Friday, January 23, 2009

"Of My Own Free Will and Accord"

I’ve always been curious about the peculiar practice in Freemasonry that no man may be asked, invited, or solicited to enter the fraternity. It is an organizational feature almost unique among societies. In fact, organizations with the most select membership are those which receive no applications, but select and invite their candidates. The no-ask/no-tell canon has been a rule of immemorial standing in the fraternity and, yet, it is impossible to determine when it originated. There is nothing concerning it in the Gothic Constitutions, nor in any of the rules and by-laws of the old lodges, or in the Constitutions of 1723; nor is it discussed by any of the Masonic writers of the 18th Century. There is nothing in the ritual on the subject. The “candidate interrogatories” written by William Preston asks only that the candidate affirm he comes to Freemasonry unbiased by an improper solicitation. And yet, we know that men of noble rank were solicited to become Grand Masters, though they were not Freemasons and had to be initiated just for that purpose.

So, all this begs some questions--if we come to Freemasonry by our own free will and accord, in what way are we free? Masonically, what does it mean to be free men? Is this freedom important? Once we enter and take on the commitments and obligations of our fraternity, does this make us less free?

Perhaps there is something to be learned by reflecting on the meaning of being free men in the context that Freemasonry is a “system of morality veiled in allegory.” These three words, “system of morality” may be at the core of our understanding of being free-men, or free-masons. Certainly, these words would be a reason why we should insist that all men who join us do so with complete freedom. Freedom is a condition sine qua non for joining an order based on morality.

That a person enters of his own free will and accord means that he is a man free from all prejudices and attitudes which are not based on his own self examination; that he is prepared to judge all attitudes, including his own, with intellectual integrity; that he is free and ready to make a moral judgment and to defend it even when he is in the minority or under strain for holding such a view; and, even more important, that he is aware he must place limits on his own freedom if he is to insure other men the same right to theirs.

There is a thin line between being free and being just; between dividing one’s obligations with one's rights; in self-censoring our own freedom as a result of recognizing another has the same right to his own; that the moral norms of one country may be different in another, yet both right; that the majority recognize the minority’s point of view and that the minority accept the right of the majority to bind all by its decisions. One becomes morally free only when his individual independence is balanced by intelligent choice.

To be moral and to act in accordance with moral values requires the ability and readiness to judge between right and wrong, between what is in conformity with prevailing norms and what is not. A moral choice can only exist if it rests on choosing between two possible alternatives; and this choice has to be made with complete freedom and with no coercion of any kind. A man determines his sense of morals only when these are put to the test. If the choice he makes is made under coercion, there is no moral value in his choice.

To be a Freemason means we possess fundamental moral attitudes which are based on constant self evaluation and re-evaluation of every aspect of our life. The opening charge to the Master Mason in the 4° of the Scottish Rite is worthy of our contemplation. “Freemasonry is an institution seeking human happiness through tolerance and love; self-perfection, glorifying justice, truth and equality; fighting tyranny, ignorance and prejudices.”

To achieve this definition means that every Brother must approach free objectivity in his moral choices. We may think of freedom only in a sense of being free from restrictions or limitations. However, this is perhaps the lesser freedom. The freedom to act according to our freely-made moral choices and convictions is what makes us true Freemasons.

Are we less free as a result of undertaking such commitments together as Brothers? I think not. In fact, we have chosen of “our own free will and accord” to be committed to certain moral values.

To me, this is a true expression of being free.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Masonic Charity Foundation Announces $1 Million Gift for Alzheimer's Resarch

The Oklahoma Masonic Charity Foundation announced this week it will donate $1 million to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation to help build and equip an Alzheimer’s Disease Laboratory on the medical foundation’s property in Oklahoma City. Ken House, President of the Masonic Foundation, remarked that “there’s hardly a person in our state who has not had a family member, or someone they know, who has been devastated by this tragic and crippling illness. Our own fraternity has its share of members whose productive lives have been shortened because of this awful disease. We are proud to assist the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in their cutting edge efforts to find workable treatments for this terrible malady.”

The gift comes at a landmark time for the OMRF, which is currently embarking on the largest expansion of research space in the foundation’s 62-year history. It recently acquired the Keys Speech and Hearing building from the University of Oklahoma. That property was situated in the middle of the medical foundation’s research campus. The acquisition will enable the foundation to build an 8-story research tower which is scheduled to be ready for occupancy by 2011. The new facility will provide over 200,000 square feet of new laboratory space and facilities. Funding for the construction of the tower has already been secured.

The Masonic Foundation’s grant will construct and equip one of the 8 floors of the new tower to be dedicated to Alzheimer’s research. The floor will be named the “Masonic Charity Foundation Alzheimer’s Disease Laboratory.” The Masons’ funding will not only provide scientific equipment necessary for scientists to focus their efforts on understanding the cellular processes which lead to the development of Alzheimer’s, it will offer recruitment packages for attracting new scientists, salaries for technical assistants, and laboratory supplies essential to Alzheimer’s research.

This is a public/private partnership of magnificent proportion. With the building of the new research tower, the Masons will be partnering with the state of Oklahoma through the state’s Opportunity Fund, along with many of the largest corporate and family foundations in Oklahoma. Our collective dream is to be able to add to the already remarkable achievements being made by the Medical Research Foundation in the field of Alzheimer’s research. Together, we will be aiding and attracting some of the best scientists in the country to explore new techniques for treating a disease that steals the memories—and ultimately the lives--of more than 4 million people in the United States every year.

That’s a dream worth owning.