Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Attentive Ear

Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding;

Proverbs 2:2

One of the most important lessons delivered in the ritual of Freemasonry kind of gets slipped in during the Fellowcraft degree. It is described as one of the three jewels of a Fellowcraft and like most of the important guides of the Order, it sneaks in under the radar so to speak and only gains importance with much thought and reflection, it is the attentive ear.

The gift of hearing allows us to do many things; notice something out of our range of sight, enjoy the sounds of the wonderful world around us, and most of all receive verbal communication from our fellow creatures. With this gift we can hear the reflected harmony of the great architects plan in music. There are many who unfortunately take for granted this gift and use it only to hear what is going on around them and not really listen.

There is a enormous difference between hearing and listening. If you have the gift, you can hear everything around you. The cacophony of sounds that surrounds us is ever present, but until you train your ear to select a sound to concentrate your mind on, you are not listening. Do you remember those Charlie Brown cartoons? Whenever there was a scene inside the classroom and the teacher spoke to the kids all you heard was the classic "wup waaa waaa wup waaa" of a muffled horn but never the words they were saying. This is a perfect example of hearing but not listening and I can certainly relate. When I was in school I never listened to anyone, my parents included! For some, that is how they go through life, hearing but never listening.

"And he goes through life, his mouth open, and his mind closed"

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

We have to force ourselves to listen, myself included. Our sometimes brief encounters with our friends or Brothers forces some to try to get all the things in their head out, all at once like a shaken up beer bottle exploding with foam. All of your old stories that you want to share with someone else need not to be recited in every conversation, in the rush to get out your story you will miss important things others want to say.

"Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak."


Remember this important lesson when you are in the presence of your Brethren. There is an important give and take in a conversation that we are admonished to adhere to. An attentive ear is truly a jewel to a good man and Brother.

"Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force...When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life...When we listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other...and it is this little creative fountain inside us that begins to spring and cast up new thoughts and unexpected laughter and wisdom. ...Well, it is when people really listen to us, with quiet fascinated attention, that the little fountain begins to work again, to accelerate in the most surprising way."

Brenda Ueland.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Face, Old Brother

One of the nice things about being in a lodge with a large membership and small attendance is that every now and then, a new face will appear at the door that a "newbie" like me does not recognise but is well known to the "old guys". I arrived at the lodge to open up before our meeting and while I started to unload the refreshments the usual Brethren began to trickle in behind. At one point a few of us were standing just inside the door when a gentleman appeared at the door that most of us didn't recognise. He came in the door with a smile and shook one of the Past Masters hands and seeing the need, I introduced myself and everyone else followed. He was a member that hadn't been around in a while but was "found" again, as we are trying to dredge up as many members for our upcoming Master Mason Degree that we are going to (try) confer without any outside help.
We were having a rehearsal that night and I'll admit I must have caught something when I visited VW Tom at Friendship 33 because there was a loosey goosey feel to the evening and dare I say it, we kind of had fun! Everyone was on top of their parts and we had some laughs while we were practicing the Sublime Degree. I am stepping back to sit in the Senior Deacons chair for the degree so I was right next to the WM. At one point there was a mistake in words and one of the Brothers said sing instead of spoke and all of the sudden I had an image of a musical adaption of the third degree that had the WM and me in stitches for a while. The rehearsal went very well except for a couple of missing parts that I hope will be filled before the degree actually happens and the good feeling extended after the meeting was over.
The Secretary grabbed me for a couple of words and then the "new" guy grabbed my ear for a while. As we talked about many things, we learned of many similarities we shared in our lives and our conversation was anything but the superficial banter I usually endure at meetings. Its great to find new experiences at a regular meeting. I have spoken with my new found Brother a few times since and even visited him at his place of work and I am excited for our next meeting. I hope that all of the "digging" for old members to come to the MM degree turns up more gems.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Trip To The Tao's Lodge

Last night I got my passport and traveling papers in order so I could make the one hour journey upstate to visit the Exalted Keeper of the Secrets of Freemasonarianism; Grand Sovereign Pontiff and Secret Exposuer; Ambassador to Zeta-Reticula; Crop Circle Planning & Zoning Commissioner; Aluminum Foil Beanie Fitting and Training Consultant; Team Osiris Obelisk Siting and Surveying; Manager, Dulces/Denver Airport Massage & Day Spa; Cydonia Vacation Resort Concierge; Past Master, Friendship #33.3 AM & FM, Area 51, Atlantis or as I like to call him Tom Accuosti.

