Masonic Random Thoughts

A place for Masonic news, thoughts, discussion and education

Time to restart my Brain…

It’s been some time since I’ve shared any random thought with you and I apologize for that.  Summer and work just got a bit busy.

However, it’s Winter now and I’ll have plenty of time to share all the things I’ve been storing up!

 

 

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The Power of a Comma

In their vanity men focus on what they wish to hear and miss the hidden meaning…

— David Hewson

 

Recently I was privileged to attend the MCME in Iowa and I got to hear some of the best and brightest of Masonic Education speakers and what they were thinking

One speaker in particular was talking about Masonic Education and what that term even meant or why we use it.  In fact, we don’t see that term being used until the late 19th century in Masonic literature.  What that implies is that Masonry and education were synonymous to early Lodges.  The purpose of Lodge was education along with the feasting and fellowship.

He then pointed out one of the more powerful and obvious lines in our ritual that should focus us on this subject.  In the opening of the EA degree the WM has a conversation with the SW that is largely ignored but incredibly important.  In this conversation, the WM essentially asks the SW why he is here in this place and what is his purpose.  The answer that the SW gives, tells us everything we need to know about our duties in Lodge and as Masons.  And yet it’s hidden in the EA opening and is seldom thought about.

The real eye opener came when the speaker suggested the addition of a comma to the question that the WM asks.  What if, he proposed, we put a comma after the word “learn”.  Now say the sentence again, does it mean something different?  The addition of a simple comma makes this statement by the SW much more understandable and also more focused.  The meaning is essentially the same, if you believe that Masonry is about learning but that little comma brings some real clarity to the question asked.  Try this in your Lodge and see how different Brothers react to the statement.  It may help them to see things differently!

 

Time and Improvement

There’s only one corner of the Universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self

— Aldous Huxley

 

 

In our ritual we are admonished to make “…daily advancement…” in our Masonry.  I believe that the authors of that short but powerful line intended for us to think about and apply Masonry every day in our lives.  This might seem like a daunting task especially for the new Mason. Where do I start? What do I study?  How do I study?

Several years ago, a very popular book called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” came on the market. In this book, the author, Stephen Covey, laid out seven steps or habits that if followed seemed to bring about the most effective use of time and effort.

The 7th Habit is the one I want to concentrate on as it seems to me to have direct application to our Masonic life. The 7th habit encourages that daily you take time to renew yourself mentally and physically and work towards continual improvement.

Today’s world is so full of activities that seem to be more important than working on ourselves. In fact, the word WORK seems to carry a negative connotation in itself! Many men are working 60 and 70 hour weeks, trying to raise a family, etc. and yet forgetting to take care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually.

It’s true that we have a lot less free time than our fathers and grand fathers had. Our children are involved in so many things at school and after school that it seems like all we do is run a taxi service for them from activity to activity. Men in the last generation have taken a more active role in raising the children than before and many wives are working as well, making the classic “guys’ night out” a thing of the past for many. Recent studies have shown that the average family man has only 5 hours a month of free time. That is not much. The result is that many of us are Masons in name only; we pay our dues, maybe attend an occasional Lodge meeting, buy the books the Education Committee recommends and then put them on the shelf. But we never seem to get around to reading those books or reviewing the work….there just isn’t enough time.

So how does one go about “creating” the time to further our studies and practice the 7th habit and live up to our obligation?

While I believe there is no one correct path but many, I would like to offer this rather easy formula. I believe that with a minimum of effort you will reap a great return in advancement towards being a better Mason.

Here is my plan:

This Sunday evening after you have put the kids to bed, picked up the house and all those other little things that are a part of starting a new week, sit down for a few minutes (perhaps 10 or 15). Do this someplace quiet where you can think. Take your Monitor or Cypher or some recent article about Masonry. Choose a topic or idea. For example the line “…to learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry.”

Now, write this down on a scrap of paper and put it in your wallet or in your planner or on a note in your phone. Put it someplace where you can refer to it often throughout the next week.

On this piece of paper with your topic, write the following 3 questions:

 Why? (e.g. Why is this so? Why is this in the work?)

