Me Changing Me

One of the fundamental practices of Freemasonry is that we do not discuss religion or politics in Lodge. Many carry this same principle outside into the world in an attempt to foster harmony. Others walk a fine line.

Recently, a Brother expressed support for a specific candidate for political office. On the surface, there is no problem with a Brother, or any citizen, choosing to support someone for office. The problem arises when a Mason, using a forum marked for Masonic purposes, advocates as a Mason, his support for a political candidate.

Some brothers have implied that what he has done is little different from placing a political sticker on a car that also has Masonic badges on it. The only reason for posting a political opinion on a Masonic blog, website or forum, ostensibly aimed at Masons, is to appeal to Masons as a Mason. We need to draw a clear line.

We should try to remember that Masonry not about me trying change others, it is about me changing me. It is not my concern whether a brother is wrapping himself in politics… but in doing so while representing himself as a Mason, he may be losing sight of that valuable instrument by which we are taught to circumscribe our passions and keep them within due bounds toward all mankind, particularly our brethren in Freemasonry.

Because politics are divisive by their very nature, we as Freemasons should be careful about how, and where we discuss such things. In the Lodge closing charge we are admonished to be diligent, temperate, prudent and discreet. Posting one’s political opinion directed toward Masons, some might say, is analogous to using the Lodge mailing list to send out political flyers on Lodge letterhead. This is never a good thing, and is only cause for dissension between brothers who do not agree with a candidate or position being advocated in the name of Masonry. I have seen this happen first-hand in the past. I am however en-heartened that I have not been witness to this happening in our jurisdiction.

Freemasonry is about improving ourselves, and anything that detracts from that lofty goal should be avoided. After all, there is a time and a place for religious observation, and a time and a place for politics. Lodge is not a place for either of them.

While many people, especially in this wearying and divisive Presidential election season, are focused on things that divide people, we as a group of men continue to remain focused on what we have in common and what binds us together. This is what makes us strong. Try to keep that in focus at all times. It is what allows me to stay focused on not changing others, but on me changing me.

— WB Mike Bishop, PM of Enlightenment Lodge 228

Why through Symbols?

The Most popular definition of Freemasonry states that it is “a System of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Many a brother has asked “Why illustrated by symbols? Why not illustrated by plain statements of truth, completely defining the ‘system of morality’?”

There are many answers. Among them is the truth that definition limits what is defined. Seldom has this been better expressed than by that philosopher who asked “Do you believe in God?” His answer: “Define what you mean by God. And when you have defined, no matter what your definition, I shall reply ‘No, I do not believe in God, because a God defined is a God limited, and a limited God is no God!”

All mathematics are written in symbols, since our digits are symbols for quantities. Algebra used a symbol for a symbol, expressing quantities by letters, instead of numbers.

In the algebraic equation “a + b = c” any quantity may be assigned to any one, or any two of the letters and the equation still be true. But note that the replacing of a symbol by a known quantity limits the equation. Go a step further and replaced two symbols by two quantities; write that 2 + b = 4 and the necessity for b as a symbol disappears; it can only equal 2.

This soul or spirit comprehends a language which the brain does not understand. The keenest of minds have striven without success to make this mystic language plain to reason. When you hear music which brings tears to your eyes and grief or joy to your heart you respond to a language your brain does not understand and cannot explain. It is not with your brain that you love your mother, your child or your wife; it is with the Something Beyond; and the language with which that love is spoken is not the language of the tongue.

A symbol is a word in that language. Translate that symbol into words which appeal only to the mind, and the spirit of the meaning is lost. Words appeal to the mind; meanings are expressed in words appeal to the spirit.

It is thus seen that definition of a symbol limits its scope, and Freemasonry, by using symbols which are not closely defined, makes it possible for many men of many minds, each to read his own conception of the truth into the symbols. Freemasonry thus becomes as great a “System of morality” as the mind of him who attempts to understand it may admit.

A Masonic historian wrote:
Freemasonry permits each individual to interpret and apply the lessons of the Craft as he sees best. It is this unique spirit of tolerance and freedom which frequently confuses opponents of the Fraternity. One Mason places his interpretation upon a certain symbol or attribute of Freemasonry; another may take an entirely different view, and will cite evidence with which a third may be in entire variance; yet these three men can gather about our altars and labor together in perfect amity.

That Freemasonry conceals in symbols in order to arouse curiosity to know their meaning is often considered the only explanation. But there are many more lofty ideas of why this great system of truth, philosophy and ethics is hidden in symbols.

As Masons we seek to enlighten both the spirit and mind… May we always endeavor to be successful in our pursuit of understanding and teaching those symbolic lessons that transcend the mere language that we communicate them by.

