Thursday, March 12, 2009

Duly and truly prepared

"That which we do in our intervals of relaxation, our church-going, and our book-reading, are especially designed to prepare our minds for the action of Life. We are to hear and read and meditate, that we may act well; and the action of Life is itself the great field for spiritual improvement." - Albert Pike


How do you spend your free time? What types of things occupy your attention? Many professions have a "continuing education requirement." Does yours? What does this all have to do with leadership?

One of the fundamental teachings of the Scottish Rite is that of continual self-improvement through education. This process is time consuming and can't really be done in one sitting or at a weekend seminar. So, how much time do you take to improve yourself?

Some people rise a little early to exercise or read. Some do this before bed time. Some take a longer lunch period. Regardless of when its done, the fact that it becomes part of their daily ritual is important. It means taking some "me time." It means being dedicated and committed to the process of improving yourself.

Take a moment each day and use it to your advantage. Don't short change your own growth and development. Prepare your mind for action. Participate and take ownership of your path. You'll find that your confidence will grow exponentially.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sentiment vs. Principles

"Most men have sentiments, but not principles. The former are temporary sensations, the latter permanent and controlling impressions of goodness and virtue. The former are general and voluntary, and do not rise to the character of virtue. Every one feels them. They flash up spontaneously in every heart. The latter are rules of action, and shape and control our conduct; and it is these that Masonry insists upon." - Albert Pike


We see today the consequences of living in the world of sentiment, of cause and effect. Guiding principles have been tossed aside in favour of what feels good. Sure it feels good to help out a struggling business, bank, or social charity. It feels good when you do it with your own money; of your own free will and accord. When you are forced to pay, it no longer feels good ... right?

Many have said that ignorance is our country's most expensive commodity. We are sure seeing that expense come due today. It is that ignorance that leads many to make poor decisions. It is that ignorance, combined with an attention to sentiment that leads to ruin for so many.

What are the keys to success in life? Enlightenment ... which comes from moral knowledge and principled action. Why do we see so much despair, so many families struggling to get by, so many people out of work? A lack of bravery and devotedness to principled living.

It takes bravery to stand up for your principles. Think about the person who didn't refinance his home in order to install a pool in his back yard. Think about the man who rents an apartment that he can afford. See both as living within their means. Yet around them, advertisements and friends poke and prod the two to "live the American dream." You can have it all, right? Hardly. The friends that taunted them on their way up "the success ladder" are now begging them for help on their way down. Yet will all of this going on around them, the two stood steadfast and lived a principled life.

Look around you. Do you see lives destroyed by sentiment and a lack of principles? Do you read of such calamities in the newspapers? Do they not pull at your heart strings? Would you trade your principled life for their life of sentiment? It is, after all, quite seductive. Resist temptation and stay devoted to your path.

The old charge tells us to circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due bounds. As it turns out, this is an ancient recipe for success in life.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When is a man a Mason?


The following is taken from an old pamphlet. It's called When is a man a Mason. It could also have been called When is a man a Leader.

When is a man a Mason?

When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage -- which is the root of every virtue.

When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowman.

When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins - knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds.

When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself.

When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child.

When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life.

When star-crowned trees and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead.

When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response.

When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be.

When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin.

When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope.

When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellowman, and with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song -- glad to live, but not afraid to die!

Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fidelity, Constancy, and Perserverance


The following is a short talk that I recently gave at my Valley's Stated Meeting. Some of the Brothers suggested that I post it here. I am happy to do so, with a little editing.

Greetings brothers,

I’d like to offer my thanks to our Venerable Master for asking me to start off this series tonight. This series of educational talks is all about putting a little bit of the classroom into the Stated Meeting. As the Classroom Director, I am certainly happy to help out. I promise to keep it short. I further promise that you’ll be left with a lot to contemplate.

Being a part of the Rose Croix line of officers, I wanted to stay within the degrees of the Chapter. Tonight, I’ll focus on the 15th degree as I think it has much to say about the situation that we find ourselves in … both in Masonry and in general society.

