It’s a Time of Wonder

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For me, the Christmas season really begins when I hear Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, https://youtu.be/SFGC_YgeQ5w. There are two key reasons why I feel this way: One, the Andy Williams Christmas specials were an important part of my childhood. Two, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Masonically speaking, it is the height of the installation season. This is our opportunity as brethren to give thanks to the outgoing Master for all of his hard work, to give best wishes to his successor, and to pledge the support of the Brethren to the new ‘team’. I recall my installation as Master of Frank S. Land Lodge No. 313 as a joyous occasion. The energy in the room was electric. I could feel that no one wanted me to fail. No doubt, others who have made the journey to East feel the same way. What’s not wonderful about that?

This is also a time of religious and moral reflection that inspire many people to reach out to those who are in need. Though Freemasonry is not a charity in the truest sense of the word, charity is an inseparable part of Freemasonry. It is my belief that you cannot be a Freemason if you are not charitable. Being charitable is one way that you can Be the Difference and add to the wonder of the season.

Most importantly, it is a time when those of us of faith – whatever that faith may be – celebrate then the traditions of our faith. For me and my family, that celebration is Christmas. The story of the birth of Christ as related in the Book of Luke, Chapter 2, (most eloquently recited by Linus Van Pelt, https://youtu.be/pn10FF-FQfs) is what makes this time of year most wonderful.

I also enjoy the secular traditions of the season – shopping, decorating the house, looking at neighborhood light displays, holiday specials, preparing the meal, and the look of joy on a loved one’s face when a present is opened. Lest I forget, I still visit Santa and get my picture taken.

As I wrap up my Christmas message, I share these words from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:

How can they talk about Santa Claus when there is so much unhappiness in the world? Poor, misguided folks. They missed the whole point. Lot’s of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.

A Very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and the Best of the Holiday Season to one and all – God Bless Us, Everyone!

You Got to Walk the Talk, Every Day, Every Way

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The Six Steps to Initiation was adopted by our Grand Lodge as a means of improving membership retention. The idea is to take a closer look at the man who is interested in our Fraternity at the start of it all to ensure that he is truly a good fit not only for the fraternity, but also for your lodge. This enhanced vetting process also allows the interested man to make the same determination for himself. That’s right, inasmuch as we are taking a serious look at him, he is taking a serious look at us.

Recently, I was privileged to attend the raising of two of our newest Master Masons, Byron Creuger and Carl Hennings. Brother Byron is an employee of Washington Masonic Charities. Byron, a non-Mason at the time, was hired two years ago to serve as Director of Outreach Services. In that period of time he has had the opportunity to meet with many brethren, to learn of their passion for the work we do as Freemasons, and to see firsthand the sincerity of their intentions. Over those two years he formed a positive opinion of Freemasonry and decided to become not just a friend, but a brother in our work.

Brother Carl’s route to his degrees was a familial road. Carl is the grandson of Past Grand Master MW Al Jorgensen. As a member of Edward James DeMolay, and throughout his DeMolay journey, Carl saw up close & personal men who were true to the ideals of the Craft. To be sure, legacy influenced his decision to petition for membership; but there can be no doubt that watching Freemasons – if I may borrow a quote from a Past Grand Master – walk the talk solidified his choice.

As I stated earlier inasmuch as we are taking a serious look at every man who knocks at our door, they are also taking a serious look at us. Have you ever wondered about the men who we thought would make fine brothers, but never asked for a petition? Do you suppose that maybe, just maybe, they looked at us and found us wanting? The ideals that we profess as Freemasons cannot be turned on when it is convenient. We must, to borrow a phrase from another Past Grand Master, practice them every day in every way.

We can create the greatest retention program our fraternity has ever seen, but it will do little good if what the potential members sees is in conflict with our words. It is well to remember that for Freemasonry to Be the Difference in a potential brother’s life we must walk our talk every day in every way. Yes, that may seem hard, but maybe that’s why Freemasonry is called work.

Time Marches On

keliherI am pleased to share the words of RW John Keliher, Grand Secretary Emeritus of the Grand Lodge of Washington, said on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the March of Unity.

Time is a river that carries in its current a distillate of everything that exists along its banks. It has carried those of us who were fortunate enough twenty years ago to come together to demonstrate Freemasonry’s breadth, to this moment, and we are privileged to be with you today. Many who marched in that first demonstration of Masonic Unity have demitted our Lodges and been received in a higher Jurisdiction. Yet they are with us still. The memory of that first March of Unity and those who walked together in brotherhood remains vivid, alive, and it warms my heart.

