Masonic Civility and Personal Opinion in the Age of Social Media

All of us know the importance of civility in our interactions and conversations with our brothers. We have been famously counseled in regard to the discussion of politics and religion among brothers at masonic activities in order to prevent ill will or hurt feelings. We need no reminders that we are to respect one another, and keep our tongue when our words would do more harm than good. These are all just common sense and we all have those unfortunate memories in our minds when that line of courtesy and politeness gets crossed and damage to the craft and individuals results sometimes with unintended consequences.

Certainly our parents, teachers, and society in general spend time teaching us throughout our lives why we need to be kind, courteous and attentive in regard to our communications with one another and provide us a framework of family values and rules. Our workplace has a Human Resource department for these matters, our churches have theological tenets, our schools teach social behaviors to follow such as sportsmanship and our community leaders create civil laws to make certain that we treat one another respectably, regardless of age, creed, color, gender, special needs, etc. So why is this of particular concern to the mason if it’s already being handled? Why it is that “civility” takes a unique role in our masonic world when it seems to be a part of everyone else’s concerns?

As initiates and as brothers, each of us has been set apart and additional expectations have been placed on us both between one another and our sphere of influence to every human being through our masonic obligation that we agreed to when we stood before our great common alter. Our masonic life lived should stand out as man’s ability to love one another regardless of the differences we may have and it is in the ability to find civil agreement between those differences around our alter that causes our unique example to shine through and above the rest. The world needs an example of what it is to work together without tyranny or oppression. To show by our example, how we can disagree and yet remain not only tolerant but affectionate towards one another.

Anyone with a television, radio or newspaper knows that civility in our nation is being challenged. The rules established in many of the categories mentioned have broken down. The divorce rate is up, violence plagues our schools, dogma attacks one another’s sacred beliefs openly, even violently and we all know what has happened to a government divided by opposing values who appears as though it has lost its ability to work with civility at all causing gridlock and then fanned by the news media who thrive on conflict, we are bathed in examples of discord, anger, hostility, and fear. As never before, masonry’s example of civil discipline is needed and its great message of working together civilly is the answer that society needs now above all other examples.

Having said all of this, it is an important reminder that we have been set apart for this great work of creating a perfect society, a temple built without hands and that through our example, we will lead the world to its golden potential. We must examine ourselves in this day of Twitter, Facebook, email and text and be conscious of the fact that not only the words we share mouth to ear need to be filtered through our grand obligation but that every hashtag, Facebook post, email forward, or text associated with us requires our attention and scrutiny. When we wear the square and compass as a part of our identity we take on a larger persona than just that of our own personal opinion. We represent a philosophic empire that spreads across the globe. Each of us are obliged to one another and to the craft that we represent to communicate with respect, the highest degree of integrity, and the deepest concern for the feelings and welfare of others.

Certainly each brother is welcome to his own personal opinions and sharing those publically and clearly is the right of every free man but the manner in which the opinion is expressed is where civility needs to be checked. We must ask, are we being reasonable, kind, intelligent and beneficial? Are we allowing comedy, sensationalism, or cleverness to supplant our concerns not to be divisive, cruel, or mean spirited? Are we more concerned about respect for our personal views than we are about the views of others?

Masonry is an ancient a beautiful craft whose higher standards have the opportunity through each of our mindful efforts to be the guiding example in our social media world that is in great need of our philosophic teachings and inclusiveness, especially today when even our leaders have not been the examples of civility we would like. It makes it ever more important to be the higher example to others that masonry calls us to be and is something we can do every day to create the world we all know we all want and need and as masons, have been charged to create. Let’s all pause and examine how we express our opinions in the maelstrom of social media and ensure our rhetoric is something we are all proud of for our craft and others to imitate.

May the Great Architect give us wisdom and strength to be the light and example for others to follow.

Most fraternally,

W. B. John Lawson

Grand Chaplain,

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Featured photo source: Flickr.com

An Encouragement for Generosity this Season

Brethren,

As Grand Chaplain for the state of Washington of Freemasons it is my humble honor to focus our attention on the spiritual nature of our craft, reminding each of us during this season of giving that beyond the lofty titles that we bestow upon one another, whether it be Worshipful, Illustrious, Grand, Noble, Sir Knight, Worthy Matron, etc., we must always remember where we have all first been made a Mason, in our hearts. We have not just been given flowery titles but have obligated ourselves to the aid and support of our kind offices to every human being who may have need of our assistance as far as our cable tow can reach.  

We should all take great pride in the amazing good our craft in its many lodges, rites, chapters, assemblies, bethels, courts, shrines, etc, have contributed to those lives that are touched by our efforts and without us, would not have the quality of life they do today. 

As a fraternity, we stand peerless in our generosity in our programs, hospitals, and funding but we must not let the larger fraternity, of which we are a part cause us to become complacent in our individual lives. 

Each of us who have stood at the alter of Freemasonry have promised that we will demonstrate our masonic ideals in all our actions. Please consider taking personal action by contacting your lodge or chapter secretary, master, or worthy matron. Make contact with your Washington Masonic Charities representative and see what needs have come to their attention where you may be able to assist.

I hope each of you will demonstrate personally your generosity this year. Get involved with your communities and share in their efforts such as angel trees, shelters, food banks, coat and clothing gathering, and on and on. Be the difference in your sphere of influence and let this time of giving and this coming new year be for you the great blessing it can be with your help. Be light and love and let your personal lives and actions contribute to the betterment of others. May the Great teachings of our fraternity shine in every decision that you make.

“…There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward and there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth….” – The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

 

May the Great Architect favor all your actions this holiday season and may you be blessed through this coming year.

Grand Chaplain, W. John Lawson

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Freemasonry and Accepted Masons of Washington

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Anatomy of the Closing Charge, part 7: The Closing Prayer

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“And now may the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and may the moral and social virtues cement us.”

In this final look at the closing charge we end the charge with prayer. First to call down the blessings of heaven upon every mason then to ask that we find love in our own brotherhood between one another, and then finally, that both good behavior and courtesy in other words civility will bind us together.

Much like we evoke the blessing of deity “when any great and important undertaking” begins, the closing charge finalizes its admonitions to the brothers in the same way. This may seem curious at first and we might ask, why not pray at the beginning of the charge? But of course, the point is, the prayer is at the end of the charge because it truly is the beginning of the masons work as he leaves the lodge for truly great and important work. The prayer is telling in that our work requires a partnership between the divine described as blessings resting on our efforts as masons here below and that indeed there is a seriousness about our work that we should not take lightly. To have divine providence rest on us is a literary way of saying that we require divine guidance, a partnership with the divine with those present and every mason around the world that has placed the lamb skin apron around him and pledged his life for those values and that more than just our mortal efforts are needed, we require the benefit of the eye of providence to watch over and guide our every action. 

