Greetings, brethren. Hard to believe we’re a quarter of the way through the year already – not that anyone is counting, especially the Worshipful Master (we never do anything like that). In the blink of an eye, spring will be upon us. While in practical terms, spring in the great state of California can mean anything from “don’t forget a jacket if you’re going to be out late,” to “don’t stand on the sidewalk too long if you don’t want your shoes to melt,” in symbolic terms, spring is the season of renewal, and that is very much the mood here at North Hollywood.
I am happy to report that our Ceremony of Obligation Renewal, organized by our dutiful Senior Warden Dennis Hadley, was a roaring success, and was both attended and praised by our own Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master, Randy Brill, the ceremony’s author (though the Worshipful brother himself, being the true gentleman that he is, insists that he only “inspired” or “assembled” the text). I thank the brethren and officers of North Hollywood who were able to addend and make the ceremony such a success, and I am further grateful to the numerous visiting brethren who joined us for the evening as well. I would honestly enjoy seeing this particular ceremony performed in every lodge, at least once a year, to help continually remind us of the obligations that we as Masons are sworn to live by – that Masonry is not simply an activity for us to do, or a series of words to memorize and recite; it is a solemn covenant between ourselves, the Great Architect of the Universe, and our fellow brethren. It is the very foundation of our lives and conduct, upon which we must continually build and improve.
It is, therefore, incumbent on us as Masons, not only to attend our meetings, conduct our business, and memorize our Ritual, but to truly study those words, to ask what they mean to us, and to determine how we can exemplify them in our own daily lives. On this note, I feel that now is the perfect time to reflect further on those truly foundational tenants of Masonry – namely, faith, hope, and charity. Now, I am certain that most of us can recite a few lines of Ritual, Ceremony, or Scripture on these topics, but when did we last sit down to truly contemplate the meaning of these virtues, especially in light of the modern age?
First and foremost, we have the virtue of faith – one that I am sad to say, is often treated as archaic in our own time and place. In this world of Silicon Valley dominance, where a STEM degree is treated as the be-and-end-all of wisdom, and where disposability itself is seen as a virtue, I worry that many, especially out here on the bleeding edge of the West Coast, view faith itself as a relic of a bygone age. Indeed, every time I see some venerable, iconic piece of Los Angeles architecture bulldozed to make way for yet another bloc of white, flat, ostensibly “luxury” condominiums, most of which will remain uninhabited for the majority of their pitifully short lifetimes, I sometimes even find myself wondering, “is nothing sacred anymore?” Moreover, the way faith itself seems to be handled and discussed in the modern zeitgeist, in my own humble opinion, leaves much to be desired. One would be hard-pressed to deny that we live in a sectarian age – after all, one can scarcely turn on any screen in one’s house without seeing images of religious upheaval, be it violence abroad, or those within our own country who would see this land of religious freedom overturned, replaced by the minority-rule of those who practice The One Faith™ (and of them, only those who practice it The Right Way™). I can be almost certain that you yourself have witnessed some news article or broadcast implying that men of different faiths cannot help but exist in conflict. Perhaps some of you have even attended a religious service where you were admonished to remember the dangers of religious tolerance, and the virtue of converting your wrong-thinking neighbors. But we, as Masons, are called to be above such crass sectarianism. It is our duty to be that all-welcoming, universal brotherhood of men, that body that unites the whole human family, regardless of faith, opinion, or origin of birth. And we are, even moreso, called to be that example of faith as a positive force in the world. When the uninitiated individual passes by the Masons’ Lodge, seeing the Buddhist embracing his Christian brother, our Jewish and Muslim brethren seated in harmony at one table, or even the occasional Sikh breaking bread with his Baháʼí brother, they can know, at a mere glance, that a better, more harmonious world is indeed possible.
On this same topic, I have, more than once, encountered the idea – again, prevalent more every day, – that “proof denies faith,” or that God can “only live in the gaps” that science has yet to explore. We may also hear the same from the “other side” – that we must reject the findings of science, as they can only serve to undermine our faith in the Almighty. Not so! It is my most sincerely held belief that the existence of Masonry fully dispels these notions. After all, are we not at once both men of faith, as well as students of the liberal arts and sciences? To the minds of the peoples of medieval Europe, living in stone huts and laboring in the shadows of ancient Roman arches, such feats of architecture may as well have been accomplished by witchcraft. One can scarcely imagine how they must have marveled at those monuments of antiquity that are still stunning achievements by today’s standards – the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Hagia Sophia. Beyond the Mediterranean, humanity has accomplished further wonders still, from the monolith churches of Ethiopia, to the stone city of Petra, and even the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people, all so wondrous, even today, that there are those who would have you convinced that they could only have been built by aliens. And yet, do these feats of architecture diminish in scope because we now, once again, understand the principles by which they were constructed? Of course they do not. It does not lessen the craft of the architect that we have seen the tools with which he builds. If anything, our appreciation for his noble trade, having known his methods, can only grow. If this is true of these structures built by hands, how much moreso must it be true of those structures built without! Do the stars lose their luster, because we now know that they aggregated over millennia, rather than having been plucked from the coinpurse of the Almighty? Are the shear multitude of forms that life here on Earth can take any less awe-inspiring for our knowing that they can subtly alter and multiply over the succession of generations? Is the whole of the Fundament less sacred because, barely a decade ago, we discovered that it was permeated and bound together by the Higgs field? I say that, to the Mason, immersed as he is in both faith and science, the knowledge of one can only strengthen him in the other.