How? (e.g. How does this affect me? How can I internalize this?)

How do I feel about this personally? (Dig deep; look into your core and decide how you feel. There is no wrong answer!)

Throughout the week, take out this piece of paper and spend a few minutes thinking about what you have chosen. Apply the 3 questions. Do this whenever you have a few free minutes. (Shaving, sitting at a traffic light, in a boring meeting at work or exercising). You will find that throughout the week, these little bits of time add up to quite a bit of good hard thinking.

On the following Sunday night, once again take some time to yourself. Review what you thought about during the week. Now put that piece of paper in a special drawer or envelope, take out a fresh piece of paper and pick a new topic.

Repeat this process each week. At the end of the year, take out all the past topics, review them and congratulate yourself on all the Masonic study you’ve done throughout the year!

Want to double or triple the effectiveness of this plan? Keep a journal of your thoughts at the end of each week. Writing things down has a way of really bringing them into focus. Plus it can provide a history of your development.

So, there it is. A simple, effective way to improve yourself in Masonry with a minimum of time! I have found this method to be of great value and use it often when driving between engagements. I know that if you try this and make it a habit you will profit from it as well!

Who’s watching and learning from you?

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more

and become more, you are a leader

— John Quincy Adams

 

Like or not, each of us every day is teaching those around us something about who we are as a person.  Most of the time we don’t even realize it it’s happening but happen it does.  When we make that snide comment at work or run that yellow light or cheat just a little on our taxes we are teaching those that see us doing these things something about ourselves.

It is a condition of human nature that our actions will always speak louder than our words.  This gives us a clue to one of the most powerful ways of promoting Masonry.  We can talk all day about one day classes, and advertisements and marketing plans to bring in new members but the single most powerful thing we can do is to simply live as Masons and let our example do the talking.

Masonry is a wonderful framework for living.  It contains lessons that regardless of age, background, station in life or situation, can be applied to make life better and therefore consequently happier.  By being living examples of Masonry, we will naturally attract those men who are interested in improving themselves and want to live a better life but don’t know how to go about it or where to learn.  We need to be the example that makes them ask us about Masonry and then we need to be prepared to welcome that man into our fraternity and share the beauty of Masonry.

Only by living in congruence with our words will we be teaching the right thing.  Only by making the hard decisions to hold to a standard that some may not agree with or may not be popular will we be teaching the observers what Masonry is.  It will do us no good to expound on the virtues of Masonry in the media and then act no different than the profane in our public and private lives.

So the next time you are about to say or do something that might be a bit less than Masonic, stop and remember that you are the face of Masonry to whomever you interact with.  Make sure that what you are speaks so loud that there is no doubt that you are a Mason.

Cost vs. Value

Surely there comes a time when counting the cost and paying the price aren’t things to think about any more.  All that matters is value – the ultimate value of what one does. — James Hilton

 

It seems today that many in our Craft have lost sight of the difference between cost and value.  Many are simply blinded by perceived “Cost” of Masonry and are ignoring or have forgotten the “Value” of Masonry.

Let me bring this back into focus with this analogy.  I’m a woodturner and I really enjoy making fine fountain pens from exotic woods for friends as gifts.  Often times, when I give someone a fine pen, the recipient or someone watching will say “Oh, I could never have an expensive pen like that, I’d lose it.  I lose my pens all the time.”  Generally, I just smile and let the comment go because I know why that person is losing the pen.  And I know just a confidently that the person that I’ve given the fine pen to will have it long into the future.  Why?  It’s a matter of perceived value.  It’s a well established phenomenon in the pen world that if you give someone a good pen they will have it forever.  The reason seems to be you have attached a certain value to that object whether it be by price or sentimental value or that fact that it unique.   You will make sure you know where it is at and you will only grudgingly loan it to others, and make sure it is returned as soon as possible.

Now consider the lowly 19 cent Bic.  Does the same job as the expensive pen but really, ask  yourself, when was the last time you used a Bic up before losing it?  How willing are you to keep track of a Bic?  And don’t you find your self lending it quite freely and not wondering if it will return?  Why?  Again, it has to due with perceived value.  You do not perceive a great deal of value in a Bic pen because it is easily replaced, it’s certainly not one of a kind,  and anyone can get one.