9348dabfe6e6374d3697e5199d2c83f9At the conclusion of the charge we are at the door, our bag is packed, we have all our provisions, we have been given our instructions and we are setting out on our mission. “Our mission”, you ask? Yes, masonry is not JUST a social club nor a philanthropic organization, no, far from it. Masonry is that repository of ancient esoteric wisdom that has been passed to us from great minds from all ages, often at great cost, for the soul purpose of the improvement of the individual and the advancement of mankind. The father of our country, George Washington, put the mission of our craft this way when he said, “Freemasonry is founded on the immutable laws of truth and justice and its grand object is to promote the happiness of the human race.” Each of us are expected to participate in this grand object to promote happiness and add to that grand objective. That starts first in our own hearts and masonry teaches and promotes those virtues that aid the seeker in discovering love of self and love of others first in his own heart and then through his interaction with his brothers which then leads to others within his sphere of influence in the world at large.

Taking on the work within the lodge helps each mason to work both as an individuals and with others for the common good. These small tasks, from serving others by fixing the coffee, to attending a youth program, a fundraising activity, and other such activities are part of learning the responsibility which makes us better prepared for taking our “grand object” out into the bigger world. Perhaps it would be good to think of lodge as a microcosm of the world where there is a safe place to learn how to more effectively communicate, take on new challenges and responsibilities of working together making us better prepared to take those values out into the world where our example can both be seen as a preferred way of living and be seen as being the difference in our families, communities, and world at large that improves them all.

The closing charge reminds us that we are not an island, that we are a team of unique individuals with individual skills and talents who are bound together of our own free will and accord for the common good of creating a better world. This binding strengthens us, transforms us, teaches us and we become better for it, better men, useful hands in the Great Work begun so long ago by those great visionaries of the past who saw the great need in wearing the humble workers apron and have, with great courage and hope, passed on to us this work into a future world that they hoped would be enlightened, free, loving, and kind. A world much like the one we now live in due in great part to their undying efforts. Yes, there is strife and war, and violence surrounding us still, we are not blind to that unfortunate truth, but as a greater whole, we are an improved nation of good people who freely follow civil laws that keep us safe and moral laws that are motivated by love and that improvement over the darkness of the despotic past should never be lost to us. Our role as masons is to become that continuous catalyst in the world, sentinels to maintain these great ideals and values that have created the world we are free to enjoy, to promote truth that brings peace and happiness to all we encounter, to help the poor, to aid the sick, to guide the lost, and to comfort the widow and orphan, to be the light in the darkness of the world of ignorance and bring clarity to all our existence. Masonry is a force for good in the world and our closing charge is that last great reminder at the end of every meeting of WHO WE ARE.

I hope you have found this deeper, step-by-step look into the anatomy of the closing charge of value and as you stand at the alter and hear its words at your next meeting, I hope you will hear the voices of those who have echoed these sentiments from time immemorial and I hope these seven parts will help remind you of its unique importance to our craft and more especially, YOUR unique importance to not only our fraternity but to the world. The charge is that ancient sacred baton passed into your hand to carry into the next leg of the journey east. Are you ready?

 

May God add his light to this work,

Most Fraternally,

WB John Lawson

Grand Chaplain,

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington.

Anatomy of the Closing Charge, part 6

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“… Finally brethren, be ye all of one mind. Live in peace and may the God of love and peace delight to dwell with you and bless you.”

As we have examined the closing charge from beginning to its closing words, we can follow a prescribed path beginning with reminders of who we are and what we have promised to do, to our corporate responsibilities to our fellow brothers of the fraternity, and then to our obligation to every other human being. Now in this final admonition, our focus is directed upward to our larger self and to the great architect in whom a great or important undertaking here below is of little consequence without His inspiration and blessings.

It can seem almost counter-intuitive to be of “one-mind” in a world that celebrates our individuality, and may in fact evoke us to say, “hey, what about me?”, but again we are reminded as in part 4, that a society of individuals cannot stand strong and like the symbol of the fasces, each reed breaks easily when separated and on their own but when bundled together, they become an unbreakable bond, E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one”. So we are given the reminder to “be ye all of one mind”, not that we are to think the same thoughts in the same way like robots but to bind our thoughts together for the greater good so that our individual thoughts and individual aspirations can be stronger when combined with our brothers in common directions. Masonry is an art that teaches us how to bind our lives together and yet remain comfortably within our own personal view of God and religion. As Albert Pike elaborated, “Masonry propagates no creed except its own most simple and Sublime One; that universal religion, taught by Nature and by Reason. It reiterates the precepts of morality of all religions. It venerates the character and commends the teachings of the great and good of all ages and of all countries. It extracts the good and not the evil, the truth, and not the error, from all creeds; and acknowledges that there is much that is good and true in all.” This certainly aids us in becoming “one mind”. The learned mason understands that truth can only be observed but not possessed. Each observer views it from his or her own perspective and we must respect those perspectives. 

image005We truly are the sum of all our parts. As each of us within the lodge adds our color and flavor to the mix, the fraternity as a whole is changed for good or ill and knowing that brings a renewed sense of responsibilities to our actions. Each lodge takes on a “corporate personality” unique to itself from all its individual brothers. Yes, we share the same rituals and customs in all lodges around the world with the exception of certain cultural or local landmarks here and there, but for the most part, we all are following the same ideals and advocating the same principles, in other words, we share the same mind, a collective consciousness. The collective consciousness is unique to the mix of brothers that make up each individual lodge, leaning it one direction or another and in the same way, all of those local collectives combine to create the collective consciousness of the fraternity of the world, the Great Masonic Empire. The quality and health of each lodge depends greatly on its makeup and no amount of ritual work or superficial improvements can cure an unhealthy lodge. Only when a mason is on the level with his brother can any lodge hope to be the place of regeneration and peace that it was intended to be. Only when our minds are accepting of one another’s unique perspectives and experience, sympathetic to one another’s needs, willing to uphold the rights and belief of others even if not our own, and can work cooperatively in regard to our corporate goals, do we see the health of the lodge improve and thrive. In every way, it begins with the individual and his unique world view but like a fractal, we combine and recombine. The ritual binds us together with our common mission to create better men resulting in a better world and a perfect society, in fact the practical object of Masonry is the physical and moral amelioration and the intellectual and spiritual improvement of individuals and society. The fraternity as a whole binds all our unique attributes into a seamless whole and we gain the strength that we could never possess individually to complete the Great Work. “Freemasonry has endured not because of its antiquity, its influence, or its social standing, but because there have been so many who have lived it. The effectiveness of Masonic teachings will always be the measure by which the outside world judges Freemasonry; the proof of Freemasonry is in our deeds and it is in our deeds that Freemasonry is made known to non-Masons. The only way that the Craft can be judged is by its product. The prestige of Freemasonry lies squarely on the shoulders of each of us.” – G. Wilbur Best 

Living in peace is not just a hope in this admonition either. We are being charged with the reminder to “live in peace” as an order. Wayne Dyer, who transitioned in 2015, had an interesting quote about the choices we make in regard to our individual world view. He says it like this, “happy people live in a happy world, angry people live in an angry world…. Same world.” The message here is quite simple. It’s up to us what kind of lodge we will have and when each of us decides we live in lodge filled with potential, opportunity, and purpose, the lodge as a whole becomes a lodge with potential, opportunity and purpose. We become what we believe we are corporately and yes, happiness is a choice. I’m not saying that life is always easy or there aren’t times for unhappiness, even sadness but doing the everyday work in the quarry of the lodge should never be a drudgery or something that is dreaded nor should we be a party to any unhappiness brought unnecessarily to any brother within our ranks. As our brother Albert Pike wrote: “The great distinguishing characteristic of a Mason is a sympathy with his kind, He recognizes in the human race one great family, all connected with himself by those invisible links, and that mighty network of circumstance, forged and woven by God.” Civility plays a major factor not only in the peace of the lodge but also within our own hearts. We need to stay vigilant and keep our behavior in check as a brother not just for ourselves but for the health of the lodge as a whole. Tolerance, long suffering, understanding, are all part of our masonic obligations. When we control our behavior and bridle our tongue, we are doing our part to live in peace, avoiding unnecessary and unproductive quarrels and when we do, the lodge benefits and so does the fraternity. When we remind a brother in the most friendly manor to do the same, we raise a guardrail of standards that aid us in keeping our passion in due bounds and remind ourselves and one another of our high and kind office. We are equally reminded by Pike, “We must do justice to all, and demand it of all; it is a universal human debt, a universal human claim.”

