I sat just left of the big chair in the East. I wore my most professorial outfit I could put together: a suit jacket over a dress shirt over a black tee, no tie, buttoned down, with blue jeans and sneakers. The look was more Greg House, M.D. than Noam Chomsky, but it served. I finished it off with a scarf around my neck and a pipe in my hand, which Worshipful Master Jesse Williams insisted I should hold tight-lipped in my mouth so I could nod professorially at all the profound thing’s he’d no doubt say.
I was an academic now. A learned man sitting in the revered seat of Lodge Education Officer, and holding the sacred trust of educating both young and old brethren in all things Masonic.
Okay, it was a bit of a send up. The costume did help me get into the mindset of my new role, but it was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to say “Yeah, I get the joke too.”
Here I am, not even possessing my one-year pin (which I’m fairly sure they don’t make), and I’ve been installed as L.E.O. of Braden Lodge. I knew it was coming, but when Jesse officially requested me to take the job I was suddenly nervous. What do I know about Freemasonry?
I even asked a brother, someone who would make a fantastic L.E.O., if he was interested in the job at all. No, he said. That’s something that he wouldn’t be ready to do for maybe another ten years. He didn’t know nearly enough about Masonry.
I had to admit I may have made a misstep.
But then I have to remind myself that it’s not really a professorial role, is it? It’s not me lecturing the brothers every two weeks on exactly what Freemasonry is, and how it should be interpreted, and to detail its nooks and crannies like a particularly wizened English muffin. This is all up for interpretation. It’s all up for debate. This isn’t the office of Orator. I’m not a pontificator. It’s my job to educate not by telling people what to think, but by making sure they have the resources needed to think for themselves. To me an L.E.O. isn’t so much the possessor of knowledge, but the gatekeeper of access to light. The L.E.O.’s emblem isn’t an open book, but a lantern, used to direct people to the knowledge they must seek out to complete their own journey.
And that I can do.
Yeah, I’m a bit of a poser, acting out a part and sitting in a chair much to big for me to fill, but some clarity came to me that very night when the Worshipful Master, set to give a 45-minute reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, leaned over and spoke to me.
“Sit in my chair, and hold this,” Jesse said, handing me his top hat; one worn by worshipful masters throughout Braden’s history. “And put it on,” he added.
And all of the sudden I was sitting in the east. And the hat even fit. And I sat upstraighter, and with more dignity. I hadn’t done anything to deserve the role, and to besure it was merely a ceremonial technicality, but for 45 minutes, I was master of Braden Lodge.
All chairs made for men greater, wiser, or more experienced than us are too big to fill. They were too big to fill even by these great, wise, experienced men before us. But no matter our qualifications, we fill the seats we’re given, because something in that seat of obligation fills us in return. And we grow bigger.