Vol. XLV No. 4 — April 1967

The Keeper of the Springs

John D. Tomme, Jr., GM

This Short Talk is a slightly shortened version of an address given before the Conference of Grand Masters in Washington, D.C., on February 21, 1967, by M.W. Brother John D. Tomme, Jr., grand master of Masons in Texas, who has graciously consented to its publication in this form.

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Many of us are familiar with a great story once used in a sermon by the man who achieved his ultimate greatness while chaplain of the United States Senate, Dr. Peter Marshall.

The story takes place in a little town in the foothills of the mountains. It was a town with almost every advantage. It enjoyed a good climate; its people were healthy and happy. One of its great assets was the abundant supply of clear, fresh, clean water flowing down from mountain springs.

This seemingly Utopian village did have one problem, however. It had a city council facing the problem of rising costs, just as yours and mine are doing.

In their zeal to cut costs, the council took aim at the salary of a strange old man who was carried on the city payroll as “keeper of the springs.” It seemed obvious to the council that the springs were a gift of Nature and didn't need a keeper. Besides, no one knew just what the old man did. It seemed that he merely went wandering through the mountains. Without any further investigation, the council eliminated the job and dropped him from the payroll.

For a while the council congratulated itself on the savings. The action seemed prudent, for water continued to flow as before. Obviously, the old man had not been needed.

But gradually the water supply slowed to a trickle. What water did flow was vile and dirty. The town mill slowed to a halt. Disease struck the community. There were no more happy children’s voices filling the air.

At first the council tried to blame Nature. “The springs are drying up,” explained one. “We didn’t have enough snow up in the mountains,” said another. Slowly, the truth began to dawn on them. In their frustration, the council learned that their pure, clear water was the result of the quiet dedicated work of the keeper of the springs — the old man who wandered the mountain trails, stooping along the way to clear the moss and algae from the tiny springs. His loving care kept the water clear as it flowed down in an ever-increasing stream to provide for the needs of the village.

We, who have dedicated so much of our adult lives to Freemasonry, may well have been neglecting the challenge to be “Keepers of the Springs” for the young people who should be getting leadership from us. If we had been doing our jobs properly, the many tiny springs of Masonic philosophy and teaching would be flowing down the mountains in a vigorous current — providing inspiration and fuller fives to men throughout the world and carrying the youth of the world to a fuller realization of mans purpose and Gods design.

If we do not keep the springs properly, the youth waiting for us down below will have no more than a stagnant trickle from which to drink. They have a right to expect us to do our job and to provide them an abundance of clear water.

Perhaps we have all been too busy admiring the breathtaking view from our vantage point, high upon the peaks of life. Perhaps we have spent too much time telling each other how pretty it is and how much we have accomplished. Perhaps we have had too much enjoyment wandering along the trails and have become too selfish to stoop down occasionally to clear a spring. Perhaps we thought that our brethren farther down the mountain would clear the water, so we didn’t bother to do it.

In that much quoted poem, "The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole, an elderly man in the sunset of life stops to build a bridge across a chasm. Because of his old age, he is asked why he has stopped to build it, since he probably will not pass that way again. He answers that there is a youth traveling behind him. "I am building the bridge for him.”

I recently read a challenging editorial on this theme written by Dr. Paul M. Stevens in BEAM International, a magazine of the Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Stevens pinpointed the crux of many of today’s problems. Referring to the poem, he said,

Fine sentiment, but as outdated as “23 Skidoo.” The road the old folks walk is not being traveled by the young. Bridges erected by ever-so-conscientious parents are standing in lonely wildernesses as far as the coming generation is concerned. The biggest reason why this is true is that in many, many instances the young people are farther down the road than the would-be bridge builders. You can’t guide them by your experiences, for certain basic as well as peripheral conditions have changed. Being on this earth a little longer does not necessarily imply that we are in a superior position “wisdom-wise.”

My childhood was not the childhood of my children. When I was a boy we talked in terms of mph — miles per hour. Today it is fps — feet per second. Tomorrow it will be mps — miles per second. After that, who knows? Forty years of living in the time of my youth has been compressed into ten years today.

