Vol. XLII No. 8 — August 1964

Short ‘Short Talks’ for Occasional Speakers

Elbert Bede

These short talks are designed for use by the Brother who is called upon “for a few remarks” either in the lodge room or “at refreshment” and who does not wish to take up much of the audience’s time. Memorizing one of them may give a Brother “speech security.” An appropriate little story may be used as an introduction. Some of these speeches may seem to be too short, but the author recommends their brevity for “sure-fire” appreciation. He is Wor. Brother Elbert Bede, Editor emeritus of The Oregon Freemason and author of 3-5-7 Minute Talks on Freemasonry, who has tested these little addresses through personal experience.

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Today We Sailed Westward

Often we have heard the story of how Columbus, despite the mutterings of his crew, kept his little white-winged fleet sailing onward over an apparently boundless and endless sea. He had failed miserably in his calculations of the distance around the earth, the distance to be traveled in achieving his dream. It was fortunate for him that land impeded his way to the great pacific, of which he knew nothing. His little ships never would have completed the longer journey; and we learn that land was sighted only a few hours before the time set down by agreement with the muttering crew for turning back.

One would expect Columbus to have set down in his log the daily progress of the little band of argonauts seeking the golden treasures of the East; but in at least the final days of the adventure the only entry was, “Today we sailed westward.”

That was all: “Today we sailed westward.”

Many Freemasons become discouraged because the Fraternity seems not to be reaching its goal, or because it does not set sail for goals for which many believe it should strive.

Yet we really have more reason to feel hopeful than did Columbus, who had an unwilling crew and no chance to reach the goal at which he aimed.

Those who really man the ships of Freemasonry are not an unwilling crew. They gladly remain at their posts. They are certain there are spiritual rewards awaiting the programs which they promote. That is not a rainbow in the distance that recedes as we approach. It is the solid land of achievement that appears.

“Today we sail westward,” but “Eastward toward the Light” might be a better way of expressing it for a Freemason.

Rough and Perfect Ashlars

Masons hear much about rough and perfect ashlars. They are described in the lecture of the Entered Apprentice degree. We know what use was made of rough and perfect ashlars in the old operative days; but in Speculative Masonry we often refer to our lodge Brothers figuratively as rough and perfect ashlars, although we never had anyone who would fully qualify for the latter description.

A rough ashlar is not a physically faulty stone. In Freemasonry it is as substantial as the perfect ashlar, necessarily so, for from it the perfect ashlar is fashioned. Used as a part of a structure, it owes no apology to the perfectly shaped and sometimes polished stone. In structures of stone there may be more rough ashlars than finished stones, just as in Speculative Freemasonry there are a lesser number of informed Brethren who are qualified to give freely of wisdom to the many eager to learn.

We can have in our membership few, if any, approaching the perfection of a perfect ashlar. We are fortunate to have so many to whom we may fondly refer as faithful rough ashlars who are the support of the lodges.

Freemasonry’s Symbols

Silent as the forgotten past are the Symbols of Freemasonry, yet we well may believe that all of Freemasonry is to be found in those inarticulate Symbols.

We have rituals for our various degrees. Any Brother .may memorize them. Even an expelled Brother may carry the so-called secrets of the ritual with him. Even some of “the profane” claim to be conversant with the secrets of our rituals.

It may be doubted, however, that any of the real secrets of Freemasonry are to be found in the secret rituals which only Freemasons are presumed able to read. It is becoming more and more the belief of students of Freemasonry that the real secrets are to be found only in the Symbols that have been described and interpreted in many volumes which Freemasons and the profane alike may read.

More than that, each Freemason and each non-Mason may interpret the Symbols for himself, and who can really say whether his explanation is correct, or that it is a complete interpretation? The silent Symbol gives no word of approval or disapproval. The real secrets contained in any Symbol are what any individual finds them to be for himself.

The Robber and the Spider

The selfishness and disregard for the welfare of others that we find in the world today brings to mind the Japanese fable of the robber and the spider. The robber had been sent to the infernal regions. One day the Lord Buddha paid a visit to the gloomy underworld and the robber cried out to be returned to the world of light. When questioned by Buddha as to the kind deeds he had performed while on earth, he could think of only one. Once, instead of crushing with his foot a spider in his path, he lifted the spider to the side of the road, where it would be safe from the feet of others.