And this phenomenon works not just for pens, but for everything!  It’s one of the basic fundamental ways in which we judge the world around us.  Things that are free are of little lasting “Value” but things that “Cost” us dearly seem to increase in value.

So how do we want to perceive Masonry?  As a fine, hand crafted piece of work that is unique and valuable or as a 19 cent Bic pen, disposable, common and not worth keeping tack of?

This is more that just an question of philosophy.  This is a very real issue facing Masonry today.  In many Lodges the dues are still at 1950’s levels and yet the cost of supporting that Lodge have risen like everything else.  Do a little research about the cost of goods in 1958 for example.  A dozen eggs was 20 cents, a gallon of gas was 30 cents and the cost of the average home was $2,390!  The cost of Lodge dues for a year was generally equivalent to 25% or 30% of a weeks pay and men were banging on our doors to get in.  And yet we find many Lodges today struggling due to a lack of funding because their dues are still at those 1950’s levels.  Try this experiment, grab a calculator and figure out what 25% to 30% of a weeks wage is now for you.  How many of you today, pay those kinds of dues to belong to your Lodge?

Or are you caught up in the “Cost” argument while sipping your $3 coffee from Starbucks? Is it really the “Cost” that we should be concerned about or is it the “Value”?  If Masonry only gives a few dollars a year of value, then you need to reexamine your commitment to the Craft.  But if you believe that Masonry has true “Value” to you as a man, a husband, a father and a citizen, then the answers become painfully obvious.  In fact, once you change your point of view to one of judging by “Value” rather than by “Cost”, you will quickly understand the need to change how we fund our Lodges and how we perceive Masonry in our lives.

It seems that every time any type of dues increase is discussed, the Craft erupts with doomsayers telling us how Masonry will cease to exist and and that extra dollar or 50 cents will bring about the end.  Now, to be sure there may be some Brothers whom, through no fault of their own, are in circumstances that make any dues increase a burden.  If that is the case, then the Lodge should be helping that Brother out!  Those of us still in the work force or who are financially capable should take more interest in helping those within our Lodges that are not.

We cannot expect to continue to run Masonry on 1950’s budgets in today economic atmosphere.  It’s time we all stepped back and took a good look at our attitudes and changed from a “Cost” based decision model to a “Value” based model.  Both you and the Craft will be better for it.

 

Are you working on your Ashlar?

(This very important view about ourselves as Ashlars was sent to me by the Nebraska Education Committee.  It was just so well written, I had to share it.  We do not know who the author is, if anyone knows, please let me know so I can correctly attribute the author.)

 

The Ashlars

We are told that the Ashlars lie open in the lodge for the brethren to moralize on. Did you ever see a brother contemplating the Ashlars and trying to derive some moral benefit from them? For the most part they are quickly referred to and just as quickly forgotten.

The Ashlar is the freestone as it comes from the quarry. The Rough Ashlar is the stone in its rude and natural state and is emblematic of man in his natural state – ignorant, uncultivated and vicious. But when education has exerted it’s wholesome influence in expanding his intellect, restraining his passions and purifying his life, he then is represented by the Perfect Ashlar, which, under the skillful hands of workman, has been smoothed and squared and fitted for its place in the building.

However, you will observe that the Rough Ashlar in a Masonic Lodge is not in its rude or natural state. It has been squared in a fashion, partially smoothed and has apparent strength and solidarity. It possesses all the qualities that could make it a perfect stone for use in the construction of the Temple, but it needs the hands and skill of the perfect Craftsman to bring about that result.

It represents the candidate for membership in a Masonic Lodge. Such an applicant is not in his rude or natural state, neither ignorant, uncultivated nor vicious. Masonry does not accept men of such qualifications. The applicant by education and perseverance has fitted himself as a respectable man in his community, assuming full responsibility as a citizen, a churchman and a member of his family. There are a vast number of men in every community possessing such qualifications that are not members of a Masonic Lodge, and may never have the desire to associate themselves with the Ancient Craft.

