The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
A MASON’S HONOUR
Bro. Gordon D. Thompson
In our world today one of the much used words is POWER. We speak of Atomic Power, Political Power, Financial Power, Spiritual Power, and so on — in describing nations we even have "Super Power". the word implies strength, energy and the ability to control. We describe those entities in possession of this quality as being powerful or capable of producing great effect.
You will note, however, that any powerful entity must have a vehicle for transforming or converting its power into that great effect. We can say that Freemasonry is a powerful entity, it is capable of producing great effect. The vehicle for converting that power to great effect is the Mason — YOU AND I.
We have all committed ourselves to that task. This commitment and responsibility is the foundation of a Mason's Honour. This evening I wish to speak for a few minutes about what our craft and society in general expects and requires of us as a result of that commitment, that responsibility that honour.
Our rituals are, to a large degree, devoted to creating within each of us an awareness of our commitment and responsibilities. However, there were written many years ago and while they are, I believe, quite applicable in today's society, I feel that we do not devote the necessary time to ensure that our brethren realize and understand what is really expected and required of them as a result of their oaths and obligations in Freemasonry.
Our Freemasonry requires us to conduct our lives in a quiet, virtuous and unpretentious manner, carrying out our duties as men, subjects, husbands and fathers, sincerely and without any imperfection. It requires of us true and complete reverence for the Deity and devotion to divine worship. Knowing this I have difficulty in understanding any conflict between the Church and the Craft. It is also a great tragedy to me when I see lodge practices and functions called for periods which conflict with the hours of divine worship. To me it identifies those masons involved as hypocrites. This requirement often brings to my mind, the commonly used expression, "It's not what you know but who you know that counts". A commonly used expression, no doubt used by many of us, and yet, I fear, not used in the true sense and meaning of Freemasonry. I have often heard the statement used in the sense that you get something extra by knowing someone of if you know a person to be a brother mason, he will assist you without question. This, I believe, has given rise to many of the claims of preferential treatment. while the statement may be true, it is certainly not in this context that I see its use in Freemasonry.
The primary requisite for each of us to join Freemasonry was a sincere declaration of a belief in God. At the door of the lodge we all professed our knowledge that a Supreme Being exists, that he will punish vice and reward virtue, and that he has made His will known to man. Since we possess this belief in god, we know god, and e are provided with a means of consulting with Him, namely, prayer. We are also provided with the means to learn more about Him — The Holy bible — The Volume of the Sacred Law. If you accept the "who you know" expression as being god, the statement becomes much more significant. Because you know your doctor, your lawyer, your tax expert, you consult with them; you believe them and you follow their advice — you live by it. Likewise, because you know god, you can consult with Him, you take His advice and you live by it — truly a mason — a man who has no mercenary or other unworthy motives, a man who lives his life by the rules given by God. Yes, my brethren, it's not what you know but rather who you know that counts.
We are required to be kind charitable and generous, to help our fellow man, without self-interest, to always be friendly and firm in our beliefs, both in good times an din bad times. This speaks of what I consider to be Common Decency. Paul rush in his article in the Financial Post Magazine "Is Decency Dead? Are we losing the small courtesies that lubricate the whole of society? Are these times as course and hard edged as they seem?"
By decency I mean a very simple consideration of others. Decency is courtesy, it's "yes" and "no", and "please" and "thank you". It's waiting at an intersection when the light is in your favour, but you can see you'll et stuck in the middle and block traffic. It's being helpful to the customer in business, it's being helpful to the elderly and infirm, and to the ladies on a bus or an elevator.
Paul Rush states that he feels the decline in human decency increased with the casual acceptance of four letter words in our everyday conversation. If you listen to many groups of young people today in their casual conversation you readily realize the necessity for us as men and masons to uphold our trust to eliminate from our conversation, and to help others eliminate from their conversation, these four letter words. Thus helping to restore to society some of that common decency.
Our honour requires us to have a full understanding of the basic fundamentals of faith, hope and charity or, as I prefer to view it, LOVE. To have a faith strong enough to eliminate fear of the unknown, to be able to see the hand of God in all that happens around you and to be able to accept it with the complete understanding of the hope that you will have the strength to stand up and protect innocence and virtue, and to defend the truth, regardless of the cost. The requirement for the demonstration of charity — love — brotherly love within this context is one we MUST ALL FULLY understand. It is much more than monetary giving. It is the giving of one's self, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a kind and generous word of encouragement, a hand to hold for strength, a foot for support, a prayer a door of safety and confidence and a sincere heart and mind. I personally feel it is such a tragedy when I hear one mason attribute personal and/or ulterior motives to another mason's actions both within and without the craft. How sad that our teaching of Love is so little understood, maybe by both.
My Brethren, those who sincerely believe and understand this love and common decency are truly men whose hearts are expanded by benevolence. Their beliefs are reflected in their actions to comfort the mourner, to assist the distressed, to listen to the troubled spirit, to help the weak and weary, to care for the widow and to provide guidance, love and understanding to the fatherless. The actions need only be so very simple, small jobs that may to others be difficult such as the digging of a garden, or the painting of a fence, or the shovelling of snow, or the cutting of grass. But I must say that the most important part of the love is doing the work to establish the need, being close enough, caring enough and communicating enough to find out the job needs to be done. You will seldom be asked but you must determine the need and demonstrate your love and care. Brethren, it is the simple everyday deeds which are required — if you look after these the so-called major needs will be taken care of.
