Wednesday, December 16, 2015

To Live In Hearts We Leave Behind Is Not To Die

It is the custom of many fraternal societies to come together once each year to remember and honor those friends and brothers who have been called from their earthly labors. The winter and summer solstices are good times for this duty, as both are symbolic of death and re-birth and the cycle of life. In every true brotherhood of men, it is an act of fraternal courtesy to remember those we have lost whom we personally knew and most admired in life.  

But this comradely connection is true of many thoughtful men, even beyond the ceremonies of fraternity. Men remember the men who are no longer with them who made the biggest difference in their lives.

These were the men who showed us what integrity looks like. They taught us that our own transformation to an improved being, fully capable of making a difference in the lives of others, is up to us; and can be realized in the example we leave for others.   

In our fraternal society, those special few who have come before us and been an influence in our own life have always been the agents for this transmission. This is true in our Lodges and our Rites. But, on a broader scale, it is also true in occupations, communities, families and social relationships. The significance and meaning of social honor and integrity can only be carried forth in each generation by those honored men who have lived their life in such a way that the attributes of their good example seem right and compelling to the next generation. We should never forget that the kind of man we are will ultimately be the kind of man others see in us. Then, through us, to those who come after us. This is the chain of union in manhood. This is the legacy of good men.

And it is one reason we annually commemorate the memory of our forefathers. We do this to show manly respect; and we do it to check our own progress against the standards they bequeathed to us.

It is the way legacy works. The real ideals of heroism do not come from movies or comic books. Our heroes are found among those whom we have known and followed and admired to be the best models for our own life. They were once real live men with whom we could relate and touch and talk. They are the men we selected to best represent who we wanted to be like when we grew up. We craved their anointment. And, to a large degree, they now define us.

We face life with their kindness and honesty; their confidence and determination. We confront death with their faithfulness, courage and disinterestedness.

So, you see, if we have paid attention, the examples of the fathers, father-figures, brothers, companions and knights we once knew and most admired have prepared us to be worthy as men in our own time. Our task is to carry on the work which they have furthered so that it may also be said of us, as we can truly say of them, that the world is better because we have lived.

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Matter Of Character

“If you think about what you ought to do for other people, your character

 will take care of itself.” –Bro. Woodrow Wilson


Perhaps it is true that all institutions ultimately move away from their orthodoxy. Times change. People move through organizations; some affect them, some don’t. Over the long haul, it is hard to keep the original definition in focus.
I am sometimes amused at how hard we work at defining Freemasonry. Every Grand Jurisdiction has at least one brochure espousing what Freemasonry is and what Masons do. We attempt to tell the world what we are, and are not; what Masons believe; what we do in lodge, the kinds of charities we support, our importance in the world, why men should join us; and even how to join.  Every state and national Masonic organization I am acquainted with offers a number of printed materials about Masonry. Essentially all have websites.
Of course, we also suffer from our share of “not so informed” information about us; often distributed by non-masonic groups who delight in taking a published interest in us. This includes anti-masons, television evangelists, individuals who print hatred just because hatred sells; and weak fundamentalist sects with the wrong mission at heart.
I personally don’t mind any of this. Certainly, Grand Lodges should make as much available in the way of Masonic information and education as they can. It helps both our members and the larger public. The anti-masonic materials do little damage. We get attention, even when the information is bad. I hold to the premise that thoughtful people will generally give little credence to information which appears biased in its content. And I’ve never met a thoughtful anti-mason.
All of this really makes little difference anyway. What does make a real difference to everyone is that we hold to our orthodoxy. The creed of Masonry is moral action. Masonry to the world is the character of Masons. The character of Masons speaks more eloquently than all the books and pamphlets written about our fraternity.   
This means that in the community where Masons are seen as men of high integrity, the fraternity stands in high repute. In the community where Masons do not have the respect of the public, Masonry has little chance of being seen as an organization of men with a beautiful system of moral and ethical teaching.     
It is just that simple. The reputation of Freemasonry rests literally in the character of each Brother. It is in the power of every member to glorify or diminish the institution.
We must recognize that most people will never read a word about Masonry or know of its philanthropies. The public’s perception of the fraternity will never be well defined. The sole basis of judging it will be the character of the men who are known to be Masons.
People do not read books—people read men. Masonry is to them what they see in the temperament of Masons. While this places an awesome responsibility on every Mason in every community in the world; it is indeed the distinction of Masonry. It is its orthodoxy.
The sad fact is that one bad example can do us a lot of harm. When one of us is caught up in some public scandal, or unethical business dealing, or an immoral act, the public takes it for granted that Masonry, for all its beautiful system of morality, either condones such behavior, or is too weak to be of adequate influence by its teachings to prevent it.  
So it really is up to each of us. The bottom line is that the Mason who lives up to the teachings and obligations of Masonry will be a man above reproach—not only to his brethren; but among his neighbors, his family, his friends, his business partners, and his community. It would be wonderful to hear the merchant say, “I have been taken in by a good many scoundrels, but never have I had any trouble with a man who wore the square and compasses.” Or, to have the minister proclaim, “I know nothing of the religious or non-religious teachings of the Masonic fraternity, but I have never heard a Mason make a disparaging remark concerning the church.” Or to have the judge say, “Never in my experience as a judge have I had a case before me of two Masons going to law.” Or, to hear non-masons say, “I frequently attend social gatherings of Masons and while I don’t know anything about the inner side of Masonry, their exhibition of good mindedness and solid behavior impress me to think that their teachings must be good.”
In fact, I would be more than delighted if most people thought our most famous Masonic emblem, the letter G, stood for Gentleman. After all, every man who wears it is to be one.
You see, we are what other people say we are. The best argument for Masonry is a good man. Just as the best example of humanity is a good human being.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Long Must I Haul These Ruffians Around With Me?

