Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
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:
Until you have become really, in actual fact, as brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass – Fyodor DostoyevskyWe 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
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
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.