Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Last Offices

The Masonic Memorial is a very touching ceremony and as is stated it is the Last Offices We Pay to the Dead. We have all been to some memorials with low attendance and others with a very large attendance.

The grand aim of the Memorial service is to pay honor and respect to a fallen brother, thus displaying to his surviving family and friends a demonstration of our past esteem for him. We are also taught that it matters not to the fallen brother whether two or three or hundreds have assembled to perform his Memorial service.

I had the pleasure of attending a Memorial service last evening for a friend and brother to many. There were 78 Masons standing and a hand-full sitting with wives, friends, etc. It was such a display of fraternal love and I'm convinced made quite an impact on relatives and friends not associated with the fraternity.

My point is that when there is such a large turnout for such a Memorial that many brothers become reacquainted with brothers they haven't seen in some time. It was such a joy to see so many brothers that I hadn't seen in several years. Most of them were members of other appendant bodies.

One of the highlights of the evening for me personally was reconciling with a brother who is very active in another fraternal group. Things happened in the past and I had been holding a grudge against this brother for twelve years. We began talking and he asked if we could be friends again, he apologized for his actions, said he was wrong and wanted to start fresh. My response of course was yes, his reaching out and apologizing meant a lot to me.

The whole evening made me wonder just who we are there for......of course we are there to honor a fallen brother, but the occasion provides a vehicle for the brothers to mingle, converse, get reacquainted and in my case reconciliation.

Somehow brother Don would be very pleased with the fellowship that resulted from his Memorial, I think it is what my brother Don would have wanted....and he would have been delighted for my personal situation.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for men to dwell together as brothers....Fare thee well brother Don....and thanks for the opportunity to grow in the fraternity....So Mote it Be

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Hidden Gem of Freemasonry

Several years ago WB Mike Burt uttered a phrase which I've have quoted on numerous instances. "Traveling is one of the hidden gems of Masonry." Whenever I have spoke these words, credit is always given to WB Mike.

Recently a very active traveler asked me the question, "Why is it that the number of brothers traveling has decreased so much over the past few years?"

Unfortunately, I don't have a real good reason for the recent decline. I suppose like all things in life it goes in cycles. Masonry is on the cusp of being great again, in my opinion.

Leadership is a main driving force in most things in life. Traveling needs leadership, whether from the elected officers of the lodge or a small catalyst of brothers who know and recognize the benefits a lodge receives from traveling to other lodges.

Traveling is responsible for a multitude of things that benefit any lodge. Good attendance at the regulars, good attendance at degrees, good attendance at district/regional meetings, good attendance at fund raisers, good attendance at installations.

During this time of the year, installation time, it's very evident by the number attending the installation as to the dedication of that lodge traveling to other local lodges throughout the year.

If a lodge has a WM that is able and willing to travel and takes the initiative to invite all the brothers of the lodge to travel with him, the lodge will thrive in many different areas. If the lodge has good fellowship among it's members, that is infectious......regardless of what lodge they are at.

Too often brothers and the leadership of lodges tend to throw cold water on some of the Grand Lodge plans and programs. Two that are coming on line now, need to be utilized to the utmost; the 6-step process and the mentor program.

For years when a man approaches us about membership, our first reaction is to put a petition in his hand, rush him through the process, raise him, all in a hurried fashion, then we never hear from him again. The 6-step process moves the petition to the last action taken after getting to really know the man and for him to get to know us....in other words we are seeking to discover if it's good fit for him and for the fraternity.

When the man is approved to receive the degrees of Masonry, a mentor needs to be assigned to that man. One of the things that the mentor should do is to expose the new brother to the art of traveling.
Imagine that, after taking the EA or FC degree your mentor invites you to travel to another lodge and see the degree and experience what you've just went through. Not only does the degree take on new meaning but you get to experience a new building and a new set of brothers.....hmmmm....imagine that.

Another factor in our local area which is causing all of us to pause and contemplate the current position of the fraternity is the constricting of lodges. As Genesee county and surrounding areas have lost population base and job base....our lodges are in a position of reexamining their position in the communities where they have been for decades.

Due to the diminishing membership rolls, the increased costs of maintaining a building, the tax rate, the cost of insurance, and the cost of utilities have caused all Masonic lodges to take a hard look at the financial feasibility of remaining in their building.

One Past Master's favorite saying was, "All of these problems could be eliminated with 300 or 400 new members." One thing that I always hear from the old-timers(which I am beginning to fall into)are stories from long ago about men standing in line to join and how the numbers of active members is staggering compared to today's numbers. An odd side note to this; one of my customers brought me an apron which belonged to his wife's father.....it's still in the large manila envelope it came in with his name written on it.....in examining the apron, I lifted the flap and there was only one date, for the EA degree. When I questioned my customer about it, he remarked that his father in-law started and his job changed and he was unable to finish....the date, 1955.....so the challenges have always been there.

