Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28, 1963, fifty years later

I am sitting in Brussels, Belgium, unable to attend the events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.  My wife and I had planned on going to the interfaith worship service that traditionally kicks off the event, but business responsibilities have taken me to another place.

Twenty years ago, I had the distinct privilege of co-chairing the organizing committee for the interfaith worship service for the thirtieth anniversary commemoration.  We struggled to find the right keynote speaker, and landed on having Andrew Young and Eleanor Holmes Norton as the speakers for it.

It was a very hot day.  Delegate Norton was struggling to find her notes for speaking, and I tried to help, saying something stupid like, "Just speak from your heart."  She eventually found her notes and spoke them from her heart.  A noisy disturbance almost derailed the service at one point, and as I stepped down from the podium at the Sylvan theater to try to calm things down, Andrew Young accompanied me, and with grace, dignity and power I have seldom seen before, this former deputy of Martin Luther King, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta immediately calmed the group that was making the ruckus.

I went into the role of co-chairing the event thinking that I could change the world.  What I learned from Andrew Young that day is that the change of the world happens at an individual level, as he lovingly calmed down a relatively minor disturbance and an obscure event.

No, I don't remember at all what was said that day, but I remember being arm-in-arm with my brothers and sisters singing, "We shall overcome". 

So, yes, I will miss this today.

I often reflect on what Dr. King said fifty years ago today, how he said it, and what happened.  In listening to his speech, the first part of it was elegant and erudite.  A promissory note not paid, language that effectively expressed the evils of racial segregation and then-current public policy.  It was a masterful speech, but it wasn't resonating.  At one point, Dr. King looked up, and abandoning his notes, began to express a dream for the world, based in the American dream.  Sure, the material came from many of his stump speeches -- perhaps everything he said from that point on was former material. 

But this was no ordinary day.  This was the day when the words expressed before would come together into a marvellous symphony of spiritual connectedness.  It was no longer just about equality for the negro, but expressed a dream where a diverse people of can come together and be free at last. 

Now, fifty years later, are we free at last?  Sure, laws have changed, such freedom doesn't happen just because laws change, but rather, there needs to be a mighty change of heart.  To say we are done with the progress made on that day is overlook the fact that we, as a country and world, are more divided than ever at a personal level.  In America, a very small minority of people with immense wealth and power are effectively dismantling the laws that put us on the track of equality and justice.  The difference between the wealthy 1% and the majority is greater than it ever has been.  Founding principles that assure freedom, such as the separation of church and state and the right of privacy are being dismantled in the very name of 'freedom'. 

We have not overcome.

We have not overcome, but we can, if we embraced the dream, and make that dream a reality.  No-one else will make this happen for us, for me.  I need to stand today, and wherever I am, to march on Washington and demand that we create the dream for which Dr. King died.  We must overcome our differences and work together.  We must overcome our deeply-held biases and learn of each other.  We must overcome our personal desire for wealth and work for a greater good.  We must overcome by setting aside our religious differences and embrace the oneness that makes us human. 

So today, this 28th of August, 2013, I will read again and listen to Dr. King's speech.  But I need to do more than that.  I cannot change the world, or even, perhaps, anyone else, but I need to see where my individual choices limit this dream.  I need to commit to making that dream a reality, if only in my individual dealings with others.  That, I can do.  That, I must do.

I ... can overcome.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thinking about the Endowment

Let me try a story here...a fable or myth that may have some bearing on why masonic symbols are in our temples.  I'm not concerned with history here -- instead, I'm doing a type of interpretive story-telling about what I consder to be deeply spiritual.   

Let's say that a million years ago an enlightened alien, a "Great Architect", came to this planet, found a bunch of primitive beings -- early humans, and decided that there was potential for these "humans" to be just like she is. Given the distances and logistics of space travel, she knew she couldn't be here to help out these beings, but knowing that they eventually would need to know some really important things, she embedded into their genetic code a set of important programs: that people would need to have communities, that communities are best if they have some sort of bond, and that bonds are made through shared traditions.

In time, the beings she left behind would create communities, but in so doing they sometimes created hostility between themselves and their neighbors The underlying programs were still working but other programs were distorting their ability to live harmoniously together.

About 2500 years ago, the Great Architect happened to be travelling through the solar system, and noted all across the world, these beings were fighting with each other and needed an update of some of the programming. given that humans by then had populated the whole earth, she decided to spread a MESSAGE through a set of messengers: they were named "Cyrus", "Ezra", "Isaiah", "Daniel", but not just them -- also: Pythagoras, Confucius, Laotzu, Gautama...many were the names of these prophets. He told them to write down the MESSAGE. One of them even wrote about this -- his name was Nephi:

"For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it."

In some parts of the world, the MESSAGE was called "THE WAY".

In another five hundred years, some wise men from the eastern lands along the Silk Road came to Jerusalem and found a very intelligent young boy who had seemingly infinite potential. As the MESSAGE had been corrupted in Jerusalem, they taught him again the MESSAGE. Most of this boy's disciples later in life would distort the MESSAGE, but because the WAY -- the principle behind he MESSAGE -- resonates in everyone, the disciples revered the boy as a God, or the Son of God.    The boy learned that the WAY was really what the Jews thought of as the Power of God...and more specifically, the boy learned that to be one with that power is to be god in very act and deed.  He told his followers that to authentically "be" is to be the "I AM".  He quoted the scriptures, speaking to all, "Ye are Gods, and all of you are children of the Most High".  When his disciples tried to get him to show them "The Father", he told them that this authenticity of being -- the I AM -- is the very father -- "If ye have seen me, ye have seen the Father".  He prayed that each of his disciples might be one with the WAY and each other, in the same way that Jesus was One with the Father.  His enlightened principle was "[the] I AM (that is the authenticity of being) [is] the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE -- laying out in the simplest terms the MESSAGE.

