house not made with hands, who went out of his way to show you a kindness, laugh or cry with you, or extend the strong grip of help you when you were too proud to ask for it. Those things, my Brothers, are the real working tools of a Mason. What the tools teach us of values and the ability they give us to see and respond to the needs of one another, to build memories and friendships that transcend the mundane and superficial – those are the real working tools of a Mason.

The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “There was once a man who inherited a lot of money and land, but he squandered it all too quickly. In the same way, we don’t know the value of our souls, which were given to us for nothing.”

Outside these walls, there is a world that puts value on things, but Masons know better. We know that nothing that can be purchased truly has value. We know the value of our souls freely given us by our benevolent God. We understand the importance of striving to be “the just man made perfect.”

If I lost my Past Master’s Apron and Jewel, or this Apron, it would bother me for but an instant. For what matters to me now are not the trappings of Freemasonry, but the warm and familiar handshake of a Brother I may have never met before that instant, the feeling of truly coming home each and every time I walk into a Lodge, and most of all, knowing that each of you is forever a part of my family, and that enduring bond of love cannot be taken from me by anyone.

Before you leave here tonight, I encourage you to look around and give a silent prayer of thanksgiving for your Brothers and this Fraternity – the greatest the world has ever seen. Lastly remember that when we are laid to rest, wearing the spotless white lambskin, it will not matter what we had, but it will only matter who we were.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Masonic Question for the Day

What have you done today that makes you worthy of the name Freemason? There is still time...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Being Brother

When I entered Valley Lodge No. 613 last night for my Official Visit, my heart filled with joy. Before me was a room with not only every single chair filled, but with an extra row of folding chairs to accomodate the crowd. I was honored to have presented 50 year service emblems to two of our Brothers this evening. One received it proudly from his son (and Brother) as his grandson, a new petitioner to the Craft, watched on.

When asked for my remarks, I presented the following address:

Being Brother

Until you have become really, in actual fact, as brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
We as Freemasons address each other as Brother. I would venture to say that at any given Lodge meeting, I say that word at least one hundred times and confess with more than a little embarrassment, that I have not often given more than a passing thought to what it means to call someone Brother. So what does it mean to be a Brother to someone? What are the duties of a Brother? Lastly, what are the expectations of Brotherhood?

The dictionary gives one definition of brother as “a male member of an association or club.” That seems obvious enough. We are all members of the Freemasons so we address each other as Brother. There is another definition though, that as Freemasons, we need to use. Brother can also be defined as “all members of the human race.” See, when we as Masons talk about the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, we are speaking to uniting the whole human race together into a truly universal Brotherhood where people are judged on who they are, not what they look like, who they know or what they drive.

The soul of each man in this room was fashioned by the Great Artificer in his image. How then can we not feel that we have a vested interest in the welfare of the man to our right or to our left, or the man who could not be here tonight? Are we our Brother’s keeper? Most assuredly, Yes! We are charged to remind him in the most tender manner of his failings, to vindicate his character and to suggest in his behalf the most candid, favorable and palliating circumstances, even when his conduct is justly reprehensible. Essentially, we are to love and trust him even at those times he makes himself unlovable and untrustworthy. How much better would life be if we took those charges to heart?

Let us do those things daily that we hear read at every Lodge meeting. Let us be happy ourselves. Let us endeavor to contribute to the happiness of others. How? Be there for your Brothers. We could meet someone for breakfast or lunch, or sit in Lodge next to a Brother you do not know very well. In short, be to others the kind of person you would want to spend time with.

Many of us do this now. I know of at least one Brother here tonight who offered a ride to one who can't transport himself. Still others visit the widows of deceased members.

With the current financial crisis, some of our older members are probably terrified for their future as they watch a lifetime of savings vanishing before their eyes. We have an obligation to check on them. If they are scared, they should be here with friends where they can rest within these walls and feel peace in abundance. Reach out to them my Brothers.

Remember the three heads of duty we are always to inculcate? To God, our neighbor and ourselves? I would submit to you that our ancient Brethren did not put those in “no particular order.” If we have a relationship with our Creator, read His Sacred Law and live in harmony with his purpose for us, our duties to our neighbor and ourselves become clear. By being benevolent, caring, patient, by being teacher to some and student of some, we may become friend to all. That, my beloved Brothers is what we are to do. Be friend – be Brother – to all.

The story of Damon and Pythias illustrates just what it means be a Brother.

