ROBERT BARNARD DENNETT 1923-1988
- MM 1946, Montgomery
- Grand Chaplain 1979-1988
FEAST OF ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, DECEMBER 1983
From Proceedings, Page 1983-276:
Most Worshipful Grand Master, Most Worshipful Past Grand Masters, Distinguished Masons All:
Thank you. Most Worshipful Sir, I thank you for that gracious introduction. I must also say, my distinguished Masonic friends and brothers all, there's a propensity that goes with the profession. Whenever one, in my daily work, looks out on a crowd like this, a group with upturned faces looking at you standing behind a podium, one really wants to pass the plate. It's a great temptation.
Some of us have a great love for the State of Maine. And there are all kinds of good stories that some out of the State of Maine. And this one is a little involved, but I thought because we had some clam chowder to start the night, I'd tell you this story. If we had had tomato juice it wouldn't have been any good at all.
Bert was the outstanding citizen of a town just outside of Cherryfield. And that's in Washington County. And he had been the Town Clerk for about 75 years, and he had never been outside of Portland. The town, upon his retirement, decided to send Bert to Boston. They made all the arrangements. They got him over to Dow Field and got him on a Delta plane and sent him over here to Logan Airport. They had themselves a limousine that brought him to the Parker House.
He walked up to the desk of the Parker House and he said, "I'm the so and so Town Clerk from that little town outside of Cherryfield. You got a reservation for me?" The fellow said, "I don't think so. I don't see one."
Well, Bert said, "You do. The town paid for this thing." And the clerk behind the desk said, "Don't worry. Why don't you go in, have some lunch on the hotel in the main dining room." And he did.
The waiter came up and said, "I understand you're quite a person." Bert said, "Yes, I think I am." The waiter said, "Why don't you start your lunch with a nice bowl of clam chowder?" Bert said, "I don't want any of your clam chowder. I get Maine clam chowder and it's ten times better than anything you people got down here. I don't want any of your clam chowder."
The waiter then went to the head waiter and they still couldn't persuade Bert to have the clam chowder. They finally gave him his lunch, whatever it was that he wanted to eat. Bert went out and the clerk said, "We do have your room. It's ready. We are ready to take you up to the room. But I want to tell you something. There's been a man in that room for the last three weeks and he just died and that's why it wasn't ready when you came. But it's all right now."
He went up in the elevator and paid off the bellhop and just as he was unpacking his valise and getting himself all set up, a nurse appeared at the door. And she hadn't gotten the word that the fellow who had been in there before had died.
So she grabbed Bert, she was a relief nurse, she took him into the shower, she gave him a bath the like of which he had never had in his life. She got him onto the bed. She gave him a rubdown and massage the like of which he had never even thought existed in the world. Finally she doubled him right up and hit him with a high enema.
When Bert got back up to that town outside of Cherryfield, they said, "How did things go down in Boston, Bert?" He says, "It was the most wonderful three days I ever had in my life. But if you ever go to the Parker House, don't ever refuse the clam chowder."
Now, fellows, that's better than any prayer for rubberized chicken that was ever given.
Sam Goldwyn was one of these very aggressive producers of moving pictures a generation or so ago. And he had heard that the publication of Hall's The Well of Loneliness was going like hotcakes and he wanted to get hold of the movie rights to the thing so he could make a movie of it.
And somebody said, "Sam, you can't make a movie out of that. That deals with lesbians." He said, "Well, if they are dealing with lesbians, that's all right, we will shoot the movie with Austrians."
Chaplains of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts are really supposed to divest themselves occasionally of a moral lesson. Two of our Brothers one day who had been at some meeting probably in this building, let us not say that it was a Grand Lodge meeting, but at a meeting in this building, and somebody had divested himself of a moral lesson. And it happened to be on the theme of fidelity. These two fellows are walking across the Common going back home. People who live in Boston of any importance live on Beacon Hill. And they were headed over to the Hill.
One of them said, "Fidelity, that was an interesting theme. I have been faithful all my life in almost everything I've ever done. You know, I've been so faithful I've never cheated on my wife, never once, never even had a notion to cheat on her. Why I never even slept with her before we were married. How about you?" And his friend said, "Gee, I don't know. What was her maiden name?"
This evening, my brothers, I would like to raise this question: Morality in our day, is it fixed or fluid?
At the end of the 8th century B.C., about the year 700, one man asked another, "How can I please God? What can I do that will make things right between Him and me?" Now, if you stop to think about that question, it is a good Masonic question. It is several things all at once.
It is timeless, it is ever contemporary, it is personal, and most certainly, it fits this occasion, the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist.
What can I do? What can I do to please God? What can I do that will make things right between Him and me? The other man answered, "What does the Lord require of you but to be just, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
We don't know who asked the first question. All we know is that it was someone who thought that he could please God by giving God something special, something that was extraordinarily precious to himself. Possibly in those days such a thing as a young calf, or perhaps a thousand sheep, that's ten hecatombs, gentlemen. Perhaps even his firstborn son.
His approach was the religious approach of sacrifice. We don't know who the questioner was, but we do know who answered him. It was Micah, one of the four giants of that era in biblical history. They happened to be at that time in man's progress along this globe Isaiah, Amos, Josiah, and Micah. Four men who saw with almost unbelievable clarity that religion and morality are two sides of the same coin.
And it was Theodore Parker Ferris, a long time rector of Trinity Church, Copley Square, who said this: "Religion without morality is like a tree without leaves or fruit, and morality without religion is like a tree without any roots."
Morality, my brothers, is one of the tap roots of our great international fraternity.
Now, when Micah answered the man's question, I have a feeling he brought that man down to earth. He brought him out of the skies of religious ceremonies and sacrifices and offerings, and he brought him down to three basic principles of behavior, three moral lessons, justice, love, and reverence.
