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.
Bro. Philip William Mayfield
Two years ago in this theatre, the question of “The Mason and Masonry in the Permissive Society” was raised. I find it more than a little interesting what we Masons who have in common a membership in what has been called “the most moral human institution that ever existed” are once again asking fundamentally the same question. Our theme, “Walking Tall”, raises many of the same questions, if perhaps, from a more personal point of view. I believe that the question is worth asking again — and again, if necessary. Today the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Many of the changes that are occurring are not forced upon us — we have sought them. But these changes force us to keep asking basic questions. We need to ask these questions just to keep corrected the compass that guides us on the course we choose to take.
I am reminded of one of my favourite stories of an old sea captain. We had steadily risen from youth through the ranks to heights of prestige and fame. But the old captain had one idiosyncrasy that was a mystery to all who knew him: before he ever issued an order, he would unlock his desk and from it take a locked box and from this remove a fragile, old scrap of paper at which he would glance and then locking it up again as before, he would give the command. One day at sea, the old captain died. After the funeral service and the necessary ceremonies were completed, the first officer moved into the captain’s quarters as quickly as decency would permit. Anxious to finally acquire the secret of naval success, he unlocked the desk, took and unlocked the box and withdrew the paper and read, “the starboard side of the ship is the right hand side.”
It is as important for Masons to keep basic concepts in mind as it was for the old captain if we are to arrive safely at the destination we set out for. Perhaps Masons should write down on a piece of paper, “the principle tenets of my profession are brotherly love, relief and truth.” These are the compass points of a Mason’s life’s journey and we need to keep them handy to avoid losing our way.
As man has advanced through history from one age to the next, from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages, through the Age of Reason and the Industrial Revolution to the Modern Age, he has always been moving to the next frontier. We, who have lived in the West, like to think of ourselves as sons of the pioneers and the residents of the last frontier. Of course there are others who have called the North the last frontier and still others the oceans. but in my understanding of history, the descriptions of the frontiers that I have read have been more about the people who moved to the new territory than about the geography itself. So even as we gaze at the frontier of the universe from our fragile platform in space, I believe that the new frontier is still the soul of man, himself. As the new explorers head out to the sea’s bottom or to the moon’s surface or to the backside of Mars and begin staking claims and arguing over prior rights, the dilemma is still the same. It is man, himself: at once so energetic, so full of potential, so creative, so god-like and at the same time so fragile, so ignorant, and so crude. I don’t think the dilemma has been better described briefly than by Schultz’s Charlie Brown who said, “there is no greater burden than a great potential.”
As the new frontiersman looks around and begins to survey the new scene of our modern day, contrary to the initial negative reaction, its not so much that it’s bad; it’s more that it is so hard to get one’s bearings and try to make sense of what we are looking at because the scene keeps changing so quickly and is filled with so much action that it can be dangerous for the inexperienced traveller until he learns what is necessary to survive. When he learns how to survive he can flourish in this new frontier for he will not only adapt himself, he will modify his surroundings to fit his needs. But first, let us briefly look at the new frontier.
We often talk about creation as though it all happened fifty million years ago. But today, on the new frontier, we live in an era of creation by explosion. No longer do people, and especially our children, patiently wait for long periods of experience to do something. Now a person trains and retrains for a number of jobs and experiences in a lifetime. The average North American child watches something like seven thousand hours of television by the time he is six years old and ready to start school. The result is that the learning experience along with everything else has been greatly accelerated. By the time he has reached high school, the child has acquired as much learning as a second year university student of thirty years ago.
A few years ago, you may have seen, as I did, a television documentary called, “Birth of an Island” in which a new island rose up out of the ocean. It was named, plant growth was born, houses were built and it was inhabited all in a period of six months. Time, creation, evolution, all mean something quite different than they did ten years ago. Especially for the young, the appropriate time is now. Tomorrow is today and today is forever. The result is that the dreams of our youth are no longer dreams. When Sputnik lifted off, when John Glenn circled the earth, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface, when people no longer had to wonder if it really was possible to perform such feats, then the universe became man’s home and it is the vision of the universe that now captures our imaginations and dreams. Nothing is impossible for anyone.
I think of a five year old girl who was accelerated to a special class of fast learners. Asked if she didn’t appreciate the promotion she commented, matter of factly, that this is where she should be. Glancing at a world map she asked where the map of the universe was? Even with small children our history and ties now run to the universe and the other planets in it. They are waiting anxiously for the next pictures from Mars on the television screen and dreaming of setting foot there.
