Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love, Loss and Thanksgiving

I just found out a few days ago that the wife of a dear friend and Brother passed away after what her obituary called a one-week battle with leukemia.

The funeral service was November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving.  Now, for as long as I have known my friend, I never had the opportunity to meet his wife, with the possible exception of a quick hello at his house one afternoon a few years back.  I thought, mistakenly, that this would be an easy funeral to attend (if any funerals are easy) since I really shared nothing with her.  No memories, no experiences no connection to her other than her husband.  As I entered the church lobby, I saw my friend.  He said he was doing well, that today would be a celebration.  He knew there would be some tears, but he wore a genuine smile and the sparkle that is typically in his eye was there as well.  Easy, I thought.

When I entered the sanctuary, I saw her picture being projected onto the walls in the front of the church.   She wore her hair in a blond bob, combed perfectly, looking directly at the camera with a squinty smile that made me think she knew a secret that she wasn't quite ready to tell.  She looked warm and caring and I instantly wished that I had known her.  I was overcome with sadness - as much as I have ever experienced at a funeral.  Why?  We were a full degree of separation from each other.  What was it that made me mourn so deeply?  I tried to figure it out as I listened to the opening remarks from the pastor, the guitar and vocals of "God of This City" and a touching video tribute.  I saw her as a child, at family reunions, graduations, at her wedding to my friend who evidently had a lot more hair and a big seventies moustache long before we knew each other, the birth of her children and her later years (if you can call 52 "later years").  I figure there may have been sixty pictures, each one on average 1/60th of a second exposure, so her life was distilled to a total of one second of time captured in those images.  It was left to me to imagine the time between those frozen instants, the time that makes a life.  The time we laugh, struggle, give thanks, question, cry and love.  I realized at that moment why I was so sad.  In between her beginning and her end, spanning the years of her story, this woman I didn't know - the one keeping that really great secret-loved my friend - helped to make him who he is.  She loved someone I love, so I loved her and her death leaves a void of sorts for me.

So on this Thanksgiving I am grateful for those who have touched my life without my even knowing it.  I am thankful for the people that love me and for those I love.  I'd like to think most of you know who you are, but if I were honest with myself, I know I could be better about showing you.

And I shall be.

Pax vobiscum Kelly, et cum spirito tuo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pride of Ownership

Last night Tyrian Lodge No. 644 played host to my ninth Official Visit of the year.

We had a great deal of work on the Trestleboard.  We presented two Fifty Year Embles and a Sixty Year wreath.  I had the opportunity to present a Century Club pin and certificate to Brother Byrl Johnson.  Brother Byrl has conferred 153 degrees in his own Lodge and countless others in Lodges all over the area.

We also awarded the final Travelling Trowel award to Pollock Lodge No. 502 and the Boaz and Jachin Ritual Excellence Award to Bethel Lodge No. 789.  Congratulations to the Brethren and the Lodges for each of their honors.

I was pleased to offer the following address when called upon for remarks:

Pride of Ownership

One ship sails east, another west,
By the self-same winds that blow.
It isn't the gales, it's the set of the sails,
That determines the way we go.
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox
For several months now, I have come before you to talk about the Grand Master’s 21st Century Masonic Renaissance. You all know about the great tools he has given us to help slow the membership decline in our Fraternity.

You all know that we can now ask men of good character to join; that we have a brochure entitled You’re Invited to answer any questions they may have. I have told you all about the One Day Journey to be held on October 30th where a man can become a Mason in just one day. He will need training and guidance after, but he can take all of his Degrees and be a full-fledged Mason by the early afternoon.

You know about the “Call to the Craft” program that makes phone calls to your members fast and easy. We have shared our Acts of Kindness, and talked about the monthly service projects and fundraisers, all designed to boost our image in the community and the individual Mason’s pride in his membership.

In ancient Athens, the young men of the city had to take the following oath upon reaching their majority:
  • We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.
  • We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many.
  • We will revere and obey the City's laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught.
  • We will strive increasingly to quicken the public's sense of civic duty.
  • Thus, in all these ways we will transmit this City, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take that kind of delight in our Fraternity? How much more grand would we be if every Mason felt that kind of pride of ownership. That’s what we are, owners – or perhaps stewards would be more accurate – of the Craft.

What does it mean to transmit [the Lodge], not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us? It means work. It means labor and toil and sweat and tears and sacrifice. There are Lodges in this District that have not read a single petition this year. Those same Lodges will suspend members and undoubtedly lose a few through death. Conversely, there are Lodges which have read more than ten petitions for Initiation and may suspend few or no Masons because they have done the work necessary. They have used the Call to the Craft for dues reminders and have made personal calls to delinquent Brothers reminding them of the value of being a Freemason. It isn’t the gales, but the set of the sails that determines the way we go.

Many of you know I’m a fairly avid runner. I don’t generally run very far – only about three to four miles at a time – but I do run frequently. Recently, a friend suggested that we run the half marathon in Pittsburgh together. I said yes thinking it would never happen. Well, on May 2nd, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, drove down to the city with Gail (my cheering section) and joined 16,000 other people at the common start of the marathon and half marathon. Prior to that time, the longest run I had ever taken was ten miles. I’m now set to increase that by thirty percent all at once. During the race, there were stretches of straightaway where you could see thousands of people ahead of you and thousands behind you all working toward the same goal. It made me wonder what our Fraternity would be like if we did that.

Gail asked me why I wanted to do it. I guess the answer is that I wanted to see what I was capable of, and the only way to find out was to try.