Two-thousand and five hundred years ago a Greek named Heraclitus observed that the universe was comprised of minute particles that were always coming into existence and then, going he knew not where. He said that our existence was so permeated by change that a man could not step in to the same river twice. Some ancient Greek said Heraclitus was only partially right. If we are all made of atoms, and they were always changing, the same man could not step into the same river once because by the time his toe hit the water, his atoms and the river’s had moved on. Everything was changed.

The difference between the river of time and and human history is that time constantly changes and some people cling to the past, hoping that by preserving the past they may dam up the river of time and ease the pain that always accompanies change. That is understandable, not every change turns out to be beneficial. But change is the inevitable consequence of being alive.

Our own bodies replace all their cells every seven years but each cell contains within it the memory of its structure and function, its place in the body, and its purpose. The wonder of life is that every particle of our anatomy possesses this memory. It argues strongly that this is a purposeful universe and that we are a purpose filled people. And in Masonry we have found a fraternity with a purpose, a purpose to inculcate ideas that lift humanity up and build a just society: Masonry teaches the ideals of the brotherhood of all mankind, charity to all in need, and the fatherhood of God, our Creator. We have changed but we have maintained that essential identity.

This is not the same community it was twenty years ago. This not the same Fraternity it was twenty years ago. Despite the anger many of our fellow citizens obviously feel, in spite of the fear – much of it justified – that the scales of justice are not balanced, this is a better community, we are a better Fraternity, and this is – regardless of the headlines in the papers and the media’s love affair with violence, mayhem, and discord – a better world – made better by getting together as we have for twenty years to recognize the the family of man is one. Like the river, mankind is a stream that carries in its current many separate particles but all are part of the same river.

It was our purpose, two decades ago, to demonstrate Masonic unity. Unity is not the same as uniformity. We came together to celebrate the over arching principles that made us Freemasons and left us free to exhibit Masonry in forms that held in veneration the memories of our origins, celebrated the complexity of freedom itself, acknowledged the validity of Masonry’s belief in the dignity and value of all persons, and championed respect for beliefs in a Supreme Being who had created, loved and redeemed creation. Each year, the Brethren have walked together, worshiped together, shared Fraternal ties together, and, perhaps most importantly, broken bread together as Masons, one people, one family.

One can march through DuPont but not seem to travel far but that is deceptive. This march of unity began several hundred years ago in a land divided between those who were free and those who were not. Irish slaves were eventually replaced in the American colonies by African slaves. The freedom of one people was achieved at the cost to the other of that precious right, freedom. After its vicious, divisive civil war, this society stumbled forward, segregated, distrustful of immigrants of all kinds, and polarized over religious differences and moved into the industrial revolution in which people fled the farm to work in the city, but carried with them old prejudices and only slowly, very slowly, developed a tepid tolerance for ethnic, racial, and religious differences. The road to DuPont has wound through Detroit and Pittsburgh, Selma and Watts, and while it runs through DuPont, it does not end here. It leads – well, we don’t know where it leads, not exactly, and we have no idea how long that trek will take. But we are a part of a pilgrimage to a better world. There have been many men and women whose feet, naked or shod, have beaten this path before us, who got us to this point in mankind’s travel toward a just and equitable world, and many more will follow. Although our journey may be rough rugged and dangerous, although we may be haunted by fears and uncertainties, and though we may not live to see the promised land, we will, before we have crossed that last river, have participated in the march of humanity toward its purposed destiny: unity, peace, concord, one family under God. We will have done our part.

You, my Brethren, are a part of history in the making. This humble march is part of an epic journey and your decision to be here today ensures that tomorrow will be a better day for all of our children’s children’s children. Today is a proud day in the saga of Masonry because you are here, here in spirit of Masonic unity.

But our journey is not over. Perhaps it has only begun. The people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness before getting to the promised Land; to date we have walked together only half that time. I do not expect to complete that march with you, my brethren, not physically, anyway. But if you are here in the year 2036, the centennial of my birth, I will be with you at least in spirit. The March for Unity goes on although aging marchers may slip from the ranks. But each of you, is a part of a great movement to build a better world, one person a time, beginning with our selves. And it is my faith in God, my faith you, that gives me hope that in a day not far off, we shall be truly one people, one nation, one fraternal bond of brothers, indivisible with freedom and justice for all.

