Brethren, May should be the month of gratitude. We as Masons and Americans have so much to be grateful for. We live in the best country in the world bar none. It may not be perfect, but we strive to make our union more perfect every day. We should not despair when our country is off track or on decline. We are a young nation compared to those found in Europe. The Founding Fathers designed and engineered this super structure to withstand the winds and storms of change and challenge.
I, too, occasionally fear for the state of things in our land, but I have an unshakeable faith in the design, the people, and the spirit of the country. This month we celebrate Memorial Day, a time to remember the men and women in our armed forces in the past and present, that died defending our freedoms as we give them a last measure of devotion.
The state of gratitude (mental attitude) is referenced in the modern bible in dozens of passages as shown below:
1. Psalm 100:4 - "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name." This verse emphasizes the importance of approaching God with thanksgiving and expressing gratitude for His blessings.
2. Colossians 3:15 - "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful." Here, believers are encouraged to let gratitude and thankfulness permeate their lives, allowing the peace of God to guide them.
3. Ephesians 5:20 - "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse underscores the idea of giving thanks to God continually and in all circumstances, recognizing His sovereignty and provision.
Remember my brothers, gratitude is a positive emotion and a mindset of appreciation and thankfulness for the good things in life. It involves recognizing and acknowledging the kindness, generosity, and positive experiences we receive from others or from the world around us. Gratitude involves focusing on what we have rather than what we lack. It can shift our perspective in a more positive and contented fashion.
As Masons, practicing gratitude involves consciously and intentionally reflecting on and expressing appreciation for the people, experiences, or things that bring us joy, support, or happiness. It can be as simple as expressing thanks to someone who has helped us or simply recognizing the beauty of nature and being grateful for it. A good practice is to write down things you are grateful for on a regular basis.
Current research shows that cultivating gratitude can have numerous benefits for us. It can enhance positive emotions, improve relationships, reduce stress, and increase overall life satisfaction. It can shift our focus away from negativity and comparison while fostering a sense of contentment, mindfulness, and resilience.
Practicing gratitude doesn't mean ignoring or denying challenges or negative experiences in life. Instead, it will help us find positive aspects, even in difficult situations, and build a more positive and appreciative mindset.
Brothers, as we enter the summer months and reduce our Masonic activity, be mindful that if you are struggling with life’s challenges, DO NOT FIGHT ALONE, reach out to your brothers for an ear. We are your lodge and your brothers and there is no shame in needing help. As men we may think admitting have troubles is a weakness. It is not a weakness but foolish and harmful.
Do you think the Founding Fathers, in times of great peril avoided reaching out to their brothers for advice and or help?
Be well and prosper
WM Kent C. James
Brothers I have been pondering the purpose of ritual in our life. Ritual provides guidance and the guard rails to help us navigate life’s changing social norms and practices. In modern times, what is acceptable behavior has shifted from strict conservative mannerisms to whatever is popular on social media. Masonry provides a set of rituals and ceremonies, passed down through the ages, providing continuity in a man’s life. Masonic ritual is a powerful tool that serves to connect men with each other and with something larger than themselves.
The need for ritual is deeply ingrained in human nature. It has been a part of human culture and civilization since the beginning of recorded history. Rituals serve as a means of expressing and reinforcing important values and beliefs, and of creating a sense of community and belonging. They allow individuals to connect with something greater than themselves, whether it be a higher power, nature, or the collective consciousness of their community.
In the context of Masonry, ritual serves several important functions. Firstly, it provides a means of instruction and education. The symbols and allegories used in Masonic rituals are rich in meaning and provide a framework for members to explore and contemplate important philosophical and moral concepts. This allows members to deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them, and to develop a sense of purpose and direction in life.
Secondly, Masonic rituals serve as a means of connection between members and enhance fraternal bonds. By participating in ritual together, members of a Masonic lodge develop a shared experience that is unique and meaningful. This shared experience fosters a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie that is difficult to replicate in any other context. Members of a Masonic lodge come from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. Despite these social differences, through ritual, they are united in a common purpose with a shared set of values.
