Getting to the Big Picture

I attend a lot of Masonic meetings throughout the country; have personally got to know hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men. For decades, I have watched men go about the daily activities of being Masons, whether in their conduct of lodge business, performing degrees, participating in statewide and national conferences, giving community service, or just hanging out together as men. I pay particular attention to how Masons do things together and relate to each other in their conversations. I observe these things because we claim, as Masons, that we are supposed somehow to be different than the rest of the world of men.

The theory is that, through our unique experiences of joining, we have a different insight about the inner nature of things. We have been transformed as human beings.

It’s hard to explain to someone on the outside what it actually means when we say we have been transformed—that Masonry is a transformative art. In what ways are we actually changed by our experience of becoming, or being, Masons? Sometimes it is easier to answer these kinds of questions with other questions.

What would it be like to live your life as a work of art? To think of your life as a masterpiece in progress. To build your own temple which is your life. That is what our building image is all about in Masonry. How would you shade it, mold it, shape it into whatever it is that you think would be an absolute ideal for your contribution while you are here on this planet? What should be the unfolding of your humanity? What is it you would really like to have said about yourself? Whose life would you look at and say; “that is what I would like to have said about me. That is the right example for me.”

I suppose these are just other ways of asking the age-old questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? But these are the central questions in Masonry.

Most people, at some point in their life, wonder what constitutes real success in life. Is it the creation of wealth, property, or assets? Is it to be popular, or to serve others, or to have abundant amounts of free time? Is it to be blessed with a loving family, close friends, and lasting relationships? I imagine all of these things have to do with our perceptions of success. Certainly, they all “feel” like success to me. But Masonry suggests we take a slightly different approach to how we think about success. It’s all very personal. If it could be described with words in a "first-person" context, it might read something like this:

As a Mason, I wish to consciously create a sense of what I am here for. How I’m going to live my life that I have, doing it in service to others, affirming a sense of spirituality about myself; and maintaining a sense of compassion and caring and love and decency for others that I meet. Treating conflicts and difficulties that come my way not as something I have to conquer or overcome, but as opportunities to see how I, as a human being, may transcend these things. And, in the practice of living, not to use hatred or anger and bitterness in beating someone down in order to get where I want to be. 

That's a pretty good start toward living a respected life. If we focus our thoughts and actions in a direction that enables us to feel at peace with ourselves and the world, it would be difficult to argue we have not been successful. Freemasonry facilitates how we look at and respond to life to achieve such success. For example, it teaches us how we go about making our life unfold as the universe unfolds, with a real sense of perfection, harmony, and peace without abdicating our usual role in life. We learn that such balance is indeed possible and attainable. I should think such an ideal would have wide appeal. I know it appeals to thoughtful Masons because it is a recipe for success.

In fact, I think it is a lesson that’s been told for centuries. It’s an attitude of knowing that we truly are spiritual beings, even while having a human experience. And we make the quality of that experience available through our thoughts—our mind—through our divine connection.

Freemasonry does not concern itself much with the labels of society, politics, or religion; rather we talk about kindness, and love, and forgiveness, and gentleness of spirit. Our teachings admonish us to understand that we are all connected in a divine way, so the real goal is to determine what it takes for us to get to the big picture—what does it take for us to change so we can always feel harmony and balance in our life?

The answer, of course, is different for everybody. But that’s not the point. The path to the big picture may be different for everyone, but the understanding has to be that the big picture is there and its availability is there for everyone.

We call this big picture Masonic Light, which simply means the awakened life.

Freemasonry transforms men through the process of its initiatory experience, by the repeated liturgy of its ritual, and by its many associations with the ideals of manhood. It enables us to get in touch with that part of our psyche which allows us to become transformed--to get in touch with our mind, to experience the metaphysical--to truly practice the big picture and know in our heart and soul there is more to life than what our body experiences. There is something underneath life that gives it purpose; that works, and has a lesson for each of us. It reveals to us that every experience is a teacher. Everyone we meet is a teacher. We are all students of life. And even when our life is in turmoil, there is an underlying law that will bring us harmony. There is order, even in chaos.

My observations of Masons everywhere lead me to suggest we all tend to have the same sense of reverence with everyone else in the fraternity. Maybe this happens because our ritual experience enables us to become more acceptable to love. We understand we are one and the same as brothers. We begin to treat our fellows with the same respect that we want for ourselves. We recognize they are, in the overall scheme of things, a mirror of us.

We come to realize that what people think about expands. And we always have a choice. We can concentrate on the negative, let our passions rule, be judgmental of others, feel hate. And we can be assured these negative feelings will expand in our own minds, and to our circles of friends. Or, we can be brothers, feel brotherhood, take our duties and obligations seriously, and convert what we feel to others. It is a great truth that the collective consciousness begins with each one of us.

As Masons, then, what we believe and think about as Masons expands. If we want to make men better, we must believe that that will really happen when men become Masons. If we want to bring brotherhood to the world, we have to believe that brotherly love will be experienced and understood by everyone who enters the fraternity. If we want to make the world a better place, we have to believe that we can make a difference in it with our own life. If we want people to know that Freemasonry has great value today, we have to believe that it is relevant in our own hearts, and can be as real in theirs.

The Sufis said; “If you don’t have a temple in your heart, you will never have your heart in a temple.”

Freemasonry is about having a temple in your heart.

So our message to the world is really very simple. If we but keep our character, our morals, our ethics, and our reputation as fraternal men as pure as our Masonic teachings would have them, then we can’t help but be successful. It is nothing less than our journey into the unknown to discover our relationship to the big picture—our own awakened life.

That is a pilgrimage worth making. Because it is right—and right expands.




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In Defense of Fraternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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