At the end of the race, there are people there to place a finisher’s medal around your neck. Those of you who have heard me decry participant trophies may sense some irony here, but I assure you this is something different. You see, excluding the elite athletes who are racing each other, the half marathon and marathon are challenges to yourself. They are races against the inner voices that tell you that you cannot overcome adversity or pain; that quitting would be easier. When I crossed the finish line, I did not care about who was in front of me because I wasn’t racing against them. I beat the part of me that said you can’t do it and that was my victory. I now have pride of ownership in that medal because it was purchased by my sweat and hard work.

We need to bring that kind of drive to our Lodge. We need to set our goals high and then work to attain them. Soon, what was difficult and cumbersome becomes habit and custom. You won’t mind doing the hard work, because it will become part of what you do. The victory will be the perpetuity of the Lodge; it will be in leaving it not only not less, but greater than when it was in your care. Every single Lodge in our District should grow in 2010. There is no reason for that not to happen. The Grand Lodge has given you the tools, now you need to pick them up and use them. Be mindful of the men in your life who would make good Masons. Tell them about the good things we do and invite them to be a part of it. Freemasonry is yours Brethren, be proud of that.

In 1914 Brother Sir Ernest Shackleton’s was preparing for an expedition to the South Pole. There is a legend that states he placed a newspaper ad recruiting men for his ship The Endurance. The ad read:


The story is told that he received thousands of applicants for the trip.

Our journey is not hazardous, there is no bitter cold, constant danger or complete darkness and our safety is not in doubt. Our journey on the Renaissance will require effort. It will take some time and sacrifice on the parts of all of us. Our reward will be honor and pride. Honor, in that we did the right thing for Freemasonry even though it was difficult. Pride, in knowing that our labor is responsible for the successful future of the Craft we all love so deeply.

Set your sails and join me Brethren!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Building Bridges

On Tuesday, April 20th I made my Official Visit to Plum Creek-Monroeville Lodge No. 799 - my home Lodge.  I was pleased beyond measure to have Brother Vern A. Henery, PDDGM travel with me.  Brother Vern acted as Guide for my Entered Apprentice Mason's Degree, so he was really the first "face" of a Freemason for me.  It was great to have him in the travelling party. 

We presented three Brothers with 50 year Emblems.  What a thrill.

Before retiring to the fellowship hall for an excellent meal, I was pleased to offer the following remarks.

Building Bridges

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. - Nietzsche
When you hear the word bridge, what comes to mind? I believe for most people it would be the image of a bridge – Brooklyn, Golden Gate or maybe even a pastoral scene with a small covered bridge spanning a little trout stream. What if I asked what a bridge means? That would be something different entirely.

Dream dictionaries offer several interpretations of bridges. They can symbolize transition from one thing to another, a crossing over or a birth.

Tonight I want to take a close look at bridges and bridge building as those things relate to Freemasonry. We will examine how to build bridges within and without the Craft and ways that Freemasonry itself is a bridge.

In W.A. Dromgoole’s poem The Bridge Builder, a tale is told of an old man travelling alone who comes to a difficult river to cross. He does so, and upon reaching the other side, built a bridge. A traveler on the other side asks him why, since he is old and will never pass through again, he spends his time making a bridge.  Then:

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

If we are to thrive as a Fraternity, we need to have that kind of vision. Those who came before us did. They set out to establish a legacy – to build a bridge so that generations of men to follow could learn the valuable lessons that the Craft has to offer. They knew that they had something of value and weren’t ashamed that it had a price. They were always mindful that to be responsible meant not only to be able to pay the bills, but to have money left to build a trust fund for the future. Today we are content to rest on our laurels, to live off of the hard work of those who came before.

We must change our thinking Brethren! We need to examine not only what it costs us to run the day to day operations of our Lodge, but what we need to continue to build a bridge (like those who came before did for us) to the next generation of Freemasons. If that means that dues need to increase – and they probably do – then do the right thing. Give the Lodge, its Officers and its members the chance to enjoy Masonry the way our forefathers did. Ensure that your Lodge will be a shining monument to forward thinking and hard work for generations to come. Build the bridge.

Within the Craft we also need to build bridges to those who are thinking of leaving. We MUST contact our delinquent Brethren, ask them why they are giving up membership in the greatest fraternity the world has ever known. If they have fallen on hard times, we need to be charitable. If they have just lost interest, find out why. Maybe we need to look at whether we are providing our members with what they want.

There’s a story about a woman who had stopped going to church for a while. After a few months of sitting home on Sunday, she finally decided to quit. The pastor got her letter and called her. “Why are you leaving our church,” he asked.

“Well, I was getting the feeling that I just didn’t matter to the congregation, so I decided to stay home for a few weeks to see if anyone noticed. No one did, so I guess I was right.”

Sometimes, all we need to do is let the Brethren know they matter. The “Call to the Craft” is an excellent tool to let them hear from you. The Lodges that use it regularly have seen increased attendance. As your May Stated Meeting approaches and it is time to suspend for non payment of dues, you must first have made every effort at a personal contact by telephone and it should be your goal to suspend no one. Let no man feel that our great Craft is better off without him, or he without it. Build a bridge.

So too must we construct bridges to the community. In his 21st Century Renaissance, Grand Master Sturgeon has authorized us for the first time in our history to invite good men to be a part of our Fraternity. He has prepared a brochure answering the questions that most men would have of our organization. What do we do? Who do we help? Where do we come from? What are our ideals? And most importantly, how do I join? It is downright tragic when you consider the number of fine men who have gone to their graves wondering why no one ever asked them to be Masons. There are no doubt men who volunteered in their community, supported their local church, synagogue or temple and walked as uprightly as anyone could who simply couldn’t figure out why they weren’t invited into their local Lodge. The problem is, they never knew that the first step was supposed to be theirs. Not anymore my Brothers. The You’re Invited brochure is now a tool that you can use to start a dialogue with a friend who you deem worthy of our Institution. It is the bridge to a conversation about a man becoming a better father, son, citizen and brother. Use it. Build a bridge.

