Monday, January 27, 2014

There is much to do....


One question that is not new to Masonic discussion is “What is wrong with our Lodges, and how can we fix it?” I have recently been involved in a few of these discussions and wanted to share some of what I have heard from others.

The majority of Brothers, when asked what is wrong with the Fraternity, seem to immediately bring up the decline in membership. Fortunately, many are now coming to share my own belief which is that Quality is much more important than Quantity. They believe that if we improve the Lodge experience for those already within the Craft that the effect will be noticed by the Profane and they will then seek to understand what we are all about.

Others, however, claim that there is nothing wrong with our Lodges. That our Lodges are perfectly fine and that we should keep doing what we are doing and all will work itself out. It is to this idea that I wish to offer thoughts.

I must first ask the question “Why would any Brother make such a claim?” Perhaps they are seeking to keep Harmony within the Lodge and feel that any comments concerning flaws in how Masonry is currently being practiced might upset that balance. Perhaps they are concerned that any negative comments might be attributed to the influence that they have had in their time within the Craft. Or perhaps they truly do believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with our Lodges. In my opinion, all of these reasons are inherently flawed.
I digress. The rough ashlar, and its symbolism, is presented to the Mason very early on in his Masonic journey. In the state of Ohio, it is presented in the Entered Apprentice Degree. We are taught that we are all rough ashlars, and that we must use the working tools provided to us to effectively remove all of our rough edges so that we might become a perfect ashlar. I am not personally one who believes that we will ever actually achieve perfection, or the symbolic state of becoming a perfect ashlar. As such, I find it to be utterly flawed that a Society of men, whose purpose in grounded in self improvement, should ever claim that “there is absolutely nothing wrong”. Do we truly believe that we have reached perfection?

Beyond the principled disagreement with the statement, I find it to be inherently dangerous to share such an idea or claim with men who are seeking guidance. Essentially, many Brothers who are seeking guidance on how to improve themselves in Masonry may perceive that they are being told that no improvement is needed. The damaging effects of such statements are potentially immeasurable.

I share this for one simple reason, my Brothers. We all have a voice, and those who choose to use that voice can and will most likely be heard. Recognize that words have power. Words have meaning. Use Prudence in choosing what you say and where you say it. Many may hear such a claim and confirm their own flawed belief that we have already achieved perfection. Many others may hear such a claim and be discouraged in their efforts to improve our Lodge Experience due to a lack of support from their Brethren. Be willing to recognize both your own personal imperfections and those of the Lodges seeking to practice our Gentle Craft. Do not attempt to convince yourself, and certainly do not attempt to convince others that all is well. There is still work to be done.

There are designs upon the Trestle Board. Ensure that you are not calling the Craft from Labor to Refreshment prior to the completion of the Temple.

Originally Published at: http://thelaudablepursuit.com/2014/01/27/there-is-much-to-do/

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Carpe Diem



I was watching a movie with my kids this weekend, the title of which is not relevant, and the following line struck me: “That wasn’t living, that was just not dying. There’s a difference!”. The words resonated with me and I found myself lying in bed that night thinking a bit about what it meant, and where it can be seen.

How many reading this blog can say that, regardless of how successful they are in the application of it, attempt to live each day to the fullest? How many seek to not only maintain, but to improve life for themselves and others? How many can say that they are working each and every day to make the most of not only today, but ensure that the future is bright as well? I would suggest that the answer to all three questions is “not enough”. Make no mistake, I am guilty of living according to the Tread Mill method on many days, perhaps sometimes even for weeks at a time. However, seeking to change that trend can only result in a positive. As this blog is primarily Masonic, I will focus this line of thinking in that context.

Stories abound of Lodges that exist only to open, read the minutes, pay the bills, and close quickly so that they can retire to the dining room to eat the same meal that they have had after every meeting since being chartered. These same Lodges are often filled with Past Masters who, with great passion, cry afoul when any type of change is proposed to the Lodge. “There is no INNOVATION in Masonry!”, they will cry. “We have done it this way for years with no problems!”, they proclaim. To this, I would suggest that the proposer ask the following questions. “Is this Lodge truly living its purpose in Masonry? Or is it simply not dying by maintaining the status quo?” Too many Lodges exist. Too few Lodges are living. Though many approaches can and should be taken to communicate this message to the Brethren, it is important that they be able to answer the question “Is this Lodge living its purpose in Masonry?” in the affirmative. Either they are seeking to improve themselves, their Brethren, and therefore society as a whole, or they are simply a drone in the hive of Masonry.

Harsh? Perhaps. Let me be clear. I am not advocating one approach to Masonry within the Lodge to another. I am claiming that Lodges should be “living” and not just simply “not dying”. If your Lodge experience is far from meaningful, then seek to change it! If your sole purpose for meeting is to read the minutes, pay the bills, and close the Lodge, then seek to make it about more. An attentive ear is hard pressed to make it through any conversation concerning the current state of the Craft without hearing about the dwindling membership. Normally it is followed by an explanation about competing priorities, internet, televised sports, work commitments, etc. prevent men from coming. To that I say the following. The problem is not that men are too occupied with work, smart phones, video games, family commitments or anything of the sort. The problem is that we are not offering them anything that can compete with those things. Now, aside from one’s family (which in my eyes is first priority regardless), there is nothing in that grouping that should be more enticing to a man that to be a part of something as sacred and as special as Masonry. To participate in timeless rituals, cloaked in secrecy, filled with allegory and symbolism, all seeking to instill ancient wisdom to the participant is something that should trump almost anything! Yet they do not come to the Lodge. Why is that?