We live in a time when a thirty-six hour marriage counselling group therapy session does far more than months of navel-gazing and talking of father. We live in a time when love-making and baby-making are separated. No woman needs to bear children unless she wants to and is free to make love when she wishes. This has greatly changed much of our thinking about sex and what it is and even the relationship between men and women for each other. (Yet only a fool would consider sex as only pleasure — even now — for it has to do with a person’s basic identity as one’s self as man or woman.) As a result, people don’t need to marry to get away from home or to get sex. These old moralities don’t fit any more IN THE SAME WAY THAT THEY USED TO. With our experience so different from what it was five years ago and even that experience so different from previous years, how do we deal with our experience in this new frontier in a way we can make some sense of? If we only apply survival tactics and we merely attempt to maintain the status quo, like the old remittance man, the events of the new frontier will simply pass us by. In reality there is no status quo — there is only an uncertain future! it can be mystifying — even confusing — trying to get your bearings to avoid losing your way because the new frontier keeps changing and growing so quickly.
There are other aspects of the new frontier that are frightening, too! It can be a dangerous place to be. Our homes are vulnerable not only to the thief in the night but also to those who would deceive us at the front door with strange bargains or others who would prey on our wives and daughters or others who would captivate us as hostages in their violent struggle for survival. The competition of the business world is not always a friendly rivalry and playing by the established rules is not always to be expected. We have to be very cautious about which contracts we seal with a handshake. We cannot expect others to come to our assistance even if life is endangered. Remember the boy whose car left the road and crashed into a stream of water. He died of exposure while other passively looked on because they didn’t want to “get involved”. Recently a father told a news reporter how he called from his burning apartment building for onlookers to catch his five month old baby that he wanted to drop to safety. They answered back, “you’ll just have to die in there.” Organized crime is part of the life of every large community. Petty crimes lie shoplifting do as much if not more damage to our communities than armed robberies. Petty politicians do as much as any one to stifle the force of creative human talent. Whether the powers of destruction be violent or insidious, the dangers of the frontier are there — and they are very dangerous!
We are all explorers and settlers approaching the new frontier. We all experience the mystery and danger and perhaps the fear. But I hope that we are all able to experience some of the excitement, too, for we don’t come passively, helplessly and without tools; and we don’t come alone! Masons should know this better than anyone else. The principle tenets of our profession are brotherly love, relief and truth. Even as speculative Masons, that means we are professional workmen with a purpose and in our toolboxes we carry the tools of a craftsman. These working tools are designed for adapting our environment to become a better place in which to live and we remember that they have lessons for us, teaching us how to live in the new frontier — how to adapt ourselves, as well. We even have designs waiting for us to use in our building of the new structures. They are the designs from the Great Architect.
It took a vast enthusiasm and a gigantic optimism for our ancient brothers to begin building the great temples and magnificent cathedrals, for some of those structures took generations to complete. but no less an optimism is required by us today if we are to successfully complete our building to our satisfaction. I am reminded of the story of a family with twin boys, on e of whom was the eternal optimist and the other who was equally pessimistic. Because of the difficulty of living with two such extremes, the mother went to see a child psychologist. He said to bring them in early next morning and leave them all day — which she did. At nine o’clock, he took the pessimist to a well-lighted modern room filled with all the things a boy could want to have and play with and said he would be back at four in the afternoon. The optimist he took to a dingy room with nothing in it but a pile of horse manure. At four o’clock he found the pessimist complaining about having everything but the toy he wanted. The optimist he found as cheerful as ever, digging wildly through the pile of manure and shouting, “I know there’s a horse in here somewhere!” This is the optimism necessary if we are to make our mark on the frontier today.
Brethren, the message that I have for you is simply this: we have a beautiful morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. In the Craft, we have the resources to build upstanding men who are able to walk tall. We need to use all of these resources if we are to succeed in our task. Yet I don’t feel we always use these resources to good advantage — often because we don’t take them seriously. For example, every candidate before he becomes a Mason is asked if he believes in God and if he believes in the immortality of the soul — and he must answer both of these questions in the affirmative if he is to become a Mason. Following this, within the Lodge room, our ceremonies and business are all conducted in the presence of the great light of our faith. We open and close our meetings with prayer. Yet I suspect that for every ten men who would fight for the preservation of the Bible perhaps one reads it regularly as a guide to life. Masons recognize religious faith as an integral part of moral development, yet rather than supporting the Brother in the practise and growth of his religious faith, lodge events often interfere with it. Special meetings and practise sessions held at the same time as a Brother’s service of Worship are an interference with an important part of his life and this interference is an implicit suggestion that his Worship and the growth of his faith are not so important. Masonry cannot allow itself to become involved, in sectarian matters — that is as it should be — but the Lodge must be instrumental in supporting each Brother in the practise of his faith if he is to be the man who “walks tall”. Without faith in the Supreme Architect in whose plan we are part of, without faith in the immortality of the soul, from where can each Brother gain the motivation and the courage to live by the example of architect, Hiram, who preferred to die rather than betray his trust? Our faith in God and in His resources of not only faith, hope and charity but also integrity and responsibility is the only foundation solid enough to support the structures of the frontier that we are endeavouring to build.