You see, a problem looming in our not too distant future is that of declining membership. I am preparing a report for each Lodge to show membership statistics over the last five years. I will use Plum Creek Monroeville Lodge for illustrative purposes, but the picture I paint is essentially the same across the board.

In the last five years, this Lodge has initiated, restored or affiliated forty-nine men. In that same period, we have lost to suspension, death or resignation one hundred fifty-four. That is not quite twenty percent of the membership. I don’t think you need me to explain the dangers of that kind of decline.

If you hand a brochure to a friend and he tells you that he is just way too busy to join, the answer is the One Day Masonic Journey. On October 30th we will meet in Soldiers and Sailors Hall and confer the three Craft Masonry degrees by one o’clock, p.m. The One Day Journey is not a shortcut to the Craft. It is a bridge from what we did in the past – because men simply did not have as many demands on their time as they do today – to the 21st Century where we seem to schedule our days, hours and minutes to wring productivity out of each second.

Will some of these men take the Degrees and never be seen again? Yes, and that happens just as often with the traditional conferrals. Will some of them go on to become active members, Officers and even Masters of their respective Lodges? There are several here tonight who bear witness that they will.

Another way to build bridges to nonMasons is through our works. Grand Master Sturgeon has asked us to perform monthly community service projects. The Lodges of the 54th District have answered that challenge. We have volunteered at food banks, answered phones at fundraisers, sponsored teams, picked up litter on highways, read to children at their schools, beautified cemeteries, helped the scouts, the elderly, the veterans and the sick. It is simply astounding what we have been able to do.

When we step into the community to ease the path of others, we are changed as well. The satisfaction of having done something to help should never be your motivation, but it sure is a nice side effect. And when others see our works, they too may be spurred to action. We may become the bridge from self-indulgence to self-sacrifice.

Acts of kindness and selflessness can have a ripple effect. Just as self-interest has deteriorated our communities, so too can altruism rebuild them. It will take patience and time. As water eroded stone slowly – literally one grain at a time – to give us the beauty of the Grand Canyon, we can slowly bring about change in our world by effecting change in ourselves. We can entice good men to do the same by giving them something worthwhile to do and to be. Build those bridges.

Leave this sanctuary of peace tonight, think about good men in your life who are not Masons and invite them to be a part of this esteemed band of men. Support the One Day Journey as a mentor. Volunteer with your Lodges as they build better communities. Be a span – from intolerance to peace, from self-indulgence to self-sacrifice, and from the past to a future made more glorious because Freemasons played their parts.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vision Amazing

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample a kingdom down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself in our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

A breath of our inspiration
Is the life of each generation;
A wondrous thing of our dreaming
Unearthly, impossible seeming—
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.

They had no vision amazing
Of the goodly house they are raising;
They had no divine foreshowing
Of the land to which they are going:
But on one man's soul it hath broken,
A light that doth not depart;
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man's heart.

And therefore to-day is thrilling
With a past day's late fulfilling;
And the multitudes are enlisted
In the faith that their fathers resisted,
And, scorning the dream of to-morrow,
Are bringing to pass, as they may,
In the world, for its joy or its sorrow,
The dream that was scorned yesterday.

But we, with our dreaming and singing,
Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
The glory about us clinging
Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing:
O men! it must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.

For we are afar with the dawning
And the suns that are not yet high,
And out of the infinite morning
Intrepid you hear us cry—
How, spite of your human scorning,
Once more God's future draws nigh,
And already goes forth the warning
That ye of the past must die.

Great hail! we cry to the comers
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers;
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
And things that we dreamed not before:
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.

Ode - Arthur O'Shaughnessy

I originally set out to quote only excerpts of the above poem Ode, by Arthur O’Shaughnessy, but as I sat at my computer and tried to edit it, distill it down to just a few stanzas that may apply to our Craft, I realized it just wouldn’t be possible. Poetry has been described as the perfect economy of words in the perfect order. In other words, if you add or subtract from it, it will be diminished.

Now I can find no evidence that O’Shaughnessy was a Mason which leads me to believe that he was not. And it is obvious that Freemasonry is not the subject of the poem – it is clearly describing artists, musicians and writers, but if you really think about it – allow yourself to get lost in the words – it can be applied to anyone working for positive change.

One man with a dream, at pleasure/Shall go forth and conquer a crown;/And three with a new song’s measure/Can trample a kingdom down. Throughout history and all around the world, Freemasons and their doctrine of the equality of man have played pivotal roles in trampling down oppression and defending liberty. Bolivar in South America, Garibaldi in Italy, Revere, Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Churchill – the list is almost endless. What is amazing is that where there has been a rebellion against injustice, men who were Masons have been there to lead.

The Renaissance is going to change the way we teach our Apprentices. No longer will we simply make them memorize ritual without explaining what it means. We are now going to teach men of our proud and glorious history so that when someone approaches them and says, “I see you’re a Mason. What do you people do,” he can tell them of our good works, past and present and feel proud. A breath of our inspiration/is the life of each generation.

Grand Master Sturgeon has made it easy for us to talk to nonMasons about who we are. We now have a brochure entitled You’re Invited to hand to men of good character. In it, they can read about where we came from, what we do, and why we are worthy of their time. If you haven’t handed one to a friend, you are doing him a disservice. Your brothers, uncles, sons, fathers, nephews and neighbors know you to be a good man and they probably know you’re a Mason. Share it with them, you’ll both be better for it.

