Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Independently Working Together ...

"The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison." -- Brother James Cash Penney, Founder of J.C. Penney Stores

There is an old cliche: There is more than one way to skin a cat. There is more than one way to run a successful lodge. While there are methods that have proven to work just about every where they are tried (for instance, guest nights at the lodge), each lodge must find its own way to success.

The Corporate Board is looking at ways to successfully roll out the Masonic Safety Education and Identification program. We have had input from perhaps a half-dozen other Grand Lodges that are using this program, and each one has a little different twist to it. We will, in the next several weeks, attempt to articulate a way to roll out this program that is right for Minnesota. We know there will be some trial and error, and ask for your patience as well as your constructive criticism and suggestions.

Working independently in unison. No wonder a Brother Mason coined that phrase!

(Thanks to MWB Steven R. Johnson who passed along that quote to me.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tolerance Awareness Tuesday

“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” Thurgood Marshall.

The father of on of my dearest friends was an attorney who worked with Thurgood Marshall on the Little Rock School Desegregation case. It was through Richard Branton that I was invited to attend the Wiley Branton Symposium at Howard University in Washington DC, and have dinner with a most impressive lady, Cecelia Marshall. Mrs. Marshall told me of the many evenings her husband would go off to a Lodge meeting, and how much he enjoyed them.

Considering the lives and legacies of Justice Marshall and Wiley Branton, I am struck with the idea the the flip side of tolerance is respect. We see too few examples of respectful dialogue and disagreement in our society.

Masons can and should model a respectful and tolerant attitude. True, we often fall short of the mark, but we are human. But that does not mean that we should not learn from our shortcomings and commit to - and perform - in a respectful and tolerant manner in the future. As good men, striving to be better, we can do no less.

All-Masonic Brunch

On Sunday, April 26, I enjoyed food and fellowship with the Job's Daughters and DeMolay of Minnesota at the All-Masonic Brunch hosted by the Minnesota Job's Daughters. In addition to the Blue Lodge and the youth organizations, I was joined by Jim Turner, Grand High Priest of the Royal Arch Masons of the Minnesota York Rite.

We saw an impressive presentation by the Job's Daughters, and by the DeMolay. We had the opportunity to share our visions for the future of our fraternal family.

Among the items we discussed was the possibility of partnering with the youth organizations to make the Minnesota Masonic Safety and Identification project a success. The Grand Lodge Corporate Board will be discussing this project at our upcoming meeting, and I expect that there will be much more information coming in the next several weeks. The project will make our state safer for children, can revitalize our lodges, and will solidify the cooperation between all the bodies of our Masonic family. For information on the Masonic Safety Education and Identification programs in other jurisdictions, click here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Table Lodge

It has been the custom among the fraternity of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at an
appropriate time in the activities of the lodge, to adjourn to the banquet room and there open a table lodge for the purpose of celebrating the traditional “Ceremony of the Seven Toasts.”

Last evening, the Brothers of Sibley Lodge No. 209 hosted a table lodge in my honor which was attended by over 140 brothers and friends. This event was held at the newly-refurbished Winthrop Veterans Club. The facilities, the service and the food were excellent.

Of all the fellowship events that a lodge may conduct, there are none more fun than a table lodge.

During the next 48 weeks, I know I will have the opportunity to do many interesting, fun and memorable things. But, on March 27, 2010, when I look back on the events of the preceding year, I am confident that the Sibley Lodge Table Lodge of April 25, 2009, will be the memorable event of the year.

The Fight Against Cancer

Last night, I had the pleasure of participating in the annual dinner for the Masonic Cancer Center Fund hosted by the University of Minnesota. We celebrated over 50 years of the partnership between the Masonic Families of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota to first treat, and now defeat, cancer.