May God continue bless, preserve and prosper the Most Worshipful Grand Lodges of Masons of Prince Hall and Jurisdiction and the Grand Lodge of Washington, and all Masons, wheresoever dispersed.

 

Shine the Spotlight Where it Belongs

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Recently the cast of “Hamilton” paid tribute to the landmark musical “A Chorus Line” on the occasion of its 40th anniversary on Broadway. Part of the tribute included the cast of “Hamilton” performing the signature number from “A Chorus Line”, “What I Did for Love”. As various cast members took their turn at a solo section, I was struck by the fact that none of the principals claimed a solo part, https://youtu.be/h-BB_2L2Dwg. This speaks directly to the spirit of “A Chorus Line” – take the spotlight off the star and shine it upon those who make the show work.

In many ways, your leadership is borrowing this idea from “A Chorus Line”. I think General Colin Powell said it best: “Though important, we will accomplish nothing strictly by organizational chart, strategic plan, or management theory. We will succeed or fail because of the people involved.” So let’s set the future of our Craft by those who make up the Craft, who are our Craft, who are the strength that sustain our Craft, who are our Craft’s future.

At installation, I laid out eight key initiatives: Improve Membership Retention, Increase Use & Awareness of the New Candidate Education Program, Continue to Develop Future Leaders, Leverage Technology to Improve the Quality of the Lodge Experience, “One More”, Reclaim the Narrative, Review the Long Plan, Reshape the Military Recognition Committee. Each of these initiatives is being undertaken by a key committee, and I am proud to report that each of them have developed plans of action – complete with timelines, deliverables, and measureables – to see to the accomplishment of their objectives. In some cases, objectives have already been achieved, and I am looking forward to each committee sharing with you how they are doing.

As I stated in my remarks at installation, any success that is achieved will belong to those who make up these key committees, and they will deserve the accolades and applause. Any shortcoming will be on me for not providing the appropriate guidance, direction, or resources. The Grand Master may be the “star”, but it is the brethren who make it work and who deserve the spotlight.

 

Be the Difference

wapin_mendoza-2.jpg.jpgBefore his first official remarks as the newly installed State Master Councilor of Washington DeMolay, Brother Luke Walker shared a pep talk from Internet sensation Kid President: “I don’t know everything, but I do know this: It’s everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance. So get to it.” Put another way, we as Freemasons must accept our responsibility to Be the Difference.

Freemasonry calls us – dare I say, compels us every day – to Be the Difference. It starts with Building Bridges – in our families, social circles, communities, workplaces, and lodges; with others and even within ourselves. This is about creating a sense of connectedness, and it is not always an easy task. In fact, it just might be one of the hardest things that we, as imperfect and ego-driven humans, are asked to do. It is at times awkward and daunting and painful; it can be clumsy and uncertain and utterly exhausting. Sometimes it involves uncomfortable conversations and bruised egos and being the first one to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “I was wrong.” It requires a healthy dose of faith, liberal amounts of forgiveness, and an endless quantity of grace. These are not activities that we can do once and simply set aside. We must do them Every Day, Every Way.

There is a natural tendency, I guess, to want to preserve, protect, defend, and maintain the status quo. It is easy to get busy and beaten down with the day-to-day stresses and the curveballs that life throws at us, and sometimes bridge building just seems like too much work and a colossal waste of time. I submit to you that that sort of attitude is boring, and to again quote Kid President, “Boring is easy. Everybody can be boring, but you’re gooder than that.”

We need to LEARN that we do not advance as a fraternity when we dig in our heels and stay in our comfort zone; when we focus on maintaining relationships rather than nourishing relationships; when we snicker at the expense of another, when we think in terms of “us-them” and “the other,” or when we focus on the ways we are different.

We must CHANGE our thinking beyond the status quo, and embrace new ways of doing things. We must remember that Freemasonry unites men of every sect, country, and opinion; and conciliates true friendship among those who would otherwise remain perpetually at a distant. We need to ask questions and take the time to listen to the answers. We need to step into the heart and mind of our brethren; we need to make the phone call or send the email – all with an open mind, and a generous heart.

This is hard, hard work; it is good work, beautiful work, essential work. This is holy human work. This is about saying the you are willing to Be the Difference.

So I ask: What bridge will you build that will make your corner of the world awesome?  We already know what will happen if we do nothing. This is your time; this is our time.  We can make every day better for each other every day, every way. We need to learn that we got work to do. We can cry about it or we can change and dance about it.  We were made to Be the Difference so let’s Be the Difference!