And o’erthrew them with prophesying/to the old of the new world’s worth/for each age is a dream that is dying/or one that is coming to birth.  The Renaissance, or rebirth, is not without its resistance, for a rebirth implies the death of something else. Brethren, if you examine where we’ve been and trend it forward, it becomes clear that the old way – the way we’ve always done it – isn’t working. Drastic steps had to be taken to curb the membership decline. The brochure was one. The One Day Masonic Journey is another.

The old way – the way we’ve always done it – was to confer degrees over a three month period. There are Brethren who are up in arms that we are offering a “short cut” to the Craft. I suppose that if Ben Franklin, Elias Ashmole or other Freemasons of yore saw how you and I entered the Fraternity, they would call it a short cut as well since it used to take several months or more to earn each Degree.

The One Day Journey will allow men with limited free time to receive all three Craft degrees on the morning of October 30th. What happens next is up to your Lodge. Will your mentors invite them to the next meeting? Will you ask them to come to your next social outing? Will you do everything in your power to make them feel as welcome as you did? Or will you shake their hands, offer congratulations and stand up at the next meeting and complain that the One Day Class didn’t work? In short, will you be a stumbling block or a stepping stone?

They had no vision amazing/Of the goodly house they are raising/. . ./But on one man's soul it hath broken,/A light that doth not depart;/And his look, or a word he hath spoken,/Wrought flame in another man's heart.  Last night I was standing outside of Penn Brotherhood Lodge with a few other members when a young man approached dressed in his naval uniform. As he walked toward us, he removed his hat, tucked it into his belt and nervously said, “I am interested in becoming a Mason. Is there someone here I can talk to?”

Imagine the courage it takes to walk up to a building filled with men you have never met before and ask them to admit him to their ranks. As we talked, he shared with me that he only knows a few men who are Masons, but they are the best men he has ever met. Those unnamed Masons’ looks or the words they had spoken wrought flame in that young man’s heart to be sure.

Why should we wait around for men to find the bravery to ask us? I charge you all to take an active role in our shared future. Use the tools that the Grand Lodge has given us to enliven our Lodges and prepare tomorrow’s leaders.

Our history is written and it is glorious. The future is ours to shape. We can either resign ourselves to mediocrity or we can, with our dreaming and singing, shape a tomorrow whose suns are not yet high.

Great hail! we cry to the comers/From the dazzling unknown shore;/Bring us hither your sun and your summers;/And renew our world as of yore.  Let us renew our world, renew our Lodges and with vision amazing march hand in hand with unanimity toward a new and invigorated Craft.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tenses: Using the Future to Plan for the Present

Men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up. - Thoreau

There is a story that has been told about a king who ruled over a land of peace and prosperity for many years. He began to notice, much to his dismay, that the people of his kingdom had become lazy. They had enjoyed so much for so long that they had no inclination to work.

“I swear,” said the king, “that there isn’t a single person left in this entire kingdom with initiative.” So in the middle of the night, he used his horse to pull a giant stone into the middle of the main road into the village. He picked a spot in the bushes and waited to see what would happen.

At first light, a farmer approached pulling a wagon full of grain. He slowed his wagon, looked at the stone and grumbled, “This is dangerous. Someone should surely move this stone before it causes an accident.” He then maneuvered his horse and wagon onto the berm, around the stone and into town.

Next passed a soldier, his sword and medals clanging as he walked the road. He was daydreaming; thinking of his own bravery and how gallantly he had fought in the past. So caught up in his own world was he that he didn’t notice the stone and fell right over it. “How ridiculous is it that this stone is in the middle of the road. Someone should move it.” He dusted his uniform, readjusted his medals and sword and continued down the road.

All day this happened. People stopping to complain about the stone, the danger and folly of where it lay and the fact that someone ought to move it. No one ever did.

As the night began to fall, a young boy came upon the stone and stopped. He looked at it and thought of all the problems it could cause at night when no one could see it. He was tired – having worked all day on his father’s farm – but he knew that something had to be done. He worked and worked and with every ounce of energy he had, he was able to move the stone off of the road.

When he finished, he looked at the spot where the stone had lain. There was a bag lying where the stone had been. The boy was astonished when he opened the bag to find it filled with gold coins and a note that read “This gold belongs to the one who moved the stone.”

The next day, when news had spread into the village, they all came out to the road where the stone had been. The farmer, the soldier and all the others who had passed the stone by were now scraping the ground and looking all over for perhaps another bag of coins.

The king rode up to them and explained, “My friends, we will always be met with some sort of obstacles in our life. We can look at them as either obstructions or opportunities. All of you chose the former. I hope you have learned a valuable lesson today. Only through hard work will you receive reward. Laziness brings no wages but regret.” With that he rode off.
Often when we, as Masons, think about creating and executing a plan, the process goes something like this:

1. Come up with an idea.

2. Ask around the Lodge to see if it has been tried before.

3. If it hasn’t, scrap it because it’ll never work.

4. If it has, do it again, but this time charge a little more and give a little less.

Generally speaking, we look to the past to plan for the future. I think we’ve been doing it all wrong. If we want to be successful as a Fraternity, we must use the future to plan for the present. That is how we used to do it. We would fix our eyes on a future and do what was necessary to make it come to pass.

Most of the Lodges in the District have some money in the bank. That didn’t happen miraculously. It happened because those who came before us set out to create a legacy. They wanted a Lodge that would outlast them and they asked themselves “If we want a given tomorrow, how must we act today?” They knew that Lodges needed both members and money to survive. They made sure they brought new members in and they charged enough money that they could both operate their Lodges and invest in the future.

Somewhere along the way, like the kingdom you just heard about, we enjoyed so much prosperity that our thinking changed. We thought, “Someone else can bring in members?” Or often, “They can raise the dues next year if they want to.” In short, we stopped thinking about the future, choosing instead to make it someone else’s problem.