We celebrated the first project, where Minnesota Masons funded the construction of a 50-bed hospital to treat cancer patients in the 1950's, when treatment basically meant making a person comfortable in their final days. Since that auspicious beginning, Minnesota Masons have pledged or contributed over $100 million dollars, including $10 million for a soon-to-be-constructed oncology pavilion on the University campus, and $65 million over 15 years to found the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota and set the audacious goal of curing cancer by 2025.

Two of my grandsons never knew their other Grandpa. He died of cancer before their dad and mom married. I look forward to the day when my grandchildren can tell their grandchildren about the old days, when the threat of cancer threatened their parents and grandparents. Which the partnership of the talented doctors and researchers of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, and the Masonic families teamed up to defeat.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thoughts for a New Mason

I’d like to steal a line from a great Mason here in Minnesota, Jerry Oliver. The line may not be original with him, but it was from him I first heard the line: If it were not for Freemasonry, I would not know many of you.

I have met many men whom I now consider among the best of my friends because I became a Freemason. I know that any new Mason will be able to say the same 30 years from now …

IF you become active in this great brotherhood.

The Grand Lodge spends a lot of time discussing how we can make Masonry relevant for the new members today. We have devised a Mentor program for new Masons that is a rich wealth of information about the organization you are joining. We promote community improvement projects, lodge revitalization, promotion to entice new candidates to knock at our doors.

And yet, with all that, in 2008, we lost more brothers to demit and nonpayment of dues – brothers who, in blunt terms, quit the fraternity – than we raised new brothers.

As a new brother you can and should expect the officers and members of this lodge to reach out to you to become involved. Sometimes – too often – this does not happen. Your choice, then, will be to reach out yourself, or to drop out.

That choice will be yours, as it is for each of us every year when we pull out the checkbook and decide to pay our dues for another year.

I can guarantee, however, that if you pay those dues, attend stated communications, work the pancake breakfast or spaghetti supper, get to know the brothers of your lodge, visit other brothers in other lodges and find more light in Masonry by participating in one of the appendant bodies in due time – I can guarantee that you will get more out of Masonry than you can possibly contribute.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Supporting Those Who Defend our Freedom

On Monday, I attended an awards dinner sponsored by the Minnesota Employer Support for Guard and Reserve. This organization assists National Guard and Reserve military personnel to ensure that their employers respect their rights under the law. The ESGR goes further than that, however, in recognizing employers and other organizations who go above and beyond the minimum requirements of the law to support employees, and their families, who are called to serve our country.

Last year, the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and Minnesota Masonic Charities were recognized by ESGR for activities in support of our troops. For each of the past three years, we have purchased 1000 tickets to a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football game for military personnel and their families. In each of the past two years, we have awarded 200 General Ed Waldron Scholarships for military personnel returning from the Afghanistan or Iraq theaters of operation. Each scholarship is for $1000. Over the past two years the Masons of Minnesota have contributed $400,000 to support the educational goals of Minnesota veterans.

One of the tenets of our Fraternity is Political Freedom. Masons have long consistently supported our men and women in the armed forces of our country, and those veterans who have served, as a small way of saying "Thank You!" for those who have given so much to ensure the freedoms we enjoy in our great country.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom HaShoah

Of all days, this Tolerance Awareness Tuesday is the one that must remind Masons and all men and women of good faith why tolerance is such a crucial aspect to modern society. Six million men, women and children were slaughtered in the 1930’s and 1940’s in Nazi Germany simply because they were of a different race and a different faith.

After the War, the cry went out: NEVER AGAIN!

And yet, genocide has happened again. And again, and again.

In Rwanda. In the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In Bosnia-Herzevogina. In the Sudan.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

Masons state that they are good men, striving to be better. It therefore behooves us to take a stand against intolerance, which is the first step toward genocide.

Light a candle tonight. Say a prayer for the victims of the Holocaust.

Pledge anew: NEVER AGAIN. And let’s mean it this time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I had the distinct pleasure to participate in the Newport Entered Apprentice Table Lodge last evening. This lovely evening pairs the wonderful ritual of the First Degree with the conviviality and enjoyment of a Festive Board.

