Saturday, February 18, 2012

Managing the Trestleboard: Work Is Worship

On February 16th, I made my Official Visit to Forbes Trail Lodge No. 783.  We had about seventy Members brave the chilling rain to be part of an evening of fellowship.  The Worshipful Master was unable to be there.  Consequently, the junior Officers had to advance Stations and perform a little harder.  I was proud of them all for doing so well under the stresses of an Official Visit.  
My remarks for the evening follow.

Managing the Trestleboard: Work Is Worship

Nothing will work unless you do.
~Maya Angelou

Every two years, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania installs a new Grand Master who brings to the Craft his vision of how we should best direct our labors that our Fraternity may both shore up its foundation as well as beautify and grow its edifice. All too often, we concentrate on one or the other of those things, but an impressive structure cannot stand without a strong foundation. And, let’s face it, a foundation alone is nothing to look at.

When standing in a metropolitan city, one often forgets, as he gazes upward at the marvelous skyscrapers, that underneath of those skyscrapers is a support structure that is buried deep in the earth to support them. No matter how grand the plan, if it is not built on a secure foundation – one anchored deep into the bedrock – it will not stand the test of time.

This year, Grand Master Jay W. Smith has put plans upon our Trestleboard that, if properly carried out, will both strengthen the foundation of our Fraternity as well as add to the grand edifice that Freemasonry rightly is to the world.

To strengthen our structure at the Lodge level, he has continued the Grand Master’s Award for the Lodges. Points are awarded to Lodges for increase in membership, increase in meeting attendance, use of the Call to the Craft and Mentor programs, attendance at other Lodges, charitable giving, Officer participation in the Warden and Secretary Seminars and a variety of other criteria. What does each of these have in common? They seek to make each Lodge stronger by fostering fellowship, communication and work among the Brethren. Will it be easy to receive the award? No. But what kind of award would it be if it was given out cheaply and not purchased with a little hard work?

I will be meeting with the Worshipful Masters this weekend and detailing the program. I expect each Lodge to either achieve the award, or fail while striving valiantly. There is no shame in not receiving the award. There is, however, shame in not even trying.

This year, each Lodge will be required to hold an open house. It may be held alone or in conjunction with other Lodges in the District. I will be asking the Worshipful Masters to provide the dates to me and we will coordinate a print ad for the District to publicize the event. This is an excellent opportunity to show the outside world what Freemasonry is about. We have so much to offer to men, both young and old, who are yearning to be part of something greater than themselves. We need to open our doors and show them the good works we do for the community as well as what we can teach them about being their best selves.

We will again be holding a One Day Class. This year it will be on September 29, 2012 at the Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center. The format will be the same as in the previous years. Those men that come to the open houses can either join in the traditional way or through the One Day Class as their schedules and consciences dictate.

To help metaphorically ornament the edifice of Freemasonry, the Grand Master has begun a Masonic Online Education Program. Courses are currently offered on Masonic History, Masonic Law and the Mentor Program with many more to be made available shortly. These classes are user-friendly and are designed to educate Masons – both new and old – on the workings and history of the Craft.

For men joining now, there is a Master Builder’s award. New Masons must fulfill a series of required tasks including attending a Stated and Extra meeting of their Lodge as well as a youth event and an Official Visit, serving as a greeter, assisting in fundraising and completion of the Mentor program. It is critical then, that the Mentor Program be used within the Lodge. If a Lodge does not participate, you will deprive the new Masons of the opportunity of receiving the award.

There is a full Trestleboard before you Brethren. The Grand Master has traced the plans he believes will help us build for the future.

Be ever mindful that the largest skyscrapers need enormous foundations to soar to their impressive heights. Do not forget that what you see rising above you is anchored by solid concrete hundreds of feet deep. Both are necessary, both are important, and each of you is part of the magnificent structure we call Freemasonry.

It is said that all work is worship. Whether you find your labor in the brute work of digging and strengthening the foundation or in the fine and meticulous detail work of the great fa├žade, know that it is vital to the overall success of our endeavor and do it well. Offer your best, and encourage your Brethren to do the same. Help us build for the future of Freemasonry.

 

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Brief Meditation

This address was delivered on May 23, 2011 at Lodge Ad Lucem No. 812, our Traditional Observance Lodge.  I chose this format as a way to encourage discussion afterward at the Agape Feast.