That has to end Brethren. We must no longer wait for someone else to take the stone out of the road. It is on us to shape our own tomorrows. The Grand Master has given us the ability to invite men to join our ranks. Every one of us knows a man who could benefit from our teachings. Every one of us has a duty to help his Lodge.

For the busy man, we have a One Day Journey on October 30th. He can receive all of his Degrees by the early afternoon. That, though, is only half of the journey. After that, you need to contact him and invite him back to Lodge. That is the most crucial step in his journey. Bring him to Lodge where he can meet his Brothers and learn of our wonderful history and our beautiful future.

If we want to have a bright future, we must fix our minds on that and use today to make it happen. To keep from having fewer members next year, we must bring men in now. To avoid running ourselves out of money soon, we must structure our dues and fees properly today.

Our Renaissance, literally rebirth, must be just that. A rebirth in the way we think of Freemasonry – not as a trinket that can be given cheaply to any man, but rather as a jewel only to be earned by the worthy. Does it cost a lot? It should if it is to have any value to the purchaser.

We must use our new eyes to look at our ancient Fraternity in a different way. It is our responsibility to make it succeed. It is each of our jobs to put shoulder to stone and move the obstacle from the road to a glorious future.

What will our future be? Will we use today to make tomorrow better and, like the boy in the story, earn our riches? Or will we be like the others kicking the ground at the foundation of where our glorious temples used to stand wondering where it all went wrong?

The choice is yours. And the choice is ours.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Practice and Profession of Freemasonry

Last night was the third consecutive night of Official Visits in the District.  I know that it was a lot to ask of the Officers and I thank them for answering the call.  Worshipful Master Sam Harper conducted a fine meeting.  At age 87, Sam has taken up the helm in his Lodge for the second time.  The first was 1978.

After the meeting closed, we presented 50 Year Emblems to two Brothers, one 60 Year Wreath and a long (20 years) overdue 25 Year Award.  A beautiful evening indeed.

I was called on for remarks and offered what follows.

The Practice and Profession of Freemasonry

One must be something to be able to do something. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There’s a story that has been told about a young boy and some starfish. You see, every so often there is a perfect combination of tide and wind and current that causes unusually high numbers of starfish to wash up onto beaches around the world.

It was on one of those days that an old and wise man decided to take a walk on the shore to clear his mind and think. A little way ahead of him, he saw a young boy constantly stooping to pick something up and throw it into the ocean.

As the old man approached, he could see it was the starfish that the boy was so focused on.  He stopped and asked the boy, “Why are you spending so much time throwing those starfish into the ocean?”

“You see sir, the tide is going out and these starfish will be stranded and die. I’m trying to help,” said the boy.

“But my dear boy, there are miles of beach and hundreds, maybe even thousands of starfish here. Why waste your time when what you’re doing can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy, not missing a beat, picked another starfish up and with all his might, tossed it far out into the waves. As it hit the water with the splash, he looked to the old man and said, “It sure makes a difference to that one.”

Too often in life, we go along unaware of our actions and what kind of affect they have on others. With the cynicism that sometimes comes as we leave childhood and become men, we can easily begin to look at the big picture as hopeless instead of focusing on the specifics like that little boy.

We must be ever mindful that what we do as Masons may not have immediate impact on society as a whole, but it does impact individuals. Perhaps each of those individuals, touched by a kindness or spurred to goodness by a Mason decides to pay it forward. Soon, change happens on a greater scale, blossoming, in a perfect world, exponentially.

We are admonished at the opening of every Lodge meeting to “apply ourselves with zeal to the practice and profession of Freemasonry.” What is the practice and profession of Freemasonry? And how can we apply that to being a 21st Century Mason? We need look no further than the rest of that charge for the answer.

We must seek wisdom, for no man who is wise can be anything but good.

We must be united; for when people strive to work and agree, the load is lessened for all. Conversely, without consensus, the going is challenging at best.

We have been charged this year to do something that we’ve never done before. I say that with a wink, because I think if we’re honest, we will admit we’ve done it for years. Under Grand Master Sturgeon, we can now ask good men to be a part of our great Fraternity. There are stories of sons that have waited years for their fathers to ask them to join the Fraternity only to find out much later in life that they were supposed to make the inquiry themselves. It was always seemed a little like “double secret probation” to me. You only learned that you were supposed to seek membership once you sought membership. Well, that’s no more. We can now tell our friends, “Hey, you are the kind of man that should be a Mason.”

We’re even going to make it easy for these men. On October 30th, there will be a One Day Masonic Journey. Men who don’t have free evenings, men who work second shift and those who truly don’t have the time to join in the usual way can now become Masons. Making them want to stay after they join – that’s your job. Bring them to a Lodge that is active, fun and contributing to a better community and they will stay. They may realize that things they used to find important just aren’t when compared to the transformation he sees in himself as he matures as a man and Mason.

Some may grumble, “Well, that’s not the traditional way. He should have to wait a month between Degrees, like I did.” Well you know what, that isn’t the traditional way either. It used to take up to three years between Degrees. I imagine that our Masonic ancestors, if they were here, might complain that you and I didn’t really do it the traditional way either.

The point is that we must be united. We must realize that today’s Masonry needs to adapt to today’s culture if it is to remain relevant. Use the brochure as a way to open a door for a young man. Support the One Day Journey. It might not be your cup of tea, but we’re charged to be united, so unite.

We are told to be happy and contribute to the happiness of others. There are limitless ways that we can do that. Through our Lodge Community Service Projects, we can beautify our neighborhoods, help families in need and give back to the communities that we call home. Acts of Kindness that we have always done serve as outward symbols of the care and love that our Craft have toward all mankind.