The degrees of Freemasonry are built on the clear understanding that men need to be engaged in a quest for self-improvement. But a lot of guys out there are not on board with the quest. They don’t know who they are or where they are going with their life. They are confused and often misguided by their primitive instincts. They are full of media defined ideas about masculinity, and their social conditioning has been based largely on physique, sex, wealth, and conquest. They may seem very successful in appearances. Yet, be wholly at sea in knowing what self-improvement means, where it comes from, and how one accesses it.  

Nevertheless, for most men, life is seen as a journey. Men intuitively know there will be some kind of initiation in store for them on their way to manhood. They just don’t know where it will occur, what it will look like, or how the results will turn out for them.

Even in Freemasonry, where the quintessential initiation takes place in the Blue or Symbolic Lodge, it is important to grasp that this is only the beginning of one’s journey. It is there that we learn of the importance of our outward relationship with others and the institutions of our society. It is there that we are taught it takes a combination of intellect, experience, intuition, feeling, emotion and education to make real progress in life. And it is there that we discover our dual nature. We come face to face with our own worst enemy—our ego. We are given the opportunity to transcend our passions and prejudices and become true to who we are.

However, we are left to our own resources as to how we are supposed to proceed with this profound quest. We are still at sea with embracing the path of self-improvement. In the nomenclature of our private association of men, this is part of the meaning of the Lost Word. As Master Masons, we still have a mountain of self-discovery to climb. It is at this very point that every initiated man either becomes ready for the higher teachings of Freemasonry, or he remains content to enjoy his title as Master Mason and relish in the attitude that his association with good men will bring him improvement enough.   

To a large extent, the higher degrees of Masonry are engaged in completing this drama--completing the quest—completing the process of becoming a man. For example, the degrees or teachings of the Lodge of Perfection in the Scottish Rite (4° - 14°)  explore in depth the shadow side of our own existence—the unfinished business we have with ourselves--our ruffians within. We all have the arduous task of overcoming ourselves. And it will prove the hardest journey of our life.

At least one aspect of our ruffian nature is revealed in each of the 4th through 10th degrees. Bringing these to the surface facilitates our own awakening of consciousness. For instance, the 4° informs us that the mysteries of our own being are not easily revealed to us--our inadequate understanding of things; our ignorance and short sidedness; passions and prejudices; selfish motives and lazy approaches to learning. In the 5°, we are warned of our selfish interests, our idleness and non-committal approach to a genuine interest in others; our unearned privileges, and lack of concern for equity and fairness. In the 6°, our ruffians become our hasty judgments; our inability to separate perception from reality; our “me-first” attitudes; our prejudices and fears.     

You get the idea. Our life is like a stream of water running from the past to the present, having its roots in ignorance, idleness and intolerance. By revealing our failings and inadequacies, we are able to address these in the light of our new knowledge, and change ourselves for the better. As these stumbling blocks to personal affirmation are collectively projected across the many aspects of our society, the overall work of the Lodge of Perfection becomes a kind of knighthood aimed at eliminating ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism.

The bottom line is that the foremost goal of human life is the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Self-improvement is only achieved through higher, more refined levels of awareness brought about by concentrating one’s mind on one’s innermost self—our essential center of being. This cannot be achieved as long as ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism linger in our minds. But the solution requires a little explanation.

The problem of toleration is remarkably difficult for most everyone because it is so easy to feel good about being intolerant. The highest price we are called upon to pay for freedom is not in taxes to defend the country, nor even on the battlefield. The highest price we must pay for freedom is to allow others to be free.

Religious toleration means that we must allow others the same right to freedom of worship we demand for ourselves, even if we find their practices wrong or repugnant.

Intellectual toleration means that we must allow the free and full exploration of every idea, even if we think it wrong or dangerous.

Social toleration means that we must allow others to live lifestyles we may find strange or uncomfortable, whether in a commune or in a same sex relationship.

Of all the lessons a man or a woman must learn to be truly human, toleration may well be the hardest. 

Tyranny is another form of intolerance. Tyranny does not equate to authority, but with attitude. We don’t call the skilled and caring teacher who maintains order and discipline in his or her class a tyrant, nor the nation which offers protection to another nation while carefully not interfering with the nation so helped, nor the husband or wife who discharges the affair of the household with authority but also love and concern.

The essence of tyranny is selfishness. And if tyranny is selfish in the world of material things, fanaticism is selfishness in the world of ideas and beliefs. Fanaticism is the sort of selfishness that says “I am right. If you do not agree with me, you are wrong, and I have the right to hurt you.”

It is ignorance that allows both tyranny and fanaticism to flourish, for only an informed populace can form the basis of freedom. Ignorance is the primary weapon of the tyrant and the fanatic. Both can give good reason why just a little bit of censorship is needed, or why we should control what people think or what they read because otherwise they may ask questions and lose the true faith. The fanatic always wants to benefit others. All he asks in return is your mind and soul.

We are admonished in the Scottish Rite to be always actively involved in the government of our country. Unjust taxes, government bureaucracies which are more concerned with self perpetuation than with service; creeping limitations on the freedom of the people –in the name of expediency, or of conformity, or the greater good--these things are not new. To truly be champions of the people, as Masonry calls on us to be, we must be concerned with every miscarriage of justice, every unreasonable limitation of liberty, every arbitrary act of court or state house or capital.

And our special concern has to be with those who do not have access to the courts, nor the ear of those in power, nor influence with city hall. Their very powerlessness creates a binding obligation on every good brother to promote human equity and impartiality.

Yes, it would be far easier, and far more comfortable, to just chill out. Most men do. But our duty is to be aflame. That is how we conquer the ruffians.