Thank you my Brothers. Now let us set to work!

What a Journey it has Been…

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Of late, I have been reflecting on my life’s journey and where it has taken me thus far. In a little more than a week, my wife and I will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. Over the course of those 30 years, we have lived our wedding vows; but as the song goes “the good times that made us laugh outweigh the bad”. We are by every definition a loving, happy, and contented couple.

Along the way I started another journey, and will soon be celebrating 20 years as a Freemason, and in a few short weeks… well, let’s just say things are getting incredibly real. The longevity of my marital journey and my Masonic journey got me thinking, are the parallels that have made these two journeys the fulfilling experiences that they have become?

Consider these words of WB Owen Sheih from his book “Journey on the Level”: The greatest reward of being a Mason is to look into the eyes of a fellow brother and know that there exists a mutual trust and understanding that cannot be expressed with words. We all have friends at work, friends at school, friends who play sports with us, and friends with whom we hang out on the weekends. But to have friends who explore the essence of life with us and commit to such an adventure – indeed, they are rare gifts.

Now for some key substitutions: The greatest reward of being married is to look into the eyes of the one you love and know that there exists a mutual trust and understanding that cannot be expressed with words. We all have people we care about at work, at school, who play sports with us, and with whom we hang out on the weekends. But to share a life with someone who is willing to explore the essence of that life with us and commit to such an adventure – indeed, that is a rare gift.

These parallel journeys on which I have embarked have been adventurous indeed. Beautiful vistas have been discovered and lush meadows have been enjoyed. There have been steep trails that were challenging to climb, and dangers that were avoided. There have also tricky sections where special attention was needed – I would not trade a single thing! As for tomorrow, it’s nice to know that in both journeys there will be someone there with whom to share them.

 

It’s Not What You Do, It’s Why You Do It

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Created by author and former advertising executive, Simon Sinek, the concept of the “Golden Circle” revolves around the thought leadership and messaging approach of the world’s most exciting leaders and brands, e.g., Apple.

According to Sinek, most people communicate by starting with the WHAT they do aspect and work their way back to talk about HOW and eventually WHY they do what they do.

Let’s look at this from the Masonic perspective. Every lodge knows WHAT they do. We make good men better. HOW do we do this? What is it that makes us special? Freemasonry a lifelong process of reinforcement, repetition and encouragement that takes place every time we initiate, pass and raise a new member or attend a Masonic meeting.

So WHY do we do it? This is the question that has stumped lodges for generations. WHY is not about making new members or raising a lot of money – that’s a result. WHY is about a purpose, a belief. It is the very reason your lodge exists.

At the recently completed Conference of Grand Masters, Brother Jordan Yelinek, Director of Lodge Development & Training for the Grand Lodge of California, made this profound statement: “It’s hard – even courageous – to ask ‘why’, because it’s easy to do the ‘what’.” “What” is about results, those are easily quantifiable. “Why” and “How”, that’s about feelings and dealing with human behavior.

So how do we change the direction of the conversation and actions to “why”? Let’s look to the aforementioned Apple and their marketing philosophy for some guidance.

Step No. 1: Empathy – We should strive for a real connection with our brethren.  We must truly understand the needs of our brethren so that we can fulfill their desire to become a Mason.

Step No. 2: Focus – We need to center our efforts on accomplishing our main goals, and eliminate all the low priority and “unimportant opportunities.”

Step No. 3: Impute – We need to be constantly aware that we will be judged by the signals we convey. Contrary to the old English idiom, people DO judge a book by its cover. If we present ourselves, our lessons, in a slipshod manner, then all that we are and all that we do will be perceived as slipshod. If we present them in a creative, professional, thoughtful manner, we will impute the desired qualities.

So connect first by expressing the “why”. Tap into the emotional side of things – your purpose, your reason for being – and begin to educate or build awareness from there. Present “why”. Then, and only then, talk about the “how” and the “what”.

A few blogposts ago I put forth my elevator speech about Freemasonry. I offer it as a guide to changing the direction of the conversation.

Think of a place where you can gather together with others who don’t care about your position in life, how much money you have in the bank, your politics, your religion, or your level of education. A place where you are given insights, tools, and opportunities that help you better see, understand, and put to work what your chosen faith asks of you. That’s what Freemasonry is all about.