Bro. Robert E. Juthner, P.D.D.G.M. (82-11-27)
Many a Brother, asked by his Worshipful Master to prepare a paper for presentation to his Lodge, has been beard to say: "I don't believe I can do it." Such was the case with the writer of this paper, primarily because of the short notice given to him. It must be admitted, however, that he was given the freedom of choosing his own subject; a consideration which may be important to some while others would prefer guidance as to the choice of a topic. This is the background for the title of this paper and, because it was not meant to be a research paper but rather an informal talk, it is written in the first person:-
Why did I start out saying that I couldn't do it? Because it's true and because I want to point out to anyone accepting a Masonic speaking assignment that he should insist on two basic ingredients for a successful paper: firstly, sufficient lead time; secondly, the choice of topic.
The reasons should be self-evident but I will spell them out just the same: one needs time, lots of time, to search out properly and thoroughly the sources upon which to build his paper. Also, as is well known in this circle, I do not believe in resting my case on one source alone because of the danger that it may coincide with my own pet theory. Instead, I will try to unearth all the sources I can locate and include in my work those that are diametrically opposed to that favourite idea I have been holding. Only this way can I lay claim on having done honest research work. In comparison, writing the paper itself takes much less time and effort.
The other ingredient I had mentioned was the liberty of choosing my own topic. I don't mean that I have to feel constrained if the Worshipful Master, or the chairman responsible for research and education, asks me to talk on a certain subject. He might just do this because he knows that I know about that subject a little more than I know about anything else. That in itself does not mean very much, but it does indicate my sponsor's confidence in me. I may not be the greatest philosopher since Plato, nor the greatest orator since Cicero, but the knowledge that others think enough of me to call on me to address my Brethren will give me sufficient self-confidence to proceed with the task. If this is the first time that I am called on for such a contribution, I will be eternally grateful for being allowed the choice of topic. Instinctively I will turn to something that interests me. Something that has caught my attention, maybe puzzled me; a question in my mind that, so far, has not found its answer. It could very well be that I won't find the answer neither, but that does not matter as long as I make the effort to find it. And something I am bound to find. Let me not be worried about how profound my answers or findings will be, let the chips fall where they may, just record the results of the researches and report them.
It seems to me that it goes without saying that any material presented in a Masonic Lodge be of a truly Masonic character. We can hear about golfing feats, Grey Cup greatness, the latest on open-heart surgery or the travelogue to end all travelogues in much better qualified forums, In our Masonic Lodges, whether at labour or at refreshment, we want to bear about what makes our Craft tick. There is so much there that in a Mason's life there be no room for repetition!
There are a number of broad areas that can be tapped, and matters dealing with our ritual are only one of them, and probably not the one of foremost interest since the ritual ought to be adequately covered during normal Lodge work. Nevertheless, some of the more enigmatic passages of the ritual may well lend themselves to further scrutiny and elaboration. Another broad area that immediately comes to mind is history: various facts about the origins of the Order, its precursors, its development abroad as well as closer to home, our ups and downs including the various persecutions of Freemasonry, and so on, Our younger members may benefit from talks on the organization of our own Grand Lodge and comparisons with other Grand Jurisdictions. There might be a few eye openers in the latter topic which will show us that no man is an island. (We are prone to think that our version of Freemasonry is also everybody else's . . . not so!) Masonic jurisprudence can offer fascinating disclosures, disclosures - not because our Masonic laws had been hidden from us but because we had not bothered heretofore to acquaint ourselves with them. And so the list goes on. Take, for example, the Social Sciences, primarily sociology and psychology: how they relate to Freemasonry and the working of her members. In this area we can find material of immediate interest to our members, to fill more volumes than we may hope to digest. At the pinnacle of these broad areas to be researched, and to be presented to Masonic meetings, I believe, we should find philosophy. By definition philosophy treats of the true, the good and the