In excerpt from an article in the Art of Manliness written by Brett & Kate McKay • January 28, 2014
Stripping rituals from life was supposed to be liberating, but in a time when we are awash in personal freedom, an awful lot of people seem awfully dull and unexceptional. Worn out from having to choose their behavior in every situation with little guidance, and from creating every aspect of their own meaning and identity, people give up and seem passive and defeated, content to let the currents of consumerism carry them along.
Carlin Barton, author of Roman Honor writes of a similar psychological fatigue that occurred as ritual disappeared from ancient Roman culture:
“Because for the cosmopolite, limits, like definitions, had to be chosen, morality and adhesion toparticular traditions and limits required a prodigious act of will. Preserving a sense of being, of identity, thus became a continuous–and ultimately exhausting–assault on the will…For the Romans of the Late Republic and early Empire, too much relied on the will. As in a play by Seneca, there were not enough areas of life where one could submit; there was no psychic rest, no catharsis. It is much easier, as Mary Douglas points out, to maintain a sense of one’s own existence, of the expressiveness of one’s words and actions, in a world with stubborn bonds and traditions than in a world without them, however burdensome those bonds.”
Masonic rituals also serve as a means of personal growth and transformation. The rituals are designed to be transformative experiences that allow members to confront their own limitations and shortcomings as they strive towards self-improvement. By participating in ritual, members are challenged to become better versions of themselves, both morally and spiritually. This process of personal growth and transformation is a lifelong journey, supported and encouraged by the Masonic community.
Finally, Masonic ritual serves as a means of connection with something larger than oneself. The symbols and allegories used in Masonic rituals are often steeped in religious and spiritual tradition. They serve to encourage members to connect with the divine and transcendent. This connection allows members to transcend their own individual concerns and to connect with something that is greater than themselves. This sense of connection with the divine or the transcendent can be a source of comfort, inspiration, and guidance throughout one's life.
My brothers, you owe it to yourself to come to the lodge and sharpen your ritual if you’re an officer or just by observance if you are a general member. For the officers, ritualistic reading and practice will provide you with the spark you need to take on the challenges in your life. Daily ritualistic reading has made a great difference in my life, and I hope it will in yours. For the membership, seeing the footwork and hearing the words over and over again at each degree will also help you ponder the many wonderful gifts of ritual.
Greetings from the East,
My brothers, by the time you read this communication, the month of February will have passed but I want to share with you an insightful and forceful message from Past Master Ronald Bollheimer with full attribution. Please enjoy the message as much as I did.
“In this month of Washington’s Birthday, I thought it relevant to share a little about Washington the man and Washington the Mason. Initiated an Entered Apprentice Mason in the Lodge of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in November of 1752, he was Passed in March and Raised in August of 1753 in that same Lodge. He was proud of his membership, saying, “The object of Freemasonry is to promote the happiness of the human race,” and in 1788 served as first Master of what is now known as Alexandria-Washington Lodge. It was perhaps inevitable that, after Washington’s magnificent contributions to the nation during the Revolutionary period, he should be named a Virginia Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, whereas Presiding Officer he played a key role in the success of the Convention and ultimately became our first President in 1789. Washington thus became the first Master of a Masonic Lodge to become President, holding, for a time, both that high office and that of Worshipful Master of his Lodge, a rare distinction indeed. Washington’s words upon becoming President reflect well his philosophy: “Integrity and firmness are all that I can promise.” What more could a nation ask?
From the very beginning, Masonry has been closely associated with the history of our nation. This was never more dramatically evidenced than in 1793 when, wearing a Masonic apron presented to him by General Lafayette and embroidered by Madame Lafayette, Washington, in a Masonic ceremony, laid the cornerstone of the United States Capitol at Washington, D.C. In August of 1790, in a letter to King David Lodge, Newport, Rhode Island, Washington wrote: “Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the Masonic fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the society and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.” Washington had a deep sense of national union. In a response to an address of Charleston, South Carolina, Masons, he said: “The fabric of our freedom is placed on the enduring basis of public virtue, and will, I fondly hope, long continue to protect the prosperity of the architects who raised it.” In Washington’s famous Farewell Address on his retirement from public life, he emphasized that the responsibility for America’s destiny rests directly upon its citizens and he urged Americans to forge a nation of high principles: “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct.” Washington served both God and man with the firmness of his convictions. During the darkest days of the Revolution and the cruel winter at Valley Forge, it was Washington who stood firm in the face of adversity and knelt for prayer in the snow to reaffirm his faith in God and seek divine assistance in the justice of his cause. As his hope was in God, so must we, too, place our hope in God. Washington carried in his heart the ideals of liberty, justice and freedom. As Masons, we must likewise carry forward those same ideals. Much more could be said about this great American, but I believe the facts speak for themselves far more eloquently than any tribute I might be able to offer- “First in war, first in peace and `indeed’ first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Trenton Cyrus Lodge #5 F&AM Reprinted from Masonic Americana, 1976, pages 5-6 “Heartbeat of America...”