 

— WB Michael Bishop

Stoic Influences

A Young Marcus Aurelius, Musei Capitolini MC279

Up on the Platform:

*Have you forgotten what’s what?*

–I know, but it’s important to them.”

*So you have to be an idiot as well?*

-Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

 

A while back in Union Lodge, I had the pleasure of being on the investigation committee for a candidate. He has an abiding interest in the Roman Empire, with a collection of coins from that era. During the interview, we discussed a bit of Masonic history, and he complimented the Brothers on their knowledge of American History—noting that his own area of interest was considerably earlier with the Roman Empire.

One of the neat things about studying Masonic history is that you never really know what rabbit hole you might pop down in the course of your search. That is never more true than when you are looking into the origins of Masonry, and all the schools of thought that helped create our gentle craft. There were many influences that combined to make our Fraternity possible, from the Enlightenment to the earliest Greek philosophers. And amongst those were the Stoics.

The ancient Greek philosophies were born in the 6th century BC, and their cradle was Athens. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were amongst the many who were drawn there to learn astronomy, geometry and rhetoric. There they founded schools of thought which included Cynicism, Stoicism, Skepticism and Epicureanism. When that city-state fell to the Roman Empire, most of those schools of philosophy simply moved to Rome and set up shop. There they flourished until the Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the State Religion, thus ending the party for all other schools of philosophy.

One of the last Stoics of the ancient world was the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He left a wealth of writings that have become known as the Meditations, but really they were his notes to himself—his diary, if you will. We don’t have the originals, only copies of copies. We don’t even know what order they were originally in. To a degree, we’re not even sure which are his own thoughts or which quotes from other people. But they give us a great window into the views of a thoughtful man trying to live up to his creed. And the parallels between his Stoicism and Masonry are striking.

When we first become Freemasons, we are told of the power of good men gathering together, how they will naturally seek one-another’s welfare as much as their own. Marcus wrote “When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them.” He has stated one of the basic foundations of our Fraternity, that the work of making oneself a better person is easiest when you are surrounded by good people.

Masonry is, in part, the belief and practice of the cardinal virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. The Stoics strove to practice their own cardinal virtues: Temperance, Justice, Courage and Wisdom. Through tolerance they strove to help their fellow men and achieve harmony with the world around them. As Marcus put it, “To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice—it degrades you. And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing. Objective judgment, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now, at this very moment—of all external events. That’s all you need.”

Or think upon the lesson of circumscribing one’s passions, to keep one’s actions within due bounds. Marcus wrote “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you—inside or out.” As we would say, if you keep your actions within due bounds you cannot materially err.

Our ritual helps to instill in us the concepts which we seek to internalize, by repetition keeping those worthy precepts in mind. “We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle said, “therefore, excellence is not an act but a habit.” Marcus would later add to that that we are a product of our thoughts: “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind.”

But Masonry is not just a school of thought, but the belief that good men should do good works. To work in harmony with our Brothers to promote the public good, as all human beings have a claim upon our kind offices. To do good because we can, with no expectation of reward—or as Seneca put it, that “the words should become works.” The echoes of the Stoic Tradition in our gentle craft are striking.

Nor would we be the first Masons to take note of that. At Valley Forge, General George Washington had the Stoic play Cato performed for his men, to boost their morale. Brother Teddy Roosevelt carried a copy of Marcus’ Meditations with him on his adventures.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius was an interestingly complex and humble fellow, who referred to the Imperial Robes as “just sheep’s wool, dyed with the blood of shellfish.” He sounds like he would have made an excellent Mason.

And so, a hat tip to our newest Entered Apprentice and his special area of historical interest. He may just have stumbled upon the root, before he began to study the tree.

 

Walk in Light, my Brothers.

— WB John Porter

Washington, DC

I had the honor of accompanying the delegation from the Oregon Grand Lodge, and the MW Grand Master, to Washington DC to open an Occasional Grand Lodge at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, as well as to lay a wreath at the tomb of George Washington.

MWGM laying wreath at George Washington’s tomb

 

The trip was inspirational, and gave me the opportunity to bear witness to early Masonic history in our country. Masonic tenants form the early building blocks of our great nation. The leadership of brothers such as WB Washington and MWB Franklin, are essential elements that made our country what it is.

In the current political climate, I often ponder if these Masonic tenants could be put to use to aid and heal our wounds. I would encourage any brother to so partake of the next opportunity to visit DC with the Oregon delegation.