 In this final charge we here the blessing of God being placed upon us and our work as we prepare to leave the lodge room. Each man in his own heart and mind sees God in his own way and providing that freedom of thought and vision is one of the unique attributes of the craft that makes it the needed bridge and example for living in our world today. If only we could gain the world’s attention long enough to hear masonry’s reasonable, logical and simple truth. “That God is One, immutable, unchangeable, infinitely just and good; that Light will finally overcome Darkness, — Good conquer Evil, and Truth be victor over Error; — these, rejecting all the wild and useless speculations of the Zend-Avesta, the Kabbalah, the Gnostics. and the Schools, are the religion and Philosophy of Masonry.” – Albert Pike.

 

May God add his light to this work,

 

WB John Lawson

Grand Chaplain

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Anatomy of the Masonic Charge, part 5

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Up to now, the charge has focused on the obligations and civility of Brothers to one another but in this next and critical sentence, we are asked to look outside of our tiled doors and look onward to those beyond our craft and be the difference in the world in which we live.

“These Generous principles extend further, for every human being has a claim upon your kind office.”

Here we are reminded that although we are fraternal brothers, looking out for one another, there are expectations for our services outside our tiled doors as well. So far, we have concentrated on our relationship within the lodge and our charge has special admonishments for that focus but now it extends our view and we are asked to look up from our mystic ties, and embrace the world around us.

This line of the closing charge can seem almost counter-intuitive because we have clearly distinguished ourselves separately from the profane world outside and claimed a special allegiance and communion with our brothers. It is true that we enjoy a unique masonic environment where ritual, discipline and order affords us the comfort of like minds and common purpose and what an amazing and wonderful environment it is. We can clearly see that the tenets of masonry, when observed, can create the framework for a much improved social structure, however, we are of little value to the world around us if we keep these ideals hidden within the lodges and the work we do here in the quarry to better ourselves and each other are designed for us to venture beyond the comforts of commonality and set out into a world that at best is a patchwork quilt of unpredictable values and a labyrinth of confusing and conflicting ideals. It is easy to fall into the trap of becoming judgmental towards those who are not part of our order as we watch chaos reign supreme while we hold within our teachings the order the world so desperately needs to embrace.

I like the way Kahlil Gibran in the book The Prophet expresses how we should view this generosity we are charged to extend to every human being in the section entitled “on Giving”-

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; and to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving. And is there aught you would withhold? All you have shall someday be given; therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you. And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream. And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving? And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed? See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

Our Most Worshipful Grand Master, Jim Mendoza this year has asked us all to focus on “Being the Difference”. That starts with a healthy perspective of who we are as men and as masons, what our motives are and what our goals for being a mason are. All our self-talk needs to be uplifting and healthy. Our fraternal conversations need to be void of conflict and unproductive comments. We must ever ask ourselves if we have squared our actions and are keeping our passions within due bounds. We must ever discipline ourselves to be worthy to call ourselves by the name that Kings and Potentates of many ages have claimed as the greatest title that can be bestowed upon a man in this life, that of a freemason. And we must come to realize that all of this self-improvement of becoming a better man is for a greater purpose than ourselves. Being the difference, one brother, one community, one nation at a time, realizing that we are all equal in the eyes of God and all worthy of his boundless generosity, then further realizing that we are His instruments in a world that needs our understanding, generosity, and sympathy and that we have the power to change the world and bring about the ancient hope of a perfect society. We all need to give ourselves the time to focus on the mission outside the door as well as the work within and this line in the closing charge reminds us that our work is far from over when we pull out of the parking lot because every human being has a claim upon our kind office.  

 image002Perhaps Albert Pike puts it best in what might be arguably his most memorable quote: What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. We have an incredible institution made up of hundreds of philanthropic works to bring about a better world around us. Let us set to work and share in that love for humanity and “be the difference.”

 

May God add His light to this work,

W. B. John Lawson

Grand Chaplain,

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Anatomy of the Masonic Charge, part 4

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In part 4 we take a look at the next line of the charge that like all others is pregnant with meaning but often overlooked.

“You have been enjoined to remind a brother in the most friendly manner of his faults, to aid in his reformation and to defend his character”.

This line in itself speaks so much about ourselves, our brotherhood as a whole and should be looked at very carefully especially in light of our obligations and civility towards us as fraternal brothers.

First, let’s look at the word “enjoined” for a moment. As with much of masonic landmarks, words seldom change from the original making some of the meaning a bit obscure. Such is the case with this word because it is not commonly used in our everyday language. So what does it mean to be “enjoined”? Well, the definition is to “instruct or urge (someone) to do something.” In other words it is more than just a simple recommendation but emphasizes a deeper responsibility to take action.

We have been brought up in a society that most notably, since the 1960-70s, have been known as the “Me generation” and there have been repercussions to those ideals that have rippled through our society since then that have a direct impact on our response to this admonition of the charge. So let’s take a moment to look at how our society has evolved in how we relate towards one another by looking at architecture. You might ask, architecture? What possible connection could there be? Read on…

In the late 1800s houses were built with, manual labor and dependency on one another. We built common wells, common buildings, and common stables all with manual tools that took manpower that often required our neighbor’s assistance out of necessity. Many of our homes were built with the aid and support of the community, most notably we recall the term “barn raising” as an example, everyone banded together to help one another in the most basic of ways as most every labor was by hand. We were a society that had a much greater dependency on cooperation out of necessity and that necessity forged relationships and friendships effecting our social order. We built our homes with large front porches as a result of that kind of society so that most evenings we would share the rest and rewards of a hard day’s work in which many times we had already shared together. We inherently got to know the personal lives of one another creating almost unbreakable bonds. The front porch became a place where everything was discussed, planned, and shared from the work of the day to our personal aspirations and dreams and represented a society that worked and grew together. Helping one another in every aspect of our lives was a given.

