Friday, February 10, 2012

Pillars of Cloud and Fire: The First GPS

My first Official Visit of 2012 was held at Bethel Lodge No. 789 last night.  I had the great honor of presenting Fifty Year Service Emblems to three members of the Lodge.  One of them journeyed from Columbus, Ohio to receive the award. 
I have missed the fellowship that these Visits afford me.  Though there is work involved, my soul is refreshed. 
My address to the Brethren follows.  Feel free to respond with your thoughts.

Pillars of Cloud and Fire: The First GPS

Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue. - Buddha

The Book of Exodus in the Bible tells the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egyptian captivity. The Lord promised that he would guide the Israelites to the Promised Land by appearing as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. The Israelites did not have a map, they did not know their final destination and they did not know the route that lay before them, but with Pharaoh’s army at their back, they set off on their journey with the trust that they would be delivered. The Pillars were, in essence, the first GPS.

There are many challenges that face our Fraternity. Some are challenges from within, and others are challenges from without. How we meet these challenges will, in no small way, affect our future both at the Lodge level as well as the Fraternity as a whole. Would it not be wonderful, then, if we had a GPS to guide our Lodges and our Fraternity to prosperity, higher meeting attendance, increased membership or some other destination or goal that we would like to reach?

The beauty of a GPS is that it makes it possible to set off on a journey of several hundred miles to an unfamiliar destination without even looking at a map or planning a route. The machine does all the work. Ironically, the terror of a GPS is that it makes it possible to set off on a journey of several hundred miles to an unfamiliar destination without even looking at a map or planning a route. As I have traveled to various Lodges around the state or through areas that are wholly unfamiliar, I have thought about how utterly lost I would be if my GPS decided to utter its last direction at that moment; I have no doubt that the Israelites felt much the same way.

Our new Grand Master, Jay W. Smith, has implemented programs that will help the Lodges reach some of their goals. He has made it easier for men who have been suspended to return to the Fraternity by streamlining the process and forgiving the dues that were in arrears. He has made it more affordable for young men to join by reducing the initiation fees and dues for men ages 18-23 who are enrolled in college. He has continued the Grand Master’s Award for Lodges who meet a series of goals with regard to attendance, growth, community service, mentoring and several other factors. This award will serve as a GPS of sorts to help the leaders of the Lodges guide the Lodges to a state of vibrancy, prosperity and relevance.

To help the individual Mason, the Grand Master has started the Master Builder certification for new Masons. The cornerstone of the program is the new online Masonic Internet Education Program. Currently courses are available for Masonic Law, History and the Mentor Program. They are self guided and have quizzes to mark your progress. I would encourage everyone here to avail himself of this great tool to become a more educated Freemason.

There’s a funny quirk in my GPS system, and I’m sure that many of you have experienced it too. Sometimes it takes me on one route to my chosen destination and a completely different route home. As I choose to take the route that I’m more familiar with, Jill (that’s what I call her) will get irritated with me and try to get me to see things her way. At every opportunity, she will try to have me make my way back to her chosen path or even to make a u-turn – only when it’s safe of course, because she really does care about me.

Lodges can be a lot like that too. There are a myriad of ideas about how to best run a Lodge and there is usually no shortage of less-than-bashful people to tell the Master and Wardens that they have deviated from the chosen route. If you are the leader, you have to be confident that the plan you have chosen will work. If you are one of the less-than-bashful people who think you know a better way, you have to be more willing to suggest than to command.

If we are to succeed as an organization, it is important that the Brethren unite with their Worshipful Masters, the Masters with the District and the District with the Grand Lodge. It is through unity that we can accomplish great things.

Whether you are called to be a leader or called to be a laborer, what you do for Freemasonry is important. You may not be a great Ritualist or aspire to the East, but you may be an ambassador.

As I was organizing my thoughts for this talk, it occurred to me that Freemasonry itself is sort of a GPS – we can even call it a Guiding Principal System. The tenets of Freemasonry, when coupled with the tenets of an individual’s Faith, can help guide a man to be the best he can be as a father or son, a citizen, leader, and – forgive the pun – a pillar in his community. The man you are, and the virtue you show in your everyday life, may inspire someone to knock at the West Gate of our Temple. Your participation, therefore – in whatever form it takes – is essential to the success of the Craft. There is another Buddhist saying that a drop of water is a small thing, but it will not dry away if united as a lake.

In today’s world, we do not have a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire to guide us. What we do have as Freemasons is our individual faith and the working tools of the Craft to act as our GPS – our Guiding Principal System – to help make ourselves, our communities, and our Lodges the best we can be. I challenge each of you to begin that journey tonight.

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