 

— WB Jason Crowder

Reflections on Change

Chamber of Refection by Saodokaomx DeviaotArt

“There is nothing permanent in life except change.” — Heraclitus

As I write this it is St. John’s Day. Our Lodge has passed through another year of labor, and yet another lies before us. Last year gave us momentous events, enjoyable times as well as sad. Our Brothers rose to the challenges, completing the work set before them and starting work on new projects. New designs are upon the Trestle board, and another Masonic year beacons.

The great enlightenment of Gautama Bhudda is that everything changes, and those changes will change further. Happiness and sadness will alike pass away, and from the viewpoint of an individual nothing is permanent—including the individual. Change is the nature of our world, and although some fear it none can stop it. Like the tides of King Knut, change is deaf to the entreaties of those who would stop its flow.

We as Masons, however, understand change as the ancient stonemasons did. With a base in our ancient Craft, we labor to improve our Lodge, our community and ourselves. Knowing that there will always be change, we strive to improve our world and our contributions to it.

We try each day to be better men than we were the day before. Thus we use our traditions to harness change for the betterment of ourselves and our Lodge.

I recently saw t-shirt with the saying “Death smiles at everyone, a Mason smiles back.” Pithy, but to the point. We will not always be here, but our Craft will endure.

And while we are here, let us work as Brothers in harmony. Some of us have taken up new stations and places, some have taken up new challenges. Together we can do great things. As the saying goes, “Where there is unity there is always victory.” I have no idea what the new Masonic year will bring, but I know that the reality will be far more than my expectations. As we start out on the labors of a new year, I can think of no better group of fellows to share the journey with. I look forward to seeing what we will accomplish.

Walk in Light, my Brothers.

WB John Porter

“Because I am A Freemason!”

freemason with lapel pin

My Brothers, we are on the threshold of a new, and very exciting exercise of promoting Freemasonry in the city of Portland, Oregon. Never forget the primary mission of Enlightenment Lodge, that of increasing the ranks of enlightened individuals by showing them who we are, and what we do. There are thousands of men in the city of Portland who would benefit themselves, and others, by becoming members of our order. You may ask: how do we do that?

It’s simple arithmetic. If each member of Enlightenment encourages one man, this next year, to ask about Freemasonry, we can double our forces. Think about that; if that progression occurs we will have four times our original membership in just two years. Is it likely we can do that? Is it even possible? The answer is: only if we believe it, and work towards that goal.

The next thing you need to know is exactly how we will accomplish that. How do we attract bright, moral men of good character to our Fraternity? The answer lies in each of us here. Ask yourself these questions: Do I respect a man because of what he says, or what he does. Do I place more value upon a man’s words, or his actions. Am I more likely to associate myself with people who seem to know everything, or people that display humility. The answers, for me, are completely obvious. When I see a man who lives his life honestly, I respect him. When a man consistently does his best to provide for his family, I respect him. When a man lives his life as though God is directing his every step, I learn to love him, and he becomes a Brother to me.

Become that man, for when you do, others will see the joy you get from life. They will know that you are a good man and true, and they will befriend you. Once your friend, they will discover that Freemasonry is, in part, responsible for making you the man you are. They will become curious and ask questions. Your answers will result in yet another petition, and you will have accomplished what few men have the opportunity do: positively influencing a man’s life and making him better than he was when he met you.

You will know when you become that man because of certain phrases that you hear from others, such as: “You always seem so happy.” “You’re always in a good mood.” “You seem to be such a positive person.” “I’ve never seen you get angry at anyone.” “You’re such a loving person” Or questions such as “How do you stay so even tempered?” “How do you maintain such a positive attitude?” “Why do you help so many people?” “How do you find the time to do so much?” “Why is it that you’re always happy?”

You should all know the answer: “Because I am a Freemason!”

Welcome to Enlightenment Lodge No. 228

On behalf of the officers and brethren of Enlightenment Lodge No. 228, welcome to our brand new site!

Unlike other Masonic websites in Oregon, Enlightenment’s website aims to be a little different. For one thing, we’ll be presenting useful or insightful content for the benefit of the brethren and for the public through this medium. The reasons are simple: We’d like to remind our brothers of the reasons for becoming members of our beloved Craft, and we’d like to give the public a sneak peek into what Freemasonry really is — a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

From time to time, you’ll come across the word “morality” in our writings. While morality is often associated with religion, please understand that Freemasonry is not a religion; it’s rather a handmaiden of religion with an emphasis on religious tolerance. As long as you believe in a higher power, your beliefs will, for the most part, find Freemasonry’s traditions quite agreeable.

For our Masonic brothers: If you would like to contribute to our repository of content, please feel free to contact us through this link.

Until then, we look forward to hearing from you and hopefully, see you at lodge.