Jim Tresner, 33°, Grand Cross

As we think about the importance of family values, it is good to remember that Freemasonry does not just support and celebrate the family; Freemasonry is family.

"Blood is thicker than water," one of my friends remarked a few days ago, "but mortar is thicker than blood."

"That’s true," another friend observed, "but I’d be careful where I said it."

In many ways, it is true. One reason, I think, that Masons support family values so strongly, almost ferociously, is that we are members of an extended family, and it is a very close one. I’ve lost track of the times Masons have told me that they are closer to their Masonic Brethren than to their biological brothers. (I’m lucky. My brothers are also Brethren.) I could not honestly say that my Masonic family was closer than my "real" family—my real family is very close—but the ties to my Brethren are every bit as strong.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the support from my Masonic Brethren when I had to have a knee replaced. About a week after the surgery, the Scottish Rite Bodies of Guthrie, Oklahoma, had a Reunion, and I had to act in two of the Degrees. Nearly 300 of us live in the Temple during a Reunion, and I literally could not dress myself, much less make a costume change. It is an humbling experience when two of your Brethren have to help you dress, but if they had not been Brethren, it would have been humiliating, not just humbling.

That’s merely an example. The point is that Jimmy and Greg and Tim and John and Clay and Bob and Max and George and Joe and Bill and the others are more than just friends. They are family. We often have keys to each other’s homes and vehicles. We call each other, sometimes in the small watches of the night, because we need to hear a friendly voice or just unload some of the day’s "junk" we don’t want to impose on family members. As one of the guys, a member of AA, said, "Ten minutes on the phone with a friend beats a stiff drink any day, and I should know."

There are no "invidious distinctions." Nothing but our common bond in Masonry matters. One is a Past Grand Master and a 33°; some have black caps, some red, some white. Some are professional men, some are laborers. We aren’t even conscious of those distinctions.

(Not that your Masonic family will cut you much slack, at least in some matters. When the Supreme Council awarded me the Grand Cross, easily the highest honor I will ever receive, the guys pointed out to me that it was a triumph of charity over justice, and sympathy for the mentally handicapped over merit. Clearly, helping me dress is only one way they have of keeping me humble. But they also bought me a white cap box and put a blue "racing stripe" on it to make it into a Grand Cross cap box.)

Unconditional trust—that is so very rare in the world, and it is what my Masonic friends and I share. We share an absolute, unshakable certainty that none of the others could or would deliberately do anything to our disadvantage. In many cases, we are in each other’s wills as guardians of children or administrators of estates. Being with each other is a recharging experience. No matter how bad things get "outside," we can always make each other feel better "inside" our shared fraternal bonds.

Does that make us a family, and all of Masonry an extended family? I think it does.

We speak of Family Values—of honesty, love, respect and self-respect, a willingness to see others do better than ourselves, an eagerness to see them successful and happy, a set of shared memories of both happy and sad events. Psychologists tell of the instant bonding when the father is present at the birth of his child. Sociologists tell us how the family is strengthened as they face both trials and triumphs together. Family therapists tell us that a sure sign of a healthy family is a desire to share what they have with others. And what father has not felt closer to his son when, perhaps late at night, the son finds him and shares with him some painful or joyful experience of the day?

But that is Masonry! We teach honesty and love and respect and self-respect and a willingness to see others advance further than ourselves, not just as abstract values but as the ways Masons are to feel about each other. We share both happy and sad memories. If being present when a friend is raised to the Degree of Master Mason is not quite literally being there at his birth, it is very nearly the same thing. We face trials and triumphs together. We are taught to share both our time and our resources with others. And many of us have been privileged, under the promise of the confidentiality of the obligations, to have our Brothers share their secret hopes and their deepest fears and disappointments.

It is surprisingly difficult to write about this family aspect of Masonry. The words seem cold and far from the glowing emotions I want to describe. It may take a composer or a painter to capture this feeling, this tie—fragile as the worn leather binding of a treasured book, tough as the steel prow of an ice-breaker—which binds the Masonic family.

But as we think about the family and the role and importance of family values, it is good to remember that Masonry does not just support and celebrate the family; Masonry is family.

And we are, truly, Brothers.

Jim Tresner
is Director of the Masonic Leadership Institute and Editor of The Oklahoma Mason. A frequent contributor to the Scottish Rite Journal and its book review editor, Illustrious Brother Tresner is also a volunteer writer for The Oklahoma Scottish Rite Mason and a video script consultant for the National Masonic Renewal Committee. He is the Director of the Thirty-third Degree Conferral Team and Director of Work at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma, as well as a life member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, author of the popular anecdotal biography Albert Pike, The Man Beyond the Monument, and a member of the steering committee of the Masonic Information Center. Ill. Tresner was awarded the Grand Cross, the Scottish Rite’s highest honor, during The Supreme Council’s October 1997 Biennial Session.