Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Five Points on Fellowship

There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own. ~ Edwin Markham

As Masons, we are doubtless familiar with the five points of fellowship, which serve as reminders of the duties we owe to our Brethren. That is not, however, what I want to talk to you about tonight. Instead, I want to highlight five points on fellowship in the hopes of enhancing our interpersonal experiences within the Craft.

First, fellowship needs common ground. Luckily, Freemasonry provides that through the shared experience of initiation. We all came to the outer door, humbly sought entry, and our admission to this inner sanctum was the first acknowledgement that we were part of a new family. That first step that you took across the threshold also served as the first step in beginning a new friendship.

Next, fellowship needs honesty – not a yes-that-dress-makes-you-look-fat kind of brutal honesty – but a commitment to being your true self in front of your Brethren. Look at the man to your right and the man to your left. It is safe to say that either’s life has not been without a struggle. Maybe one has trouble with his job. Maybe the other doesn’t feel he is being the best father or husband. Whatever his demon, you can be sure he is fighting it in much the same way you are fighting yours. When we greet each other on the level, and without pretense of perfection, we begin to build the framework of deep friendship.

If honesty is important to good fellowship, then it is essential that we do not judge. More simply, fellowship needs blinders. Does that mean that we are to drive the get-away car, acquiesce to every bad behavior, or enable our Brother in those things he struggles with? No. We are charged to correct his errors, support him, and help get him back on the right path. Wearing blinders means not condemning your Brother for his faults, but instead seeking to understand why he made them and assist him in changing his ways.

Fellowship needs an exchange. It cannot be one-sided. In order to receive honesty, one must be honest. To be heard, one must be willing to listen. A friendship is an intricate puzzle with all the tabs and blanks interlocking. At times, you will need to lean on your Brother, at other times, you will be the sturdy column for him when he needs it most. And it is important not to keep tabs. At times, you may feel that you are giving more than you are getting. If you feel like you are doing all the work, you probably are. That could change at any moment though, and in all likelihood, that Brother will remember your kindness and be there for you.

Lastly, fellowship needs nourishment. That can come in many forms. In the literal sense, some of the strongest bonds I have formed within this Fraternity have come in the social time before and after the meetings. The regimented structure of our meetings does not encourage the strengthening of one-on-one ties, but it does serve as an incubator for those feelings of goodwill and belonging that can be strengthened over dessert, coffee, and conversation after we adjourn.

In the abstract sense, fellowship is fed by time. All of things I mentioned earlier? They take time. Common ground, honesty, forgiveness, and exchange – none of those comes naturally or instantly. Time is the most essential element to good friendships. Just as a flower opens one petal at a time, so do we slowly learn to trust enough to reveal our true selves to one another.

The following has been attributed to both George Eliot and Dinah Craik:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

I love that sentiment. I also love that Freemasonry gives us the chance to have friends like that. Each of us probably had options on how we would spend this evening. We all chose to be here. When you go downstairs, tell someone why. It doesn’t have to be eloquent. It doesn’t have to be lengthy. Let it be from your heart, and that will be more than sufficient.

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