We hear much today about Social Media.....my position is that Freemasonry is the original Social Media....through the ages it has provided an outlet for men of like mind to socialize outside of the norms of conventional society. With all of the "electronic media" available to  us, young men are discovering the need of social interaction away from their computer screens is a tremendously valuable asset which fills a basic human need......thus was man formed for the social and active life, the noblest part of the work of God....

Mentoring is a key element for the new Mason, leadership is a key element for the three primary officers of a lodge, not just for the new members but also for the pre-existing members too. True leadership adopts the proven methods of the lodge and helps foster their continued growth....implementing change for the sake of change can often be fatalistic....one has to question how will this make things better. In the example of traveling, if the new Master recognizes a lack of traveling.....then changing that behavior will result in many positive results....thus change toward a more active traveling agenda helps all involved.....but it requires work, dedication, and leadership.

One of the sad duties we must all perform are Masonic memorials....this is a form of traveling but is also a means of honoring a fallen brother. Believe it or not it's also a source of Masonic friendship...and like it or not the attendance at a Masonic memorial is directly proportional to the amount of ....you guessed it.....traveling that the departed brother took part in.....sad but true.....however, we should always strive to attend memorials as a small token of honoring the fallen brother and to display the affections of the fraternity to his family and friends.

WB Carl Davis gave a great explanation several years ago about how the various lodges in our area function on a monthly basis. For sake of discussion lets say we have 15 lodges and let's say 11-12 lodge buildings. We meet during the first week for the regular, at this meeting we pay the bills, plan how to raise money to pay the bills, then we travel among the lodges and perform degree work and at the beginning of the next month we go our separate ways back to our home lodges....pay the bills, work on ways to raise money....and then disperse and "travel" from lodge to lodge performing degree work.

Wow...obviously it's very slow today, given my long rant. If we are to weather the storm we are currently in, several things must occur to preserve this fabulous fraternity. One is to adhere to the 6-step program, next we need to adopt the mentor program in every lodge, and last we need to resume our once vibrant traveling in and out of our area. We need to support each other and teach our new brothers the joys of one of the hidden gems of Freemasonry....traveling.

Safe travels my brothers, I look forward to seeing you in lodge......this is a good wake up call to myself because I know I have strayed from this vital part of this great fraternity.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Brotherly Love

We speak quite often of brotherly love in the teachings in lodge. From time to time we have the pleasure of seeing it exemplified in real life. This past Monday I attended the Eastern Star installation of officers at Mt.Morris.

The installation was very nice and very well done. Literally just minutes before the beginning of the installation, a young woman rushed into the Blue room and left her purse with a brother and his wife. When the corps of officers came in this young woman was in the lineup.

If I'm not mistaken she assumed the Star point of Ruth, which was formerly held by the late Sharon Trarop, who was the mostly lovely, giving woman one could ever meet.

After the installation I was near the door of the dining hall talking with another brother. WB Bill Trarop, Sharon's husband, excused himself and said that he would be right back, he was running home quickly and would return.

When WB Bill returned, he had a purple Eastern Star blouse which had been Sharon's. Bill wanted the young woman who had just been installed in the Star point of Ruth....incidentally the young woman who had been installed, is a very new member and didn't have the purple blouse like most of the other officers.

WB Bill presented the blouse to the young woman who was sitting at our table.....I'm sure that it was difficult for Bill to let go....yet he knew the young woman needed it and would make Sharon proud.

I doubt if there was a dry eye at the table.....what a wonderful example of brotherly love from a brother to a sister in the Order of Eastern Star. Without a doubt it was one of the most touching things I've ever seen anywhere period.

My hope is that we can all experience this first hand, and even be the giver instead of the observer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes

My favorite Country singer, George Jones, had a great hit called "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?"
It talks of his wondering, just who is going to fill the shoes of all the great stars who had blazed a trail and went on to the great stage in the sky.

In Masonry if we've learned anything at all, we should be aware of the symbolism all around us. In songs, written word, and everyday life experiences.

One can make the case that this song parallels our Masonic life. Just who is going to fill the shoes of the great leaders and legends in their own time in this great fraternity. There will never be another WB Bennie King as just one example. Bennie in his humble manner would never own up to the fact that he is a living legend in this world of Masonry.

I've had the pleasure of knowing many of the fine brothers through the years that were what brothers consider to be a Mason's Mason.

WB Howard Durbin is one that comes to mind whenever this subject comes up along with WB Bob McClellan and a whole host of others.

The challenge to those who are now active in the fraternity is, who is actually going to fill the shoes of the greats who have gone before us. Not that any of us could ever dream of replacing them, but to carry on the tradition and legacy that greats prepared for us. It is incumbent on all of us to carry on that tradition and to ensure that the legacy continues.