By the time World War 2 had come, our country was in the process of building an incredible infrastructure. Many new inventions had already begun to make life simpler, giving individuals and families much more “free time” away from menial tasks that had before taken up the majority of time. Our Brother Henry Ford’s implementation of the assembly lines for automobiles, innovations such as electricity, telephones and television began to take hold. Movies and record players began replacing live performances, a national highway system propelled us anywhere we wanted to go, massive power grids with lock and dams brought electricity and irrigation to the far reaches of the west, all brought about the amazing world we live in today but at the same time changed the way we interacted with one another more profoundly than we could have ever anticipated.

Architecture changed once again as houses began to evolve with larger backyards for families during the baby boom, no longer having the need for a large front porch nor the helpful hands of the neighbors and the front was drafted out of modern house design in favor of the larger private back patio where changes of modern society brought about by all the promises of modern technology had begun to express itself through focusing less and less on the need of community necessity and more and more on the autonomous individual family.

But it didn’t stop there and by the late 1950s it had become clear to sociologists that the children within the families that had slowly begun to separate themselves from community were now separating themselves from each other within their own family structure, Before the 1960s, family’s social structure was for the most part a cohesive social unit, same movies, same music, and same books, but soon with newer and newer inventions and conveniences, the youth of the baby boom generation set out on its own. They coined this phenomenon as “the generation gap” and developed new standards of conduct that were clearly unique from their parents. The need for cooperation that had been lost between the 1800s and the 1940s in society as a whole had now passed on to the family unit.

We are now living in the aftermath of this change in society where even marriage and family are in the minority. In some strange ways we are ever more dependent on the system of automation and technology conveniences we have created than ever before while at the same time have become less and less dependent on social interaction. Today’s homes seldom have a front porch unless it is for ornamentation and the larger backyards and patios are surrounded often with large 5 and 6 foot fences and locked gates to keep the neighbors out. Many of our homes have become fortresses with security signs reminding all who approach that they are being watched. We have come a long way from barn raising and front porch chats to Facebook, blogs, messaging and Instagram. All amazing but with social implications of their own.

Masonry is that sublime education that reaches beyond the effects of the maelstrom of external effects and asks us to “know thyself”. We are taught through our arts and craft to become better men and a large part of becoming a better man is to become aware of not only ourselves but one another, and the world around us, first a brotherhood as a proofing ground of what we have learned, then as all other roles we play in this life. We concentrate first on reclamation self so that we can become useful to our greater goal of creating a perfect society. Never before has masonry and its sublime teachings been so needed as it is in today’s society where we have “gained the world but lost our souls”. 

Arguably, nowhere is there any other organization that has the answer to society’s challenges than Freemasonry. Our gentle but transformative craft first sharpens the mind and encourages us to square our own actions and circumscribe our own passions, taking ownership of our destiny but what good is that reclamation if we do not share that great gift of becoming better if it is not shared? It is true, we must square our living stone with personal ethos and accountability, no one can do that for us, but each of us brings to our order a perspective and a vision uniquely ours that aids in the reclamation of one another with perspectives and lessons that we do not have on our own. There is no individual achievement that can compare to what we can achieve collectively and in order to gain that greatness, we must learn how to cooperate once again on the simplest level as we did before and this line in the charge binds us together and urges us to remember that we are not an island nor can we remain so. We often ask why our numbers are in decline. I would offer this as a large part of the reason. Only when we are able to raise masonry’s relevance higher that the noise and confusion of world gone mad with a thousand shinny distractions will we be able to help mankind find its strength in one another again. A society of individuals cannot stand. The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is very difficult to break. This is a common symbol in America on the Dime, the senate building and gold pieces. E pluribus unum, our motto and on the Great Seal of the United States; Latin for “Out of many, one”. Masonry is the solution to bringing these principles back into American society that our modern age of convenience and distraction has inadvertently obscured.

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Now comes the rub, as Shakespeare would say. To remind a brother in the most friendly manner of his faults is an art in itself as no one wants having their shortcomings handed to them. Yet we are clearly counselled to do so. Masonry holds us accountable, not only for ourselves but for one another and we are reminded here that although we are most certainly responsible for our own actions, our actions have consequences and sometimes have far reaching implications to our brothers and to the craft. Knowing that we are under the watchful eye of loving brothers who have only our best interest in mind should not only be NOT offensive but should instead be reassuring and necessary.

The risk we take in how we choose our words to our brother when a mistake is made is either where friendships are forged or misunderstandings begun and so great and thoughtful care needs to be taken by using the most friendly manner possible. It helps to not work alone. It is a good rule of thumb to have at least one other brother present when counselling. Especially when you can anticipate potential bad feelings both as witness and as an additional opinion. It is important to not let wrongdoing or error go unchecked either. The slippery slope of complacency begins by doing nothing for fear of doing something wrong and it is often easier to “overlook” issues than to confront them head on and doing “the loving thing” and letting error go is often an excuse for doing nothing and contributes to the erosion of our values. Of course, most often, that just leaves the problem for someone else or worse, to give the impression that it doesn’t matter. The old adage “saying nothing is a cousin to acceptance” is a very true one. Holding our standards high and immovable is what has kept our craft on a firm foundation from time immemorial. 

Over the last few generations in our society, we have mastered the art of situation ethics in which the lines are blurred so much that terms like “what difference does it make” or “whatever works for you” are becoming commonplace. Masonry holds to a higher standard beyond mere opinion and we need to be strong enough to hold fast to what we know are immovable truths even when we anticipate speaking to a brother could be uncomfortable. We need to check ourselves to insure that our motives are pure and dispassionate, sticking only to the principles on which we are upholding. Let the truth speak for itself. Truth needs no help from the sidelines. Another good rule of thumb is to ask the question: “If everyone in the lodge were doing what this brother is doing, would it be a better lodge or a worse lodge?” The answer can help you to know when it is appropriate to speak with a brother instead of letting emotion drive your decision. If the decision is to speak to them, then reassure the brother that we are all working together for the common good and all is forgiven and or understood. Maintain confidences and work towards a resolution that is acceptable to all with an expectation of improvement and always offer help.

The last line of the charge admonishes us to defend our brother’s character. In this graceless age of name-calling, accusation and innuendo in faceless emails, text messages and whispers at the water cooler, we need to pay special attention to this last segment of the this sentence and be careful that we are not sending more brothers out the back door than we have coming through the front by our loose tongues and rude comments even when we feel justified. As mentioned above, we have come a long way from the social order of interdependency towards one another and along with that a natural appreciation, respect and care towards each other has suffered as a result. As society moves forward we are becoming autonomous creatures leaving us vulnerable to our weaker natures of selfishness and short sightedness, making it easier to speak ill of one another, share potentially embarrassing and unnecessary personal information or just pass on hurtful gossip. We have an obligation brothers to NOT do that and I know as you read this you all can recall both what has come into your ears that you know shouldn’t have and those things that have rolled off your tongue that you should have remained there. 

As we consider this line of the closing charge it is good to remember that we are the sum of all our parts. Both our actions and the actions of our brothers effect the craft in a profound way. We can either choose to improve our craft by our kind and supportive words and work as brothers to aid in the improvement of our society, our families, and our brotherhood or fall into the unbridled nature of the profane outside our doors. If we are to be the difference, it will start and end in the information we exchange and the attitude we assume, not just in the lodge room in the light but in dim hallways and parking lots. As brothers we want to surround ourselves with those who build each other up and give us strength and encouragement and avoid any conversations or comments that tear a brother down. Not only avoid but call out those who make such comments and remind THEM “in the most friendly manner” of their obligation to uphold and defend their brother’s character. We can be the difference and together strengthen and improve the fraternity as a whole and an example to the world outside our doors.

