Sunday, March 13, 2011

Do Me a Favor

On March 3rd, I attended Pollock Lodge No. 502 for my second Official Visit of the year.  I was delighted that almost ninety Masons showed up for the evening.  The Worshipful Master, Brother Jim Tomson, and all of the Officers and members made me and every visitor feel at home.

We gave 50 year emblems to two of their members and heard them talk about how special the bonds were that they developed through their membership in this great fraternity.

I gave the following address at the end of the evening:

Do Me a Favor

The deed is everything, the glory nothing. – Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust 

If you’ve been to more than one or two of my visitations, there is a better than average chance that you have heard me tell a story about Maestro Robert Page.  Bob was the long-time Conductor and Music Director of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, an organization I sang with for many years.  To my knowledge, Bob is not a Mason, but he embodies, both in spirit and in action, many of the virtues that Masons endeavor to practice.
One snowy night years ago, we were at the final rehearsal for a very challenging piece of music. We knew that there was still work to be done if it was to be perfect and all of us, including Bob, were feeling the pressure. At a break in the rehearsal, a young man, new to the group looked outside and saw that there was quite a bit of snow on the ground. He called his roommates and asked if the buses were still running.

“No. It looks like service was suspended because of the snow,” was the reply he got. This young man who knew no one in the group particularly well, summoned the courage to approach Bob and timidly ask, “Maestro, I hate to be a bother but I need a favor. Is there any way I can get a ride home with you after rehearsal?”

“Absolutely,” he replied. “Don’t think a thing of it.”

That, in and of itself, is not so remarkable. What happened next was. As we returned from our break, mentally steeling ourselves for another exhausting hour of intense rehearsal, Bob put down his baton, pulled up a stool and began to teach a life lesson.

“I was just asked to do someone a favor and I wanted to talk a little about what that means. A student asked me to give him a ride home tonight. He lives less than one block off of my route home. Now is that a favor? Is it really doing someone a favor to drop them at a house that I was driving by anyhow?

“To me, doing a favor for someone,” he continued, “should imply a hardship or inconvenience on the bestower. We are too quick to classify what should just be acts of decency as favors. A favor would have been driving him to the opposite side of Pittsburgh. A favor is changing a stranger’s tire while you are wearing a tuxedo or mowing an elderly neighbor’s lawn.”

So in his own way, Bob did me a favor that night. He gave up several precious minutes of much-needed rehearsal to teach a lesson that will stick with me forever: That we should consider the needs of others over our own needs, and that we should do things for people, not because it makes us feel good, but because it is the right thing to do.

Do I live up to that standard all or even most of the time? No. There are some of you who do, but most of us know we could improve. We sometimes focus on the glory, not the deed, or we assume someone else will pick up the slack since we’re too busy to help this time.

As Masons we are taught to be charitable. Certainly charity has to do with being generous with our monetary gifts, but we need to be charitable with our time and our talents as well.

Pollock Lodge is an example of generosity by any of those definitions.

They have held fundraisers, not just for the Masonic Homes at Elizabethtown, but also for members of their community who are in need. They have made their Lodge a presence in the community.

They volunteer their skills and talents to improve the building, making it into a place they want to spend their time.

They consistently travel to my Official Visits in an effort to win the Travelling Trowel. They come to the School of Instruction and rehearse weekly at their own Lodge.

Could each and every one of them find some other way to use their time, talents and treasure? Of course. What makes them and several of our Lodges different is that they did not. They choose to come here and labor for what they see as something very worthwhile. They do their Lodges a favor by sacrificing time at home or socializing with friends to be here several nights a month.

And the Lodge in turn does a favor to the community. It gives back by helping the distressed, cleaning up parks and playgrounds, volunteering at soup kitchens and hospitals. It also gives back in another and maybe unexpected way. It often brings in men who were searching for purpose and a way to be a part of something greater than themselves. It teaches them that service to others, self-improvement and continually striving for what is right are what it means to be a good man. After learning these lessons, those men return to their homes and towns, better fathers, better sons, better husbands and leaders.

Brethren, Pollock Lodge is just one example of doing the right thing by going above and beyond. Many of our Lodges and members do great things, but some are tethered to the ground by fear. Thoreau said “In the long run, men hit only what they aim at.” Perhaps we need to adjust our sights then. Perhaps we need to aim not at limping the Lodge along for another year, but at making it flourish.

Think about what your ideal Lodge would be. Would you want it to be a place where men are anxious to spend their time? Would your ideal Lodge give to others without hesitation when the need exists? Would a nonMason look at your membership and long to be in company with you?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, ask yourself what you are aiming at. Set goals within your Lodge to improve in those areas that are holding you back. Make more men into Masons this year than your Lodge ever has. Double what you give to charity. In short, aim at something new.

It might not be easy, but the reward will be great. Do yourself a favor. Not the easy kind, but the hard one. Give a little more time or talent or treasure to Freemasonry. Commit to working harder for your Lodge and the men you call your Brothers.

As Phillips Brooks said, “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for power equal to your tasks.”

Continue to work with your Lodge, with me and with the Grand Master to keep Freemasonry headed in the right direction. I know you will find the power equal to the task.

Do yourself a favor and try.