Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Defense of Fraternity

I am a Freemason. I am also a Baby Boomer. In my generation that would make me a bit of an anomaly because most men in America born after WW II have not been joiners until very recently.

But my father was a Freemason; as was his brother. They owned and operated adjoining farms on the great wheat and cattle producing plains of Oklahoma. For as long as I can remember, my dad would come in from his work every Wednesday afternoon, take a shower, and put on his Sunday suit My uncle would come by and pick him up and they would go to the Mason’s Hall together. They did this for 50 years. I can’t remember a time when I was not going to be a Freemason.

I also knew the men in my community. It was a small place of only about 2,500 people. It was where we celebrated the festivals of our lives, went to church, and participated in social conversations outside our home. I knew the most respected men in my town. I can’t remember when I did not know them.

I entered the fraternity of Freemasonry during the summer of my 21st year. When I arrived at the lodge for my first degree, or stage of joining, all these men I had known and respected in my childhood were there. They were my father’s friends. I can remember to this day standing in the ante-room of the lodge, duly prepared in a garment provided me for the occasion, waiting for someone to return my knocks on the door, and thinking to myself: Tonight, I am going to be initiated into Manhood.

Although at the time I didn’t realize it, through my initiation into the world’s oldest secret society for men, I was participating in one of the most ancient traditions of manhood. In every culture the world has ever known, men have yearned to be initiated into manhood. It is fundamental to man’s understanding of his own process of growth. And we have always known it even if we have not defined it for ourselves.

There are many examples of such initiation. The first kill in the hunt is as old as humankind. It is an initiation. Men have always taken their sons hunting. And the stakes are high. It is important for the boy to have a kill. It is a mark of success.

Other examples include basic training in the military; the Bar Mitzvah in the Jewish tradition; and our own high school graduation. The commencement exercise is classic initiation in every detail, right down to the change in clothing. Moving away from the home of our childhood is another example.

It’s important to understand that these examples are never meant to teach anything. They are done to convey one most powerful idea to the young person; that he has left one life and is entering another. He is putting away an old life and taking on a new one.

Now, in the case of males, it is inherent to the nature of manhood that males be assimilated into it by other males. Men have to be initiated into manhood by other men. This is true across every culture.

And this is why I firmly believe Freemasonry to be an essential institution for men. The truth is that women do not have to be initiated into womanhood, as men have to be initiated into manhood. Unlike women, there is no defining moment that proves for a boy that he has become a man, or that he is entering manhood. His mind does not mature at the same rate with his body, nor does his body take on immediate physical changes that are observable to the outside world.

Even in societies where there have always been initiatory rites for women, such ceremonies have related to menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. Thus, girls’ initiations are determined by a mystery natural to the female sex itself. Such rites have never been based on an “origin myth.”

Conversely, in the case of men, initiation ceremonies are always focused on “invisible” realities. We learn a sacred history that is not evident; i.e., it is not known to have existed in the physical experience. In the ritual ceremonies of Freemasonry, for instance, we observe that everything happens because certain events took place in some historical or mythical time which changed the human condition. For us, initiation represents an introduction into a world that is not immediate. It is a world of spirit and culture. Ours is not a rite of puberty, but a rite that incorporates us into society as responsible adults; a collective consciousness—a society of men.

Being initiated into manhood means that the initiate is consciously aware he has entered onto a path toward mature masculinity. And the journey to manhood begins with this awareness. A man’s awareness begins with understanding who he is, how he feels, what makes him feel, and how his feelings have been effected by outside attitudes and influences in his life. He has to know what “doing the right thing” means. His perceptions and enforcement of responsibility must come from within. There is not supposed to be an internal competition between reasoning and impulses, where the outcome of this balance determines his status as a man.

Rather, the path to mature masculinity starts with his becoming consciously aware that he is accountable for his own actions—that he alone bring responsibility to his work, his relationships, his behavior, and the choices he makes in life. Mature masculinity also implies that he is consciously aware of how he represents himself to others.

A man’s integrity is clearly within himself, to himself, and for himself what it is to others. To claim our manhood, we have to take charge of our life.

And for young men, this process is always best facilitated by other responsible and mature men. One of the key ingredients of a man’s growth and development is making friends and maintaining friendships with other men. It is as vital to our health and happiness as believing in ourselves. We need older men as mentors in our life. We not only need the stamp of approval from our fathers; but from other men in our life.

Manhood does not come from our mothers. We can be nurtured, comforted, educated, sang to, and nursed by our mothers. But mothers cannot teach us how to be men. That is the role only men can play for each other.

And here is where Freemasonry has been so critically worthy to the culture of men for so many generations. To be sure, there are certain rites of manhood which connect young males with the collective masculine soul, to the spirit of being a man, and to the community of men—sports, college, military, sex, bars, occupation, to name a few. But there are few that teach what a good society expects of men. There are even fewer which give him the lasting standards of male responsibility. There are still fewer that teach the magic of manhood. There are fewer yet which can affirm a sense of belonging to a traditional male brotherhood. There are few institutions which eliminate the generation gap by the very act of belonging. There are few that facilitate an understanding of true fellow feeling—that feeling which is at the heart of Masonic ritual, symbolism and lodge space.

Freemasonry exists first and foremost to transform men. And that transformation takes place because one is initiated into a fellowship of men. It is within that fellowship that he is introduced to his own path to self improvement—the journey which enables him to harmonize his individual need for fulfillment with a collective well-being. This pathway is nothing less than the road to mature masculinity.

The corporate task of freemasonry is to not only erect this path, but to make sure that its members are on it themselves; and those who come after them will also be on it.

The inherent role of any morally based male-only organization is to take on the virtues of manliness, to enhance and extend the male tradition; and to embrace that tradition irrespective of how formidable the demands any present society may place upon it.

Freemasonry’s strength lies in the fact that it offers the right model by which men can grow and achieve balance in their human and spiritual lives. It tenders a medium for collective dialogue in the ways of virtue and ethics. It offers the role of patriarchy to men—male role modeling, if you will—which guides younger men from a sort of boyish impetuosity to mature and manly judgment. It does this by leading them back to timeless, ethical, and spiritual traditions which facilitate their own transformation and rebirth into manhood.

And it has done this for every generation of men for more than 400 years.

1 comment:

Masonic Traveler said...

Beautifully stated brother. The profundity of the initiation is something lost to many today, which is a terrible loss to those that have come before us.

I'm curious, is the community where you were initiated still full of a strong masonic presence?