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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Albert Pike on Serving Ourselves, or Serving Others

I was reading a site that discussed collisions of bodies within the vacuum of space, and one of the authors had an interesting quote under his signature line. This quote's significance, and reflections on its author and his organization's positive moral effects, have generated this essay.
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us.  What we have
done for others and the world remains and is immortal. Albert Pike
This quote stimulated considerable thought in me. I immediately thought of one of America's greatest charities, The Shriners Hospitals.  Readers unfamiliar with this network of health care institutions dedicated to the healing of children should go to the previous link. They also should visit the website of Shriners International, and an in-depth look at the organization available in .pdf, The Shriners Primer.

Now I will have more to say on Pike's quote, the Shriners Hospitals, and how these connect with today's challenges in America.  Before proceeding to these main points, I provide some background on why the quotation and Pike's name generated this essay.

Albert Pike, My Father, and Me

Pike was responsible for promoting and growing the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry into the global fraternity it is today.  My father, William Henry Willis, became a Scottish Rite Mason when he was in the Army, stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  He attained the 32nd Degree and is a member in good standing today.  As a boy growing up in my home, I remember seeing Lodge publications arrive in the mail and my Dad reading them. I used to pick these up and read the articles. I once found a copy of Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma, a large and bulky tome, kept clean and safe in his dresser drawer when I was snooping around in my parents' bedroom, as children sometimes do.

Years later, I was a minister and ran across books and pamphlets written against Masonry and Pike in particular.  My curiosity was aroused because my Dad was a Mason.  His morality was impeccable.  His imprint on my moral and ethical formation was indelible.  So I found a copy of Pike's Morals and Dogma in a used bookstore and read for myself a man who shaped part of my father's values and character.  I still have that book.

Pike's Morals and Dogma intrigued me when I read it, or much of it.  I already had earned my PhD and was surprised by his intellectual complexity, his synthesis of Masonry, moral philosophy, and many structural elements drawn from the Bible and Christianity.  My reactions to what I read varied, between genuine admiration and inspiration, to wry detachment and bemusement.  He was a bold man, not prone to overweening care in his generalizations, which sometimes reflected his limitations in learning and his place in time, the nineteenth century.

As I read Pike, I began to understand my father from a different point of view.  My father had, without ever really saying much about it, embodied the best in Masonic values and practices in how he lived his life as a husband and father, worker and neighbor.  Things he had taught to my two brothers and me, requirements for being a good and moral person, principles he demanded we follow or be disciplined for disobeying, were Masonic rules.  Albert Pike had helped shape my father into the man I loved and love today.  In fact, I saw how my father's adherence to the best in Masonry had been infused into his own sons.

Honesty and integrity are values built into my nature, though I am human and have lapsed sometimes from embodying both as I should.  But when I read Pike, I realized that some of the Christians who had written lock, stock and barrel against Masonry, misrepresented some of it.  And I had experienced the best of it, mediated through my Dad.

A Quote From Morals and Dogma

In preparing for this essay, I found an online copy of Pike's book, and re-read parts of it.  Because my company, Leadership Ethics Online, teaches the value of ethics and leadership, I find it valuable and necessary to provide an illustrative quote from Morals and Dogma.
Masonry has its decalogue, which is a law to its Initiates. These are its Ten Commandments:

I. God is the Eternal, Omnipotent, Immutable WISDOM and Supreme INTELLIGENCE and Exhaustless Love.  Thou shalt adore, revere, and love Him!  Thou shalt honor Him by practicing the virtues!

II. Thy religion shall be, to do good because it is a pleasure to thee, and not merely because it is a duty.  That thou mayest become the friend of the wise man, thou shalt obey his precepts!  Thy soul is immortal ! Thou shalt do nothing to degrade it !

III. Thou shalt unceasingly war against vice!  Thou shalt not do unto others that which thou wouldst not wish them to do unto thee!  Thou shalt be submissive to thy fortunes, and keep burning the light of wisdom!

IV. Thou shalt honour thy parents!  Thou shalt pay respect and homage to the aged!  Thou shalt instruct the young!  Thou shalt protect and defend infancy and innocence!

V. Thou shalt cherish thy wife and thy children!  Thou shalt love thy country, and obey its laws!

VI. Thy friend shall be to thee a second self!  Misfortune shall not estrange thee from him!  Thou shalt do for his memory whatever thou wouldst do for him, if he were living!

VII. Thou shalt avoid and flee from insincere friendships!  Thou shalt in everything refrain from excess.  Thou shalt fear to be the cause of a stain on thy memory! 

VIII. Thou shalt allow no passions to become thy master!  Thou shalt make the passions of others profitable lessons to thyself!  Thou shalt be indulgent to error!

IX. Thou shalt hear much: Thou shalt speak little: Thou shalt act well!  Thou shalt forget injuries!  Thou shalt render good for evil!  Thou shalt not misuse either thy strength or thy superiority !