In our efforts, each Craftsman, from time to time, needs to pause and do some soul searching to check if the building of the “temple of his soul” is squarely on its foundations. “Am I shoddy in my dealings?” “Do I really care about my fellow man?” “Do the members of my family really know how much I care for them by the way I live my life?” “What kind of neighbour am I, really?” “How trustworthy am I?” These are important religious questions — the ones that really count! These are the issues that make or break a man — in his own eyes most of all. This is where a man begins to walk tall. This is where he can begin to feel good about himself and when this happens he can begin to tackle the problems of the world and the dangers of the frontier.
The dangers of the new frontier that I referred to earlier represent, in large part, the spiritual emptiness of our population: the lack of integrity, the shirking of responsibility. We Masons have a share in that failure. We may not have been guilty of committing the offense but we are as guilty as anyone for tolerating such offenses. would our neighbourhoods be trashed by common vandals if we cared about what happens? would our business practises foster a more productive economy if our attitude was less “me first”? Would our political system be less cluttered with incompetent, if not shoddy politicians, if we cared to properly support those good men who try against all odds to be responsible? With our country faced with the question of its very survival as a nation, is it not imperative that our attitude reflect a genuine concern for what is happening?
As Masons, we have a responsibility first of all to ourselves. Unless I care for myself what do I have of value to offer to anyone else? Following this, we have a responsibility to our neighbours and our neighbourhoods because Masons care for their fellowman and because our neighbourhoods reflect most of all the kind of people we are. We have a responsibility to our country. Unless we care what happens to our nation and take our part in the conduct of its affairs, we have no right to complain about the poor laws or the way they are enforced, the economic condition or the political fiascos that are becoming a daily mockery of our highest ideals. Unless we car, we haven’t even the right to object to our country falling apart and our losing all of the human rights that our forefathers for centuries have shed blood to first gain and then protect. Their efforts and what they have accomplished are worth nothing if we don’t care. We have a responsibility to God who is the source of all the goodness we can offer.
Brethren, when we really care, when the world can see how Masons really love each other, that’s when we WALK TALL! When a group of men as large as this group now in this theatre really cares, what is to stop us from being the kind of people we want to be and from building the kind of world we want to live in. When someone really cares, he is unstoppable. For him nothing is impossible.
I want to tell you one more story to illustrate my point. It is the story of an anonymous girl who had always wanted to be a missionary. However, when she was quite young her mother died and she was obligated to give up her wish to keep house for her father. But, when he died, she had to go to work and the only job she could get was in a very old, prison-like mental hospital. Her duties there were to pass out the food to those incurables in the cellar. There was one girl down there who was especially deranged — so much so that it was necessary to feed her by hand through the bars because otherwise she would not eat or would try to kill herself with the dishes she would break. The anonymous girl fed her, not once a day as required, but three times and she would do other favours for her that the institution did not recognize. She always was kind to her and treated her with respect and compassion, even while the deranged girl was kept in her own filth. Unexpectedly the patient began to speak and act more rationally and was later moved to another ward where she continued to improve — and people spoke of a miracle. A new hospital with the most modern psychiatric techniques was opened and when the most promising patients were called for, the girl was transferred. The time came when she was to be discharged, but she had no family, no job, and no place to go until someone suggest she nurse a young girl who was both deaf and blind — a vegetable, everyone said. She took the job and she went to care for Helen Keller. Because a still anonymous girl who wanted to be a missionary refused to quit caring — and cared for Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller, against all odds, was able to testify to the power of God and in the indomitable human spirit.
When no one cares, nothing worthwhile happens. When even one person cares the possibilities for good things are limitless. My Brothers, may each one of you be that person. Stand up! Walk tall! This is your calling as a Mason!