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.