Buddha responded not. He merely smiled and went his way, but soon the robber saw before him a thread of finest silk glittering in the darkness. It was a thread of spider’s silk leading upward. To his astonishment the robber found the silk strong enough to bear his weight, so hand over hand he climbed upward. As he was nearing the light, he heard below him the voices of many others who were climbing the apparently frail spider’s thread. Fearing that all the weight would break the thin, trembling silk, the robber called angrily to those below, “Get off, get back, this thread belongs to me!” The words had scarcely been spoken when the thread snapped and the robber fell to the gloomy depths from which he had so nearly escaped.

The robber of the fable has many human imitators. Every day we see cases of those who have given all their efforts to acquiring material things for themselves without thought for others. The physical body cannot stand the effort and the silken cord snaps. On the other hand, we see others who have no ambition to have more than enough to provide for their own comfort, but who get much out of life because of -their regard for the welfare and happiness of others.

Interest in others is not demonstrated by contributions of material things, but rather by forgetting material things long enough to show a keen interest in what others are endeavoring to accomplish. By forgetting material things long enough to have time to mingle with friends. By forgetting material things long enough to have time to take a smile into a sick room. By forgetting the race for material possessions long enough to have time to sympathize with the misfortunes of others. By taking time we might otherwise employ to our own profit to show others how they may follow in the way where we have succeeded.

After all, should any man wish to be the only one to reach a goal? He’d be very lonesome.

Purpose of the Pillars

The Senior Deacon, in the Fellowcraft degree, gives a considerable description of the two great Pillars that stood on the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, using some words that most of us can’t pronounce. As a matter of fact, as the Senior Deacon indicated, no one is absolutely certain what purpose the Pillars served or what they represented.

If they served no useful purpose, and were largely ornamental, couldn’t they be symbolic of some Freemasons we have today? And we have a few who are not even ornamental, such as myself and some others I might name.

If the Pillars were repositories, as has been suggested, no way was provided for getting to and making use of the information they contained. That sounds ridiculous; but don’t we often ignore or refuse to make use of information we know to exist?

Our Speculative temple needs something more than ornamental pillars.

Solomon and His Glory

If his authorship be accepted — and I am inclined to accept it — Solomon, our legendary first Grand Master, made a superb gift to the centuries with his Ecclesiastes, from which Freemasonry gets the Scripture reading for the circumambulation in the third degree. His Proverbs, his Song of Solomon, his Wisdom of Solomon and other writings have come down to us through the centuries in what we like to believe is their original beauty; but of the worldly glory of Solomon no material thing remains as a memorial.

From these facts, it seems to me, we are taught a lesson peculiarly in harmony with the teachings of our great institution. As Freemasons we should be warned that the material things which we gather to satisfy worldly vanity may be dissipated within our life time, or destroyed by those who take our places, while deeds of the heart and deeds of the mind may be acclaimed through the centuries.

Is Your Freemasonry in Jars?

Not often do I find a Masonic lesson in a funny story, but there’s one that seems to me to give the opportunity for developing one.

At a gathering of women the conversation turned to a discussion of Masons. Some of the women seemed to be rather well informed on the subject, and discussed it at some length, but one woman was bored and finally remarked, “Well, I don’t know much about Masons, but I think their fruit jars are very nice.”

If we analyze that, we may find she said a mouthful without intending to point a moral of any kind. Don’t many of us Masons have a lot of fruit jars into which we put our Masonry, then seal the jars and set them away in a dark corner? Even when Masonic friends visit us, we don’t get out some of the jars and treat our friends to the contents. We might at least take a jar along every time we go to a Masonic meeting and pass around what the jar contains.

Freemasonry put away in jars doesn’t improve with age, and the contents are likely to be forgotten. Freemasonry improves by dissemination. Brethren, keep your Freemasonry out of fruit jars; but, if you do put some away now and then, bring it out at the first opportunity and let the Brethren partake with you.