As we do not perform the 15th degree here, and many will not have seen the degree in action, I’d like to briefly describe for you some of the key symbols of the degree.

The hat, cordon, gloves, and apron all predominantly feature the colour green. Green represents the immortality of the soul – and even the immortality of Masonry itself. In the centre of the apron are three nested gold triangles, made from chains with triangular links and said to represent the chains on the human intellect – tyranny, superstition, and privilege. The jewel of the degree is made from three nested triangles of gold – symbolizing liberty, equality and fraternity; and also law, order, and subordination. Inside the triangles are two crossed swords, points up, resting on the innermost triangle – representing truth and justice.

The candidate is received in this degree as Zerubbabel – a name that should be familiar to us all.

Thus the 15th degree opens, as does the Chapter of Rose Croix. The people of Israel have been seemingly abandoned by God and are living in captivity under the Babylonian king Cyrus.


Why does it seem that God has abandoned them? What set of circumstances allowed for the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon? What is the role that God has chosen for Zerubbabel? As Zerubbabel travels from Jerusalem to Babylon, in which direction is this journey headed?

This degree teaches that the destruction of the temple and the long captivity in Babylon were due in large part to the people’s worship of lesser gods. Pike illuminates on this, not by listing the gods themselves, but by listing the obstacles to the success of Masonry. I’d like to think that they are one and the same - Apathy, Faithlessness, and Indifference.

Regardless of your religion, do your scriptures teach you to be lukewarm? Do they preach a doctrine of carelessness? Do they say to be indifferent to the cares and concerns of your fellowman? Hardly.

According to Pike, Fidelity to our obligations, Constancy and Perseverance under difficulties and discouragements are the leading lessons of this degree.

Pike wrote:
“He who endeavors to serve, to benefit, and to improve the world, is like a swimmer, who struggles against a rapid current, in a river lashed into angry waves by the winds. Often they roar over his head, often they beat him back and baffle him. Most yield to the stress of the current, and float with it to the shore, or are swept over the rapids; and only here are there the stout, strong heart and vigorous arms struggle on toward ultimate success.”

Pike goes on to say that
“… the only true question for us to ask, as true men and Masons, is, what does duty require; and not what will be the result and reward if we do our work.”

Nehemiah 4:17-18 says, “… work with sword in hand.” Pike adds to this to say “… work with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other.”

Faithlessness can drain the life out of you. Watch the news. Read a paper. You may begin to believe the lies that are being sold to you. Masonry teaches that God formed man’s eternal soul for a purpose. It teaches that all of the events and actions of the world are part of God’s plan.

In the First Degree, each candidate is asked a simple question, in Whom do you put your trust? What was your answer?

Your trust being in God, you rose and were instructed to fear not what man could do unto you.

What’s changed?

What do you have to fear now?

As leaders of men, it’s up to us to demonstrate the teachings of this degree in our daily lives. It means that we are not apathetic, indifferent, or lacking in faith. If anything, these troubling times should cause us to count our blessings.

To Masons, Zerubbabel is the type of leader who is worthy of emulation. According to our Illustrious Bro. Rex Hutchens, he “perseveres, encourages the disheartened, cheers the timid, incites the indolent, forces the apathetic and reluctant, and has incorruptible fidelity to honor and duty.”

Masonry can thus be seen as a roadmap out of the current troubles we; Masonry, and our country may find ourselves in.

Fidelity to our obligations:
• Pay our bills on time
• Only take on the obligations that you can realistically support
• Don’t over extend yourself

• Let your yes be yes and your no be no
• Be the stability, the rock that your family needs
• Let your faith be steadfast

• Don’t give up – don’t give in
• Calmly bear the difficulties of life without complaint
• Commitment, hard work, patience, and endurance will see us through this mess that we find ourselves in

This degree begins the construction of the Second Temple out of the ruins of the first. The reconstruction symbolizes the restitution of truth. It also symbolizes liberty and the “state of peace and toleration that will make the earth a fit place to dwell.”

We all stood and took the obligation of this degree. In these troublesome times, can we not become more like Zerubbabel and zealously assist in making our Temple a fit place to dwell?