A man judges Masonry by the actions and manner of living of those he knows are members of the Order, but knows little or nothing of its teachings or objectives in the building of character. In that sense, he is in the crude state of the rough ashlar, possessing all the qualities or perfect material, but lacking the polish that comes from a continued study and practice of the great teachings of Masonry.

Membership in a lodge does not make a man a Mason. He must apply his abilities to improving all in him that falls short of that high standard set by Masonry in character and citizen building. If he is satisfied with being a Master Mason in name only, he loses the benefits of further advancement and improvement offered by membership in the Order. In other words, he falls far short of anything that might be termed the Perfect Ashlar.

The Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert Craftsman to try and adjust his jewels on. In ancient times, with crude tools that would not even be used in this age, workmen of great skill and experience produced material for the construction of the Temple having such perfection that each piece fitted perfectly into its place without adjustment or correction. Time was not one of the essential factors; perfection was the goal.

To keep this state of perfection in absolute balance, a standard must have been set whereby the workmen could constantly test their tools to know that continued wear and use had not changed the measurements; even in the slightest degree. Did they have a Perfect Ashlar on which to make such a test?

We are told that the Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert workmen to “try” and adjust their tools on. In Masonry, we are the workmen, whether we are active or inactive, workers or drones. What are our “jewels”, our most prized possession? If we have absorbed any of the teachings Masonry, the building of character and a [spiritual] way of life are two of the many jewels that should constantly be before us. And in the building of that state of perfection to which we attain, what Perfect Ashlar have we that we might go to and “try” the tools with which we have been working, to know that they are still of fine quality and in perfect condition for the job that lies before us.

In every Masonic Lodge there rests on the Altar in the centre of the room the V.O.T.S.L. It is the solid foundation upon which Masonry in our lives is built. It never changes. Civilizations may come and go, but the Book of Books remains the same, adaptable to all conditions and manner of men, in good times and bad, in peace or war, a guide for mankind.

How often do we consult this Guide to try and adjust the jewels which are ours and which may need to be altered to get them back to that state of perfection which we as Masons should endeavor at all times to hold as our standard way of life?

In this busy world of today, we neglect this practice. Therefore, as we think of the Ashlars and try to do a little moralizing, let us forget, even for a brief period, the material things in our lives, and direct our thoughts to the more important duty of contemplating our own defects and shortcomings, and adjusting our way of life and bringing it more in harmony with that standard given us by the Great Creator in the V.O.T.S.L.

The Ashlars are not just two pieces of stone. They represent what we have been and what we hope to be. It is up to each individual Mason to pass his own judgment on himself and to adjust his jewels accordingly, so that when the time comes and he lays down his tools and makes the final journey to the Grand Lodge Above, he may leave behind a reputation as a wise counselor, a pillar of strength and stability, a Perfect Ashlar on which younger Masons may test the correctness and value of their own contribution to the Masonic order.

Iowa Academy of Masonic Knowledge

One of the great things that came out of last week’s Midwest Conference on Masonic Education was finding out about all the resources that Iowa has available for any Mason to use.  Below is a shot of the list of sites that are available.  Click on the picture to get a full sized view.

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Midwest Conference on Masonic Education

Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinions in good men is but knowledge in the making. — John Milton
Last weekend, the Grand Lodge Education committee and I spent a very useful weekend in Cedar Rapids attending the annual Midwest Conference on Masonic Education (MWCME).  This year was the 65th year for this conference which travels to a different jurisdiction each year.

The purpose of the MWCME is for the jurisdictions in our part of the Masonic world to get together and exchange best practices on education from our jurisdictions.  These ideas have been brought back over the years and resulted in some of the programs you see in Nebraska.

In between jurisdiction reports, there were nationally known Masonic authors and speakers that presented on larger topics of interest to all Masons and especially those involved in education.  Most of the presentations were recorded and when the CD is released, I will try to make portions of it available through this blog.