Finishing on Three Strings

In the life of Ole Bull, great violinist and Freemason, there was an incident from which should come encouragement and inspiration for those who find themselves confronted with what seem to be insurmountable difficulties. During one of Ole Bull’s greatest concerts, when he had partly completed one of his own great compositions, his “A” string broke. Had this happened to a lesser artist, there certainly would have been an interruption, and possibly a display of artistic temperament; but Ole Bull didn’t hesitate. He completed the composition and applause was thunderous, but the conclusion was not the original one. He had improvised on three strings for the portion of the original composition which had not been completed. He finished on three strings.

Let us get inspiration from some notable examples of those who have overcome severe handicaps, who “finished on three strings.”

Lack of school education is considered by some an insurmountable obstacle, but Abraham Lincoln had almost no school education. Yet what gifted scholar will attempt to produce another Gettysburg address? Old Abe made the Bible his three stringed violin.

Loss of eyesight is considered by many an insurmountable handicap, yet Milton did some of his greatest writing and brought light to the world with his epic poems, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, after he had lost his eyesight. He finished on three strings.

Caesar was an epileptic, but see where he went on three strings!

Beethoven, after becoming deaf, wrote some of the most beautiful music the world has ever known. He finished on three strings.

Napoleon was a runt; but even though I can express no admiration for him. he certainly bulks large in history. He finished on three strings.

Lord Byron was club-footed, Robert Louis Stevenson was tubercular, and Annette Kellerman was a paralytic. All of these succeeded with only three strings.

When seemingly insurmountable difficulties confront us, let us think of Ole Bull and his broken “A” string and of those others who pushed handicaps aside and finished on three strings.

The Little Lodge at Batavia

Freemasons have long admired the courage exhibited by the hero of our Hiramic legend, but few of us are familiar with an instance in our own country when the larger part of the :membership of a little lodge exhibited a comparable bravery.

This incident occurred during the vicious anti-Masonic movement that started in 1826 and raged for ten to fifteen years. It was sparked by the strange disappearance of William Morgan. Members of the little lodge in Batavia, New York, which the disreputable Morgan had attended as a visitor while engaged in preparing an “exposure” of Freemasonry, were charged with being responsible for Morgan’s disappearance, and none were more hounded than they.

Yet in June of 1827, a year after the start of the anti-Masonic movement, which nearly drove Freemasonry in the United States to the breaking point, this lodge publicly announced that it would attend church services on the anniversary of St. John the Baptist. When the day came, a hostile throng which has been estimated to have numbered 12,000 had assembled in the little village of 1350. Some of the fearful Brethren urged postponement — and their advice may have been good — but stalwart leaders decided they could not afford to show fear or shame.

Clothed in white gloves and aprons, the Brethren of the little lodge, undoubtedly with cold shivers running up and down their spines, with a few goose pimples mixed in, marched to the church through the hostile throng, which opened to let them pass. There were many insulting words and an untoward act might have brought violence; but the Brethren reached the church — greatly relieved to get there safely — listened to a sermon by a preacher who feared only his God, and quietly returned to their lodge room and dispersed.

Those Freemasons of Batavia may have been foolhardy. Their act may have fanned the flames of intolerance and bigotry, but they were men — red-blooded men — brave men — fearless men-men who dared to stand against the storm until its fury was spent. We need such men today.

Unchanging Freemasonry

Anyone who has lived three-fourths of a century has seen the development of all the modern gadgets for office and home, as well as such things as the typesetting machine, automobile, airplane, radio, television, and a thousand so-called modern necessities that were not so much as dreamed of in the days of our fathers. During the years many things have been invented, have been useful for a time, and have disappeared from the scene.

Freemasonry, however, was here long before the invention of these modern conveniences and machines that have revolutionized the home, society and industry. It will continue, regardless of to what undreamed of extent inventions may take us. No ancient or modern invention has wrought any noticeable effect upon it. It has remained unchangeable while everything around it has changed. Life has been streamlined; but Freemasonry’s rituals teach the same things that were taught by the rituals of 1717 and earlier. Even the manner of teaching Freemasonry’s lessons has hardly changed except as greater understanding has given us opportunity to make more modern applications, or has given us new interpretations of unchanging Symbols.

We need more things in life as fundamental and as unchangeable as the eternal Truths which have attended and preserved Freemasonry through the centuries.

The Masonic Service Association of North America