X. Thou shalt study to know men; that thereby thou mayest learn to know thyself!  Thou shalt ever seek after virtue!  Thou shalt be just!  Thou shalt avoid idleness!

But the great commandment of Masonry is this: "A new commandment give I unto you: that ye love one another! He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, remaineth still in the darkness."
Pike's closing "great commandment of Masonry," for anyone familiar with the New Testament, was a direct quote combining Jesus' words in the Gospel of John 13:34a, and those of the author of I John 2:9.

Pike's commandments speak for themselves: love for God; love for doing good in and of itself; war against vice and use of the Golden Rule; love for parents and the young; love for wife and family and country; love for friends and honor; aversion to "passions" or being driven by emotions, more listening and less talking but always doing well; and, studying human nature for the cultivation of virtue, justice, and a fruitful life of work.

Were I analyzing Pike's words for their origins, many references would come from the Bible.  At any rate, I have thought for a long time ago that Masonry's emphasis on taking personal responsibility for shaping and honing one's intellectual, moral, emotional, family, and social life--using the tools revealed by the Great Architect--was and is a good thing.

On Christianity's Opponents of Masonry

I was a Christian minister for a long time. I have seen many believers say they love God, yet harm themselves, their families, their workplaces, and society. I am a scholar and expert on two thousand years of Christians showing arrogance, hate, and abuse to those within and without their circle of faith.  Many do what St. Paul commanded must not be done.  They sin boldly because they are so sure of grace and forgiveness.  Read the Book of Romans, chapter 6, verses 1-2.

Such are the perky sinners who emblazon their bumpers with, "I'm not perfect! I'm just forgiven!" The world has enough of consciences dulled by delusions.  And people who glibly harm others, then expect easy forgiveness from God, have not read or at least learned much from Jesus.

Therefore, Christian critics who dismiss Masonry en masse show me two things. (1) They either are ignorant, or unjust. (2) In dismissing Masonry, they dismiss all its obvious and clear dependencies on Jesus' teachings and, to that extent, they discard Jesus' positive impacts within Masonry.

As with other haters, I could pray the worst of these critics first served notice on their fellow members' hypocrisies. But such a prayer would be wasted. They are so like the same Pharisees who trusted their own status before God was sound and implacable. Their idea of religion is to attack and tear down others, as if this elevates their own defective faith. What they cannot emulate or exceed threatens them, since it holds up a mirror to higher standards.

Reflecting on Albert Pike's Couplet

Let us return now to Albert Pike's famous couplet. "What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." You may discard everything else Pike ever did or said, if you would be unfair.  Yet his twenty-three words have provided generations of Masons with two motives:  (1) to limit and sacrifice self-interest and (2) to invest money, time, work, and talent "for others and the world."

These two independent clauses reveal and suggest much.  Perhaps a few paraphrases help.  Live for yourself and die alone...Invest in people, not things.  Jesus taught it is "more blessed to given than receive" (Acts 20:35).  Pike knew cause-and-effect.  One person doing good to another had effects creative, unpredictable, but all good.

More than eighty-one years after Pike, Edward Lorenz would write in 1972 of the "Butterfly Effect".  He showed how infinitesimally small events had unpredictable and even great effects, because of the interrelationships between things.  Pike did not need a mathematical model for his doctrine.  It was self-evident.

All human life is on a continuum, one generation giving birth to another.  In every generation are men and women, boys and girls, capable of (1) consuming and taking or (2) producing and giving.  The former harm themselves, ruin others, and start wars.  The latter help themselves become the best persons in mind, body, emotions, and morality they can--which leads to a life of giving to those around them, and for the next generation.

I know I love Pike's little couplet for its simple elegance and truth.  When you add to it his "Second Great Commandment of Masonry"--do good to others for pleasure, not duty--this is a powerful doctrine.  Many do good to others out of self-interests...recognition, reward, benefits, avoidance of punishment.  Yet I love that Pike commanded his fellow Masons to learn how to do good to others for its own sake, its pleasure in the doing of it.

That requires a purity of intention, an advancement in moral understanding, few today achieve.  To want to do good for others because your inner being has been cleared of its junk, because you have become so healthy all you can do to feel "normal and happy" is to love, now THAT is a fantastic way to be and live!  Pike taught that in this couplet, and in all of his "Ten Commandments" noted above.

Pike's Couplet Fulfilled:
Shriners Hospitals for Children

First, let us get something straight from the beginning.  Masons always have been involved in charitable work.  In my state alone, Masonic Homes of Kentucky has provided senior care since 1867.  So what I am about to say about the Shriners--who all must be Master Masons as a precondition for membership--must be placed within the context of Masonic charities as a whole.

For many Americans, their only image of a Shriner is an overweight old man wearing a fez topped with a tassel, an Americanized version of an Arabian outfit, and riding figure eights on either a very large Harley, or a miraculously teeny-tiny motorcycle, in a parade.  As for Shriners at convention, well, just like some religious conventions with thousands of preachers and priests, there always are a few who support the local trades, ending up arrested with their names in the papers.