One of the most interesting speakers, was WB Andrew Hammer (Past Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No 22 at Alexandria Virginia).  Bro. Hammer is author of Observing the Craft: The Pursuit of Excellence in Masonic Labour and Observance.  If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly suggest you do so.  It is a call to action to recover our Masonry from what it is now to what it was intended to be.  Bro. Hammer’s opinions may shock you but there is no doubt he will make you think.  HIs presentation at the conference was an encapsulation of his book and was very inspiring.  The movement to go back to traditional Masonry is growing and Bro. Hammer is one of the reasons why.

We also got to tour the fantastic Iowa Grand Lodge building and Library.  If you’ve never been there, you are missing a gold mine in our area! Not only is the building an architectural wonder but their library has such books as an original copy of Anderson’s Constitutions!  (Which they will let you hold if you ask nice!).  The breadth of books in the library is amazing and they welcome groups or individual Masons at any time to drop by for a tour or to do research.

Next year’s conference will be in Duluth, MN in April.  Plan now to put on your snow boots and attend!

 

Random News

From Chris Hodapp / Freemasonry for Dummies

GL of Kansas Adopts Background Checks

nblo.gs/VqiRR

 

GL of Connecticut Encouraging Corporate Partnerships to Refurbish Older Temples

nblo.gs/Vulkh

 

Historic Masonry

Booker T. Washington, author, founder of Tuskegee Institute, a Mason “at sight” in the Prince Hall GL of MA was born on April 5, 1856.

 

Voltaire was initiated on April 4, 1778 in “Les Neuf Soeurs” Lodge in Paris.  Benjamin Franklin was his conductor!

 

The Pony Express, founded by Brothers Wm.Russell and Alexander Majors, began operations on April 3, 1860

 

From our English Brothers

Anthony Wilson (President of the Board of General Purposes UGLE)  explains why he brought modern business practice into Freemasonry.  goo.gl/GMNM5t

 

Education

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” — Socrates

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance” — Will Durant

“Masonry is a progressive science” — Anon.

 

The above quotes tell us something very important.  That learning is a lifelong endeavor and that we will never know everything.  But knowing everything is not the point. Discovering new things and integrating them into our world view is the task at hand.  Masonry is unique in that one of its fundamental purposes is to encourage the learning of new information, skills and behaviors.  From the first moment you kneel at the altar, you are admonished to learn.

Learning can take place in many different ways.  There is reading what others have found before you, discovering new ideas and facts on your own, discourse with someone, more especially a Brother Mason and the good old school of hard knocks!  Each of these methods will provide you with “Light” and it is important to use them all.  We will never know all there is to know in this life but what a wonderful journey it is to try!

There is much discussion about what is Masonic Education?  I think that is a big subject and changes during your journey as a Mason.  At different times in your journey, it might be something as simple as learning the ritual or as complex as diving into the philosophical underpinnings of Masonry.  So for each of us, education comes in different forms and at different times.  For me personally, Masonic education is learning to look beyond the written word into the allegory and the lessons it is trying to teach.   In doing so, I believe I can improve myself in Masonry.

One definition that I think we can all agree on is this:  Masonic education is necessary to becoming a Mason.  It should help you to be better than you were before.  (Note: not better than others, it’s not a contest and we are all human and therefore flawed).

Whatever your definition is, please pursue it!  I’m often amazed at how many member think “further Light” comes with a membership card!  It does not.  The only way to learn to be a true Mason is by working at it!  No heavenly revelation is going to happen and you suddenly wake up one day and understand Masonry, yourself and the world.  You have to put out effort to truly receive Light.  And this is now your life long duty as a Mason.

So how can this be done?  Start a discussion group at your Lodge, read one of the many books recommended by the Grand Lodge Education Committee and then discuss it, pay close attention when doing degree work and try to understand the message being shared, read blogs such as this one and participate in the discussions, if you haven’t been, start going to Lodge!  There are dozens of way to learn more about Freemasonry and apply it to your life and going forward, we will cover all of these and more in the coming months.

For right now, just think about taking 10min per day to concentrate on Masonic education of some sort.  You’ll be glad you did!