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.