For a better more truthful understanding, one is advised to go and see one of the fine hospitals for children created and sustained by Shriners. The Shriners Hospitals for Children is a network of 22 medical centers around the United States, all dedicated to healing children.  I summarize below information drawn from The Shriners Primer, pages 14-15, which readers can download at that link.
  • 19 hospitals offer juvenile orthopedic care--spinal injuries, joints and muscle conditions, brittle bone disease, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy
  • 4 hospitals offer juvenile burn injuries care--acute, fresh burns; reconstructive and restorative surgeries for kids with healed burns; treatment for those with limited mobility due to scarring; and, help for kids with severe facial scarring and deformities caused by burns
  • 3 hospitals offer specialized spinal cord injuries care--long-term rehabilitation, intensive physical, occupational, and recreational therapies
  • In 2005, a cleft lip and palate program was initiated--lip and palate repair, nasal reconstruction, facial work and dental procedures, and audiological, speech, and psychological services
Jesus' disciples once shooed away the children, but the Master presented a child to them and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."  Generations ago in America, the Master Masons-Become-Also-Shriners decided to select suffering children for benevolence.  Now look at their legacy.

Hundreds of thousands of children have been healed.  I wish I had the exact numbers.  Millions of those children's immediate and extended families have been touched forever by what was done for their children.  I wish I had the numbers.  Tens and hundreds of millions more who knew those families--neighbors, coworkers, communities, and all organizations to which they belonged--have been touched forever by the healing and compassionate work of The Shriners Hospitals for Children.  There is no calculating those numbers.

Pike declared deeds done for others and the world would remain, and were immortal.  His Second Commandment required that good be done to others for pleasure, not duty.  Based on the achievements of the Master Masons-Become-Shriners, Pike surely taught the truth.

No one could sacrifice so much, give so much, work so hard, as the greatest Shriners have, unless they were driven by the desire to invest in little precious, damaged people.  The children were not captains of industry, who could reciprocate with a juicy deal.  The children were not political power brokers, who could open doors for billions in profits.  No.  Each little patient always has been and always will be, Every Mother's Child, Every Father's Child.

Personal Experience With Shriners' Compassion:
Two Events

Around 1985, I served as minister to the Orchard Street Christian Church on the South Side of Chicago.  On Halloween night, one of my young members, Kenny Bereta, was playing in some leaves piled alongside a residential street.  A teenage driver thought it would be funny to drive through the leaves.  Kenny's neck was broken in several places, with the spinal cord swelling and hurt.

His parents were uninsured.  Only one had a job.  On the way back from the ER, around 2 a.m., Kenny's mother looked at me and cried, "WHAT are we going to DO?"  I told her I didn't know, but the Lord knew, and I knew I was going to do something.  I wasn't the only one.

Kenny first was taken from one hospital to another, as bills mounted.  I raised $17,000 from the community, around $50K in today's money, so the family could have travel money, food, and pay their utilities.  Then one of my closest friends, the late James B. Wollesen, saw that Kenny was admitted to the Shriner Children's Hospital out on the West Side.  Jim was a 32-second Degree York Rite Mason, and a leader in the Eastern Star.

Kenny got the best surgeries, therapies, and care.  His parents were treated like royals.  And Jim and I got the pleasure of watching progress and healing.  About a year later, Kenny gingerly was helped back to the church, and we all applauded the great blessing.

During the past year, my 3-year old granddaughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a highly fatal tumor in her adrenal glands.  She was taken to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville--where stands out on the sidewalk stands a Giant Shriner with a Little Child.  Isabella had surgery, is alive and spunky now, seems in remission, and we thank her physicians and the Lord for every healthy report.

Pike's Couplet and Our Era:
Americans Divided Today

Using Pike's two lines, then adding to them his "Ten Commandments of Masonry," we have seen small snapshots of how Masonic doctrine is ethical and moral.  We have seen too how that Masonic doctrine has been embodied in the wonderful work of the Shriners Hospitals for Children, as well as a 150 year old tradition in senior care.

Today, the United States of America has been split nearly down the middle along the lines of Pike's Couplet.

There are many among us who want to get all they can, while they can, from as many as they can.  These are our fellow Americans who are harming the rest of us.  Though their selfish living will only end when they are interred in the grave, the harms they are doing will live after them.  This is another, negative type of "immortality" not addressed by Pike.

Then there are many among us who believe, like Pike, that doing good for others and the world is an investment in life, people, and the future.  These are our fellow Americans who are sacrificing by working multiple jobs, volunteering at church and school and, yes, raising money for causes like the Shriners Hospitals for Children, or Kentucky's own WHAS Crusade for Children.  And I know many grandparents now who are spending out their savings, to save their children and grandchildren.

Thinking about Pike and his moral duties will lead to the next blog, a creed on Personal Responsibility. Hope you like it, and will pass it along. JDW

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