Damon and Pythias grew up together and were best friends for most of their lives. Dionysius, the King of Syracuse heard that Pythias had been giving treasonous speeches in public. This enraged Dionysius and he summoned Pythias and his friend to court. Dionysius order Pythias to retract his comments or face execution. Pythias refused, willing to suffer execution for what he believed was the truth. He asked only that he be allowed to return to his home to say goodbye to his family and set his affairs in order.

Dionysius laughed and said, “Surely you must think me mad. If I set you free, you will never return.”

Without a moment of hesitation, Damon stood up and offered to take Pythias’ place until his return. Dionysius paused and finally said, “If you are willing to suffer his fate when he doesn’t return for you, I will allow him to return home. Remember, if he doesn’t return in one month, you will die in his place.”

Damon trusted that his friend would return and gladly went with the jailer.

As the days passed, the King would visit Damon in the jail and mock his foolish decision. Damon never - not for a second - lost confidence. Even as the deadline approached and he was about to be executed, he told the king that a storm must have delayed his ship, or bandits on the highway must have slowed his return.

At the very last minute, Pythias returned, tattered and weary. He explained that his ship was lost for a time in a storm and he had indeed been beaten and robbed on his way back, but that nothing would stop him from returning to save his friend.

Dionysius studied them both. He was so moved by such devotion that he pardoned Pythias and made both he and Damon members of his court – wanting to be in the presence of a friendship so deep and abiding.

I charge you tonight to continue to strive toward that kind of love. Work on that part of your rough ashlar, my Brothers. Continue to show the world that Freemasons are good and just people, that we recognize and cherish the bond with our fellow man, that we love all and most importantly that we know what it means to be a Brother!

Friday, March 6, 2009


Last night was my Official Visit to Pollock Lodge No. 502. Though the District did not meet my challenge by bringing out 110 members and visitors, the 80 or so who did attend were privileged to see three of their own presented with the Grand Lodge 50 year service emblem and one who accepted his brother's 60 year wreath in his stead. What a glorious evening.

When called upon for my remarks, I gave the following address:

There is a story about an experiment with monkeys which goes as follows: Start with five monkeys in a cage and hang a banana above a ladder in the center. When a monkey starts toward the banana, a burst of cold water hits the cage and drenches all of the monkeys. Continue this for a week. Eventually, the monkeys learn that they should stay away from the ladder - associating any attempt at the ladder with the unpleasantness of a cold drenching. Now, replace one of the monkeys with a new one. Of course, it will see the banana and start up the ladder. The other four monkeys - knowing what comes next and not wanting to be soaked – will beat him up and try to stop him. Wait a week and replace a second monkey, same result. As this continues, even the monkeys who never experienced the soaking will protect the ladder. They have no idea why they are beating up another monkey - they just join in. Now, continue to swap out old monkeys with new ones until you have five monkeys that have never actually been sprayed with water, but avoid the ladder at all costs. Why?

Well that's the way we've always done it!

Now my Brothers, if you listened to that story and are left thinking I just called the Masons a bunch of monkeys, you have missed the point. It is a story about change and the lessons that can be learned from not assuming that what has always been done or the way things have always been is the way they should continue to be. Einstein said the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet often that is precisely what we do with our Lodges. We have the same dinners, or the same events or the same programs during the same months even though we might see a pushback from the membership either by their absence from the sidelines or their no longer volunteering to help. As times change, there are things we must change if we are to continue to be vital. We must find a way to offer something to men that they do not get elsewhere.

The first thing we need to change is the way we communicate with our members. I stood right in this very spot last year and asked each member here to ask his Secretary to give him the names and phone numbers of a few Brothers who haven't attended Lodge recently and then to simply follow up with a phone call to say hello. Now, not a single Secretary called to yell at me for all the extra work they had to do, so I am assuming that not everyone followed up on my suggestion. I do not want a show of hands, but if you feel a little convicted as you sit here now, ask your Secretary (or me, but preferably your Secretary) for some names. I know that some did make calls and they told me how rewarding it felt for them. If you have done it, you know there is often an unspoken affection in the voice on the other phone - an unsaid "Thank you for caring."

Another thing we can do is to be creative. “What? Creativity in Freemasonry? Why, that's unheard of!” I am not saying that we innovate in the ritual or make the meetings light and frivolous. On the contrary, I am a firm believer that what goes on inside the tiled Lodge should be reverent, enlightening and solemn. Most importantly, it should be Masonic. The Landmarks, the Ancient ritual and the timelessness of her teachings is what drew many of us to her outer door to begin with. We can, however, hold family nights, fellowship dinners out, officer retreats, new member competitions and a host of other things to involve as many as possible in the planning and execution of programs, to cement the bond of fellowship among the Brethren and to vest as many as possible in the success of the Lodge.

