Masonic Work

Thinking Outside of the Masonic Box

Back in February, Bro. Robert G. Davis and I took a road trip to Austin, Texas in order to attend a Lodge of Secret Masters (4th Degree Scottish Rite). This was a unique experience, because the brethren of the Austin Valley Scottish Rite have taken the ritual that is normally performed on a stage, and transformed it into an actual lodge setting. Therefore, instead of watching the degree from afar, you are actually taking part in a working lodge of Secret Masters. The lodge is only held once a year in order to initiate a brother into the 4th degree of the Scottish Rite. This was truly a rare and powerful event, especially since to my knowledge this is the only valley performing this kind of work.  

The passion that the brethren put into this was evident from the moment that we walked in, because the brethren managed to recreate the lodge of sorrow space from the ritual down to the most minute detail, including many custom pieces such as custom 9 pointed star candelabras with gold leaf, handmade stain glass pieces, carved leather banners, torchieres, and even a knight in a full suit of armor. 

During the reception following the event, one of the brothers told me that the project seemed too daunting during the original planning stages, because they knew that it would take thousands of hours and dollars to create the custom prop pieces. The brethren would also have to get special permission to form the lodge and perform the ritual, However, during our conversations, each brother expressed that the event was a labor of love, and that it had really brought the brethren of the valley closer together. It had also instilled a spark of energy in the valley, because it was something truly unique that the brethren could be proud of. This work resulted in a truly powerful experience, and there wasn't an empty seat in the house.

On the way home, Bob and I were discussing the event and the other successful Masonic events that we've experienced, and one of the key features that we kept coming back to for any successful Masonic event is passion. Without passion ritual is dull and forgettable; however, when the brethren performing a ritual are truly working to transmit Masonic Light, then it is a truly moving experience. The same goes for any event from a fish fry to a festive board. If the Brethren are simply trying to throw something together at the last minute, or go through the motions because they have to, then the event is flat and boring, and everyone secretly can't wait until they can slip out the back door. However, if the brethren are excited about the event and put real time and effort into the event, then everyone has a good time and the bonds of brotherly love are strengthened.

I think the often heard masonic idiom, "we've always done it this way", is actually a lethal phrase for the craft. If we continue doing things because that's the way its been done, we box ourselves in from new experiences, growth, and passion. One of the keys to being passionate about an event or project comes from thinking outside of the box, which allows us to expand our horizons, and even push the envelope of what can actually be done. Sometimes it can be something as simple as adding reflective elements to a lodge experience such as allowing a contemplative moment of reflection after opening, candles, education programs, music, or hosting a degree in a unique manner, like my lodge did last year when we held a Master Mason degree at low twelve, which ended up bringing in visitors representing 19 different lodges, 5 states, and 6 grand jurisdictions. Other times pushing the envelope can be something more ambitious like hosting a festive board with an out of state speaker, or a major event like a gala, ball, or an event like the Austin Valley's Lodge of Secret Masters.

Sometimes thinking outside of the box is going to be difficult, because while we are inside of the proverbial box we often have difficulty perceiving what could be, because we have only surrounded ourselves with what is or has been. However, when we allow ourselves to break outside of the self-limiting box of how we've always done things, then we can breathe new life into our lodges,
appendant bodies, and our fraternity as a whole. As the brethren in the Austin Valley have shown, it may not be an easy road, but the results are well worth it, and now those Brethren have something that they can be truly proud of, and it all began with what seemed like a crazy out of the box idea. 

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Putting Masonic Light Into Action

                    Guthrie SR Atrium – Photo by  Matthew D. Anthony  (c) 2012

                    Guthrie SR Atrium – Photo by Matthew D. Anthony (c) 2012

Scottish Rite Reunion season is upon us. During the past few weeks there has been a flurry of back channel emails in my Scottish Rite Valley discussing the programs and sessions that will take place, degree team sound offs, etc. I am supremely fortunate to be a member of the Guthrie Valley, which not only boasts a beautiful Masonic building, but also has unique education and contemplative practice programs. During the Reunions there are group meditation and education courses, as well as ample opportunities to spend one-on-one time with individual seekers, teachers, and facilitators from numerous spiritual traditions ranging from mainstream Christianity, Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Islam-Sufism, Neo-Paganism, etc., so it is truly a spiritual melting pot that provides a smorgasbord for the spiritual seeker. It also provides people from all spiritual backgrounds and levels of interest or development with a platform to learn from one another, which unfortunately is a very rare opportunity. In a world that is constantly tearing itself apart over the proper name for God, or the proper mode of worship, a Reunion provides a rare opportunity to simply spread Light and love.

As I prepare for the upcoming Reunion, I have started to go through my notes and ritual copies to prepare my lectures for the two or three education sessions that I'll be teaching. The main theme that I keep coming back to is one of the central teachings of the Scottish Rite, which is that its members should actively go out into the world and practice what they have learned in order to take up the struggle against tyranny, oppression, ignorance, and human suffering of all kinds- To be a true soldier of Light in the world.