The answer is simple. Too many Lodges are simply “not dying”. They are not “living” Masonry! They rush through the degrees as if they are simply a box to be checked. They encourage minimum proficiency because “men just do not have time for memorization and study”. They spend meetings bickering about bills, arguing over minutes, and closing quickly only to come back and do it all over again. This is not Masonry. When men come into Lodge, they want something special, something sacred. They do not leave (or fail to ever join) because they are not interested in Masonry. They leave (or fail to join) because they ARE interested in Masonry and have not found it in the Lodge.

Take notice, Brethren. Masonry is not a box to be checked. It is not something that you have to “get out of the way” so that you can drink coffee and eat off of paper plates in the dining room. It is not something that can be taught or experienced by utilizing minimum proficiencies. Masonry is a timeless system designed to impart wisdom and improve men and the societies in which they live. It is our duty to treat it as such. So with that, I will ask the following questions to the reader: “Is your Lodge living its purpose in Masonry? Or is it simply not dying?” If it is the latter, what are you going to do about it?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Footprints in the Snow




The snow was falling steadily as I pulled my car into the parking lot of my office building this morning.  Being one of the early arrivals, per my normal routine, the lot was largely vacant.  I pulled into my parking spot, sat for a minute or so to listen the end of Andrea Bocelli’s rendition of Ava Maria, and gathered my things to head into work for the day.  I should note that much to the amusement of my co-workers, I always park in the parking spot in the far corner of the lot.  No matter the availability of closer spots.  I do this so that I can enjoy quiet time on my lunch break for meditation and contemplation.  So as I walked across the new fallen snow, feeling the snow crunch softly beneath my shoes, I was struck with a thought.  To help solidify the thought, I stopped and looked back towards my car.  There in the snow, as clear as could be, were my footprints highlighting for all to see the path I had taken from my car to the door of the building.  With that, one word came to me.  Obligation.  So, what do footprints in the snow have to do with an obligation?  Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps Much.

Allow me to expound a bit on this epiphany and how it relates to Masonry.  As I trekked across the snow, I left an impression.  This impression could now serve as a map or guide to those behind me who were walking into the building.  Just by looking at my footprints, they would be able to tell if I had slipped, fallen, or stepped anywhere that was undesirable.  More generally, by looking at my footprints, those behind me could see a path.  Such is the way of Masonic Light.

Though disagreements abound concerning nearly every aspect of our Craft, one concept that all Masons can agree with is that we are all seeking “that which was lost”.  This lends itself to the belief that it was once “had”.  As with this parking lot that was once clearly marked and able to be navigated by all who wished to do so, “the Lost Word” was once within the reach of any who desired to know it.  To the modern Mason, we know only that what we seek has been lost since time immemorial.  How then do we find it?  Perhaps we never will, but those who truly seek it do one of two things.  They either travel the Path by following in the footsteps of those who have gone before them, or they step forward into the unknown and leave a Path for others to follow.  Yet we have still not connected to the word “obligation”.  Please continue to follow my footsteps.

As Speculative Masons, we are all seeking Light.  We seek Light because we are in darkness, lest we would never know when the Light was found.  So it is with all of society.  Society, since time immemorial, has been plunged into darkness, lost in the Forest of Errors.  Many Seekers find themselves close enough to the perimeter of that forest to see the Light.  For those, it is simply a matter of having the courage to emerge, much like Plato’s allegory of the Cave.  For others, the perimeter is far from view.  They can see nothing but darkness, despite having an internal desire for Light.  How then are those seeking Light from deep within the darkness able to find it?  Various Masonic monitors include some variant of the following text: “from a point to a line, from a line to a superficies and from a superficies to a solid".  So it is with traveling the Path from within the Forest of Errors towards that divine Light that we all seek.  One Seeker begins his journey, a point.  He travels as far towards that Light as he is able, creating a line.  This Brother’s line ends at the starting point of another Brother’s journey….and so the progression starts towards building a solid edifice.  That House not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.

How then does this pertain to the word “obligation”?  I remind you that “to relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent upon all man, but particularly Freemasons”.  I would suggest that all of humanity resides in a level of distress.  As not only Seekers of Light, but as Bearers of Light, we are obligated to not only carry the torch, but to ensure that we leave a trail that those who seek what we seek may follow.  This is a call to arms to those within our Gentle Craft who have found Light.  This is an admonishment to share that Light so that those behind you on the Path might find what you have found.   Though we must each walk our own Path, we can travel much further with the help of our Brothers.  Perhaps, as with the footsteps in the snow, your impression will disappear over time, but perhaps before doing so another Seeker may catch just a glimpse of it.  This glimpse may provide them with, at the very least, a direction to travel.  So, my Brother, as you leave your Masonic legacy, do so with the awareness that others can and will follow in your footsteps.  Ensure that the Path you forge is a Path worth following.