Sunday, May 28, 2006

Old Tiler's Talk: What is Masonry?

The Old Tiler is a character in a series of very short vignettes by Bro. Carl H. Claudy, written between 1921 and the late 1940s. The story usually involves a conversation between The Old Tiler and a newly raised Mason called "the New Brother."

When I was the webmaster for my Blue Lodge, I had dozens of Claudy's Old Tiler Talks on the lodge website, and in my role as Director of Masonic Education, I would often read one of these talks during a lodge meeting.

Sadly, I found that even the reading of these short stories from the early 20th century bored most of my brothers. I never did figure out why most of them even came to lodge meetings, other than to shake hands with each other, drink coffee and tell each other who was sick and who had died.

Here follows a short introdution by Bro. Claudy, and then the first of many Old Tiler Talks I hope to post here in the days and months to come.

— Widow's Son

The Old Tiler first appeared in print in August, 1921 when the first of four hundred and fourteen "Old Tiler Talks" were printed in the Fellowship Forum, a fraternal newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

In 1925 the publisher (The Temple Publishers) asked the author to select a few of the best of the talks and thirty-one were accordingly made into a little volume, copyrighted in that year. The book, which sold for a dollar, ran into two editions of five thousand copies each.

By the time they were all sold the Fellowship Forum ran head on into the depression and disappeared and with it the Old Tiler.

His homely philosophy, sharp tongue and common sense, however, had made a place for him in the hearts of readers; demand for the book has never ceased, although it has lessened in the twenty-four years since the Old Tiler first spoke from between the covers.

At long last the Old Tiler sits again before the door of his lodge, there to repeat the tales which made him liked so long ago, and, from the wealth of material of his hundreds of homilies, make thirty-nine talks new to the book, a total of seventy in all.

These have been roughly classified under seven headings. To offer in defense of his fanciful classification the author has no other alibi than the weak statement that the Old Tiler is himself a fancy!

The portrait of the Old Tiler on the book jacket is the loving work of Brother Frank A. Stockwell of Buffalo, New York, who has (at least to the author's eyes) succeeded in getting the biting sarcasm, courage and philosophy of the Old Tiler into his kindly face.

The author does not always agree with the Old Tiler — perhaps it is the Old Tiler who disagrees with the author! Some to whom that statement is made make answer: "Why don't you make him say what you think? You are the boss man!"

All who have written know that, if they live, pen and ink characters have minds and thoughts of their own, sometimes to the benefit, sometimes to the grief of their fathers!

Therefore, with what is hoped is becoming modesty, this invitation is extended: whatever you like in the Old Tiler's talks, credit it to his creator; if his sharpness or his ideas offend, blame the Old Tiler and not.

— The Author

What is Masonry?

"I've been a Mason six months now and I ought to know something about Masonry. But there are more secrets in the fraternity I don't know than those I have been told!"

The New Brother was puzzled. The Old Tiler laid down his sword, picked up a half-smoked cigar and lit it, and settled back in his chair.

"Get it out of your system," he invited.

"Is Masonry a religion," continued the New Brother, "or a system of philosophy, or a childish getting together of men who like to play politics and wear titles? I have heard it called all three. Sometimes I think it's one and sometimes the other. What do you think?"

"It isn't a childish getting together for the love of titles and honors," answered the Old Tiler. "Men would soon' invent a much better organization for the satisfaction of such purposes. In fact, he has invented better ones. Men who want to play politics and be called the Grand High Cockalorum of the Exalted Central Chamber of the Secret Sanctorum can join these. If Masonry were nothing but play, it wouldn't live, and living, grow.

"Masonry isn't a religion. A religion, as I see it, is a belief in a deity and a means of expressing worship. Masonry recognizes Deity, and proceeds only after asking divine guidance. But it does not specify any particular deity. You can worship any God You Please and be a Mason. That is not true of any religion. If you are a Buddhist, you worship Buddha. If a Christian, Christ is your Deity. If you are a Mohammedan you are a worshipper of Allah. In Masonry you will find Christian, Jew, Mohammedan and Buddhist side by side.

"Masonry has been called a system of philosophy, but that is a confining definition. I don't think Masonry has ever been truly defined."

"Or God," put in the New Brother.

"Exactly. A witty Frenchman, asked if he believed in God, replied, 'Before I answer, you must tell me your definition of God. And when you tell me, I will answer you, no, because a God defined is a God limited, and a limited God is no God.' Masonry is something like that; it is brotherhood, unlimited, and when you limit it by defining it you make it something it isn't."

"Deep stuff!" commented the New Brother.

"Masonry is 'deep stuff,'" answered the Old Tiler. "It's so deep no man has ever found the bottom. Perhaps that is its greatest charm; you can go as far as you like and still not see the limit. The fascination of astronomy is the limitlessness of the field. No telescope has seen to the edge of the universe. The fascination of Masonry is that it has no limits. The human heart has no limit in depth and that which appeals most to the human heart cannot have a limit."

"But that makes it so hard to understand!" sighed the New Brother.

"Isn't it the better for being difficult of comprehension?" asked the Old Tiler. "A few days ago I heard an eminent divine and Mason make an inspiring talk. I hear a lot of talks; nine-tenths are empty words with a pale tallow-dip gleam of a faint idea somewhere in them. So when a real talker lets the full radiance of a whole idea shine on an audience, he is something to be remembered. This speaker quoted a wonderful poem, by William Herbert Carruth. I asked him to send it to me, and he did; please note, this busy man, president of a university, and with a thousand things to do, didn't forget the request of a brother he never saw before!"

The Old Tiler put his hand in his pocket and took out a much-thumbed piece of paper. "Listen, you," he said, "till I read you just one verse of it:
'A picket frozen on duty;
A mother, starved for her brood;
Socrates' drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight hard pathway plod;
Some call it consecration
And others call it God.'
The New Brother said nothing, held silent by the beauty of the lines.

"I am no poet," continued the Old Tiler, "and I know this isn't very fitting, but I wrote something to go with those verses, just to read to brothers like you." Shyly the Old Tiler continued:
'Many men, banded together
Standing where Hiram stood;
Hand to back of the falling,
Helping in brotherhood.
Wise man, doctor, lawyer,
Poor man, man of the hod,
Many call it Masonry
And others call it God.'
"I don't think it makes much difference what we call it, do you?" asked the New Brother.

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1 comment:

  1. That was a interesting article. It's only one of many where the light, sometimes just a sliver, under the door shines through. I am also recognizing your philiosphies in these lines as well. Great job.

    Masonic Groupie


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