What about promoting the useful arts and cultivating the moral virtues? We must mentor our members and tell them of our history. We must explain the value of adorning our minds and inspire them through the tales of the great Masons who have shaped the world. To help a man soar intellectually is the best gift you can give, for an educated mind is a free mind.

Nowhere is it more important to teach virtue and morality than to our young boys and girls. Building strong foundations of morality, teaching good judgment and empowering our future leaders to be all that they can be is an indispensible part of our mission to make the world a better place to live. Remember, one must be something to be able to do something. Giving fifty cents per member to the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation is one of the points of the Renaissance. I urge you not to stop there. Give more. If you can’t afford more money, give of your time. Bring them to Lodge to exemplify their ritual, ask them to help with your fundraisers, most of all, become their friends. Be the role models that are lacking in our society.

Thoreau said “In the long run men only hit what they aim at.” I charge you tonight to aim high. Aim not for mediocrity, but aim for the stars. Let the practice and profession of our Noble Art be your singular focus. Do all in your power to meet the Grand Master’s challenge to bring Masonry to the 21st Century so that your children, grandchildren and men of good character in generations to come can continue to be a part of something so sublime.

So mote it be.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Passion for Compassion

Tonight I made my first ever Official Visit to Infinty Lodge No. 546.  The Master and Officers were extremely well prepared and showed every kindness to many of us who were first time visitors. 

I presented 50 Service Emblems to four of the members.  One travelled from South Carolina and another from Detroit to receive their awards.  I asked if it was just a fortunate coincidence that they were in town at this time assuming that perhaps a wedding or family event found them fortuitously in the area.  They both replied that they made this trip specifically to receive the Award in their Lodge surrounded by people they know and love.  That speaks so much for the bonds forged in our great Fraternity.  What a glorious evening.

I had the privilege of offering the following to the assembled Brethren

A Passion for Compassion

. . . May I reach
That purest heaven, -- be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world. – George Eliot

There was once a small girl who lived in on the outskirts of a mountain village with just her mother and a servant. There had been a drought in the land and everyone and everything around was suffering. The girl’s mother was so weak and thirsty that the girl decided on her own to set off into the land and search for some water. She took the little tin dipper from the shelf and walked for hours until she found a tiny spring in the mountains that had just a small amount of water trickling out. The girl patiently held the dipper until she had what she thought was enough water for her sick mother, then she began to make her way back home.

On the way she met up with a little dog. The dog looked so weak to her. He licked her hand and his dry tongue made her take pity. She said to him, “I can only spare a few drops, for my mother is very sick, but you too could benefit from a little water.”

She poured some water into her hand and the dog quickly lapped it up, barked as if to say “Thank you,” and went on his way. The girl looked at the dipper in her hand and realized that the little tin dipper was now made of silver and it was just as full as it had been before.

She continued on her way, hurrying now because it was almost dark. The road was very long and she was so far from home. She was moving so quickly that she began to crave the water herself. “I can’t drink any of this. My mother needs it far more than I do,” she thought.

When she got home, she ran to her mother’s room and held out the silver dipper. Her mother said, “Please give it to our servant. She has been working tirelessly at my side since I have been sick. She needs it far more than I.”

The servant drank from the cup and handed back to the little girl. She looked at the cup in her hands and it was now a dipper of gold and still every bit as full as it was before.

Presently, there was a knock at the door. A stranger appeared before them and said, “I saw a little girl on the road earlier who generously shared her water with a sick dog and was hoping she could spare some for me.”

The mother knew the importance of helping others in need, so she told her daughter to give the dipper to the stranger, who took the cup and turned it upside down, spilling the contents onto the ground.

“From where this water seeps into the ground shall come forth a huge and generous spring that will slake your thirst and feed your land forever,” he said as he handed back the dipper, now encrusted with the most beautiful diamonds.

The family was so in awe of what had happened that they scarcely noticed that the stranger had left without another word. When they turned to thank him for his generosity he was gone, but they thought they could see a trail of diamonds flying into the night sky. Even to this day, they are there in the form of the Big Dipper to remind us of the importance of being compassionate.

What do you think of when you hear someone called compassionate? Is a millionaire compassionate when he donates one hundred dollars to a charity? In some ways, he may be. Is the same donation from a single parent working two jobs and raising children alone far more compassionate? True compassion, you see, cannot be measured simply in dollars. The little girl was willing to share all of what she had with others, not just a little. Giving a little when you have a lot is not nearly as compassionate as sharing a lot when you have a little.

Our Grand Master has asked us to share like that little girl. Through many aspects of the 21st Century Renaissance, he is asking us to give deeply of our time, our talents and our treasure to help make our communities better for everyone; to build springs that will shower our land with abundance forever.

I have talked before about acts of kindness. I encourage you to remember that others judge Masonry by the actions of the Masons. A little empathy for others – helping a stranded motorist, shoveling a driveway or, perhaps more timely in view of today’s balmy weather, cutting someone’s grass – marks you as a good man and your Fraternity as a groomer of good men.

Giving of your talents can include such community projects as renovating a playground or picnic pavilion, or helping prepare someone’s income tax. If you have a way to ease the suffering of another, is it not your duty to do so?

Giving of your time is important too. When you adopt a resident at the Masonic Villages, you will not only be brightening their lives, but I know you will enrich your own. Remember that I said last night that you are never too old to learn. Our residents have unique and interesting stories and spending time with them can be so rewarding.