Go forward another 1000 years, and a group of very faithful, very sacrificing knights went to the holy land with the initial intent to reclaim the holy land from muslims, who had received the MESSAGE from corrupted teachings in a book called the "Recitation". Before these knights left, they went to get a blessing from a spiritual master named Bernard of Clairvaux. They were given "orders", or special rules, and even special tokens and signs that would help them identify a brother as they tranversed the WAY. These tokens and signs were to be kept strictly secret, in order to preserve the sanctity of the WAY and its MESSAGE, which Bernard conveyed to them.

When these knights went to Jerusalem, they found another group of people who had exactly the same understanding of the WAY and the MESSAGE. They were called "Sufis", and while they accepted the book of the recitation, they understood the MESSAGE behind the text, and found unity with the Knights. That unity was based in the Temple at Jerusalem -- a nexus of worship where Sufi and Knight could worship together. They had, together, uncovered the great secret of the Temple -- that the MESSAGE and the WAY are the very power of the universe, and to become one with that WAY is to be one with all that is. The Knights of the Temple abandaned their desire for conquest, and found the WAY to live in harmony -- They understood that oneness is to be of one heart and one mind, and to care for the poor so that there are no poor among the city of god.

In the next two hundred years, these Knights, operating as one heart and one mind became the backbone infrastructure of almost all good that was done in the society of europe. Their covenants and obligations -- they were completley obedient, they sacrificed themselves, they lived in harmony with the Gospel of all truth as they understood it -- they were rigorously chaste, and they consecrated all they had to the order.

And they prospered exceedingly. They set up the first banking system throughout europe, their financial holdings exceeded that of the Church and kings -- so much so that one of the kings, in an underhanded dealing with head of the church, conspired to have all the knights arrested and tried for heresy on the same day throughout the land Friday the 13th.

The purge of the Knights was nearly completely successful. The entire body of Knights was destroyed except for two places at the western and northwestern extremes of Europe. Nothing was heard of again of these noble Knights except for a very remarkable uprising about seventy years after the first purge.

About three hundred years later, in Scotland, in the northwestern extreme of Europe, a group of people, perhaps men in the building trades, felt the call again of the MESSAGE and the WAY. They formed lodges where they could organize their efforts.  While it seems like there was no direct connection between the Scottish rite and the earlier Knights, they adopted many of the Knights' WAY.  At the same time, Catholic Jesuit missionaries returning from Asia, hearing the MESSAGE and the WAY from their converts in China and India, inspired a type of questioning of the Church that had a lock on the hearts of europe. They called this new way of thinking, patterned after eastern words for the same -- "Enlightenment".

The members of the lodges had discovered within the MESSAGE that the WAY is not the creedal "god" -- that is, all-powerful, all knowing, and all good, everywhere but personal, etc., but rather, that the WAY was a legacy left behind by an inspired builder, a Great Architect of the Universe.   Rather than worshipping the Great Architect, they decided to serve mankind in harmon with the WAY. Yet, because the Church was very powerful, and would reject this humanist approach to service, the members of lodges, "Masons" as they were called after the trade of perhaps some of the original members, needed a way to identify each other -- signs and tokens to protect the integrity. They were also under strict oaths of obedience, sacrifice, living in harmony with the Gospel, and of course, he willingness to become one in all things.

THe message of enlightenment, humanism, and deism embodied by the Masons attracted a specific group of scottish and english intellectuals and leaders, some of whom found their way to this new land, America, a promised land, where the principles of enlightement and secular humanism could be practiced. One of the principle leaders of the masonic movement was a man named George Washington, who established a lodge in Alexandria, near his home in Mount Vernon. As well, his guiding hand behind the scenes among his fellow masons helped guide this new-found land of opportunity. And because of this influence, the MESSAGE of teh WAY found itself into the founding documents of a great nation that would house the restoration of the full MESSAGE at the right time.

I think you can finish this story on your own.

Yes, the Temple Endowment is heavily based on the Masonic ritual. And while, historically the link to the Knights Templar is weak, and there is no real link to the Temple of Solomon as claimed, the reality, to me, is that there is a deep spiritual link between the LDS temple and the MESSAGE that has been embedded into all the great and noble systems of the past.

The masons were and are not an evil organization -- but rather enlightened in many ways. when we go to the temple, and participate in the tokens and signs, we are giving homage to those who came before Joseph Smith as humble guardians of the MESSAGE, whether they were the founding fathers who were masons, the leaders of the Scottish Enlightement who gave us our freedom and economic systems, or the spiritual foreberers -- the Knights Templar, who understood, under the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, the divine order, tokens and signs, and covenants we share today in the temple.

And to understand the true origin of these rich rituals, I invite you to recall that Bernard of Clairvaux, "Saint Bernard", the founder of the Trappist monastic tradition, is the author of arguably the most sacred hymn in the LDS Hymnbook: Jesus the Very Thought of Thee". This hymn emboides the MESSAGE adn the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. In one verse in the latin, not translated intoo english in our hymnbook:

Nec lingua valet dicere, - No tongue can speak it
nec littera exprimere: - No words can express it
expertus potest credere, Only through experience can we know
quid sit Jesum diligere. the love that Jesus offers.

Perhaps rather than thinking of the temple as weird and quirky, which it seems to be for all of us at first. Perhaps we should embrace the reality that we are walking in the footsteps of some very great individuals -- Masons, Knights Templar, and holy Saints -- who sacrificed all to give us what we have today.