But the word that has, should have, I think, particular interest for Masons is the word "require" in this answer of Micah's. What does the Lord require of you? Micah was saying that God was not offering justice and love and reverence as electives to be chosen by us if we so desire or if they happen to suit our purposes of the moment or meet our conveniences. He is requiring them of us. He is not commending them for our consideration as a way of life that may fulfill a particular personality. God is commanding them, regardless of our circumstances or our particular handicaps.
Now, all of that was in the 8th century before Christ. This is the 20th century of the common era. People are asking questions in a different way now. We ask them in a different way. And at the moment 1 think they are asking them something like this: Are there any moral requirements in the modern day or not? And a second question that I think contemporary people are asking is this: If there are, how can I find out what they are?
Let's think about those two questions for a few minutes. First, are there any moral requirements in the modern day? Or do we have only recommendations? There are many, many people of superior intelligence who say no, there are no moral requirements. There may be preferences, expedients, recommendations, but there are no requirements. They are rejecting the standards and codes which have prevailed in our western culture for centuries. They are tossing overboard the patterns by which people have lived for the last thousand years.
Gentlemen, do you realize that that is one set, just one set of reasons why Masonry must continue strong and vital in this age and in future ages? That set of observations is why we must continue to support and to expand our efforts with DeMolay, bringing young men along as moral individuals in this very precarious world.
The people in our day who are rejecting all the standards and codes which have prevailed in the last centuries are doing it partly in an attempt to find what they call happiness. How do you know that? Well, there was a popular sing several years ago which some of us sang and still remember which was entitled, "Don't Fence Me In." I want to be free to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it, don't fence me in.
Now, I have discovered that if you try to live without any moral requirements, you will discover that you run into them sooner or later, and that almost always your encounter with them will not be altogether pleasant.
For example, and this is sort of paraphrasing or it's a wrapping around of some things in our Third Degree, if you try to live a life of unfair play, cutting corners, making compromises, taking advantage of people or business associates when you can, you most certainly will run into the requirements of justice before you get through.
And if you try to live a life that is centered in yourself with no outgoing concern for other people, with no interest in anything or anyone except yourself, you most certainly will run into the requirements of love before you are through.
And if you live a life of irreverence, handling sacred things carelessly, feeling no awe whatsoever regarding the majesty and the mystery and the beauty of life, you will sooner or later run into the requirements of reverence.
There is something about morality that is fixed, not fluid. There is something about morality that is required, it is not elective. This is an answer to the first questions. It is the answer of the prophets. And it most certainly is the answer and the great lesson of our Fraternity.
The second question, if there are moral requirements in this life, how can I find out what they are. This question, I think, is more difficult, I know it is more difficult to answer, especially in a short time and in general terms before so many people of different ages and pre-suppositions and religious persuasions as we have gathered here tonight.
The question, if there are any moral requirements, how can I find out what they are. There used to be the moral requirement, such as, for example, in the story in the joke of fidelity. Fidelity used to be taken for granted in the community where 1 grew up, not always observed, to be sure, but accepted. Now nothing seems to be taken for granted in almost any of our communities, except the fact that the old moral requirements have been discarded like lavender and old lace.
I want to read to you a letter from Ogden Nash to his daughter Isabelle. You know the Ogden Nash, or some of us do, of doggerel fame, you know, "candy is dandy but liquor is quicker," or "a little talcum is always walcum," that Ogden Nash.
Now, this letter is included in a volume of letters written by famous fathers, who were both ancient and modern, to their sons and daughters. The book is called The Father and it was edited by Evan Jones.
It is explained in that book that Isabelle Nash, after finishing school, persuaded her parents to let her spend a year abroad. And during that year she met and older man who flattered her immensely. He sought her out, talked to her and expressed what she thought were the most fascinating and sophisticated views of life.
One day he told her that he and his wife from whom he had long been separated were going to get a divorce. "The romantic alchemy," Isabelle wrote later, "that affects some silly girls convinced me that he was madly in love with me."
She wrote first an ecstatic letter home. Then spent a night considering the proposal. And she wrote again to her family. The second letter that she wrote was more reassuring. This which follows is her father's response to the two letters:
"Dear Isabelle: I gather that by now you have decided that Mr. X is too old for you as well as being a very silly man. But I am not pleased with the episode and I trust that by now you are not either. The propensity of older men for flirting with young girls has been the object of coarse merriment since times primeval, as I should think your reading, if nothing else, should have told you.
"You should be intelligent enough to know that in various eras of history it has been fashionable to laugh at morals. But the fact of the matter is that Old Man Morals just keeps rolling along and the laughers end up as driftwood on a sand bar.
"You can't beat the game because morals as we know them represent the sum of the experience of the race. Keep on having your gay time, but just keep yourself in hand and remember that generally speaking it's better to call older men mister. I love you tremendously. Daddy."
My brothers, there is a moral imperative in life which only the stupid do not see and only the fools seriously think that they can break.
Let me close this discourse with a bit of light verse which Ogden Nash himself might enjoy. It again in itself is a moral lesson. It is both Euclidian and Masonic geometry. It is entitled "Circles."
How can a circle know it must —
Obedient to a cosmic trust —
Keep radius and circumference
As fixed related measurements?
For crowns and pies and wheels and rings
And other wholly rounded things
Diameter we multiply,
By that strict ancient wizard Pi,
To equal the perimeter
Or else we've found a perjuror.
And circles flat or circles square
Can not be circles anywhere.
Even an oval will not do. <br. It must be round. It must be true.
It must recall three point one four
And endless lines of digits more
The Pi to which eternally
All circles owe their fealty.
And if you disobey this rule
We have to keep you after school
Unlike Euclid, you have found
That circles know their way around.
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