Too often people are merely content with “receiving” teachings, which they in turn put away on a mental shelf and call it "wisdom"; however, wisdom is not passive learning and recitation, because that is merely an intellectual exercise. To discover Truth and become “wise”, means really internalizing the teachings that you learn from Freemasonry, your spiritual practice, friends, mentors, etc., and actually putting these teachings into an active practice, which will not only make “you” a better person, but it will also make the world around you a better place. After all, it doesn’t do you any good to constantly go to a church, mosque, a dharma center, or Lodge if you aren’t reflecting those teachings into every aspect of your life. Don't be content with putting your lamp under a bushel. (Matthew 5:15)

From a Buddhist’s perspective it doesn’t do me any good to know about the noble truth of suffering, and the need to end the suffering of all sentient beings, and then turn a blind eye to suffering. From a Christian’s perspective it doesn’t do me any good to know about Christ’s compassionate and loving nature, and then turn away from helping someone because “they don’t deserve it”, or “they haven’t earned it like I have”, or condemn someone just because you don’t personally agree with all of their actions, choices, or lifestyle.

I really enjoy it when a teacher, preacher, or spiritual leader tells their followers to get off of the meditation pillow, out of the pews, and off of their knees in order to actually go out and put teachings into practice. I firmly believe that getting out into the world, and actually practicing what you have learned facilitates dramatic personal and external growth and progress, and the friction and conflicts that arise in the world will highlight areas of your ashlar that you still need to work on. The journey of a craftsman is a lifelong journey, and it is a journey of work.

Few among men are they who cross over to the further shore. The others merely run up and down the bank on this side.” – The Dhammapada

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." -(Matthew 5:15)

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Tolerance: A True Measure of Compassion

                                                                                 Constant Union Masonic Lodge, Rio Grande, Brazil - Credit: Eugenio Hansen

                                                                                 Constant Union Masonic Lodge, Rio Grande, Brazil - Credit: Eugenio Hansen

Originally Published in the June 2014 Edition of Living Stones Magazine

We came here to learn to subdue our earthly passions, to increase our intellect and spiritual awareness, to find Light, or better yet, our spiritual reality.  Going one step further, we search for the true understanding of life, our place and purpose in it through the ability to reason.  The realization of the true ability to find reason within the mental and emotional processes of life is the fulcrum between the choices of good and evil, and between right and wrong.  This is what we are truly saying when we recite the beginning of our catechism.  Sure, the words may differ from one masonic jurisdiction to another, but we all came here to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry.  This process is accomplished through different practices.

We learn the definitions of the Masonic symbols and from our mentors, we are explained the philosophies.  The transformative process of Masonry, the change of one state of conscious and subconscious conviction to a more improved state through the application of spiritual exploration and the understanding of various philosophies, communicated through various symbols within the construct of Masonic ritual to our inner most convictions, start to make themselves realized by the epiphanies we come to have and the changes in our perception of life and those circulating in it.  These changes are only possible through study and discussion with those others who have themselves solid understandings of such, and who can provide credible explanations that contributes to self-reflection without bias to the conclusions.  How do we measure through self-reflection of how far we have come though?  One of the identifiable measures of how far our passions have been subdued is to pay attention to the depth of our tolerance.  In this article we will search to understand specifically what tolerance is, whence it derived its meaning, and the difference between possessing tolerance and simply being tolerant.  It is that understanding that allows us to measure the tolerance one may possess to calculate how they have identified their vices and superfluities to illustrate to them the direction of education that may need to pursue in the improvement of self.

Tolerance is defined as the “willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own” by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.[i]  In regards to religious tolerance, Daniel Taylor of Christianity Today writes that intolerance became a sin and was developed as a result of the Christian wars of the 16th and 17th century that resulted in mass slaughtering in the name of Christ.  He states the answer to the problem was tolerance and that historically then, “was the liberal, secular answer to the inability of conservative religionists to compromise with those who differed from them.”[ii]  Voltaire, who lived from 1694 until 1778 and who was a Freemason actively involved with the Enlightenment stated that, “Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”[iii]  The word itself came into usage in the 14th century and by the 17th century in France, it meant the same as when it was first used as a “tendency to be free from bigotry or severity in judging others.”[iv]  Not only is tolerance taught and espoused by Christianity, it is found in all religious dogma in one verse or another.  What is interesting is that with examples of tolerance found in all religious texts, the practice of intolerance can be seen in our society by many professed religious leaders from the West for those of other religious faiths, ethnicities, or politics.  In an effort to be politically correct, they ACT tolerant, but do not demonstrate a POSSESSION of tolerance.  The possession of tolerance, and it having depth, is different from simply being tolerant. 