Our Grand Master has asked us to give of our treasure as well. He wants us to donate fifty cents per member to the youth and hold fundraisers to donate $2,000 to the Masonic Villages. Is that a lot? I don’t know. Was it a lot to ask a thirsty little girl to share all of what she had with others? For some Lodges, each of those amounts may mean hard work, but when you set out to do grand and noble things, you quickly realize that hard work is essential to success. What can possibly be nobler than ensuring the success of our youth by building strong foundations in faith, education and charitable giving? How could we not choose to work hard to maintain our Masonic Villages for those who have gone before us?

We need to give to our charities and our communities so that wells of abundance spring up all around us. If there’s a need, we must provide. If we get tired, that means we are doing our jobs as Masons and men. Men who aren’t Masons should be envious of what we do. When they ask how you find the time to do what you do, hand them a brochure and invite them to find out for themselves.

I charge you tonight to go home, think about what you can do to make a well spring forth in your community. Long to become a source of what is good and right. Share your time, talents and treasure; share the light that is this great Fraternity with good and worthy neighbors, co-workers and family members. Be passionate about being compassionate.

Simply, “be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!”

You needn’t wait to join the choir invisible to do it. Make it be so today!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Virtue of Virtues

At tonight's Official Visit to Valley Lodge No. 613, one hundred one Masons turned out to share an excellent meal hosted by Worshipful Master Mike O'Hanlon.  I again had the privilege of presenting 50 Year Service Emblems to three of their members and to give the following address:

The Virtue of Virtues

They who disbelieve in virtue because man has never been found perfect, might as reasonably deny a sun because it is not always day. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827

Merriam Webster defines virtue in several ways: 1. a conformity to a standard of right and 2. a beneficial quality or a power of a thing. With that in mind, tonight I want to talk a little bit about the beneficial quality of the conformity to a standard of right – said another way, the virtue of virtues.

In Freemasonry, we are taught to “practice the Masonic virtues,” but they are not specifically enumerated, nor are they further explained within our Pennsylvania ritual. If we seek more light and do some research, it is generally accepted that the Masonic virtues are the four Cardinal Virtues of Fortitude, Temperance, Justice and Prudence. Why did our Masonic forbears find these virtues of particular importance?

These days, the words fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence are used very infrequently. To modernize the whole conversation, let us refer to the Cardinal Virtues as the Principal Virtues. Let us call them courage, restraint, equality and wisdom.

C.S. Lewis said “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Perhaps that is why it is first among the virtues. At every point when your ethics are tested and you are given an easy choice and the right choice, it takes courage above all to see you through. Courage is often thought to mean physical bravery, but as a Mason, it refers to doing what is right, not necessarily what is popular. As a Lodge leader as well as in life, sometimes it is far more appealing to be liked by your peers than to have to make a tough decision.

For example, courage may require the raising of the dues when the Lodge is in the red – even if it makes you unpopular. The Masonic Renaissance is making changes to many aspects of how we, as Lodges, operate. It is probably a safe bet that every one sitting in this Lodge disagrees with some aspect of the Renaissance. That’s okay. It just requires brave leaders to say “We’re going to try it anyhow.” As leaders and members you must come together. Unanimity isn’t as important as consensus. You may not agree with certain aspects of the Renaissance, but you do irreparable damage to your Lodge if you don’t do all in your power to help it succeed. So courage in our leaders means making decisions that not everyone agrees with. Courage in our members then, means stepping up to help even though you may not like what you are helping with. You must set aside your differences and row with the others in the boat, not against them.

That brings us to restraint. Let’s say, for example, that you aren’t fond of the idea of the One Day Masonic Journey. You could do several things. Not tell any of your friends about it – friends who are busy and don’t have the time to leave the house in the evenings. You can refuse to help with it. You can even stand up in your Lodge after it’s over and boldly proclaim that you don’t see a single new member sitting there with you. You could do all those things or you could exercise self control. You could give the brochure to your busy friend and vow to make his experience so good, he will rearrange his evenings to start attending Lodge. You could also volunteer to be a mentor to those who come it through that class and teach them with months of one on one dedication what you think it means to be a Mason. You could also not stand up in Lodge and make such a statement. Be a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. Realize that there are several paths you can walk from the same starting point to the same destination. Always remember to restrain that part of you that wants to build barriers. Build Temples instead.

Justice, or equality, from a Masonic perspective has less to do with punishing the wicked or rewarding the good than it does with treating each and every person you contact with fairness. Equality means that regardless of your chosen profession, you are a child of God and entitled to be given all the dignity and respect one would give to anything of His making. It also means that we too, as Masons, need to treat everyone that way. We must remind ourselves that we meet everyone “on the level” and that our interactions with our fellow man reflect back on our character. Knowing that justice should be afforded to all should make committing acts of kindness not just easy, but necessary. There is now a portal on the Grand Lodge webpage that catalogues those actions taken by your Brothers around the state. Logon and see exactly how we’re helping make life better. Post your deeds there as well. Not for admiration or accolades, but as a challenge to others to do the same.

Justice should make us realize that it is our duty to adopt residents at our Masonic homes. It is our duty to care for those who have placed their confidence in our ability to do so. We should support the families of our Soldiers by giving generously to the Help for the Heroes Program. A few spare coins at the end of a meeting is nowhere near the sacrifice that they are making for us, but it can mean so much to them and their families.

The last of the virtues is wisdom. True wisdom comes not only from knowledge, but also from experience. Gautama Siddharta said “To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”

If wisdom is the light, then we need fuel. That fuel is education. Whether it is the formal education of schooling, or informal education – the examination and questioning of the known and applying it to the unknown, matters not. Education is not just for the young. We can always learn if our minds are open to it. Brother Mark Twain is credited for having said “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Intellectual and emotional enlightenment should always be our aim. And remember, wisdom is a journey, never a destination. A wise man anticipates changes and adapts to them. He meets new challenges head on and is every ready to grow based on new experiences.