 

May God add light to this effort, 

W.B. John Lawson

Grand Chaplain

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington  

Anatomy of the Masonic Charge, part 3

image002By Worshipful John Lawson,

Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

 

In our third part of the masonic charge, we will look at just one line; “Remember that at this alter, you have promised to befriend and relieve every brother that shall have need of your assistance.”

You may notice as we move slowly through the charge, the emphasis and focus on gaining perspective. Not just a perspective of where you are or what the rules of the road are but a perspective of what is expected of you as a mason and a brother, a perspective on who YOU are. The first word in this sentence of the charge is to remember. That may seem obvious on its face but as with any transformation, there is a tendency to return to old habits and old behaviors and being inculcated many times is not just thorough but necessary as we go from being good men to better ones. All we have to do is look to nature and the laws of physics to observe this necessity. Take the master sword builders, free elements are forged together with extremely hot fire and the pressure of repeated hammer blows are combined in order for the folded metal to submit to its new and useful combination and shape. It is the nature of the elements to return to their natural state without firm and deliberate effort to change them. In the same way, the mind is a battleground. We begin with good intentions but often find ourselves returning to our previous undisciplined state.

All across the human brain are millions of gliocytes on the cerebral cortex. The literal meaning of gliocyte is “seen and heard”. This is the nuts and bolts of memory, this is where memory is housed and these gliocytes are connected by an amazingly complex network that we refer to as our neuronet. If we can think of the surface of the brain as vast map of interconnecting freeways, hiways, byways, and hiking trails of various sizes connecting these gliocyte destinations, we have a basic understanding of what memory looks like. This combination of flesh, electronic impulses and nerves stimulating these gliocytes and recalling what they have “seen and heard” makes up our “world view” and our minds operate within that framework.

Inside each of us, our subconscious operates independently in the background. The subconscious is like the attitude gage of a plane or a thermostat in your house. It takes in all the stored memory in the gliocytes and connected by the neuronets and determines what it must do to correct and maintain a comfort zone of what it believes our self-image is based on what it has collected. The subconscious becomes a gate keeper who maintains within us that comfort zone. When we move out of our comfort zone by some behavior that is “not like us”, we often manifest physical symptoms, nervousness, anxiety, a sour stomach, embarrassment, guilt, etc. the subconscious says, “Get back to where you belong” and in an effort to be comfortable, we most often comply. We have been told to “listen to the voice of our conscience and it will keep you from doing something wrong” and there is truth to that but unfortunately the truth of the matter doesn’t stop there. In the pages of the book of sacred law we are reminded that “whatever a man thinketh, so is he”. In other words, our self-image made up of all the thoughts recorded in all the gliocytes on the cerebral cortex of the brain directs our behavior and we act in accordance of who we believe we are and we are motivated to move in the direction in which we think is in harmony with that self-image. This thinking is referred to as teleological thinking and what we think about the most, wins in the end, even if those thoughts are NOT in our best interest.

So, what do we do, knowing that we are operating on millions of memories that make up our self-image that directs the course of our decisions and moves us? How do we forge our elements into the steel blade of a useful implement when our subconscious is telling us to get back to where we belong even when getting back is less than who want to become? How do we train the mind to move in a new direction when we have been asleep at the wheel but now realize that we need to take on a new direction?

The good news is that much of masonry teaches the mind through mnemonics. Great and noble philosophical ideals are written in symbol and allegory for the subconscious to comprehend and then it is repeated through inculcation until the mind finds new pathways that lead our thoughts to those nobler destinations. This is part of what we call the mystic arts and is indeed a science and an ancient language unto itself. We are asked many times to “remember” and as we do each time, those old but good neuro-pathways and small weak gliocytes become stronger and more efficient. We are asked to remember our obligations. We are asked to memorize copious amounts of ritual. This strengthens those pathways and helps prepare us on our journey to become a better man. Over time, new pathways that lead to better thinking open and old thoughts that did not serve us well shrivel and are replaced with new gliocytes that have strong memories of those noble ideals and we begin to “default” to those as we recall them over and over.

In this case, each and every time you are preparing to leave the lodge, you are asked to remember that at this altar, you have promised to befriend and relieve every brother who shall have need of your assistance. But what is unique about a masonic alter that we should remember in particular “this altar” Let me share with you this excerpt from Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood

In the center of the lodge stands the Altar. It should be cubical in shape, and about three feet in height, and it should have horns at each corner to suggest, in light of a hoary usage, that it is a place of refuge. On the East, the South, and the West should be placed one of the representatives of the three Lesser Lights, but never on the North, for that is the place of darkness. On its top, in due arrangement, should lie the three Grand Lights. Thus arranged it may well be considered “the most important article of furniture in a lodge room,” and the ground whereon it stands as “the most holy place.” Too universal in its use, both through space and time, to admit of our tracing its history here we must content ourselves with some reference to the ideas embodied in it. To this end let us remember, here and everywhere, that the Masonic life is not that which occurs in the lodge rooms alone, for that is but its allegorical picture, its tracing-board; but it is that which a Mason should do and be in all circumstances, under the inspiration of the Fraternity and its teachings. Thus understood the Altar standing in the center of the Masonic lodge is the symbol of something that must operate at the center of the Masonic life.

Often serving as a table whereon the worshipper may lay his gifts to God, the Altar may well remind us of the necessity of that human gratitude which leads us to return to Him the gifts He has showered upon us. This is that teaching of stewardship found in all religions to remind us that our very lives are not our own, having been bought with a price, and that our talents are held in trusteeship to be rendered again to Him to whom they belong. Thus stated, I know, the matter may sound bald and even unappealing, but once we encounter a man who lives his life as a stewardship held in the frail tenure of the flesh, we see to what high issues the character of man may ascend; such personalities carry an atmosphere about with them as of another world, and radiate influences that are light and fragrant. Surely, a man who denied this in his practices can never serve as a living Building Stone in Masonry’s Temple!

In its proper sense also the Altar serves as a sanctuary, a place of refuge, and this too has much to tell us, though I am aware of the dangers of moralizing. In the earlier centuries of our era, before the complete development of common law, the hunted criminal, fleeing from his pursuers, would escape to a church and there lay hold of the horns of the Altar; in that he found safety, and an opportunity to prove his innocence, if innocent he was. Out of this arose the beautiful customs of “sanctuary,” the chivalrous unselfish harboring of the weak, the sorrowful, and the afflicted. Is there not a sanctuary in Masonry? Certainly there is, for in the Fraternity itself, in the privacy of its inner fellowships, a brother will often find rest for his heart and relief from the bruising of the world; and a man is no true Mason in whose nature there is not at least one inner chamber in which the weary may find rest and the weak may have protection.

More than a table for gifts and a place of sanctuary the Altar has from of old served as the station of sacrifice, and this usage also is recognized in our symbolism, for therein we are taught that the human in us, our appetites, our passions, yea our life itself if need be, must be laid down in the service of man and the glory of God. How otherwise could Masonry remain Masonry if it is “the subjugation of the human that is in man, by the Divine?”