Sincerely & Fraternally
Kent C. James, WM
Greetings from the East,
One of the greatest challenges in life is self-improvement. Why should we endeavor to improve at all? Isn’t good enough acceptable? If you agree that “good enough” is acceptable you are not alone. There seems to be an epidemic of the mediocre mindset. I am not sure how we got here or maybe it’s inevitable due to the last ten years of societal rancor and pandemic.
To you I say freemasonry is more relevant and vital than ever. There is certainly no shortage of self-help/improvement books and podcasts to choose from. A Google search will return hundreds if not thousands of entries on the subject. All of which brings me back to our fraternity. The oldest fraternity of men on earth. Look no further than the pages of your ritual cipher. Contained in our cipher are the foundational lessons from which all these modern books and articles are sourced.
You took the most important step toward self-improvement when you decided to seek out Masonic light and fellowship. Deep down instinctually you knew that there is something more to life than the acquisition of material wealth. As Freemasons we see the long road and timeline of life. We understand that we must improve ourselves in order to have a positive impact on the world around us. Our families will benefit from the small incremental changes we make to be more empathetic, listen more and give positive reinforcement.
Self-improvement is a long and challenging road and starts with the decision to change.
Early in life I paid heed to my elders, who said in so many words, surround yourself with good roles models. Role models are the people you aspire to act, speak and learn from to understand how to achieve similar goals. These “life guides” can be found in all races and creeds. In our society we are blessed to have a diverse population of people to provide the guidance and knowledge we seek. Humble yourself and let a potential role model know that you would like their help to attain a goal. One of the greatest joys of being a Freemason is the enormous pool of Brothers to enact with and the variety of their backgrounds and experiences. Take advantage of the opportunity to join and participate in Masonic events and soak up the positive energy of fellowship.
If memory serves me, I recall it was Gandhi who said, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” Whether he really said this or not, the words could not be more profound. In other words, negative people will drain your energy and kill your dreams. This is not the same as receiving wise counsel or receiving information regarding the risk of a decision that you have made. One allows you to take a step back, mediate and re-examine a decision before commitment. The other is throwing vinegar in your garden. The moral of the story is not to surround yourself with sycophants but knowledgeable guides who have your best interest at heart. There are no better guides than the brethren who have sworn an oath to support you and you to them on this journey.
How do we implement self-improvement without changing or modifying our lifestyle? What is a lifestyle? It may be beyond my understanding at this point. We labor daily out to keep food on the table (less and less), the utilities on and rest every now and then! I hear so often from people, in and out of the Lodge, how exhausted everyone is living this modern lifestyle. I for one can’t recall feeling “rested”. Recently I purchased and completed an audiobook called “Why We Sleep” by Mathew Walker. Needless to say, I was terrified by the impact of not getting enough rest! From the author’s perspective (and research) many of the ailments and diseases we suffer from are directly attributable to not obtaining enough quality sleep. If you are like me, a member of the working class, it seems impossible to get enough sleep to recover and feel “rested”. I have spent four decades in various fields in the Technology sector; designing and implementing solutions with the goal of making lives better. In retrospect, I am not positive our technological inventions have improved our lives and/or lifestyles. We seem to being working more hours than our elders and gaining less life improving value for the effort.
My brothers, please look after your health, get up off the couch and be active. My goal is to reclaim and sustain a style-of-life that allocates more time to family and the fraternity. To improve yourself, we need to be good to ourselves. The fraternity needs you to be healthy, spiritually wealthy and wise.