The fourteen-year-old boy of today has already faced the possibility of atomic war and possible annihilation. He has practiced crawling under his school desk in case of an air raid, curled like the fetus he was so short a time ago. He waits now to die, not to be born.

He has faced Communism as a way of life and knows that one-third of the world lives under it. He has faced the race question, this fourteen-year-old, and solved it quite easily, though all around him the upheavals created by his elders cause him perplexity and astonishment.

He lives in a welfare society that he knows to be the very opposite of the society of his heroes, Daniel Boone, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Ford. He wants to work fewer hours and make more money — and it looks as if he'll do it. Sexual matters are common knowledge with him, and frankly, I think he tends to make a lot less fuss and feathers over it than did my generation. He’s more mature than I was at his age. He knows more math than I knew. His vocabulary is different from mine. A cotton gin sounds like a new drink to him. A spinning wheel has to be on a dragging hot-rod. His expectations from home, church, school, and society are different from mine. He wants his religion to be relevant to his life — his church to be involved in his world.

Dr. Stevens says that youth is speaking a different language. I say that at the very best we are not speaking the same language, and I am afraid that insofar as Masonry is concerned, we are not speaking any language at all to these young people. We are expecting the youth of today, in a frantic and fearful world, to judge us and react to us in the same way we did to Masonry in our youth.

We are expecting young men in Los Angeles or Denver or Kansas City to come to us — uninvited — and to judge Masonry by the same methods used to judge it in the small communities where the lodge was the center of community activity and every community leader could be seen entering the lodge building.

We wonder why young men don’t knock on the outer door of Masonry. We wait to welcome them, but when they do not come, we fail to realize that they do not even know we are here. We want them to gain a favorable impression of the Fraternity, yet are unwilling or unmotivated to do anything to create an impression in their busy minds. We trust that they will eventually put two and two together and realize that they have to ask us to become Masons.

Is it possible that we really expect the youth waiting down below to drink deeply from the clear stream of Masonry when we are not willing to plunge our hands into the springs to remove the refuse from the water? Who is the keeper of the springs?

If we are sincerely interested in taking the first steps toward solving our problem, we must be willing to dirty our hands in the springs. You will never find a more rewarding chore anywhere along the mountain trails of life than clearing a spring so that young men can drink.

You may ask, “What do I look for? How can I clean the springs?”

A doctor certainly would not treat a serious disease without first seeing the patient. Similarly, we must go to the boys themselves. Talk to the young men who are now in DeMolay, but also talk to the boys who are not. Find out what they think and how they think. Spend enough time at it to know that you are communicating, that they understand you and that you understand them. Learn what they think of DeMolay, of Masonry, of life. Find out what they are looking for, what they lack, what they want. Try to apply their own rules of measurement to the whole situation. Try to learn what you would think of Freemasonry if you were a young man of today. Learn to speak their language.

Once you have learned to do that, go back to your own generation. Work with your brethren to find the very best adult leadership. Recruit those leaders on every level, from the grand lodge to the local lodge, but be sure that leadership is a plural term. One man can’t do it alone. Appoint special youth counselors to set up and operate a constructive program. Determine what is to be done; then see that it gets done. And, in all this, keep in mind that we must do something to inspire young mens confidence in the Fraternity. We must make a conscious effort to let them see Freemasonry in action. Bring the boys to the lodge and explain it to them. Take them to dinner, but feed them what they like, not your favorite dish. Tell them what Freemasonry is and what it is trying to accomplish. Tell them why Freemasonry is interested in young men and why it supports DeMolay.

As we work with young people, we must take a sincere, personal interest in what they are doing. I don’t mean just the boys who are already in DeMolay, but also those boys who play ball on the lot across the street and have never heard of DeMolay. Who would not trade a little of his own time in return for starting a boy on the road to a richer, fuller manhood? That’s being a keeper of the springs.

Let us face the truth. We have all spent enough time admiring the view from our Olympian heights. We cannot depend on someone farther down the mountain to do the job that we can do better at the springs near the mountain top. If we do our work as keepers of the springs, we shall be able to look down into the valley below and see the inspiring sight of young men drinking in the love and aspiration and fullness of life from the stream of Freemasonry that we have kept clean and appealing to them.

The Masonic Service Association of North America