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.

Bookmark and Share

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.

Bookmark and Share

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.

Bookmark and Share