Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Character of a Renaissance Man

On Thursday night, a small but mighty group gathered for my first Official Visit of 2010.  The Visitations have not begun as smoothly as I could have hoped.  We had to cancel the first due to the weather, and the parking conditions at Forbes Trail were less than ideal due to the piles of snow everywhere.  Still the forty seven men that attended had an excellent time of fun and fellowship.  My address to the Brethren follows. . .

"Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught.” - JC Watts
Brethren, perhaps nothing has defined Masons more throughout our storied history than the character of its individuals. We often tout the fabled cherry tree incident of Brother Washington, the trip to the moon by Buzz Aldrin and Audie Murphy’s “refusal to give an inch of ground” to advancing Germans in World War II.

These are but a few examples of Masonry’s heroes. We have many more whose exploits outside of the Lodge have earned them fame, fortune and admiration. There are many more within our ranks – all of them if we truly do our jobs as mentors – who are men of character.

Over the years, we may have become a little complacent. We may have found it easier to rest our our laurels – content to live off of the hard work of those who came before us. Our character as a whole never suffered, but our achievements may have.

The 21st Century Renaissance is asking us to once again put that character into action and restore the Masons to our just place as the greatest fraternity the world has ever known. Our Grand Master is asking us to do some things that, frankly, we are no longer used to doing.

Effective immediately, each Lodge is to do monthly service projects to benefit the community – that’s the community, not the Lodge. These projects can be quite literally anything. If bleachers need to be built or a playground repaired, we can answer that call. If a community center needs volunteers or a neighbor needs help with his home, we will be there to help. No longer will people drive by Lodge buildings and wonder what Masons do. They’ll know. They’ll know because they have seen us lend a hand at disasters and they have stood side by side with us as we helped make our neighborhoods and communities beautiful by planting trees or cleaning up parks.

Our obligations shouldn’t end there. We are charged as well to begin doing weekly acts of kindness. It can be as simple as holding the door for someone with a stroller or a walker, or buying breakfast or a cup of coffee for someone you don’t know. It doesn’t have to have a price tag, it can cost nothing, but have untold benefits. When you’re thanked, tell the recipient that thanks is not necessary, we’re Masons and it’s our duty to help. Remember that if every Pennsylvania Mason adheres to the practice, we will have committed over 10 million acts of kindness by the end of 2011. I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place for it.

Remember that we aren’t doing this for ourselves. I recently had an opportunity to try this out at the grocery store. I had the unfortunate luck of truly needing groceries the day before the blizzard – I wasn’t just there for milk, bread and toilet paper. I took my ticket at the deli, number 76, looked at the LED sign that told me they were now serving number 67 and sighed. I waited patiently as they slowly waited on those ahead of me. “75, 75, 75?” shouted the woman behind the counter.  No answer. When she called my number, I gave her the first item in my order.

While my turkey was being sliced, a little woman, barely five feet tall and well into her eighties, turned to me and stated angrily, “What number are they on? I can’t see the sign.” I told her they were on 76. Actually I told her twice because she didn’t hear me the first time. The then objected that she had 75 and they skipped her.

“They definitely called it.  You must have just been busy,” I told her. She started to look agitated, so I put my arm on her shoulder and assured her I would take care of it. When the deli worker handed me the turkey I told her that I wasn’t done but that this lovely young lady had been skipped, to please take care of her and then come back to me. Then I waited for her to say thank you. I rehearsed the line in my head. No need to thank me, I’m a Mason, and it’s my duty to help others. No need to thank me, I’m a Mason, and it’s my duty to help others.  I knew how satisfying it would be to say that in a crowded deli so that dozens of people would witness just how good we are.

The thanks never came! She got her American cheese and chipped ham and walked away – vanished right down the canned vegetable aisle never to be seen again.

Truth be told, I was a little angry that I wasn’t thanked (or even acknowledged), partly because it would have been the courteous thing to do, but partly because I lost the opportunity to say “thanks is not necessary, I’m a Mason and it’s my duty to help.” So maybe character is not only doing the right thing when nobody is looking, but it is also doing the right thing when nobody is caring.

The last thing I want to talk about tonight is the Lodge fundraisers to benefit the Masonic Villages. The Grand Master has challenged each Lodge to hold fundraising events to benefit the Masonic Villages. Notice that I did not say that the Grand Master has challenged each Lodge to donate money to the Masonic Villages. There are many Lodges that are capable of simply writing a check for $2,000 or more and putting the matter to bed, but the idea of combining it with community events serves many other purposes. It gives far more of our Brethren an opportunity to get involved or in some cases reinvolved in the work of the Lodge. It also increases the Lodge’s presence in the community at large. Lastly, it benefits our very own beloved charity, the Masonic Villages. Currently we care for over 2,500 people on the campuses around Pennsylvania. It is a mission of love that we should all want to help with. The Grand Master has asked that we accomplish this prior to the December Quarterly Communication, but because the 54th District is not only not an average District, but the best Masonic District in the best Masonic jurisdiction in the world, I am asking that we complete this task by the June Quarterly Communication.

Will it be easy? Not necessarily. Will it require more effort than we currently put into Masonry? Probably. But will it be rewarding for both those who participate and those who benefit. Undoubtedly.

Brethren, our character calls us as Freemasons to be more than passive spectators on the sidelines of our communities. It calls us to do the right things right now. It calls us to lead and to lead bravely. Join with me in making the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance a success thereby keeping Freemasonry alive to share with our children and grandchildren.