Psalm 23 is my favorite solemn because its reflective of the faith we have in the Great Architect and ourselves. The words are therapeutic before starting the day and resting at night. For your pleasure inserted below is the passage. It provides the mindset for self-improvement.
A Psalm of David
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Lastly brethren, I leave you with a quote from a Famous Mason.
Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. – Mark Twain
Be steadfast in your journey to self-improvement. All the brethren wish you well and are ready to lend a hand.
Kent C. James, Worshipful Master
Greetings from the East,
It is an honor to have been elected and installed as your Worshipful Master of Trenton Cyrus #5 for the 2023 Masonic Year. My journey to the East has been rewarding, challenging, humbling and essential. This journey started long before adulthood. I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey to Ernest and Gloria James. My father journeyed North from South Carolina to find a new life and opportunities. My father is the eldest son of ten siblings. When my grandfather passed away unexpectantly after a long career as a rail-layer with the Virginia railroad company, he left a legacy of continuous learning, hard work, achievement, perseverance, self-reliance and family. The legacy was not based on monetary assets but family, love and diligence. This is what my father brought along as a teenager to the North.
My father worked hard to build a career, life, community, and support his siblings back in the South. He eventually met and married my mother, a born and raised New Jerseyan who shared my father’s dream to build a prosperous family in safety and love. To this point, while my father (unlike his brother who served honorably in the U.S. Army Rangers, stationed in Europe where he became a Mason) never sought nor journeyed up the sublime stairway to become a Master Mason. Nevertheless, his value system, grit, curiosity and goal-oriented focus allowed him to pass on commonsense wisdom, better than yesterday, to me and my brother. Ironically, to this day, even in retirement he routinely connects with his International Teamsters Union shop brothers to stay abreast of new events.
My Brothers, I tell you this because my journey has been influenced by many people and experiences. My father and mother set the value system and environment for success. The community I grew up in provided the cobblestones for the journey. I have been blessed to have encountered many people of different races and nationalities along the way. My gratitude to Sister Mary Thaddeus of Sacred Heart Elementary who preached faith and confidence, Mr. Mathews Principal of McNair Academic High School who instilled in his students the Marine Corp “never say die” attitude, Michael D. Richey (Cyrus #148) my mentor, friend and now passed Masonic Brother and decorated military Vietnam veteran and technical guru, my uncle Sgt. John L. Bolden NJSP, RW Jack Smith, WB John DeSantis and VFW Post 1923 in Weehawken who sponsored my attendance to Boys State New Jersey Class of 1980. In retrospect, the light can come from any direction, be open and accepting.
You see my brothers; the totality of the man is composed of many parts and experiences. It is important that we as Masons, continue to fill our lives with the experiences and people that share our values, that share our experiences and love of the Almighty Architect, family, nation and community. We must guard ourselves against the influences of negative thoughts and influences. This is not to say to become hermits and recluses, but rather to look deeply into a man’s eyes to see the light of the soul, for the opportunity and receptiveness to receive the light. We must watch a man’s actions more than the words. Actions are the measure of the man. Masons are men of action and service.
My Brothers, I reach out to you for your continued assistance and support for our fraternity. We need each of you to continue the history of success that Trenton Cyrus #5 enjoys. This coming year will be filled with events, presentations and fellowship. This is the house that you built through your continued patronage and support.
As you may know, the Grand Lodge has increased the fraternity’s annual assessment and we in turn have increased annual dues. The cost of operating our lodge has increased in parallel with everything else in our society. The value of membership in this fraternity is directly related to your input of resources. I seek to revive and increase the value proposition by planning and executing many of our traditional events.
But this can’t be done alone. I/we welcome and need your active participation in and/or management of events. It has been said “Many hands make the work easier”. I hope to see many brethren that have not recently visited the Lodge return. We are here for you and want to hear your ideas and active participation. We will be holding a New Member Orientation Night for new members in early January, then a Rusty Mason’s Night for our older members, probably in February, as well as other presentations this year. There is so much yet to learn and do.
For now, I will leave you with few quotes from our esteemed brother, serial entrepreneur and hyper-productive Benjamin Franklin:
May you and your family enjoy a happy, warm and safe New Year!
Sincerely & Fraternally
Kent C. James