Of the Altar as a place of prayer we have already spoken, but in this connection we may well ponder a paragraph from Dr. J. F. Newton, composed of those lucid sentences of which he is a master:

“Thus by a necessity of his nature man is ever a seeker after God, touched at times with a strange sadness and longing, and laying aside his tools to look out over the far horizon. Whatever else he may have been—vile, tyrannous, vindictive—the story of his long search after God is enough to prove that he is not wholly base. Rites horrible, and even cruel, may have been a part of his early ritual, but if the history of past ages had left us nothing but the memory of a race at prayer, they would have left us rich. And so, following the good custom of the great ones of former ages, we gather at our Altar lifting up hands in prayer, moved thereto by the ancient need and aspiration of our humanity. Like the man who walked in the grey years of old, our need is for God, the living God, whose presence hallows all our mortal life, even to its last ineffable homeward sigh which men call death.”

With right understanding of the great nature of the alter before us and what it symbolizes throughout the ages of ancient masonry, it becomes easy to befriend and relieve every brother who has need of our assistance not as an act of pity or kindness alone but as a an act of worship.

May The Great Architect of the Universe add his blessing to this work,

Worshipful John Lawson

Grand Chaplain

Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Anatomy of the Masonic Charge, part 2

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By Worshipful John Lawson,

Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

In our first segment on the closing charge, we looked at the opening reminders that set the tone for the charge as a whole; that we are not only individuals but we are a part of a brotherhood of men and that specific expectations have been placed on us through our obligations, both within and without the doors of our lodge and that we are to be mindful of our relationships whomever we are with. In this second segment, we will look at the four specific admonishments to be temperate, prudent, diligent and discreet.

1.   Be temperate….

So what is it to “be temperate”?  The dictionary defines the word as showing moderation or self-restraint. We may immediately think of squaring our actions or keeping our passions within due bounds as another way of defining a temperate behavior. Self-control is fundamental to our spiritual development and maturity and reveals much about who we are and what we understand about ourselves and others. We may say we are responsible adults but our actions sometimes show us to be more child-like and self-indulgent and each of us knows our Achilles heels in the various areas of our lives and we need reminders on occasion to find that place of temperance within ourselves. We may well be able to operate respectably within the framework of society to suit the judgments of our peers even hiding well less civil feelings, but if we wish to grow further and become better men, even leaders of men and not let our passions be driven by our unbridled ego, we must face that truing of our stone if we can hope to become that perfect ashlar suited for that spiritual house not made with hands.

We sometimes think of intemperance as the over indulgence of food or drink or other such vices like gambling, but temperance crosses all aspects of our lives beyond just the obvious and sometimes we don’t realize where our intemperance truly is. In the context of the closing charge, being temperate is more about our actions in general. For instance, we may show self-restraint with our personal feelings in the lodge out of a sense of discipline or even peer pressure over a concern of how we look in public but how we act alone and unguarded reveals better our truer selves. A dispute or difference of opinion may come about during the course of  lodge business for example and we handle it with order and decorum appearing to be temperate, but soon we find ourselves alone or with one or two other like-minded brothers with coffee in hand, or in the hallway of the lodge or the parking lot, we let our guard down and we show our intemperance by letting loose our tongue and saying those things in private or behind the backs of our brother in whom we disagree that we would never want to reveal in public that could cause others to think differently about us. We may even indulge in making fun of or having a good laugh at the expense of another. That contrast between our greater selves and our lesser selves is exactly why we are admonished to be temperate. What we say in regard to one another in the parking lot reveals more about our true character as a brother mason than what we say and do in the light of the lodge room and those sharp edges that are revealed in our weakness are the ones we need to chip away so that we are the same in the dark as we are in the light, gaining fidelity and control over our passions. That takes work on our part and a genuine desire to keep our self in check both for ourselves and the good of the order.

 

2. Prudent…

Prudence, simply put, is acting with or showing care and thought for the future; to ask the question, is this in our best interest? Does this serve me? Will this better the Order? How will this impact my lodge or my brothers in the future? Prudence is marked by wisdom or judiciousness and is being shrewd in the management of practical affairs and marked by circumspection, according to Webster; what we might call forward thinking. Being able to clearly see a probable outcome is yet another important asset that each of us should strive for and is essential in leadership. When we part from the lodge, prudence in all our actions become an essential tool in our masonic toolbox. We should be known for clear thinking, fair judgment and good administrating and know how to administer all in our everyday dealings with all of mankind.

“Those who are invested with the power of judgment should judge the causes of all persons uprightly and impartially, without any personal consideration of the power of the mighty, or the bribe of the rich, or the needs of the poor. That is the cardinal rule, which no one will dispute; though many fail to observe it. But they must do more. They must divest themselves of prejudice and preconception. They must hear patiently, remember accurately, and weigh carefully the facts and the arguments offered before them. They must not leap hastily to conclusions, nor form opinions before they have heard all. They must not presume crime or fraud. They must neither be ruled by stubborn pride of opinion, nor be too facile and yielding to the views and arguments of others. In deducing the motive from the proven act, they must not assign to the act either the best or the worst motives, but those which they would think it just and fair for the world to assign to it, if they themselves had done if; nor must they endeavor to make many little circumstances, that weigh nothing separately, weigh much together, to prove their own acuteness and sagacity. These are sound rules for every juror, also, to observe.

In our intercourse with others, there are two kinds of injustice: the first, of those who offer an injury; the second, of those who have it in their power to avert an injury from those to whom it is offered, and yet do it not. So active injustice may be done in two ways—by force and by fraud,–of which force is lion-like, and fraud fox-like,–both utterly repugnant to social duty, but fraud the more detestable.

Every wrong done by one man to another, whether it affect his person, his property, his happiness, or his reputation, is an offense against the law of justice. The field of this Degree is therefore a wide and vast one; and Masonry seeks for the most impressive mode of enforcing the law of justice, and the most effectual means of preventing wrong and injustice.

To this end it teaches this great and momentous truth: that wrong and injustice once done cannot be undone” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 126). 

3. Diligent…

Diligence is characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort. When we “join” the lodge, we commit ourselves to the goals and objectives of that lodge and in fact we learn that we ARE the lodge. We not only are proud to wear the emblems of the lodge on our jewelry, automobiles and on our clothing, but we have taken an irrevocable obligation at the alter to engage ourselves as fully as our cable tow allows in the works and goals of the lodge. The old saying “if you are going to wear the jersey, get into the game” comes to mind here and the sidelines are only meant for a very short rest. We are being admonished once again to remember our obligation as we prepare to leave. We represent the lodge, all our actions must reflect the lodge if we are to to represent it well to one another and to the world. The square and compass represent a fraternal brotherhood whose actions are square and whose passions are kept within due bounds and there must necessarily be a mindful and steady since of purpose within the hearts and minds of every brother, and a dedication of mission that carries us through our tasks and our behaviors.