In recent months, we’ve heard "change" thrown about so much that it has lost any real meaning. It’s now akin to verbs like move or make. Both words are legitimate words in the American lexicon, but do little to describe in any vividness the actions they are to represent. Would not lumber, zip, rush, saunter or run more accurately describe movement? Sure. The same goes for words like create, sculpt, fashion or compel as replacements for make.

The dictionary defines change as “to make or become different.” Why are we as Masons change averse? Maybe the problem is in calling it change. Maybe we should label it as improvement, progress or enhancement.

How many know the answer to the question “How many Masons does it take to change a light bulb?” Twenty-one, one to change it, ten to tell him they’ve always used the other ladder to change burned out bulbs and 10 who grumble and swear it was just fine if not better burned out.

How do we make the answer to that: 21 One who notices it is out and 20 who rush – hand in hand with unanimity – to replace it?

First, we need to learn why people resist change and what can be done to help them. There are numerous types who resist change, but the four most prevalent are those who fear failure, those who fear the unknown, those who fear loss of control and lastly, the closed-minded. Do you notice something? The descriptions of the first three types begin with the word fear.

The first type, those who fear failure need to be reminded in the words of Charles Swindoll that “[g]reat accomplishments are often attempted but only occasionally reached. Those who reach them are usually those who missed many times before. Failures are only temporary tests to prepare us for permanent triumphs.”

The second type is those who fear the unknown. They are easily brought on board with logical and rational explanations of the new plan and why it is better than the old. For example, a simple chart showing that expenses exceed income would be enough to convince them that dues need to be increased.

We can accommodate the third type, those who worry about loss of control in another way. If you replace an unsuccessful event with a new one, naturally the chair of the former will feel a little jealousy or resentment. Inviting him to be a part of the new committee would generally solve that problem.

The last one – closed mindedness, can be the most difficult. There is a story that Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of Patents in 1899, wrote a letter to President and Brother McKinley urging him to close the Patent Office because “everything that could be invented already has been invented.” There is no evidence that this actually happened (in fact it seems quite likely that it did not), but it is illustrative of an important point. Mankind has an almost infinite ability to imagine and trying to limit that is as great an injustice as can be committed. Think about it. Once someone said man could not fly, and then maybe he said man could not break the sound barrier, or get into space or to the moon. Maybe someone today is tempted to say it about travelling to Mars, but perhaps the lesson has been learned. The only thing you can do with the closed-minded is to succeed in spite of them. If you fail and hear an “I told you so,” remind them of the words of our dear Brother Theodore Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither
enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows
not victory nor defeat.

So once we know how to deal with the objections, our path is clear to move ahead, to change/improve/augment/supplement our old programs and ideas while still staying true to our time-honored tenets and teachings.

Either we can shriek and beat our chests as the new monkeys walk toward the ladder, or we can move forward united as a band of Brothers whose vision and single-mindedness of purpose will assure our success in all that we do. The latter sounds so much more appealing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Challenge

I issued a challenge at the School of Instruction last night. I pledged that if the District could bring 110 people to the visitation at Pollock Lodge No. 502 this Thursday, I would cook dinner for all in attendance at the School of Instruction on April 6th.

Can it be done? It remains to be seen. (I'm tempted to start trash talking here in an effort to spur you all to action, but that seems a little unMasonic.) I only know that it would be a glorious sight for both Brother Fine and me to stand in the East and see not only every single seat filled, but an extra row of chairs in place to accomodate everyone.

As an incentive, here's the (prospective) menu: White Chili with Tequila-Marinated Chicken for the adventurous, Traditional Red Chili for the purists and tossed salad with a home-made dressing to be named later.

I'll see you all Thursday night.



Welcome to The Point Within a Circle, the new blog of the 54th Masonic District. In Freemasonry, the point within a circle represents the necessity for us as Freemasons to be masters of our behavior both publicly and privately.

To that end, The Point Within a Circle will provide you with news, musings and thoughts pertaining to Freemasonry in general and the 54th District in particular.

There are many changes afoot for the District and the way we communicate. The Call-em-All program continues to be a tremendous success by providing instant communication to every Lodge member. We now have a Facebook Group as well. It is a closed group for members and friends of the 54th District and requires Masonic membership for approval. As a member, you will receive invitations and reminders for District and Grand Lodge events. You may also follow me on Twitter.

If you care to, please take a moment and sign up as a follower of the blog. If you ever feel so moved, you may also comment on the posts as they appear.

It is my hope that you will enjoy what you read here as much as I enjoy sharing it with you.