Disclaimer: I in no way hold myself to be a literary expert.  I am not a Rumiologist, but rather a Rumiphile.  The views expressed here are my own and based solely on the emotions and thoughts evoked by my reading of the poem.  If you read the poem and have other insights, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

As I have been preparing these papers for publication on The Point Within a Circle, I realize that I quite often (nearly constantly) quote Rumi.  I am of two minds on this.  Part of me feels that I need to broaden my stable of quotable poets, as there are so many great ones from which to choose.  The other part - obviously the one that is winning - feels that there is such a gold mine of elegant and simple metaphors and life lessons within his words that I should mine it until the lode is gone.  Every reading and re-reading (and there have been countles re-readings) opens something new to me.  When I finish reading, I am always left with a fresh question, and occasionally, if I'm lucky, the shadow of an answer...


In the Arc of Your Mallet

Don't go anywhere without me.
Let nothing happen in the sky apart from me,
or on the ground, in this world or that world,
without my being in its happening.

Vision, see nothing I don't see.
Language, say nothing.
The way the night knows itself with the moon,
be that with me. Be the rose
nearest to the thorn that I am.

I want to feel myself in you when you taste food,
in the arc of your mallet when you work,
when you visit friends, when you go
up on the roof by yourself at night.

There is nothing worse than to walk out along the street
without you. I don't know where I'm going.
You are the road and the knower of roads,
more than maps, more than love.
 

That poem by the Persian poet Rumi, while written hundreds of years prior to what we think of as the beginning of Craft Masonry, captures what I believe is the essence of what we as Freemasons are constantly seeking: a reconnection with the Divine.

While an individual’s reasons for seeking our Fraternity and the Light it can offer is as variable as the weather, the message that he will receive and the lessons he will learn – assuming that he applies himself – are changeless.

When stripped of all its trappings, the essential message of Freemasonry is the search for perfection and a connection with the Divine.  Each and every working tool, every ornament or jewel within the Lodge and even the allegory of the Master Mason’s degree speak in some way to the loss of or hunt for perfection.

In tonight’s brief meditation, I want to read the stanzas of the poem and allow you to apply them to your profession as a Freemason.  Tonight I will ask questions rather than supply answers.  Tonight, you will work upon your own Trestleboards. 

Don't go anywhere without me.

Let nothing happen in the sky apart from me,

or on the ground, in this world or that world,

without my being in its happening.


To whom is the poet speaking?  What is he asking for?  What would you be willing to do to have that kind of connection with your God?

Vision, see nothing I don't see.

Language, say nothing.

The way the night knows itself with the moon,

be that with me. Be the rose

nearest to the thorn that I am.

Is there a reason that the poet chose vision and language as the first two symbols?  Is there a Masonic connection between vision and language?  Can it be said that a cathedral or great edifice is itself a prayer to Deity?  What is the connection between how the night knows itself with the moon and how a man can better know himself by Freemasonry?

I want to feel myself in you when you taste food,

in the arc of your mallet when you work,

when you visit friends, when you go

up on the roof by yourself at night.


In this stanza, God is given very human qualities.  He eats, works, socializes and relaxes.  Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we feel that He is present with us when we do those things.  Are we bringing our best selves to our Agapes?  Our labors within the quarries of the Craft?  What about our relationships with our Brothers?
As men who are seeking Light – more accurately, knowledge – is there anything worse than not knowing or understanding your God?  Can we be sure of anything without the help of “the road and the knower of roads?”
Those questions are not necessarily meant to be answered out loud.  I do not have the answers and I most assuredly do not have your answers, but take a little time to reflect on those lines.
Perhaps a poem that is over 800 years old can help you be a better man and Freemason today.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going the Extra Mile - or 26.2


This address was given on May 10, 2011 at my Official Visit to Valley Lodge No. 613.  Rather than edit the text and tense, I chose to leave the address as it was delivered that evening.

Going the Extra Mile - or 26.2

Ability is what you are capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.
--Lou Holtz