beautiful. Philosophy deals with moral wisdom and ethics, very much the concern of the Freemason. As a branch of learning it investigates the ultimate nature of existence and of knowledge. If all this sounds forbidding, then let us try on another definition, that of "philosophizing", and we will immediately feel at home: when we search into the reason and nature of things, when we try to understand and to explain things, then we philosophize. Everybody does that! Our Masonic ritual is in its very essence philosophical in nature with much of it concealed within enigmatic parables and expressions so that he who is satisfied with the exoteric or superficial aspects does not even find out what it is all about while he who digs deeper into the esoteric meaning and interpretation of our system of thought will feel that much more rewarded. I have no statistical proof but I would venture the guess that a majority of those who do not penetrate the surface make up the ranks of the disillusioned and the absent, while most of those who form the backbone of the Order are among the diggers. (I recognize that there are exceptions to both rules.) If you or I take an interest in a specific topic of concern to Masons, and start digging, we first enrich ourselves. Then, when we present our findings to our Brethren, we enrich them, and be it only in a small way. Really, we should feel obligated to do this, obligated towards ourselves, because if we don't even try to uplift ourselves, and in the process the Brethren around us, then, in the words of our York Rite ritual, we have "spent our strength for naught."
I have now talked for ten minutes and I still have not erased the sub-title of this paper, "I DON'T BELIEVE I CAN DO IT". But, maybe, I CAN, after all. All I have to know, once I have decided on my topic, is where to turn to for source material, Most of the time this will mean books. (Masonic papers based on polls, interviews and other such research techniques are rare.) Where do we find the books? Now, many of us are in the habit of making a few book purchases at the annual Banff Spring Workshops. Most of these stalwart books are worth having and perusing; some can serve as door stoppers at best. This remark is intended to warn you and to urge you to discriminate. Still, what you have already acquired as your Masonic library may not fill the need. Does your own Lodge have a stock of books? If not, you know of course that there is a Grand Lodge lending library, with numerous titles on the shelves. I am certain it is badly underused. Change that, borrow books! You can get the catalogue from the Grand Secretary's office, and you can borrow in person or by mail. If you're still searching, know that there are unbelievably many books dealing with Masonic interests in the public libraries of our cities and in our university libraries. (If you are still groping for more, try the Vatican Library in Rome; none other in the world has as many books on Freemasonry!) Which leads me to an important point: do not shy away from sources hostile to Freemasonry. As I have already indicated earlier, don't ignore what may contradict your favourite theory. Weigh one against the other and, maybe, your pet will win, maybe it won't. Just be honest in reporting your findings. While we are on the subject of books, or of written material of any nature, use quotes by all means (this is seldom forbidden), but don't forget to give credit to the source! Don't plagiarize, don't make statements sound as if they were your own; the applause you earn at the end of your presentation should then sound rather hollow to you. You don't need to stoop that low. On the contrary, it will show that you have done your homework when you cite authors whose works you have studied. But don't overdo it. Sometimes university students were known to beef up their bibliographies with an array of impressive names and titles, but any experienced professor could readily see through such sham.
The major encyclopedias, such as the Britannica, are valuable sources and easy to use because their indices will lead to pertinent articles. Many other publications of non-Masonic origin may yield valuable information. The approach then, is one of extracting paragraphs from a number of books or magazines, of comparing, and of sifting: that is the process of selection and rejection based on the appropriateness of the contents, and not on whether you like them or not! Then you will arrive at a manageable amount of literature to back up your paper, and from here on in, as I have already stated, the rest is easy: you are now ready to write. . .
Moreover, you will be justified to say: "I CAN DO IT!"
As is apparent from the introduction, this paper is meant to offer assistance to those who plan to prepare short papers for presentation in Lodge. The reader who is interested in major research work is directed to the article by the same author, "The Object of Meeting in a ... Research Lodge", VOX LUCIS, Vol. 1, No. 3, Spring 1982, pp. 71-95.