Masonry is designed to afford us the opportunity to take on more and more responsibilities as we move from committee to committee and chair to chair. The beauty of its design is to convince us that we are far more capable than we first thought. As we graduate from smaller tasks to larger ones, we gain confidence and discover through steady and earnest efforts that there is little we cannot accomplish. From the day we start caring for the lodge and serving refreshments to the day we stand as Worshipful Master of the lodge, the graduated design and wisdom of masonry provides us with the perfect opportunity to learn and grow. It is said and it is true that masonry provides the opportunity for each of us to become a better man but it is equally true that we get out of the order what we put into the order so the more energetic the effort on our part the greater the impact masonry has on our lives and the lives of those in whom we impact as well.

4. Discreet…

Being discreet is one of the hallmarks of a mason. Showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech:  prudent; especially:  capable of preserving prudent silence. A mason should never be quick to judgment and should ever be the peacemaker in disputes using his keen powers of logic, reason and rhetoric. He should be concise and weigh his words carefully so that they clear and understood. Above all his words should be civil and courteous. We are warned in regard to our speech by this: “Wherever there is strife and hatred among the brethren, there is no Masonry; for Masonry is Peace, and Brotherly Love, and Concord” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 124).

Discretion in our communications has a form of eloquence to it that appeals to the hearts and minds of those in whom we intend to reach with our messages. “If you have Eloquence, it is a mighty force. See that you use it for good purposes—to teach, exhort, ennoble the people, and not to mislead and corrupt them. Corrupt and venal orators are the assassins of the public liberties and of public morals.” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 91).

And, “Your debates should be but friendly conversations. You need concord, union, and peace. Why then do you retain among you men who excite rivalries and jealousies; why permit great and violent controversy and ambitious pretensions? How do your own words and acts agree? If your Masonry is a nullity, how can you exercise any influence on others (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 186)

We must also not lose sight of the value of one another’s ideas and concepts. “Those who forget the rights of others, must not be surprised if their own are forgotten; and those who stoop to the lowest embraces of sense must not wonder, if others are not concerned to find their prostrate honor, and lift it up to the remembrance and respect of the world. To the gentle, many will be gentle; to the kind, many will be kind. A good man will find that there is goodness in the world; an honest man will find that there is honesty in the world; and a man of principle will find principle and integrity in the minds of others” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 193-194). Brethren, be discreet in your relationships with others.

In part 3, we will examine together the following lines of the charge, “Remember that at this alter, you have promised to befriend and relieve every brother who shall have need of your services. You have been enjoined to remind a brother in the most friendly manner of his faults, to endeavor to aid in his reformation and to defend his character.”

May the Grand Architect of All add his wisdom to this effort.

Most fraternally,

Worshipful John Lawson

Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Prayers for Dallas and our Nation

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By Worshipful John Lawson,

Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

"Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed." —Norman Rockwell, Red Mountain Lodge No. 63, Vermont

“Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”
—Norman Rockwell, Red Mountain Lodge No. 63, Vermont

Our beautiful country of diverse individuals making up a masterpiece of mosaic hope, peace and harmony can on occasions such as these shocking recent tragedies be lost in the horror of blind hatred, pitting us one from the other.

Our democracy requires vigilant effort on each of our parts not as much in the streets of protest but within our minds and hearts to hold fast to those values that we believe in as Americans and to always let love guide our actions and not let the …darkness overcome our light.

Masonic brother Norman Rockwell saw this country with a beautiful perspective and shared his talents in reminding us of the great gift we have been given in America to demonstrate to the world the strength of the one made out of the many. Each with its irreplaceable value to the next.

As we pray for those who have been unjustly killed in these most recent events, let us not forget the Golden Rule that is taught by every race and religion around the world. May the Grand Architect protect us from ourselves in our times of weakness and remind us of our strength and obligations to another.

W.B. John Lawson
Grand Chaplain,
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge
Of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Anatomy of the Masonic Charge, part 1

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By Worshipful John Lawson,

Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

 

As Grand Chaplain, it is my privilege to focus on spiritual ideals to the masonic brethren in the state of Washington. As I begin this series of communications, let me first say thank you to each of you who have, on your own free will and accord, chosen to walk a different path and accept the clarion call of the fraternity to strive to be a better man. One of the distinctions of our craft is that we do not solicit for members and even at that, when those come to our door of their own volition to petition membership, we take the time to examine each man to determine a proper fit for the order and for the individual. In the end, no brother is within our ranks without a genuine desire nor due examination.

One of the greatest and most rewarding products of our care in membership is that we attract and retain like-minded men who have a love for fraternity and respect for one another. But even having said that, we are not nearly perfect and in a constant state of improvement, striving to chip away the rough edges and make good men better men and nothing is a better reminder of the attributes we strive for than the closing charge at our meetings.

Not all masonic ritual is in cipher nor is it intended to be in secret and that is the case for “the closing charge”. The charge is exactly what it implies, it is a list of action items, those last final instructions, and those strong reminders of who we are as masons and as men and how we should operate throughout our life both in and out of the lodge. It reminds each of us as brothers the opportunities and responsibilities we are obligated to, first to God, then to the craft, then to the brothers, and then to all of mankind. The charge is simple in its construction and it is straightforward in its message, perhaps so much so that we might glaze over its meaning or even be tempted to rush through it on some long meeting nights. I believe that our charge contains the very sum of our craft and its tenets should not only be put to memory by every mason, (officer or not), but should be understood as clear instruction particularly when it comes to our civility with one another and the world.

Having said this, I would like to take the opportunity over these next numbers of communications with you to look line by line to see the charge in detail. As you participate with me, you may find that you have not always given enough thought to its meanings or implications or heard it challenge you to examine your thoughts and actions against its important council. So let’s begin, line by line.

Brethren, we are about to quit this sacred retreat of friendship and virtue to mingle again in the outer world among its concerns and employments.”

The very first word, “brethren” reminds us that we are more than an individual, we are part of a brotherhood and that we are not separate but rather we are the sum of all our parts, we are “brethren”, equal and on the level, making up a group of like-minded individuals who want for ourselves and our world, a better version of ourselves and our society.

Outside the doors of the lodge, we are individuals that often break up into small groups or clicks and we create barriers between one another, even enemies. We label ourselves as different from on another based on all manner of social, political, and religious affiliations and we complete against each other for diverse goals which can lead to conflicts. But in the lodge we are to find a place of neutrality that is on the level with one another, a brotherhood of men individually chipping away at the sharp edges of our own rough ashlar and making ourselves living stones suitable for the builders work. We learn that no man is an island and that we both effect and are effected by one another both positively and negatively and that one man’s success or failure affects us all and also that working together, we can accomplish much. That takes a civil mind in which mutual respect and appreciation for the station of another is essential.

When we think of improving our brotherhood, we sometimes forget this and look outwardly to see what or who needs improvement seldom looking inwardly to see that we are a part of that whole. Yet, when we realize that we are part of many others making up a spiritual building suitable for god’s work, it necessarily causes us to look inward and that examination causes us to work to improve ourselves so that we all fit together perfectly. Masonry is a science of perfecting our society and our relationships with one another as a brotherhood and as a fraternity and civility is at its heart.

“Brethren, we are about to quit this sacred retreat of friendship and virtue to mingle again in the out world among its concerns and employments.”