The candidate could have joined any one of a number of valuable and worthwhile community organizations. What is it that separates Masonry from these other excellent organizations?

In a word: Ritual.

We Masons have, each one of us, walked the same hoodwinked path taken by each new candidate we receive. We have, some of us, heard the lessons of the First Degree dozens of times. And while it is certainly a cliché that I get a new insight just about every time I see the degree, that makes the statement no less true.

It’s not just the ritual we perform in the degree work, either. The ritual opening and closing of lodge reminds us of the lessons we have been taught, and contain lessons in themselves, if we have ears to hear. At opening and closing, we invoke the Blessings of Deity. We call to mind the duties and obligations of the principle officers of the lodge. And we remind ourselves to practice out of the Lodge the great moral lessons inculcated within it.

True, many times the officers recite their parts with the primary goal of getting to coffee and cookies in the shortest amount of time. But, that is true of many prayer times. The problem of not getting anything out of the ritual has less to do with the ritual than it does our state of mind.

Next time you are in lodge, really listen to the opening and closing and consider what new lesson or insight it may hold for you that evening.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"He Must Act on What He Believes"

Harry S Truman, one of my favorite men, Masons and Presidents, has said,

“A good president must do more than just believe in what he says – he must also act on what he believes.”

This quote reminds me of another of his famous sayings, “The buck stops here.” Leaders of any organization must make decisions and act on the decision. He can and should receive advice and counsel from trusted advisors, but at the end, someone has to make the decision, and in the Grand Lodge, that falls on the Grand Master.

The Grand Master speaks for the Grand Lodge between annual communications on issues involving relationships with other Grand Lodges and makes the final call on issues of Masonic discipline. I have had, and will have, issues in each of these areas to deal with that I would rather not. But, "The buck (does, in fact) stop here", and I will seek counsel, including from the Grand Architect, and make the best decision I can with the information I have available.

(For more Truman quotes, see When the Buck Stops with You: Harry S. Truman on Leadership, by Alan Axelrod.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lynnhurst Turkey Dinner

For 75 years first Lynnhurst Lodge, and now Templar Lodge, have hosted a turkey dinner within weeks after the Grand Lodge Annual Communication to hear from the newly installed Grand Master. Last night, I was privileged to have been honored at this year's turkey dinner.

Over 400 Masons were in attendance. (Shown in the photo are brothers from my home lodge, Sibley Lodge No. 209). At the appointed hour, one Brother from each of the tables reported to the kitchen and returned with a turkey on a platter, which was then carved at the table and the other fixin's served family style. This is a premier event for Masons in Minnesota.

The brothers gave me a gift that is difficult to describe. Unless you have been in the position yourself, you cannot know what a thrill it is to stand between 400+ upright and patriotic brothers and the flag of the country they love as they pledge allegiance. It is a thrill that I will recall the rest of my life.

Thank you, Templar Lodge and Minnesota Masons!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tolerance Awareness Tuesday

“Thus every sect believing itself possessed of all truth, and that every tenet differing from theirs was error, conceived that when the power was in their hands, persecution was a duty required of them by that God whom they supposed to be offended with heresy. By degrees more moderate and more modest sentiments have taken place in the Christian world; and among Protestants particularly all disclaim persecution, none vindicate it, and few practice it. We should then cease to reproach each other with what was done by our ancestors, but judge of the present character of sects or churches by their present conduct only." -- Letter to the London Packet, 3 June 1772 (Reported in God and Country Website.)

There are those who claim that our Country’s policy of separation of Church and State had its basis in the Masonic Lodge. Certainly, Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are noted to have written about religious toleration.

Whatever the case may be in history, it is true that Masons have espoused religious toleration as a basic tenet. We as modern Masons should ever be vigilant to protect an individuals right to worship as he pleases – be it Christian, Jew, Muslim or other.

