Sunday, March 17, 2013

Singular v. Plural

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


That simple children’s tale has its origin as early as the seventeenth century, but its message is as timely for today’s adult is it was for yesterday’s child.  Its message is simple: what may seem like a little problem, if left unattended, can create dire consequences. 
I’m certain that the farrier, on finding nails in short supply, did not envision the loss of his master’s kingdom.  In fact, he probably thought that the shoe would hold just fine without the requisite number of nails.  The bucket of new nails was probably way across the village at the smith’s shop, and taking the time to make that journey would set him back in his work.  If he took that time, he wouldn’t get his work finished until after nightfall.  He would probably miss dinner and most certainly, his wife would be furious with him.  This shoe would hold just fine with three nails, he thought.
It is easy to see how this might apply to your Lodge.
On the back of every Lodge notice is a list of the Officers and Committees.  At the top of that list is the Worshipful Master.  Every other Officer and Committee member is a nail in the Lodge’s metaphorical shoe, and when one of those nails fails to perform, the Lodge suffers for it.
Either a Lodge is strong or a Lodge are weak.  My decision to use the singular and plural forms here was intentional.  A Lodge working in the singular, with unanimity, is a strong Lodge.  All the members are of the same mind. They all want what is in the Lodge’s best interest and they all work together to make it possible.  However, when a Lodge is functioning plurally, it has broken itself down into a conglomeration of individuals – each acting in his own interest, building his own power, manipulating, deliberately defying the Master or circumventing the will of the Lodge on the mistaken premise that he is the only right-thinking man there.  That Lodge is no longer a singular unit.  It is rudderless, at war with itself, and hence I would say that such a Lodge are weak.
I would ask you to consider whether your Lodge is or your Lodge are.  It’s probably fairly easy to tell.  How is your attendance?  Would all members feel that their ideas are given a fair hearing or do you have one or two people who think that it’s their Lodge and you’re simply fortunate enough to be sitting in it?  Do the Officers and members cheerfully do what is asked of them by the Master or do they make excuses, complain and deflect responsibility?
A Lodge that is functioning singularly probably would have good attendance – ten percent or better.  Their members could come before the Lodge with ideas and they would be debated in a friendly way.  Debates would be about ways to improve ideas, not sabotage them.  When asked, members would happily do whatever is in their power to help the Lodge.
Conversely, Lodges that function plurally would have more empty chairs than full ones.  Discussions would be dominated by the few personalities who feel that theirs is the only opinion that should matter.  Attempts at innovation would be squashed, and requests for help from the Master would be met with grumbling, complaints and excuses.  People would pay lip service to work, but the rolling up of sleeves would seldom be seen.
If you feel your Lodge is doing well, congratulations.  If you feel your Lodge are not doing well, there is still hope.  One of the first charges we receive as a Mason is to be obedient to the Master and other Officers.  How well are you doing that?  How well are the other members of your Lodge?
In our Opening Charge we are told that “if we are united, our Fraternity must flourish.”  How united are we?  Are there people who perpetually dissent or threaten to take their ball and go home if things aren’t done their way?  Ask them why.  Perhaps there is a problem outside of the Lodge that is driving them.  We are taught to remind our Brothers of their failings and aid their reformation.  That has to begin with a conversation. 
When you have time to reflect, ask yourself whether you are helping your Lodge to function singularly or plurally.  As Mason’s we are to strive constantly to smooth the surfaces of our ashlar.  That requires us to occasionally stop and check the progress.  In preparing this talk, I became aware of areas where I could improve both my attitude and my actions.  If that applies to you as well, I encourage you to do what you can to change.  Don’t be the farrier content with a shabbily-shod horse.  Demand the best of yourself.  Your Lodge, and more importantly, you, will be better for it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

After Us Cometh a Builder

When I was a King and a Mason -- a Master proven and skilled --
I cleared me ground for a Palace such as a King should build.
I decreed and dug down to my levels. Presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a Palace such as a King had built. 

There was no worth in the fashion -- there was no wit in the plan --
Hither and thither, aimless, the ruined footings ran --
Masonry, brute, mishandled, but carven on every stone:
"After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known." 

Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned ground-works grew,
I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and reset them anew.
Lime I milled of his marbles; burned it, slacked it, and spread;
Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead. 

Yet I despised not nor gloried; yet, as we wrenched them apart,
I read in the razed foundations the heart of that builder's heart.
As he had risen and pleaded, so did I understand
The form of the dream he had followed in the face of the thing he had planned. 

*   *   *   *   *
When I was a King and a Mason -- in the open noon of my pride,
They sent me a Word from the Darkness. They whispered and called me aside.
They said -- "The end is forbidden." They said -- "Thy use is fulfilled.
"Thy Palace shall stand as that other's -- the spoil of a King who shall build." 

I called my men from my trenches, my quarries, my wharves, and my sheers.
All I had wrought I abandoned to the faith of the faithless years.
Only I cut on the timber -- only I carved on the stone:
"After me cometh a Builder.  Tell him, I too have known!"

~ Brother Rudyard Kipling

Kipling’s poem tells the story of king who, while he was preparing a site to build his palace, comes upon the ruins of one which had stood there in a past age; and while it was written 111 years ago, its message is still relevant to the Masons of today.
So often, we tend to look at our labors in Freemasonry as individual, unique.  We don’t view what we do for our Lodges or for the Craft at large as part of a continuum, but rather as our own little snapshot in time, an island unto itself.  As leaders, we are easily led into doing things because “we’ve always done it that way,” or dissuaded from breaking new ground because “no one came when we tried that before.”  The king in Kipling’s poem was wise though.  He seized upon the opportunity to utilize those things of value left behind, those stones marked with “After me cometh a builder. . .”
It is interesting to me that he didn’t build a carbon copy of what was there.  He stuck to his plan, but salvaged as many of the pieces of the old palace that he could, changing and repurposing them to suit his vision for the future – cutting, resetting and even grinding some to dust.
Maybe we too need to do that.  Our Lodges have gotten smaller, our attendance more sparse.  If we continue down the same path, with the same reasons (excuses may be a better term) for doing the same old things in the same tired way, we will soon be no more.
Every Lodge should hold at least one open house this year – at the least, one.  If you held one last year that didn’t bring too many people through the door, will you do it the same way this year?  I hope not.  Perhaps, you can call one of the Lodges that did well to find out what their successes were and try to build on them.  After me cometh a builder. . .
Membership is the sine qua non of the Lodge.  Without members, we have neither revenue, attendance nor, when you get right down to it, a reason to exist.  Finding and attracting well-qualified men to our doors is a challenge that we must face head-on.  We cannot save it for the next Master to attend to. It is our responsibility.
The king realized that he was not the end, but just a paragraph in the whole story.  He knew that what he was doing was as important for the now as it was for the tomorrow.  After me cometh a builder. . .
So what are we to do once we have attracted these men to our Lodges?  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “These guys get their degrees then we never see them again,” or “They join the Lodge so they can get to Shrine or Scottish Rite,” I would have a bad back from dragging my enormously heavy bag of nickels around.
We have tools at our fingertips to make these new Masons want to come back to Lodge.  The Mentor program, when used properly, can spark excitement in a new Mason.  He can feel that he is part of something meaningful and bigger than himself as he learns about our system of government, our Grand Lodge and the great men of our past.  The online Masonic education courses are designed so that new and old Masons alike can learn about our history, our law and or labors.
Also, the new Mason can earn the prestigious Master Builders award from the Grand Lodge by completing a series of tasks and projects both within his Lodge and his District, but the catch is that he can’t do it alone.  The Mentor program plays a large role in his eligibility, and if your Lodge isn’t using it, you’re doing those Brothers – your future – a great disservice.   After me cometh a builder . . .
We have challenges ahead of us for sure, and a lot of work on the trestleboard.  Our Lodges should continue to work together, attending and supporting each other’s programs, even holding joint events.  We can be greater than the sum of our parts if we are willing to learn from each other, refine or discard the things that are holding us back and boldly strive to offer new and exciting events for Masons and their families. 
After us cometh a builder.  Tell him we too have known.