As I've mentioned many times before the fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons is far greater than any of us would ever dream of being. Freemasonry has endured through all the years because it, the fraternity, is far greater and more complex that any man, now or ever since the inception of the fraternity.

Currently we are blessed with a number of what I consider to be Living Legends in our Masonic world. However, as we are taught....we are all born to die. This presents a huge to challenge to those younger brothers.....who is going to do the FC lectures......who is going to present the apron.....who is going to do the history of the MM degree.....I wonder....who's gonna fill their shoes.

Who's gonna fill their shoes....Who's gonna stand that tall.......Who's gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you....Lord I wonder....who's gonna fill their shoes?????

Monday, August 22, 2016

S-th

For fear of being reprimanded I will exclude the actual spelling of Shib**ol**h.....but we will take a look at the origin and meaning of this word.

From the Bible in the 12th chapter of the Book of Judges....that in fact the battle of the Gileadites and the Ephramites did occur and that the mighty people of Gilead inflicted great victory and pain on the invading Ephramites.

When the Ephramites attempted to cross the Jordan river back into their home country, they were tested to determine if they could properly pronounce S-th....and we have learned that because of their trifling defect, they were unable to pronounce the word and met with death......we also learn from the ritual the number was forty and two thousand.

In our rituals we learn that it is represented by ears of corn hanging near a waterfall. This ancient Hebrew word literally means the part of a plant containing grains...such as an ear of corn....in other contexts is can mean a stream, a torrent....thus the waterfall.

For anyone that has been near a waterfall.....the word torrent is very good description of the power of the water.

In latter years the term S-th....is used to distinguish the in-group from the out-group.....thus in our fraternal use of the word it is to separate the brothers from the profane and the Fellowcrafts from the EAs.

We also learn that the wages of a Fellowcraft are the corn of nourishment, the wine of refreshment, and the oil of joy....which denote plenty, happiness, and peace. Corn has many references in the Bible and is mentioned a number of times in our ritual. Corn of Biblical years can be interpreted beyond corn as we know it today.....in the old times, corn could also mean grain of many varieties or sustenance.

Wine of refreshment....a part of the wages was used to refresh....back in those days, drinking water could kill you....which seems odd to us today, but wine and later beer was used as a way to purify water which was notoriously unstable.

The third part of the wages of a Fellowcraft was and is the oil of joy.....again during Biblical days oil was a very special component of society.....not only was it used in food but in soothing the body from the heat and toil of the day. We learn in our ritual that the oil which ran down upon the head of Aaron to his beard and so on. In the bible we learn that Jesus was anointed with oil and also used oil on his followers as a way of expressing joy and to bring comfort.

So the next time you have the opportunity to attend a Fellowcraft degree......look for the painting of ears of corn hanging near a waterfall.....or pay close attention to the slide if the painting is not near the Junior Warden's station. S-th.....has a historic meaning....and the ears of corn and waterfall are accurate descriptions of the ancient Hebrew word.

Once again, the creators of our ritual packed so much meaning into very few words.....those words are there waiting for us to discover the true meaning.....the question remains, how many of us will seek out those meanings.....or as we like to banter around......further light in Masonry.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Doing Masonry

Reflecting on the past, I remember something the PGM Lemons(then SGW?) said while visiting Davison Lodge during a difficult time for that lodge.

In discussing their predicament at the time, Lemons said, "You brothers need to get out from under the pressures of keeping this building going and get back to doing Masonry."

That is one of the most profound statements concerning our fraternity that I've ever heard.

Davison Lodge was at a crossroads as a lodge. The building was killing them financially based on their dues paying members and the amount of revenue generated. They were simply doing everything they could to pay the bills and the true mission of the lodge was floundering.

The day came and they realized that the building would have to be sold, and a new home would need to be found for Davison Lodge. They moved to the Flint Masonic Temple. They continued the struggle for several months.

Now fast-forwarding to present time about 3+ years after moving out of their building in Davison they are on the upswing. Membership has continued to grow, involvement of the members has increased and they are once again "doing Masonry."

I feel that they have done a tremendous job in several key areas. First and foremost....survival. Secondly...bringing new members into the fraternity, and last but by no means last....getting the new members and some of the older ones involved in...you guessed it....doing Masonry.

This above scenario will undoubtedly play out several times in the near future. There are many that think because of the constricting of lodges and the levels of membership the fraternity is on it's death bed. A brother told me just a few days ago that if things don't change Masonry will cease to exist.

My response was a very strong disagreement. Yes, we have the older membership that is rapidly transitioning to the Celestial Lodge above....but at the time I was talking to the brother, I could easily count at least 7 brothers in our area that had either been raised or was in the process of moving toward that goal. That was 7 new brothers in contrast to I think 1 or possibly 2 brothers who had passed.

