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.