Hope, I will touch on but briefly, because, after our shared experience of the last few years – which I know I have mentioned on more than one occasion – I feel we are so accustomed to contemplating it that one scarcely needs to be called to do so. That said, hope is no less a fundamental gear in the Masonic machine than any other. After all, as I mentioned in my Master’s address at installation, where would we now be if our Worshipful Masters of 6020 and 6021 had found themselves lacking in hope? Many of us, I am sure, more than once felt the temptation to give up and put down our working tools. But just as with every crisis the Craft has endured, we kept the flame alight and sheltered it from the storm until it could be stoked again. No calamity can be overcome without the hope of brighter days to come. Even as we, today, endure a rise in conspiratorial thought, attacks on Masonic edifices, and the destruction of Masonic monuments, we continue to practice our sacred Craft, content in the hope that soon enough, this too shall pass. I think this can be well exemplified by a conversation I recently enjoyed with a friend of mine wherein he asked me my opinion on the recent removal of the Albert Pike memorial that once stood in Washington, DC. I responded, simply, that a single incident such as that was of little to no concern – after all, the Fraternity has existed (in its current form) for over 300 years now. We have the luxury of being calm, being patient, and taking a long, long view of events. “Perhaps,” I said, (and I’m going to take the luxury of paraphrasing myself here – don’t worry, I asked me and got permission,) “over the course of the next century or so, we can take time, as a nation, to discuss the man himself, his legacy – whether his contributions to Masonry can or cannot be separated from his tenure as a Confederate general – and whether or not he would even want a statue in the first place. We’ve got plenty of time to talk, to listen, and to figure it all out.” This, of course, presupposes that the Fraternity will still be around long after all of us are gone, but this is the goal, is it not? Do we not all have that same hope, that our labors today will indeed echo down the centuries? I don’t know about you, but, (and not to be utterly gauche by quoting from a popular modern musical,) God help and forgive me, I want to build something that’s gonna outlive me.
Lastly, where would any discussion of Masonic virtue be without touching upon charity – arguably the most Masonic of virtues? But even saying as much belies the complex nature of our charitable works. After all, even within the craft there are a range opinions on the topic. On one end, we have those who might argue that everyone must be free to succeed – or fail – entirely on their own merits, with us reserving our own contribution for the worthy distressed. After all, if we gave all of our available Lodge funds over to aiding the distressed today, to the point that the Lodge itself was left with nothing, who would be left to aid them tomorrow? On the other, there are those who would argue that the greatest charity of all lies in creating a society without the need for charity, where all, regardless of ability, can know that their basic needs will always be met – to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Most, of course, will find their opinion somewhere between these, colored by their own station in life, their individual religion, and their political leanings (not that any of us ever allow political bias to influence our Masonic thinking).
Regardless of individual approaches, I am proud to say that the spirit of charity in all of its forms is alive and well here at North Hollywood. At the lodge itself, I’ve been heartened by the number of brothers who have jumped to assist each other with moving in the last two weeks. I also had the pleasure of waking up this morning to a brother thanking us for the help we were able to provide while he was undergoing a difficult medical procedure. Beyond the Lodge itself, I am proud to announce that we are bringing back our Stated Meeting canned food drives (which had dropped off somewhat during our time meeting remotely, and then again with our move,) as well as to announce my own initiative to revive North Hollywood’s essay contest, as a way to send highschool seniors out into the adult world with the benefit of Masonic assistance. Brethren have already stepped up to assist with this, and any others who wish to do so, or who have assistance in working with our public schools, should not hesitate to reach out. We will also be organizing the officers of the Lodge (and, as always, any brethren who would like to volunteer to assist as well are welcome to do so) to make calls to all the brethren and widows of the Lodge, to make sure that everyone is doing well – and to determine how best the Lodge can assist if they are not. I have also had some wonderful conversations with the brethren and Masters of our new neighbor Lodges here at the Van Nuys Masonic Center about their own charitable initiatives, which has been a wealth of inspiration in and of itself, and I continue to believe it will be of great benefit to be able to both work and socialize more closely with such a fine group of gentlemen.
I know I’ve said a lot here already (starting to be a trend, I know,) but to make a short conclusion: I hope that, as this season of restoration and renewal rolls around, that the brethren will join with me in not only renewing the content of our obligations, but in truly studying, contemplating, and living our the principles we swore to as Masons – not only of faith, hope, and charity, but all of our Masonic tenants in general.
Faithfully yours, today, tomorrow, and always,
Dillon T. Ingram,
North Hollywood Lodge 542, Free and Accepted Masons of California.