I don't like comparing Masonic Lodges or the Fraternity as a whole to the business world, but there seems to be a relationship that can't be ignored. For example in our own local area, General Motors has moved many operations out of the Flint area and the number of GM employees has greatly diminished.....but now that the light truck market has evolved into a more efficient and again a desirable vehicle, GM has made some significant investments in the Flint area and built a new shop and is working on a second one.

My point with the fraternity is that yes we have lost membership numbers...but now we are gaining a whole new generation of brothers because we lost at least a generation. We are still maintaining more buildings than we actually need....just as Davison Lodge was met with the harsh reality that they could no longer afford their building.....we have many lodges that are slaves to a building...they concentrate all of their efforts to paying the bills....suddenly when the burden is lifted they start "Doing Masonry"....it's amazing how things grow when the focus is shifted back to where it needs to be.

Now Davison lodge will be merging with Fellowship lodge....putting the resources of two lodges into one....and hopefully "Doing Masonry" will become the new focus for this combined lodge and meet the needs of the new brothers who are discovering this great fraternity.




Friday, May 27, 2016

Another One in the Books

Another Grand Lodge session is in the books. This years Grand Lodge session was an interesting one at least. Full of lively discussion...oftentimes to a fault....really how much does one really need to kick a dead-horse.

As usual the Grand Lodge/Masonic politics was alive and well and demonstrated in grand fashion.

I must say it was refreshing to not hear a proposal regarding life membership and the elimination thereof. Typically there is amendment addressing this, I've seen the same thing worded a dozen different ways.

One thing which has bothered me for some time is that we tend to dwell in the past on many issues. The number one issue is membership and the lack thereof. It's quite disturbing to hear from the leadership over and over again that the proverbial glass is half full.

Just once it would be so refreshing to hear from the leadership that we are making strides. That the best days for the fraternity are ahead of us and that the glass is half full. Like most things in life I feel the fraternity's membership is cyclical, full of ups and downs.

I truly believe that we are approaching the corner and ready to make that turn and move in a positive direction. This slate of Grand Lodge Officers may be the ones to realize that we are growing despite what the numbers show. One has to remember that the great generations of yesterday are growing older and are nearing the end of their toilsome journey. Yes, we are losing at a very strong rate....but remember those brothers are from the heyday of membership growth. The brothers we are gaining are younger, want to be more involved, and want to learn the lessons from an esoteric aspect.

Quality vs. quantity is the new norm....again, my opinion. Thus the merits of the 6-step program shines clear.

Although the political machine is alive and well, I feel that this slate of Grand Lodge Officers offers a multitude of talents and leadership. The problem with the machine is one never knows which direction it's moving, at what speed, and what the anticipated outcome is.

This year's session was in sharp contrast to last year's session in that a more than adequate amount of time was given to the candidates who were able to field questions from the Grand Lodge Officers and also the delegates.

Of course the questions seemed to change from softball to hardball with one candidate, who did very well and prevailed, even overcoming a direct attack from the floor.....which I've been told is strictly forbidden in parliamentary procedures.....but Masonic decorum is a strange mix of Robert's Rules and parliamentary procedure....so if it's accepted by the chair then it continues...still doesn't make it right.

This year's election proved the theory that if one truly wants to get elected to the Grand Lodge line the best chance at success is to be nominated from the floor. This is a sad commentary on the delegates who are charged with voting the will of the lodges. One can campaign vigorously all year, usually to no avail. It seems as though if one is nominated from the floor his chances are vastly better than one who has traveled many miles and campaigned very diligently. This theory has proved itself quite clearly in both last year's and this year's Grand Lodge sessions. It seems that the one who is freshest in the minds of the delegates stands the greatest chance of being elected.

One of the Past Grand Masters asked the candidates, "Why they didn't declare their intentions to seek office earlier in the year, why be nominated from the floor?" I think that I have already described that above, it may not be what the powers that be want to hear...but it is richly steeped in reality. Another thought is that when one campaigns for a year, that action allows the machine the opportunity to squash that candidate before or during the election process....in other words being nominated from the floor catches the machine off guard and it's too large of a machine to react effectively in a short amount of time.

So to quote a modern day cliche, with all that being said......it looks as though the craft is gearing up for an insurgence of new quality brothers, thanks to the programs in place and the Grand Lodge insisting upon the 6 Steps to Initiation. For a while we were trying to take in quantities as opposed to quality. What good does it do anyone to bring men into the fraternity before they have any idea of what we do and who we are. While the number of lodges have been reduced as well as the overall number of members, I feel that we are on the climb upward. Hopefully the climb is sure and steady and that as we increase in qualified brothers, the work we do can be magnified. Magnification in optics can be obtained by the use of lesser quality lens...but the clarity is sacrificed.....however, when good quality materials are used and expertly polished by master craftsmen, magnification occurs along with outstanding clarity to those who are observing.