Thank you, and may God bless and keep you all.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Box


Aside from the weather and the state of the roads, I've all but given up on watching the news on the television. I must admit that the job of the weather and traffic in Los Angeles has got to be one of the easiest to perform. The weather never varies much from the norm - hot in the summer and mild in the winter - and traffic is always bad. There is no more rush hour, the rush extends to all hours. But, I digress ...

Why have I given up on the news? If it bleeds, it leads. Sadness sells. There's a certain profit to be made in showing death, despair, and disease. People seem to delight in seeing that one man who is worse off, as if somehow it will make their lot better.

Pike, in his commentary on the 21st Degree (SJ) wrote "[s]lander and calumny were never so insolently licentious in any country as they are this day in ours." He goes on to say "[j]ournalism pries into the interior of private houses, gloats over the details of domestic tragedies of sin and shame, and deliberately invents and industriously circulates the most unmitigated and baseless falsehoods, to coin money for those who pursue it as a trade, or to effect a temporary result in the wars of faction." He then presents his charge to the reader, "[w]e need not enlarge upon these evils."

Written over 100 years ago, these words could well have been written this morning.

As leaders, do we find ourselves going along with the prevailing "wisdom?" Do we participate in this circus act? Why not just opt out?

"To be modest and unaffected with our superiors is duty; with our equals, courtesy; with our inferiors, nobleness. There is no arrogance so great as the proclaiming of other men's errors and faults, ..."

It's how we treat people that matters most. The Arbinger Institute calls this behaviour, "the box." The box can also be defined as "self-deception." What's that, you ask? Think about the problems facing society, or your company, or your family. You may think it's a problem of leadership, or with a particular group, or a lack of motivation, or a lack of teamwork. You may attribute it to stress or a problems with communication. Arbinger points out that these aren't problems to be solved. They are symptoms of a single, underlying problem.

What problem, you ask?

Acording to Arbinger, "[i]t's the problem that arises when members resist seeing that they themselves are part of the problem." The problem is self-deception.

The news media and the politicians are giving us what they think we are asking for. Ratings dictate the price of ads on the TV. The more "gossipy" the show, the higher the ratings. We cry out for others to fix problems of our own making. So, politicians enact laws to "fix" problems - only making things worse.

We are part of the problem ... so we are also part of the solution. Get out of "the box" towards your fellow man. Don't participate in the "gossip culture." Have faith that good will prevail. Be humble and courteous - and fix your own problems - and you'll be surprised how far you can go in life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Authenticity and core values


Authenticity and genuineness are critical for the success of a leader. If you don't sound and act like you believe in what you are saying and doing, people will notice. People will notice and take action. You probably won't like the actions that they take.

Recent news commentary focussed on a certain national leader's speech to a audience of supporters. The speech, booked for a half an hour, lasted almost three times that length. The organisers encouraged him to "keep going." He had captivated the audience and was delivering more than what was promised (as usual, I might add). One of the comments made about the event was the fact that he gave the speech without aid of a TelePrompTer. For anyone who has stood before a meeting and gave a five minute talk from memory, it's tough enough. But an hour and a half? That's amazing.

When questioned about it, the man said that he didn't need to be prompted about his core beliefs and values. He said that he keeps his beliefs close to his heart and they mean the world to him. As such, he can (and did) speak at length about the topic without a script. His speech was genuine, from the heart, and authentically his. His results speak for themselves.

The lesson here is that authenticity matters. This particular gentleman has built up a following over the years by sticking to what he does and knows best. He doesn't waver from his core values.

In the 14th Degree (SJ), we learn what it means to keep steadfast and maintain your integrity in the face of adversity. It's easy to do when you keep your core values in your heart and live each day by them. It's easy to be authentic, a genuine person, when you live this way; uncontrived, unscripted.

Be yourself. Be the best "you" that you can be. It's a lot like golf, you aren't trying to be better than me, or better than your neighbour. You are trying each day to be better than yourself. Now imagine if each one of the people around you lived this way. How powerful would that be?

Remember, it starts with you.