One’s depth of tolerance is predicated on several aspects such as education, philosophical understandings, and the ability to evaluate without influencing the results with bias of self- conviction.  Dialectical thinking, “a form of analytical reasoning that pursues knowledge and truth as long as there are questions and conflicts,” is a great asset to have when doing such evaluating of one’s measure of tolerance.[v]  The absence of bias and attitude of dismissal is essential in the successful use of this method.  An example of the use of this type of investigative academic procedure is the Socratic Method.  But as Manzo notes, this method can be easily abused as one asking questions can easily begin their quest as educationally investigative, but without specific and moral direction of the questions, the quest can become misaligned and promote defensive mindsets then resulting in fruitless arguments rather than expanded understanding.  The indifference that may result relieves us from gaining the possession of tolerance and may leave us with the resolve of simply tolerating an indifference as to not further spurn more arguing, instead of intellectually or spiritually increasing our understanding of foreign convictions that tends to expands tolerance.

“Let not interest, favour, or prejudice bias your integrity, or influence you to be guilty of a dishonourable action.”[vi]

Cultural Relativism, “a method whereby different societies or cultures are analyzed objectively without using the values of one culture to judge the worth of another,” is another means to implement a progression in the depth of one’s tolerance.[vii]  In the analysis of another person’s character, conviction, or cultural practices of varying natures, our experiences, education, dogma’s and so forth, our culture, undoubtedly coerces us to judge in relation to them.  We must, in the interest of the exploration of cultural assimilation of moral improvement to be exemplified to mankind, resist this innate desire to judge with bias. This is not to say that all we objectively inspect will be of virtuous quality that is beneficial in a positive means of assimilation to our own moral betterment, but if we cannot without bias analyze those that are different from us in whatever respects that are presented, we will deny ourselves even the opportunity to explore if there were qualities that were beneficial to begin with. 

The growth of tolerance and resistance to simply be tolerant is a necessity in the advancement of moral progression of humanity with Freemasons being the exemplars. 

“The blind force of the people is a force that must be economized, and also managed, as the blind force of steam, lifting the ponderous iron arms and turning the large wheels, is made to bore and rifle the cannon and to weave the most delicate lace.  It must be regulated by intellect.  Intellect is to the people and the people’s force, what the slender needle of the compass is to the ship…”[viii]

As many athletic coaches have stated during practices for big games in whatever sport, it is what you do in practice that will ultimately determine your performance on the field.  This is not so different than Lodge, which actually is not limited by the walls in which we tile as the Lodge symbolically extends from the East to West, between North and South, from the Earth to the heavens and from the surface to the center.  What we exercise in demonstrating the possession of tolerance in Lodge with our brethren and their shared opinions or beliefs is what we intrinsically will demonstrate, and maybe with less awareness, in the public.  I do not doubt that we have heard the sighs from the sideline when a Brother may be expressing a thought, even though he has repeated the same objection time and time again perhaps, as the Brethren have grown tired and desire to end lodge, but I ask, is that a demonstration of tolerance, or simply being tolerant because there are visible repercussions?  We must search for why someone is speaking or acting from a particular mindset or with a certain ideology before we can began to rule out the validity of their position.  It is this act, this being in “due bounds of mankind and more especially a Brother Mason,” that will ultimately vindicate the conviction of our members to be involved with lodge instead of feeling as if they are an outcast, will ultimately give them confidence in contributing to the betterment of the lodge.  This act of compassion, this demonstration of tolerance exemplified by the Brethren within the lodge will be exemplified by the same members outside the lodge with an inherent confidence that will leave those of mankind one comes in contact with, inspired. 

So, we must ask ourselves, “What came we here to do?”  To that, we must add the question of how do we accomplish the answer we profess every time we sit in the West of the Lodge, or listen to the Senior Warden recite to the Master of the Lodge.  How do we stem the rising of our blood pressure at the speaking of, or action, of another?  How do we measure our growth of compassion?  Tolerance.  By understanding how we can develop our tolerance of others in a morally upright manner, we can better implement the tenets of our institution and inspire the world that merit is the title of our privileges and that on us, they have been deservingly bestowed.  This will undoubtedly influence those we come into contact with to consider their own moral convictions as they see in us a mirror of their own conduct to be measured.  I charge myself often with this large responsibility to improve so I may become a better human being.  I encourage you to charge yourself with the same responsibility.  Together, we can move forward parallel to one another, our differences and similarities working in harmony, expanding our positive effect on one another, and inspiring a better world for those that will endeavor to follow us into the future. 

 

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END NOTES:

[i] Tolerance. (n.d.) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tolerance

[ii] TAYLOR, D. (1999). Are you tolerant? (Should you be?). (Cover story). Christianity Today, 43(1), 42.

[iii] Voltaire

[iv] Barnhart, Robert K., (1998) Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co.

[v] Manzo, A. (1992) Dialectical Thinking: A Generative Approach to Critical/Creative Thinking, Institute of Education Services, 

[vi] Preston, W. (1776) (1867) Illustrations of Freemasonry, Masonic Manufacturing and Publishing Co.

[vii] www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Cultural-Relativism.php

[viii] Pike, A. (1871) Morals and Dogma