The theological virtue about which we say little is HOPE. I believe that in order to better understand this virtue as it applies to Freemasonry, we should look to the Christian teachings, where the symbol of hope is a child. I think back, and I am sure many of you do likewise, to when my children were born. I wept, I held something small, so helpless, so innocent and yet so divine. What a symbol of Hope for all the world. To see what this little symbol of hope means to the world let us look at the history for a moment — look at the year 1809 when some of these hopes were William gladstone, Abraham Lincoln Felix Mendelssohn, Alfred Tennyson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, just to mention a few. History reflects the effects of these hopes — a politician, a statesman, a musician, a poet and an author. What an impact they had on the world, what a contribution they made to society. They didn't change any of the basics or fundamentals but they changed society.
In our Freemasonry our children, our corresponding symbol of hope are our candidates — our new members — these we must nurture, those to whom we are responsible. Our history only, will tell how much they contribute to our Freemasonry and society, how they do not change our basic and fundamental principles and yet how much they change our Freemasonry and society. Brethren, I am a firm believer that change is not only imminent, it is necessary and you and I as senior members of our beloved Order must not only be prepared to accept but to welcome change for the betterment of our society and our fraternity. We must get off our traditionalistic platforms and help our hopes to the realization of their contribution. This will greatly enhance our honour as masons.
Our honour requires us to be good men and true and strictly to obey the moral law. There is a difference between the moral law and the statute law, in as much as the moral law governs the actions of the individual mason in relation to God, while the statute law controls our actions in relation to the state. These laws apply to thought, word and deed, and a mason must ask himself not only "Is it legal?" but also "Is it moral?" The mason cannot abide by the moral law occasionally or partially. He must obey it strictly. There are no technical loopholes through which he may escape such as there are in statute law. If every mason could only live by this great obligation, his integrity, his honour would shine forth for all the world to see.
But let us be honest, we are not always perfect, we often fall short of that perfection our Great Architect expects of us. What then is required of us as brother masons? Our honour requires us to display a virtue which does not receive the emphasis, the importance it so justly deserves — the virtue of forgiveness. The Volume of the Sacred Law, The Holy bible, gives us the story of the father who had two sons, and after raisin them and educating them as to their responsibilities in life to God, to family and to society, he gave to each son his due share and set them out to live their own lives. The elder son strictly obeyed the moral law, he upheld the honour which was required of him. The younger son left the country, squandered his money on wine, women and song, he relinquished his honour and broke the moral law in many respects. After reducing himself to the lowest depths of degradation, he took a long look at himself and resolved to return to his father and to attempt to re-establish his honour — to strictly obey the moral law. The father rejoiced to see his son return, he gave him his forgiveness, his love and his support to enable him to restore his honour. The elder son was most upset with the actions of his father. After pointing out what his brother had done, he questioned his father's actions. The father replied, "Son, you are always with me and all that I have is yours, it is fitting to make merry and to be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found".
Our masonic honour similarly requires us to be forgiving, to give up whatever resentment we may have for a brother who was lost and is found.
I stated earlier that I felt sufficient time was not being allocated to make brethren aware of their responsibilities and it is my view that much more instructional and educational time should be devoted to our four major charges to the craft — To the Newly Initiated Candidate, To the Newly Passed Candidate, To the Newly Raised Candidate and to the brethren at Installation. If this can be done, we will all have a much better understanding of all that Freemasonry requires of us and we will also realize that just as you cannot erect a building without the absolute standards of the square and plumb and level, so it is true that you cannot build a life without the absolute moral and spiritual standards of the Volume of the Sacred Law. No one can suggest that these are outmoded ideas just because science has declared that there is no absolute in the universe. there are those who have applied the theory of relativity to morals. They have tried to take the sting our of conscience, and the imperative out of right conduct by making relativity an easy and comfortable rationalization of expediency in morals. Einsteins produced the theory that every thing is relative but we who are not scientists know that in the world in which we live there are absolutes on which we can depend.
A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Parallel lines never meet. Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
Also the laws of God which are revealed in the Volume of the Sacred Law are still absolute. We can build our individual and social structures only as we build by truth, justice, righteousness and love, which are the teaching of that holy book.
There are those today who do not recognize this absolute but prefer the philosophy that "all events are necessitated by material forces which work themselves into an inevitable pattern. Material forces determine history and economic factors are sufficient to explain human development", which means that moral and spiritual factors are completely eliminated and man need no longer be considered morally responsible for his actions. There is no standard of right and wrong but only that of convenience, no external principles but only temporal expedience.
All this confirms that there must be an absolute of truth and brotherhood, a final authority in personal conduct and social relations to which a man must subscribe. This is the foundation stone of a Mason's Honour and from this cornerstone comes full self-realization as a creative force in the life of the world.
Therefore, masons throughout the world have bound themselves by vows taken on the Volume of the Sacred Law because it is a symbol of the authority of the great Architect of the Universe, because it constitutes the truth a mason must believe, the law he must obey and sovereignty to which he must submit. This brings him to the full realization of the honour of a mason. It is the thread that unites us in one universal bond of friends. It gives meaning to the writings of Susan Polis Schutz:
Though we don't see each other very much Nor do we write to each other very much Nor do we phone each other very much I always know that, at any time, I could call, write or see you And everything would be exactly the same You would understand everything I am saying And everything I am thinking. Our friendship does not depend On being together It is deeper than that. Our closeness is something inside us That is always there Ready to be shared with each other Whenever the need arises It is such a comfortable and warm feeling to know that We have such a lifetime of friendship.
When the honour of a mason truly becomes the heart and the conscience of us all, with the commitment to benefit society, we will be capable of producing great effect and Freemasonry will truly be a powerful entity.
As we are instructed in the Volume of the Sacred Law,
"This the way; walk ye in it"
However, none of us are perfect and when I falter and slip from the way it is then that I need your faith your prayers, your hope, your friendship, your love. It is through your giving, your contribution, that the honour of a mason is made manifest and displayed to all the world.
My brethren, may God bless each of you with a deeper feeling and understanding of a Mason's Honour.