Four days, 10 hours and 30 minutes from now, I will be standing with 15,000 other people at the start line of the Pittsburgh Marathon waiting anxiously for the gun to sound, signaling the beginning of my journey through the streets and neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.  Measured purely in distance, it is 26 miles and 385 yards of running.  Measured in preparation, it is 500 miles through snow, rain, wind, heat and whatever else nature cares to throw my way on any given day, it is sheets of Moleskin to ease blisters, 40 hours of last minute physical therapy for a knee that hates me a little bit for what I’m asking it to do, it is the mental preparation necessary to suffer and push through the last miles when every fiber of your body is begging you to quit.  I know that many of you have heard me talk ad nauseum about this and you may all be thankful when I move on to a new subject.  Marathon running is not necessarily for everyone, but there are lessons we can all learn from what it takes to train and complete one.
I noticed something interesting as I was training for this race.  When I took my first fifteen mile run, the last mile was difficult.  When I took my eighteen mile run, mile fifteen was easy, but again the last mile was difficult.  Same with my twenty mile run – eighteen was not difficult, but the last mile was miserable.  Now, I cannot say that in the seven days between each of those runs, I got in markedly better shape.  So why is it that the last mile of the run, regardless of the length, is such a struggle?  Why is going the extra mile – or in this case, the last mile – so daunting?
T. Alan Armstrong said, “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it,” and whether we are talking about running a marathon, running a Lodge or making yourself into the best man and Mason you can be, that is true.
Each of you sitting here has inherited a great treasure – that of the name Freemason.  Each of you then, is required to do something to be worthy of that name.  Not everyone is called to be a Lodge Officer, or a Ritualist, and it is not necessary for each of us to play every role in the Lodge for it to be successful.  Your role may be Ambassador.  You may attend regularly, or even not-so-regularly, but you wear your lapel pin with pride and you act like a Mason wherever you go so that the world knows we are good because YOU are good.  A commitment to practicing the tenets of Freemasonry makes them a natural part of you.  You must always go the extra mile to live and act in a way that preserves our reputation as a fraternity of fine and upstanding men.  If your calling within the Craft is to be an Officer, you must prepare for it by learning your work, choosing men to support you, scheduling exciting programs and giving the men who you lead a reason to want to come to Lodge.  The extra mile you must run is committing the time necessary to lay the groundwork for a year as Worshipful Master.  Just like the physical conditioning a runner must have, preparing in advance helps make success achievable.
If you feel called to be a Ritualist – and let us make no mistake – this Lodge, and most Lodges could use more Ritualists – you must not look at it as a daunting and unreachable task, but one that can be prepared for properly over time.  It may seem as daunting to you as the task that is before me on Sunday, but with hard work, determination and practice, nearly every one of you that wants to learn to confer our degrees certainly can.
So what is the reward for going the extra mile?  What can proper planning and execution do for seemingly impossible tasks?
Right Worshipful Grand Master, Thomas K. Sturgeon, came into office having seen fifty consecutive years of decline in membership.  He recognized the critical importance of reversing that trend.  He stood at a starting line nearly 18 months ago and had an imposing task ahead of him, but when the gun sounded, he fixed his mind on a goal and did not stop fighting until it had been reached.  Last year our membership grew.  Was it a massive expansion?  No.  But compared to the usual loss of approximately 3,000, a net gain of 450 was phenomenal.  It did not happen on its own.  It was the result of years and months and hours of preparation and of all of us going the extra mile to see his vision achieved.
This year we will again be holding a One Day Journey.  If you have a son or grandson, father or grandfather, nephew, uncle, neighbor or coworker that you believe would be a good Mason, ask him to join.  Tell him you think enough of him to have invited him to be a part of the greatest Fraternity in the history of the world.
I know you have all been asked to do a lot.  You were asked by the Grand Master last year to raise funds for the Masonic Villages.  I have asked you to raise at least $2,000 for the Masonic Youth.  I am happy to report that my Marathon for Masonic Youth is on its way to raising at least that much.  As of this afternoon, I have had $1798.79 contributed by individuals, Masons and non Masons who recognize the important mission of the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation as well as the good work of Pitcairn Rainbow Assembly and Lincoln Chapter, Order of DeMolay.  My work is not finished, I feel like I can exceed the original goal.  I would love to be able to say to myself as I run that every mile I run will earn $100 for the Youth.  That means we need to work a little harder.  You can help me by donating tonight – I accept both cash and checks – or you can visit the District Web Page and connect to the secure Paypal site and donate that way.  I ask you all to be benevolent as we are taught here in the Craft.  Help me go the extra mile – or extra 26 miles, 385 yards to build and grow our youth groups.  If our finish line as Masons is making a better world for all, then the youth is where we must start.  Editor's Note: The goal set that evening was, to say the least, exceeded.  As I lined up at the start line, I knew that each mile I ran would bring over $267 to our Masonic Youth!  I am, to this very minute, humbled by the outpouring of generosity by my friends and Brothers.  Thank you all.
It has been said that every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.  Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up, it knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.  It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle, just that when the sun comes up you'd better be running.
Your personal goal may be to run a marathon, run a Lodge or improve yourself and the world in which you live.  Whatever race you find yourself in, run it.