To be true to our roots, we must take a public stand whenever a person or sect suffers from discrimination.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lodge Recognition Program

I had the pleasure of visiting Dakota Lodge No. 7 in Hastings last evening. After a great taco dinner, I was formally received in lodge as Grand Master for the first time. The officers of Dakota Lodge did a great job.

I was presented with a copy of the original Charter of the lodge, which is a great thrill for me. The photo shows Worshipful Master Greg Schmitt presenting me with the Charter.

Also present for the evening were two new Fellow Crafts - and I'm told more petitions are in the works. Congratulations. WM Greg has set a goal of becoming a Gold Level Lodge in the Lodge Recognition Program for 2009. What an audacious goal!

The Lodge Recognition Program is NOT a contest among the Lodges of Minnesota. It is a Lodge Improvement program which allows each lodge to measure itself against itself, and against what it COULD be. It is a great planning tool which, if used, can only lead to a better lodge.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passover and Holy Week

Today marks the the beginning of Passover in the Jewish tradition, celebrating the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, and the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the Christian tradition. Of course, the Christian tradition begins with Jesus taking the Passover meal with his disciples, so the two traditions are intimately intertwined.

There is much tradition and ritual in the celebration of these holidays - especially in the Jewish tradition. The stories are retold, the meals are prepared in the same manner, and the lessons taught and relearned as they have been for centuries.

Masons well know the value of tradition and ritual. The familiar stories are retold, and new lessons gleaned from them - the stories are the same, but the listener is different.

We pause, those of us who are members of the Jewish or Christian faiths, and recall the stories and reflect on the lessons we are taught.

Peace to all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tolerance Awareness Tuesday

“The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.” Brother Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain

The Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God is a phrase Masons often quote. As many of our maxims and rituals, the truth of the quote is not in its recital, it’s in its execution.

The last Tolerance Tuesday blog I wrote generated a response from a Brother who had apparently been ill-treated as he joined his lodge. (Since I do not have the time to monitor and reply to comments to my blog, I have turned off that feature – sorry…) I will make a response this one time, however:

Freemasonry has one shortcoming: Its members are human. And as such, we fall short of the mark so many times.

So to the Brother who was disappointed in his treatment as he joined the lodge, and to all who have been slighted or offended by a Brother in or out of the Lodge, remember: We are human. We are good men striving to be better, but we make no claim to be perfect.And, as circumstances permit, take the opportunity to whisper good counsel in a brother’s ear.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"I am Truly Blessed"

Edward Toussaint, Jr., Chief Judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, is a man I admire and respect. Once, when I greeted him with “How are you today, Judge Toussaint?” he replied, “I am truly blessed.”

I have been reflecting on the installation ceremony of March 28. I am truly blessed.

I am blessed because of the confidence my brothers have placed in me to speak as the official voice of Masonry for the coming year.

I am blessed to have had my wife with me during the entire wonderful day.

I am blessed that my daughters and their elder sons performed during the installation ceremony – “Be Thou My Vision “, a great hymn and prayer for the coming year.

So many other family members and friends were there to support me – wow!

I am truly blessed.

Masons should take time, regularly, to reflect on how our lives are blessed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Missouri Masonic Museum

I am in Columbia Missouri for a conference on the Masonic Child Identification Program (MasoniCHIP) - more on that in a future blog - and had the opportunity to tour the Missouri Masonic Museum. What a treat!

There are artifacts from transplanted Minnesotans Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Lindbergh. We saw the Grand Master's Collar and Jewel of Harry S Truman. The Masonic apron of William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and a replica of the gavel used by George Washington in the Masonic Cornerstone ceremony at the US Capital are on display.

We also saw the 150th Anniversary painting commissioned by the Grand Lodge of Minnesota in the entry to their building.

The brothers from the Show-Me State have been most gracious hosts. If you are ever near Columbia Missouri, it will be well worth your time to visit their most impressive facility.