As our Fraternity faces the challenges of the 21st Century, we cannot rely on the solutions of years gone by. We must adapt to the needs of the men who are joining, not the men who founded the organization. I ask each of you to get on board with the Renaissance. Volunteer to lead one of your Community Service Projects; take the lead in adopting a resident of the Villages; call those Brethren who are delinquent to keep them from being suspended from this great Brotherhood; become a Mentor – it may help you learn a few new things too.

Most of all, realize the virtue of our virtues. Know that the practice of them makes you a better man and your world a better place. Leave here excited and proud to be a member of the Craft. Take a brochure home and vow to give it to a worthy man. Better yet, take five brochures home and invite deserving men to share in the great gift to mankind that is Freemasonry.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Mediocrity: The New Awesome

Last night, eight one Masons joined in fellowship at my Official Visit to Pollock Lodge No. 502 in Tarentum.  I was privileged to present 50 Year Service Emblems to six Brothers and a Sixty Year Wreath to another.  I am truly humbled every single time I pin someone who has served this Fraternity for so long.  I will never get tired of doing it.

My address for the evening follows:

Mediocrity: The New Awesome

Badness you can get easily, in quantity; the road is smooth, and it lies close by. But in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it. - Hesiod

Last week, the Winter Olympics came to a close in Vancouver. I would venture a guess that most, if not all of you watched some portion of those games. Why are we captivated by athletes coming from all corners of the globe to compete in their chosen disciplines? Is it because they are average at what they do? Is it because they go out and give fifty percent? Of course not! I would venture a guess that if every four years, the mediocre athletic nebbishes from every nation gathered to put just a little bit of effort (not enough to break a sweat, mind you) into being anything but superlative, not only would it not be televised, but no one would watch it if it was.

The Olympics is just one example I can use. Poetry, art, music – all of these things – are really more fully enjoyed when they are done well. Sure, you can enjoy music or art when your child is in the chorus or brings home something for the refrigerator, because it is personal, but otherwise we expect greatness.

Poetry, for example, is said to be such a pure use of language that either adding or subtracting a single word would diminish the poem. When you experience the work of a master – truly examine the capturing of light by Rembrandt or listen to Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony performed by a world class orchestra and choir - you are forever changed. There is quite literally a part of your soul that glimpses into the eternal and will never forget that experience.

Part of the reason that we can be so changed or affected by these things is that they are so few and far between. As a society, we have decided that almost perfect is the same thing as perfect. I would submit to you that almost perfect is the antithesis of perfect. Society grades on a curve, rewards fitting in and holds achievers back to spare the feelings of those who succeed at a lower level. Where triumph was once celebrated, it is now denigrated. Mediocrity has become the new “awesome.”

The problem with this is that the soul of a man wants more. Deep within us, we want perfection; we want to be part of something grand, glorious and larger than ourselves. We want to be perfect stones in God’s Great Temple. Stones that are nearly square or almost square won’t do.

So what does this have to do with the Craft? Quite a bit, actually.

There are men who, deep in their hearts, feel the longing to become better – no, the best men they can and give something back to their fellow man. There are men who don’t know that Freemasonry already does that.  The 21st Century Masonic Renaissance seeks to change that.

Thanks to Grand Master Sturgeon’s vision, we now have the ability to invite men of good character to join our Fraternity. How many of you have seen the new brochure? How many of you have read it? How many of you have given it to someone you know?

If you haven’t, you should. Ask your father, son, brother or uncle to join. If you attend church or synagogue regularly, you definitely know someone to whom you could give this. Friends and coworkers who may have spent years waiting to be asked (because they thought that was how it was supposed to go) might say, “I was wondering why you never asked me to join before.”

Some may say that they don’t have the time. Remind them that there will be a One Day Masonic Journey on October 30th. They can still join the old-fashioned way if they would like, but to the man whose time is truly a dwindling resource, the One Day Journey can be his gateway to the Fraternity. The hope is that after meeting such good men and doing so much to help his fellow man through our monthly outreach projects, he may reprioritize his life to make time for what he will then know to be an excellent endeavor.

Some in the past may have been put off because they heard about all of the memorization. The new Mentor program about to be rolled out eliminates most of the memorization in favor of teaching the story of our wonderful and glorious history. So many of us, even to this day, don’t have a clue what to say when someone asks about us because all we were ever taught was to memorize our obligation. The history of who we are and what we do – how we take care of the elderly, help our widows and give back to our communities – those are the stories that our new members need to hear.

If a man chooses to go on to be an Officer in his Lodge, he can now use the written monitor to help learn our beautiful degrees. Remember what I said before about poetry? Our ritual is like that to me. Every single word is important and few of us know every single word. Now a man can sit in the quiet of his own house, on his own time and learn his work.

I’m asking you tonight to help support the Renaissance. Invite worthy men to join, support the One Day Journey, hold your officers accountable to ritual excellence. I’ve told you before what the inimitable Robert Page used to say to our Mendelssohn Choir, “An amateur practices until he can do it right, but a professional practices until he can’t do it wrong.”

If nothing else, leave here tonight enthused. Norman Vincent Peale said, “There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.” Be proud that you are part of the greatest Fraternity the world has ever seen and do all in your power to make it that much better.

Let’s continue to hold ourselves accountable and inspire each other to greatness by settling for nothing less than our very own best and the best in others. Let our endeavors be Olympic in that we bring our best selves to Lodge, putting aside the cares of the outside world, finding respite, peace and wisdom, fitting us to be true and perfect ashlars that the Great Architect of the Universe may use as His wisdom directs.