This wasn't just a regular visit to Tom, it was a visit to return the favor of my friends and Brothers Eric, Kyle, and Kevin who came all the way down to my lodge to support me when I stepped up into the East for the first time. Eric who is the SW at Friendship Lodge No. 33 was assuming the East for a Fellowcraft degree and although I have known about it for a while, I didn't know until the last minute that I would be able to repay the Brotherhood dividend I received last spring.

Without my trusty GPS I was forced to set out on my journey with just the ancient travel aid of a printed copy of some directions from Google Maps (how 90's) and my keen sense of direction. I was able to find the lodge despite Tom not answering his phone and I think my friends were actually surprised to see me. As I walked up to the throng of cigarette smoking men standing outside the lodge (yes, they actually still do that kind of thing upstate ;-) hardy hellos were exchanged and then I noticed some mischievous glances and words being sent back and forth between my buddies. I had arrived just in time and Tom escorted me up to their lodge room for the degree.

Although there were devilish grins being sent my way, Bro. Eric opened the lodge under the the Fellowcraft degree without a hitch and without much fanfare. Just as I was feeling at ease the WM announced for Tom to remove the visitor (ME!) to be received in proper form. You see, my good friends from 33, who Tom, abandoned,...I mean, introduced me to on a fateful night last winter will never let me forget a certain ancient Grand Lodge ritual that I brought upon myself. So as we entered the anteroom I saw the mode of reception my pals had planned for me. I was then received back into Friendship 33 in the way many of the brethren of that lodge saw me last........on a hand truck!

Let me tell you, being ceremoniously received into a lodge on a hand truck being pushed by a Grand Lodge Officer is quite an unforgettable experience and I am sure that entry into the minutes of the lodge is a first anywhere!

A good laugh was had by all and they got back to the business of passing their brothers to the degree of Fellowcraft. I love seeing the little differences in the way other lodges do ritual but let me say I have never seen a F.C. degree quite like the one they did last night.

All in all, it was a night traveled well and I thank Tom, Eric, Kyle, Kevin and their lodge for the great hospitality they showed me and I left exited to come back again (I'm such a glutton for punishment!).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When Do You Guys Have Fun?

This question is by far the single most important question that I have ever received about my lodge. It is one question that, if it can't be answered effortlessly and truly, will be the single greatest contributor to the death or growth of a lodge, and I can honestly say that I struggled to answer that question. It was put to me by a dear friend and Brother who is wondering to what end do all of these degrees lead. If it be to sitting through more degrees, which has been the end result at my lodge, than the light is dimming and may never shine like it once did.

What is the use of going through a long and serious initiation into a "brotherhood" if at the end you are treated to watching and performing initiations and nothing else.

My lodge is not fun. Alright, I admitted it.

We have had occasions where we almost reached a level of fun, but, they have been too few and far between. Too often, as I have lamented numerous times, the only thing you hear after a degree or meeting is the squeal of tires leaving the parking lot. The meals we have before the meetings are superficial to say the least because they are more obligation than true brotherhood. The "veterans" are so happy to see newbies that they rarely take the time to familiarise themselves with them because they are too busy venting old stories or gripes about the world. Since no one becomes really familiar with the new guys, they feel left out and if they come back at all, it is only out of a sense of obligation and not because they want to come. There is the crux of the problem at my lodge. Nobody wants to come, they feel they have to be there. Burdens do not make Brothers. Apart from a few including myself, the majority of office holders in my lodge come to our meetings because they have to, and some don't even live up to that obligation.

So how can we change?

Another lodge officer, around the same time as the question was asked of me by the new brother, called me with the identical question. He said our lodge was in dire need of fun outside of lodge. This other officer is the only officer I have met up with outside of lodge on our own time, which says a lot. His idea was to get some kind of get together organised at a restaurant or bar for the purpose of planning a fun activity between the brothers. We both agreed that if something wasn't done very soon we would start to loose all of the new brothers we have gained this year. It has already begun. Out of the five new MM's we raised before summer only two have come back since, and only one regularly. It may be too late.

Our biggest problem is that the one who is supposed to lead us does not and has not. The title was what he wanted not the role. This is the biggest problem of the progressive officer line, not everyone can effectively lead but as long as they are on the ladder they will reach the top. My lodge unfortunately has not the participation required to reject the progressive line so it is what we have to live with it. Has anyone who reads this blog been in a similar situation and overcome it? Should someone lead from another cardinal direction? What does your lodge do for fun?
P.S. I want to give a huge thanks to Bro. Chris Hodapp for the great speech he gave here in my state and a certain Right Worshipful Brother who posted it to our G.L's Website so people like me who could not attend, could still receive the light spread by our famous brother, and most of all, to my readers who helped me get back on track and for being patient as all I have been doing here as of late is bitching and complaining.