Sacred: 1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated. 2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy.

Retreat: a. The act or process of moving back or away, especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant: made a retreat from hectic city life to the country.

Here is a question to ponder as you think of your last lodge meeting.  Is your lodge suitably set aside for the work of spiritual transformation? Perhaps you have never thought of a meeting in this way. Have you ever been involved in a ritual or an initiation in which there is chattering or perhaps side comments, causing chuckles from the sideline in what otherwise might be thought of as a serious undertaking? Have you noticed how it can take away from the focus of what the ritual is trying to help you achieve? The contrast can, on occasion, be stark. On the one hand, a beautiful liturgy written long ago by insightful men in whom we venerate and admire who’s words have been carefully chosen to instill into the mind the most sublime of virtues, while on the other hand profane banter creeps into our work and distracts us from our purpose there, stealing our light and at that moment the solemnity the craft is lost and the lodge begins to behave and function like the profane and mundane world outside its doors. But, have you been to a lodge meeting where everything went smoothly and everyone’s minds were focused on the purpose of that event? Something magic happens if we allow ourselves to be become transformed. It’s a kind of mental-spiritual alchemy of sorts, the strange but wonderful nature of the craft and in that moment the lodge becomes a “sacred retreat of friendship and virtue” with everyone on the level, upright and true; a truly unique space, a sacred retreat and that is what we should be creating each and every lodge meeting.

“Brethren, we are about to quit this sacred retreat of friendship and virtue to mingle again in the outer world among its concerns and employments.”

The implication here is a reminder that the world outside of the walls of the lodge sometimes operates on less than the civility we enjoy together. Never before has our lives been so full of stress and distraction even though much of that is self-induced. We have our google calendar at the ready to know exactly where and when we should be at our next activity or meeting and many times end up making everyone else happy at the expense of our own by spreading ourselves thin sometimes making civility a rare commodity. The concerns and employments of the world are endless, like a dog chasing its tail we run. In today’s culture, our homes are mostly blended through divorce and there continues to be social changes, political and economic stresses that effect each of us at every turn. Even the breakfast and dinner table have become a luxury and not a given. Our work is demanding and even after our work life is over our retirement hours fly by with every conceivable good intention swallowing up the sand in our hourglass. We have hundreds of organizations clamoring for our full-time attention of time or money or both and it becomes almost natural to bring that world and it’s liabilities into the lodge.

But the lodge is purposely not that. The lodge is like a school set aside from the maelstrom of the world’s concerns. It affords us by its very structure, a microcosm in which to learn and grow and become better able to interact with one another both inside and outside the lodge.  In fact for much of the history of the lodge it was referred to as the “masonic temple” although that descriptor has lost favor over the years as society continues to secularize itself away from all things religious. The word temple, however is an insightful descriptor of the lodge.  Old English templ, tempel, reinforced in Middle English by Old French temple, both from Latin templum ‘open or consecrated space.’ Almost always, the temple is oriented to heavenly bodies and immolates the patterns and perfect geometric and predictable movements of the heavens. A temple is designed to “reset” one’s course and give perspective and direction in perfect harmony with the universe around it. Albert Pike mixes no words on the subject of the lodge and the public in this comment….

“A man may be a good sort of man in general, and yet a very bad man in particular: good in the Lodge and bad in the world; good in public, and bad in his family; good at home, and bad on a journey or in a strange city. Many a man earnestly desires to be a good Mason. He says so, and is sincere. But if you require him to resist a certain passion, to sacrifice a certain indulgence, to control his appetite at a particular feast, or to keep his temper in a dispute, you will find that he does not wish to be a good Mason, in that particular case; or, wishing, is not able to resist his worse impulses” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 151).

Such is the condition of man who struggles between passion and duty and so we are reminded to….

Forget not those duties that have been so frequently inculcated and so forcefully recommended in this lodge”

The charge implies that the world’s demands can drown out what we have learned to be our obligation in the lodge and that a necessary reminder of a brother’s duties are in order as he leaves the lodge room. Brotherly love, relief and truth can sometimes be hard ideals to find operating in the outer world so we are reminded NOT to forget. We are reminded here that we have a certain responsibility and duties that lays claim to us that asks more than what might otherwise come natural to us. It can also be implied here that we are to remember those tenets that we have learned and that they have application outside our tiled walls because as men, they are sometimes easily forgotten outside our tiled doors.

“Forget not those duties that have been so frequently inculcated and so forcefully recommended in this lodge.

  • Humans can be stubborn creatures, rebellious in nature and free spirited making it difficult to gain favor over our attention. Repetition and illustration are one of the notable teaching tools of the craft. To “inculcate” is to teach (someone) an attitude, idea, or habit by persistent instruction. As much as we would like to think that our bodies are separate from our thinking, the reality is that they are hardwired together. “Whatever a man thinketh, so is he” the Bible teaches and goes on to say, “Do you not know that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”.
  • From a purely biological and physiological sense, we move towards the things we think about the most because we exercise those thoughts and they create larger more complex neuropathways in the brain making certain thoughts and behaviors our “default” behavior or our habits. Just as when we go to the gym to exercise our bodies to build up our muscles, we come to lodge and exercise our minds and improve our thinking and perfect our thoughts and therefore our actions. As we do, those pathways literally increase in size and become our default neuropathways. We do this first out of desire and discipline but soon after frequent inculcation, our thinking and behavior slowly begins to change and we take on the values that have been so forcefully recommended in our lodge. Our minds begin to change and so our thoughts and our actions follow.

Once again, Albert Pike offers these insights….

What is that Thought? It is not Matter, nor Spirit. It is not a Thing; but a Power and Force. I make upon a paper certain conventional marks, that represent that Thought. There is no Power or Virtue in the marks I write, but only in the Thought which they tell to others. I die, but the Thought still lives. It is a Power. It acts on men, excites them to enthusiasm, inspires patriotism, governs their conduct, controls their destinies, disposes of life and death. The words I speak are but a certain succession of particular sounds, that by conventional arrangement communicate to others the Immaterial, Intangible, Eternal Thought. The fact that Thought continues to exist an instant, after it makes its appearance in the soul, proves it immortal: for there is nothing conceivable that can destroy it. The spoken words, being mere sounds, may vanish into thin air, and the written ones, mere marks, be burned, erased, destroyed: but the THOUGHT itself lives still, and must live on forever. A Human Thought, then, is an actual EXISTENCE, and a FORCE and POWER, capable of acting upon and controlling matter as well as mind. Is not the existence of a God, who is the immaterial soul of the Universe, and whose THOUGHT, embodied or not embodied in His WORD, is an Infinite Power, of Creation and production, destruction and preservation, quite as comprehensible as the existence of a Soul, of a Thought separated from the Soul, of the Power of that Thought to mold the fate and influence the Destinies of Humanity” (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 573)

In our next installment, we will look at the four specific virtues that we should focus on as we walk through the outer door into the world, being prudent, temperate, diligent and discreet.

 

Most fraternally and may the Grand Architect add his blessing,

 

Worshipful John Lawson

Grand Chaplain of the

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

Featured photo source: Wikipedia Commons

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