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Writing a Paper
WRITING A PAPER
Bro. Robert E. Juthner, P.D.D.G.M.
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
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
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.
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